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The Lord Is My Shepherd – Part 7

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									                               The Lord Is My Shepherd – Part 7
               (“Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
                 and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” – Psalm 23:6)
                          Matthew 28:1-10          Luke 15:1-7         Psalm 23
  Rev. Bob Scott -- Palatka First Presbyterian Church               Easter Sunday -- March 23, 2008
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Throughout this Lenten Season we have been working our way through the 23 rd Psalm, and…don’t get
me wrong, because I’ve enjoyed it…but I’m tired of sheep! For the last six weeks, it’s been sheep,
sheep, sheep, sheep, sheep!

So this morning, I thought, I’d switch from sheep…to bunnies! It is Easter, after all. Let me read for you
the opening page, the opening lines, of a classic children’s book.
    “Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. So he said to his mother, “I am
    running away.”
    “If you run away, said his mother, “I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.”
Do you recognize those words? They are from a delightful book called The Runaway Bunny by
Margaret Wise Brown. It’s about a little bunny determined to run away. But no matter how, or where,
he decided to go, his mother was always there – because she loved her little bunny so very much.

Well, why share that with you this morning -- other than the fact that it’s really sweet? The reason I
found myself thinking of this book – which I remember first reading to Andrew, and then to Grayson,
and now to Emma – is because the message of this book is exactly the message of our verse for today.

The concluding verse of Psalm 23 – a verse which is most appropriate for Easter morning – says: “Surely
goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever” (Psalm 23:6). You know, so often when we speak of spiritual matters we say that we are
seeking God. But the problem with that kind of language is that it sounds like God is somehow hidden
or inaccessible, and that it is up to us to find him. But the truth of our faith is quite the opposite. It’s
not that we have to find God…The good news is that He finds us. And, in fact, because he loves us so
very much, he will not be satisfied, now will he stop, until he does.

Our text for today, makes this very clear: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of
my life…” That verse, powerful as it is, does not even begin to capture the meaning in the original
language. According to the scholars I’ve read the Hebrew word used here “y-ird-phu-ni” (I looked it up!)
which we usually translate as shall follow me.” But it makes it sound as though God’s “goodness and
mercy,” his protection, providence, kindness, and grace is trailing around behind us…like a puppy might
follow you around (every time we get up and switch rooms in the house, Rocky will get up too, and
follow us to the new room, before sighing and laying back down). And while that’s comforting -- to
picture God’s protection and providence always close at hand – that’s not what the Hebrew word
implies; no, according to these scholars the word implies something much more active – and that our
word “pursue” would be a better, and more accurate, translation. Now, that’s a very different image,
isn’t it? “Surely God’s goodness and mercy shall pursue me…” God’s goodness, and grace, and love,
and life will chase me down until it overtakes me!”
I think a lot of us feel like “trouble” is pursuing us! We live in an age of anxiety and fear. And if it’s not
the terrorists or criminals who have us looking over our shoulders, it’s the economy, or our job/financial
security, our health, our way of life, our wants. We feel like we’ve got to keep running, keep striving,
we’ve got to go a hundred miles a minute, otherwise trouble will catch up! I’m reminded of the wisdom
of the great ball player Satchel Paige who said, “Don’t look back, something may be gaining on you!”

But what if…what if the truth about what ultimately purse us is more than – indeed, is greater than – the
sum of our anxieties and fears? What if the truth is that it is GOD who is pursuing us – pursing you! –
and will do so relentlessly until he catches and claims you as his own?

     Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. So he said to his mother. “I am
     running away.”
     “If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.”
     “If you run after me,” said the little bunny, “I will become a fish in a trout stream and swim
     away from you.”
     “If you become a fish in a trout stream,” said his mother, “I will become a fisherman and I will
     fish for you.”
     “If you become a fisherman,” said the little bunny, “I will become a rock on the mountain high
     above you.”
     “If you become a rock on the mountain high above me,” said his mother, “I will be a mountain
     climber, and I will climb to where you are.”


Which, if I understand this correctly, is all a way of saying, “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me –
shall chase me down – all the days of my life.”

