Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sermon: Psalm 23 My Shepherd Lord

This morning we’re thinking about Psalm 23. Now, does anyone know how Psalm 23 starts off? What’s the first line of the Psalm?

‘The Lord is my shepherd’

So what does a shepherd do? He keeps sheep.
I mustn’t be a very good shepherd. I’ve brought along my flock of sheep this morning, but I’ve lost them. Can anyone find any of my sheep?

I’m not a very good shepherd, because I lost my sheep. But the Lord isn’t like that. He’s a much better shepherd than me. Now how do we know that?

Well, the Bible tells us that the Lord is my shepherd - and the person who wrote these words was a shepherd himself! Does anyone know who wrote Psalm 23?

It’s a Psalm of David. David who later became the king - his first job was as a shepherd, looking after the sheep. As David sat around on the hillside, as he walked along with his sheep, he realised that God is his shepherd. David pictures himself as a sheep, and the Lord as his shepherd.

In Psalm 23, David tells us the three benefits of having the Lord as his shepherd. We’re going to look at them in turn.

Now the first one, this always puzzled me when I was growing up. Sometimes, things in church can be a wee bit confusing - so ask if you’re not sure of something. There are no silly questions! So, how I was puzzled. We would sing ‘The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want.’ And I always wondered why would I not want the Lord to be my shepherd? But that’s not what it says. And the NIV helpfully puts it in a way that explains it better.

‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.’ (1)

Whenever the Lord is your shepherd, you will not be wanting or needing anything. The Shepherd Lord provides.

We see this in verses 2-3. Every line starts with the word ‘he’. David is telling us, and anyone who will listen, about his shepherd Lord.

Here’s how the Lord provides:
he makes me lie down in green pastures
he leads me beside quiet waters
he restores my soul
he guides me in paths of righteousness for his names’ sake

If you’re a sheep, you need some food - the green pastures are the place to find grass (and also get a nice lie down). You need some water - quiet waters are better to get a drink from rather than a raging rushing river (the sheep might get swept away). You need rest. And you need to keep moving, because otherwise a flock of sheep would eat all the grass in one place and make it a desert.

Everything I need, the Lord provides - I shall not be in want.

Now that sounds great, doesn’t it? All nice and gentle, and peaceful. Sometimes you see pictures with Bible verses on them. You might see a picture of some sheep in a green field with verse 1 on it. But I’m pretty sure you’ve never seen one of those Bible verse pictures with verse 4 on it.

Here, the sun has gone, it’s dark and dangerous, we’re in the valley. This is maybe a scary place. It’s called either the valley of the shadow of death; or footnote, ‘through the darkest valley’. Either way, it’s a place of danger and darkness.

But look at verse 4. The shepherd Lord protects.

‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’ (4)

I shall not want was the first benefit of having the shepherd. The second is ‘I will fear no evil.’

But this isn’t because the sheep is very brave, it’s not afraid of anyone or anything all by itself. No, there is no fear because ‘you are with me...’ The shepherd is with the sheep. The shepherd protects the sheep, with his rod and his staff. They’ll keep away any dangers.

So far we’ve seen the shepherd provides and the shepherd protects. Lastly, we see that the shepherd promises.

We have a sure and secure future. Along the way, the Lord prepares a table for us, to give us strength for the journey, the strength to get home. There is food, there is oil (to cleanse and heal), and there is an overflowing cup.

Is there anyone with a steady hand? At college, one of the tricks that were pulled was that someone would pour out water at the dinner table, right up to the very, very brim. If you didn’t have a steady hand, you’d get soaked. Here, the cup is overflowing, there is more than enough, plentiful supply. (Don’t try this at home!)

The table, oil and cup are given to get us home. Goodness and love (mercy) follow us - or as some people have suggested, they’re like sheepdogs chasing us along the way home.

Home, where the promise is: ‘I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been asked, well, does the rectory feel like home yet? It does. But we know that at some point in the future, it’ll not be our home any more. Tomorrow I’m doing a wedding in my old church and on Friday evening it was strange to drive past our old house, knowing that’s not where we live any more.

But we have a forever home. A place where we will dwell forever. It’s the house of the Lord, where we’ll be with him, forever provided and protected, according to his promise.

David knew that the Lord was his shepherd. But in the New Testament, the Lord Jesus tells us that he is the good shepherd. Jesus is our shepherd, and he provides for us: ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ (Jn 10:10). Jesus is our shepherd and he protects us: ‘I may down my life for the sheep’ (Jn 10:15). Jesus is our shepherd and he give us his promise: ‘I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.’ (Jn 10:28).

These blessings of provision, protection, and promise are for those who can say ‘The Lord is MY shepherd’. Can you say that today? He is calling to you. He is leading you. Come to him.

This sermon was preached at the Family Service in St Matthew's Richhill on Sunday 16th July 2017.

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