Sunday, December 11, 2022

God Himself Is the Shepherd

 Psalm 23. . .

Sermon for Advent 2                                        12/07/22

God Himself Is the Shepherd

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Ezekiel 34:11-16 says: For thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I Myself will search for my sheep and seek them out.  As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day.   And I will bring them out from among the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land; and I will feed them on the mountain of Israel, by the streams and all the inhabited places of the land.   I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will be on the mountain heights of Israel.   I will feed my flock and I will lead them to rest," declares the Lord GOD.  "I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken, and strengthen the sick."

With those words, God commits Himself to the task of being the Shepherd of His sheep.  He had appointed others to do the job, but they were unfaithful and they abused the sheep.  Now God Himself will be their shepherd.  The Great Shepherd of Israel is none other than God.  But rather than look at this passage of Ezekiel, I want to look at the Good Shepherd from the pleasant perspective of the Shepherd Psalm, Psalm 23.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever

The Lord is my Shepherd. 
That is the honest confession of each and every one of God's people.  Everything else flows from that fact.  God is caring for us.  God is providing for us.  God desires us and our well-being with the solicitous care of the shepherd.  The Lord is my shepherd.

I shall not want.  Because the Almighty God has taken personal charge over me and my existence, I know that I will never lack anything that I need.  The term "want" means "need" here.  There can, and undoubtedly will be times when I will wish for something I do not have, or desire something I cannot possess.  In that sense of want, I may want many things.  But whatever I need I will have.

God has provided it already.  He has purchased and won me from sin and death, and the power of the devil -- and has poured out His gracious choice upon me in baptism.  Life may not always be what I desire, but I will not come short of salvation because God has provided it for me.  I shall not want, but have all that I need to be His own and live under Him in His kingdom forever.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.  Both of these phrases speak to the provision of life and peace and security.  Green pastures are good places for sheep.  Food is plentiful.  That I lie down in them means that this provision is standard fare.  I live in the peaceful abundance of God.  I walk besides still waters, not turbulent and dangerous waters, as we saw in the floods in various places this past summer – or in the violence of the hurricanes that dominated our news.  God gives me peace and security.

Does this mean that I shall experience life as one long dream of delight and quiet times?  No.  Not necessarily.  We will face the troubles and turmoil of this world, just like anyone else.  We simply will face it with our Shepherd at the lead.  He will see us through.  He will not give us more than we are able to bear.  He will never leave us nor forsake us.

What good does that do when illness sets in, or troubles lurk about?  A great deal of good, if you trust in God.  Life is never meaningless or hopeless when you follow the Good Shepherd.  Just as the path to a physical meadow in the mountains may lead through rocks and crags and difficult pathways before opening into the green pasture, so our lives will, at times, lead through pains and sorrows, through temptations and frustrations and perhaps even severe illness.  With faith in God and confidence in His presence and His good will toward us, we will not lose hope.  We will not be crushed.

He restoreth my soul.  Our Good Shepherd will refresh us and strengthen us and equip us for all that He will lay before us to do.  Often we may feel that we cannot go another step, cannot bear another frustration, cannot endure another hardship or sorrow -- and then God will step in and refresh us.  He does that each week through Word and Sacrament.  He encourages us through the faithful fellowship of those who gather with us and pray with us and confess together with us this same hope and confidence in God.  Just when I think I cannot hold on any longer, God restores my soul.

He leadeth me in the path of righteousness for His name s sake.  This is the Gospel.  He lifts me up and places me on that narrow path of righteousness.  He does it for the sake of His grace -- God s goodness and God s decision for God s own reasons.  I don t deserve it.  I have not earned it.  I receive it because He won it for me on the cross and He pours out His goodness upon me.  That is what David meant by for His name s sake.  He is His own reason.  Grace.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.  Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.  Even death cannot alarm me or cause me to drop my confidence in Him.  The threat of death is not more powerful than the comfort of His grace.  The near approach of death is not more terrifying than His love is comforting.  The swift approach of the angel of death carries no real terror for the true child of God for perfect love casts out fear, and His love is perfect.  That messenger of God is my God's agent to greet me and bring me to my heavenly home.

I can fear no evil.  How could I truly be frightened for long when the very worst this world can do to me is also the very best thing that can come to the child of God?
It cannot harm me.  It makes no difference what you replace the word "it" with.  It cannot harm me.  God, my gracious and gentle Shepherd, is at hand to keep me and deliver me.  His rod and His staff are the tools and weapons of the Shepherd.  With His rod He gently disciplines me and teaches me the way in which I should walk.  At times God's handling seems rough, but then all discipline seems painful and unpleasant at the time.  Our flesh does not want to hear it.  We want to follow our passions and desires -- but that way is the broad and easy way which leads to death, and Jesus tells us that many are they who walk on it and perish by it.  His rod corrects me when I stray and leads me back to the path of life.

And His staff is the weapon with which the Shepherd protects His sheep and drives away the lions and wolves and the other predators who seek my life.  Although the power of our Shepherd is great and awesome, I am comforted by it.  It is like when I was a child.  I loved the thunderstorms.  I would dance in the rain and laugh out loud at the lightning.  Was I a weird child?  Yes, but that is besides the point.  I enjoyed the storm because in it I saw the power of my heavenly Father.  God, who loves me and has promised to watch over me and bring me to everlasting life for Jesus  sake, is the one who causes the rain to fall, the thunder to roll and the lightening to flash.  Seeing His power did not terrify me, but comforted me.  If He has that much power to throw away in a little storm, how much does He have to rescue and defend me?

Jesus told us that we should not fear those who have the power to merely put us to death, but fear Him, rather, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  But I do not fear my Good Shepherd whose love is poured out on me -- not with the fear of danger, but with the filial fear of a son.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou anointest my head with oil; My cup runneth over.  Far from having anything to fear, I look forward to that feast in the Kingdom of God.  God has laid the banquet of eternity and of the wedding feast of the Lamb with His bride before me.  I am His and He has claimed me before the whole world.  They rant and rave and mock and scorn me, but His choice stands, and the table He has spread before me is the feast of everlasting life.

He has chosen me -- that is what the anointing speaks of.  He has poured out on me the waters of life from the hand of my pastor in my baptism and called me by name, just as He anointed the shepherd boy David with oil from the flask of the prophet and called him by name to be the king over His people Israel.  In that precious moment -- on November 12, 1950, as I lay in the arms of my grandmother -- God spoke my name through the lips of His servant, and poured out on me such a blessing of forgiveness and life that I cannot contain it and it flows over -- my cup runneth over – from all the grace and love and goodness which is mine both then and now, and forever.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life -- my good shepherd will never leave me nor forsake me.  The parable of the lost sheep was about me.  It is also about you!  He sought me when I was not seeking Him, and He rescued me before I knew enough to know Him.  He brought me to the sheepfold of the church, and He has kept me ever since --and will always.  I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Along with all of you.

Eternal life is my destiny in Christ, and the gentle guidance and abundant provision of my God is the story of my life -- and yours -- day by day.  God could not leave the shepherding of His chosen ones to those other shepherds.  They had been unfaithful.  They served themselves and took advantage of the sheep.  They abused and abandoned the flock, so God Himself is the Shepherd.  It is the best of all circumstances, for He is the best of all Shepherds.  Let us give thanks to Him in prayer and in song.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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