5/12/2019 Fourth Sunday of Easter The text is Ps 23.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Happy Mother’s Day! I can wish you the blessings of this day, not because everyone in the room is a mother, but because we all have been there. Each one of us has been a child. A teacher found out just how profound children can be when she gave her class of second graders a lesson on the magnet and what it does. The next day in a written test, she included this question: “My full name has six letters. The first one is M. I pick up things. What am I?” When the test papers were turned in, the teacher was astonished to find that almost 50 percent of the students answered the question with the word Mother.
Judith Viorst once wrote an essay based on interviews she had with children. The subject was “What’s a good mother like?” Viorst reported that the children expected their mother to get angry from time to time. “She has to,” said Ted, “or she’ll faint from holding it in.”
“But it’s best to remember,” said Randy, “that when your mother starts to act real weird, you have to look scared and serious. Don’t giggle. When mommies are mad, they get madder if you giggle.”
“My mommy got so mad,” said Megan, “that she yanked the plate off the table and all the mashed potatoes flew into the air.” “And why,” Viorst asked, pretending she’d never heard of such shocking behavior, “why would a mother do a thing like that?”
“Well,” said Megan, “she told my older brother, Mike, he’s 11 years old, to eat the potatoes on his plate and he said ‘Later.’ And then she told him again to eat the potatoes and Mike said ‘Soon.’ And then she told him he had better eat those potatoes right now and he said, ‘In a minute.’ And then she stood up and Mike finally took a bite and told her, ‘How can I eat them? They’re cold!'”
It’s not easy being a Mom (King Duncan, www.Sermons.com, adapting Judith Viorst, All in the Family)
So today, we honor mothers everywhere, even if Mother’s Day wasn’t a holiday until 1914 and it doesn’t appear on the liturgical calendar. Today we honor mothers for raising us, for tending to skinned knees and broken hearts, and for the lessons they taught us along the way.
Now, I can think of no better way to honor my mother than to recall the basic stuff she taught me about God and what I should do each day. You would think, with me being a pastor, that I grew up in regular church going family…but I didn’t. I would label my parents as C&Es (with C being optional)…Christmas and Easter church attenders. And yet, my mother made sure that I learned certain things. She taught me the “Now I lay me” prayer. In my youngest years, she made sure that I knelt down beside my bed before going to sleep and prayed that prayer, along with “God bless” litany of people who should be remembered every day.
As I grew a little older, my mother shared with me her favorite hymn and her favorite Bible passage. The favorite hymn was “Just As I Am without One Plea,” and her favorite Bible passage was today’s psalm. I dare say that more of you can recite this psalm from memory than any other passage longer than one verse in all of Holy Scriptures. [In the King James Bible it goes like this…and I invite you to say it with me.]
Psalm 23 King James Version (KJV)
23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 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.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 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.
Some of you learned this song, as I did, at your mother’s knee during childhood. Others learned it as a piece of memory work during confirmation classes. And still others came to it later in life, during a time of stress or compelling need, or under the spell of budding love for the Good Shepherd. Maybe the first time you heard the psalm was in Sunday school or church, or at a funeral for a loved one, or maybe as you read it on a plaque or on a card that was meant to be carried in the wallet. It doesn’t matter for whenever you first heard this psalm – whether in joy or sorrow, youth or age – the words have probably found their way into your heart.
There’s nothing new here. This ageless song is as familiar as an old pair of comfortable shoes. And because it is so familiar we love it all the more. The words bring back memories of people and places and they give us a sure confidence in God’s loving care that transcends even death. For, the Lord is a Good Shepherd who stays with us at all times. We are the sheep of his pasture. This Good Shepherd chooses to include us in his flock. We do not choose him. This Good Shepherd chooses to watch over us. We do not choose him. This Good Shepherd chooses to provide for us a dwelling place. We do not choose him…any more than an unconceived child can choose his or her mother.
Our Lord chooses us before we are born for he knows that we will need some help to get through this life. For like sheep, we are not always the smartest animals on the planet. Although we would like to believe ourselves to be wise and self-sufficient, we, like sheep, easily go astray and can become fodder for the wolves of the world. The Good Shepherd knows this so he is there to guide us along the right path. The Lord protects us and provides for our every need. The Lord comforts us and gives us hope for something beyond today.
There’s nothing new here for shepherds have been providing these things for their sheep for as long as sheep have been domesticated. A shepherd in Palestine had to know each lamb that belonged to his flock so well that each could be identified simply by touch. In times of danger, it would be the shepherd who would put his life on the line as he would lead the sheep to safety. In times of want, the sheep were dependent upon the knowledge of the shepherd who would know the location of the best grazing lands, even in the arid climate of the Holy Land. Their shepherd would not let them down.
So it is with the Lord. With the Lord as our shepherd, we, the sheep of his pasture, shall not be in want. We shall not be in want of rest and refreshment. We shall surely find in him satisfaction for the hunger and thirst of our souls. We shall not be in want for the Lord will do everything within his power to provide for us and protect us. And our Good Shepherd promises to be with us always – to the end of time. He will be with us as we face the uncertainties of tomorrow and the inevitability of death. He will be with us in times of plenty and will search for us if we should stray. He will be with us, beckoning to us to listen to his voice and to follow his lead.
There’s nothing new here. Every time I hear the words of the 23rd psalm spoken or sung, I am reminded that goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our life and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. That will be true for me. It will be true for you. And it is true for my mother who found such comfort in these words that she passed them down to me as her very favorite.
This is God’s Easter promise and his Easter gift to you…sealed by the cross and the empty tomb. For, our Lord, the Good Shepherd, will be there for you today, tomorrow and always. May you believe and trust in him, and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.