The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He 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;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a four-year-old who had spilled his juice on the rug and wanted to clean up the mess himself. So his mother told him that the mop was just outside the back door. Quickly, he ran to the door, but realized that it had become dark outside. Suddenly scared, he told his mother what the problem was. Assuring him, she told him that Jesus is everywhere, even in dark places, and that he’ll always protect him. This put a smile on his face! So, he opened the door just enough to poke his head outside and sheepishly called out, “Jesus, if you’re out there, could you please pass me the mop?”
We all have times of fear and doubt. We chuckle at that four-year-old’s fear of the dark but many of us had a similar fear when we were his age. We eventually grew out of it as we grew older but even then the darkness took on more of a figurative darkness. It wasn’t a literal darkness that scared us but rather what the darkness represented that scared us. Uncertainty, unknowing, second-thoughts, suspicion, threats, doubt…these are what kept us up at night. Literal darkness could easily come to an end. Simply turn on the light or wait until the sun comes up and there is darkness no more. But figurative darkness, well, that’s much more difficult to bring to an end. It takes mental and spiritual development to overcome figurative darkness and these take time, much longer than a flip of a switch or an earth’s rotation. It takes time to become relatively certain and knowledgeable about the world around us. It just doesn’t happen overnight! And all along the way towards certainty and knowledge, the path is riddled with times of darkness. There’s just no way to avoid darkness in this world…
Or is there? Believe it or not, there IS a way to avoid darkness and all that necessary spiritual and mental development! Simply put your faith and trust in our Lord, Jesus Christ! Thus is the great gift revealed by our psalm for this morning. It is a familiar psalm, arguably the most familiar of all the psalms, and it’s considered a “trust psalm.” But I would consider it as much of a confessional psalm as it is a trust. David wasn’t simply advising us to place our trust in God. David was confessing his own trust in God and how he was blessed as a result. Friends, that’s a big difference! It’s one thing to be told to do something, it’s quite another to witness someone doing something and being greatly rewarded for it. BECAUSE David claimed Jesus as his great shepherd, he was without want, laid in green pastures, and led beside still waters. BECAUSE David claimed Jesus as his great shepherd, his soul was restored, he was without fear and he was comforted. BECAUSE David claimed Jesus as his great shepherd, his head was anointed, goodness and mercy followed him all the days of his life, and he dwelled in the house of the Lord forever. Indeed, David DID something and was greatly rewarded for it. Wouldn’t you or I want such a reward too?
Recall from last week that God regularly likes to ask two very basic questions: “do you believe in me?” and “do you trust in me?” I suggested ALL of life’s trials and tribulations ultimately serve to reveal our answers to those questions. This world is one, big test of our belief and trust in him. In claiming Jesus as his shepherd, David was boldly answering “YES!” to both these questions. Each of us needs to make such a bold answer: “Yes, God, I believe in you and trust you!” Why? Because it’s the quickest, surest way to live in the light and in certainty. All the other mental and spiritual development we go through in life gets us there eventually but if you want to get there the quickest, simply claim Jesus as your great shepherd. Acknowledge that you are nothing but a timid, little sheep in need of a great protector and guide. Believe in him, trust in him, and he WILL guide and protect you!
Of course, scripture supports this truth in a number of places. In Proverbs, we hear, “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (3:5-6) Didn’t we hear similar truth in our psalm: “he leads me in right paths for his name’s sake?” Straight paths, right paths…the same thing! And yes, there is a double meaning to that expression, “right path.” Not only a safe path but a morally correct path, a righteous path. God wants to lead each of us down that path but He can only do it if we claim him as our shepherd. In Psalm 28, we again hear David sing, “the Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” (vs. 7) As a good shepherd, Jesus strengthens and protects all those in his care. Simply claim him and give yourself to him!
I can’t think of a better, quicker way to avoid both the literal and figurative darkness of this world than by allowing Jesus to shepherd you through this world. His love and light is all-powerful and all-conquering. And, as Hebrews reminds us, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (13:8) Meaning his love is always the same and endless. He loves you and I and will always love us and that love overcomes ALL of life’s darkness. Let us claim him as our great shepherd and allow him to lead us in nothing but the light. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.