This seems to be to be consistent with the God we meet in the Bible. Throughout the Scriptures it is not
that we have to find God, but he finds us. In Psalm 139 (which I believe Phil will preach on the next
couple of weeks) the Psalmist confesses:
        Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
        If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
        If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
        Even there your hand will guide me, [even there] your right hand will hold me fast.
        If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’
        Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,
        for darkness is as light to you.”                                           (Psalm 139:7-12)

Again, Jesus tells a story about God, and the way God is towards us, and towards all. In this story he
compares God to a Shepherd, who finds that one sheep is missing – just one, one out of a hundred! –
but this Shepherd seeks out, chases down, hunts and pursues that one sheep until he finds it. How long
is that?...As long as it takes. And what does the shepherd do once the sheep is found?...The Shepherd
drapes that wayward and lost little lamb over his shoulders and brings him home – literally. The parable
says that the shepherd brings the sheep right into the house, so that wherever the Shepherd is the
sheep might be also. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me – follow me until it finds me – all the
days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
The little bunny said, “Then I will be a crocus in a hidden garden.”
“If you become a crocus in a hidden garden,” said his mother, “I will be a gardener. And I will find you.”
“If you are a gardener and find me,” said the little bunny, “I will be a bird and fly away from you.”
“If you become a bird and fly away from me,” said his mother, “I will be a tree that you come home to.”

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow – and find – me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the
house of the Lord forever.”

You may have been wondering when I would get around to talking about Easter, but in very real sense
I’ve been talking about Easter all along. After all, what we celebrate this day is that God’s goodness and
mercy chases us down, and have the last word over sin and suffering and sadness, over death and
despair. The good news of this day is that when – just like those first disciples – when all we had to offer
God were betrayal and our denial, our violence and self-concern – that is, when we like those disciples
turn our backs on Jesus and run – Jesus comes back and tracks us down, and offered us God’s goodness
and mercy.

When we demonstrate just how far we can wander – the depth of our disobedience, the lengths to
which we go to ignore or avoid God – in the death and resurrection of Jesus, God shows us the lengths
to which He will go to give us a blessing and bring us home. This day, we rejoice because God doesn’t
merely follow us, God pursues us down all the misguided highways and byways of our lives, all the dead
ends and dark detours, through all the wrong turns, and extends a blessing of goodness and mercy.

Prior to his death, prior to the resurrection, Jesus promised us: “In my Father’s house there are many
rooms. And if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I
go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am you
may be also” (John 14:2-3).

The little bunny said, “I will join the circus and fly away on a flying trapeze.”

“If you go flying on a flying trapeze,” said his mother, “I will be a tightrope walker, and I will walk across
the air to you.”

“If you become a tightrope walker and walk across the air,” said the bunny, “I will become a little boy
and run into a house.”

“If you become a little boy and run into a house,” said the mother bunny, “I will become your mother and
catch you in my arms and hug you.”


“…and I will dwell in the house [and in the arms] of the Lord forever.”

In the resurrection of Jesus God has chased us down – like a lost sheep, like a runaway bunny, like the
wayward wanderers that we so often are – and has brought us home, so that where he is we also might
be – now, and forever. Amen.
The years rolled slowly past
And I found myself alone
Surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends
I found myself further and further from my home
And I guess I lost my way
There were oh so many roads
I was living to run and running to live
Never worried about paying or even how much I owed
Moving eight miles a minute for months at a time
Breaking all of the rules that would bend
I began to find myself searching
Searching for shelter again and again

Against the wind
A little something against the wind
I found myself seeking shelter against the wind

Well those drifter's days are past me now
I've got so much more to think about
Deadlines and commitments
What to leave in, what to leave out

Against the wind
I'm still runnin' against the wind
I'm older now but still runnin' against the wind
Well I'm older now and still runnin'
Against the wind
Against the wind
Against the wind

Bob Seeger -- from “Against the Wind” – by Bob Seeger, 1980



A gentleman named Francis Thompson wrote one of the most famous poems of the 19th century; it’s
called “The Hound of Heaven.” And in it, Thompson, feels himself pursued by something – by God! –
And not pursued, or followed, like a puppy, but more like a baying hound! God is intent on “hounding
him down,” though he keeps trying to run from God:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in them mist of tears
I hid from him
But what Francis Thompson discovers, is that when he tires of running from God, when he surrenders to
that which keeps nipping at his heels, what overtakes him, what catches and claims him, is LOVE.
Which is exactly what our Easter text says to us today: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us – and
pursue us – all the days of our life; and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

								
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