Sunday’s Sermon: Your Own Little Patch of Grass

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  • Story: The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies[1]
    • Seems to be an issue every parent and often grandparents also have to tackle when raising children: teaching them the difference between “want” and “need” → And this is also one of the issues tackled by our Scripture readings this morning: As Christians and simply as human beings, what do we need?
      • Sometimes an easy question to answer
      • Sometimes far from easy
      • Reassurance that we find in Scripture this morning: Even when we don’t know what we need, God is there for us.
  • See need for differentiation between “need” and “want” in Psalm – ever-familiar first line: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.[2] → pay particular attention to last half, “I shall not want.”
    • Other translations:
      • NIV: I shall not be in want.
      • Common English Bible: I lack nothing.
      • The Message: I don’t need a thing.
      • Difference gets to the root of the Heb. – literal translation of “I shall not want” = “nothing I lack” → When you think about it, that’s a pretty big difference. According to Time Magazine, Bill Gates is the richest man in the world[3], and I’d be willing to bet that Bill Gates doesn’t need anything. He has food and water. He has a roof over his head. He lives in relative safety. But I’d also be willing to bet that even the richest man in the world wants things.
        • New suit
        • Cheeseburger and a chocolate shake
        • Tickets to the latest play on Broadway
        • New car
        • Boat
        • Better furniture
        • And the list goes on and on. None of these things are necessities. Life can go on without them. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want them.
    • Scripture = focused on “needs” – things we require to keep going → seems to tackle 2 different facets
      • Physical needs
      • Spiritual needs
  • First question: What are our physical needs? → one of the easier questions to answer … sort of
    • Pretty well addressed in psalm: [God] makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies[4]
      • Physical need: food = “green pastures”
      • Physical need: water = “still waters”
      • Physical need: protection
        • “I fear no evil, for you are with me”
        • “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”
        • Both these phrases speak to God’s protection and reassurance.
      • See how greatly and passionately God desires these things for all God’s children – all the sheep – in Heb.
        • clarify “God’s children” = all-inclusive term
        • “lie down” includes word “dwell” → God wants this to be a sustaining experience for us, a safe place in which we can settle down and feel secure.
        • “green pastures” = new fresh grass (as after rain) → best of the best
          • Freshest grass
          • Lushest grass
  • Second question: What are our spiritual needs? → often much more difficult to answer
    • Also addressed in psalm: [God] restores my soul. … You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.[5] → again touched by God’s desire to provide in abundance
      • Heb. “follow” (“goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”) = “pursue” → This is not God simply tying goodness and mercy to our beltloops so they can follow limply behind us like a drooping kite tail without any wind. This is God deliberately coming after us holding out that goodness and that mercy and just waiting for us to accept. When we zig, God zigs. When we zag, God zags. When we stop in our tracks, God comes ever closer in hopes that we will feel that goodness and mercy all the more.
        • John passage demonstrates care and attention this requires: The sheep hear [the shepherd’s] voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.[6] → As the shepherd in the psalm, this shepherd of which Jesus speaks cares for the sheep. This shepherd desires that they should follow so they can be lead to those green pastures, those still waters, that life-restoring rest.
          • Speaks to physical need          AND
          • Speaks to spiritual needs
        • God loves us, and so God wants us to have not just the bare bones but the fullest life possible – our own little patch of grass where our needs are satisfied.
          • Jesus’ words – end of John passage: I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.[7]
  • But sometimes sheep wander off. Sometimes sheep fall prey to a predator or fall sick or become injured. Nothing – no life, no situation, no person – is perfect all the time.
    • On the one hand, there are all sorts of things that pull our attention away from the shepherd. → John addresses this: Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. … [The sheep] will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers. … The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.[8]
      • Scholar put it simply: It is perilous to follow the wrong shepherd.[9] → wrong shepherds: greed, pride, blind ambition, power
        • Think about it. We have an uncanny ability to be distracted … which is exactly what the vast majority of the advertising industry counts on!
          • Evident in number of ads we see everywhere – TV, magazines/newspapers, sides of vehicles, billboards, pop-ups online, Facebook feed → There’s always a flashier car, a bigger home, a more extravagant vacation that we could take. One thing’s for sure: they’re certainly not playing to our needs. They’re playing to our wants.
        • Ps acknowledges our constant turning and returning – Heb. “I shall dwell” (in the house of the Lord my whole life long) = “I shall return” (same word as “repent”)
  • But there’s an even bigger issue than that, isn’t there? We live in a world where not all who are hungry have food. Not all who are thirsty have access to clean, safe drinking water. Not all who fear and are in danger find the shelter they so desperately seek. What then?
    • Difficult question → let me ask this: Do sheep live as lone, solitary figures? – No, they live in a flock. They live together in community. And so do we.
      • Again, clarify “we” = all people, not just Christians
    • In times of need – our own need or others’ need – we find ourselves with the unique and sacred privilege of being God’s hands and heart for one another.  fulfilling our needs through other people and/or helping others fulfill their needs
      • Find this call in both Scriptures this morning
        • Jn: The sheep follow [the shepherd] because they know his voice.[10] – Gr. “follow” = same word used for “disciples” → implies following, yes, but also learning and reciprocating the actions
        • Ps: [God] leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.[11] – Heb. “right” = grace-filled, just → The psalmist isn’t talking about a correct path and an incorrect path here. The psalmist is talking about God leading us down paths of justice for the sake of God’s name. This is our chance to act out the love, the grace, the open-mindedness we find in our faith, making sure that those who need food don’t go hungry, that those who need water don’t die of thirst, that those in need of protection are not left alone to fend for themselves.
          • Scholar: When Psalm 23 is heard in the context of … Jesus Christ, its profoundly radical implications are even clearer: God is with us, but God is not ours to own; the God who shepherds us to life also gives life to the world; the table at which we are hosted is one to which the whole world is invited.[12]
      • So many ways to do this
        • Concrete ways: Habitat for Humanity, food shelf, Dorothy Day house, Backpacking for the Weekend
        • Ways that feel less concrete – lifting our voice
          • Prayer
          • Crying out for justice
          • E.g. – #BringBackOurGirls: Apr. 15, 300+ teenage girls were abducted from a school in Nigeria, some escaped but 234 are still being held by a terrorist group → How can we walk that road to justice with and for these girls? What can we do? We can pray. And we can spread the word to our family, to our friends, to our local and state and federal leaders. For these 234 girls and for all our brothers and sisters around the world who find themselves in need, we can raise our voices in support of those who are still seeking out those paths of justice because we each deserve to dwell in that little patch of grass that God has for us. Amen.

 

[1] Stan and Jan Berenstain. The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies. (New York, NY: Random House), 1988.

[2] Ps 23:1 (NRSV).

[3] Alexandra Sifferlin. “Bill Gates Is The Richest Man in the World (Again),” Time Magazine, http://time.com/11389/bill-gates-worlds-richest-man/. Publish date: March 3, 2014. Access date: May 8, 2014.

[4] Ps 23:2-5a.

[5] Ps 23:3a, 5b-6.

[6] Jn 10:3-4.

[7] Jn 10:10b.

[8] Jn 10:1, 5, 10a.

[9] Molly T. Marshall. “Fourth Sunday of Easter – John 10:1-10 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 444.

[10] Jn 10:4.

[11] Ps 23:3b.

[12] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 4. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 771.

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