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EASTER 4   Good Shepherd Sunday         “Thou Art with Me…”

April 25, 2021                                          Psalm 23                                                          (cpr12)

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In the name of the FSHSP. Amen    Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ

“From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties,  and things that go bump in the night,  Good Lord, deliver us.”    *How many of you have heard that before? (raise hand)  When I was little,  my mom would say it.   It’s a lymric~prayer;  made to sound like child’s-play,  but the idea of it is not silly.   It goes back to the early 1900s,  often called ‘The Cornish Litany’,

& was printed with pictures on postcards,  in connection with Cornwall, England.

Those pictures showed a child in his bedroom,  with monsters under the bed & coming out of the closet.   Every child has cried out in the darkness with the fear of monsters.   The biggest comfort for the troubled heart  is that mom or dad come into the room.   That comfort doesn’t mean fears won’t come back again the next night;  and kids may not believe a parent  when they say that there is nothing under the bed  or in the closet.   But for the moment,  in that hour,  things will be okay;  because mom or dad is ‘there.’   Their presence brings comfort & confidence,  & peace.

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We hear the 23rd Psalm say:  The Lord is my shepherd;  I shall not want.  He maketh me….he leadeth me…. He restoreth my soul:   ….Yea,  though I walk thru the valley of the shadow of death,  I will fear  no evil;  for Thou art with me;    …. Thou art with me,  when things go bump in the night.

Like a child in a big dark room,  every adult  has felt the weight of their fears in the shadows of aloneness,  until someone comes to be present.   Whether it’s being alone in a hospital room,  or waiting for the phone to ring,  or alone in the house waiting to hear the doorbell;   all age-groups find themselves alone with their fears of shadows & monsters.

Children may have vivid imaginations;  but the evils of the real world are genuine;   sometimes they’re even worse than dreams.   Either way,  what’s needed is the comfort of a ‘strong presence.’    Family & friends come to sit by the hospital bed,  & hold our sick hand.

A neighbor or fellow church member shows up with some food to share.   Our best comfort   is not in trying to convince ourselves that our fear is ‘all in our head’,  or in the idea that  ‘things will just work themselves out.’

Comfort comes from being in the presence of others;  those who care about us,    who wait with us in the dark,  who bear with us.   There is a peace that comes with not being alone.   How much more so  when the one with us is The Almighty One.

So it was with the people of Israel at the Exodus.   As they journeyed thru the unknown wilderness,   they where comforted by the pillar of fire by night,  & pillar of cloud by day;  those were the visibility of God’s presence.   They were like the OT ‘sacraments’;   a physical display of God’s real presence for them.   Israel had come out of Egypt & away from familiar things,  even tho their slavery was miserable.   And even tho God promised them freedom in a land flowing with milk & honey,    still,  it was unsettling to face the unknown.   Their true comfort in the  ‘scary unknown’  was that The Almighty was with them.

God also gave to Israel the comforting presence of Moses.  God spoke to them thru Moses;  a real voice.  They also had comfort in God’s daily gift of manna & water;  real present gifts from the God of their fathers.  God didn’t just say,  ‘I’ll see you later,  when you get to Canaan.’   Their security & confidence was God’s promised presence  to lead them  when they didn’t know the way;   to guide them thru the uncertainties & threats  that were around them;   and to defend them from their enemies  and from their fears.

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So it is with God’s people today = for You & me.   We are all pilgrims & strangers in the world that should’ve felt like home.   Sin has made the world dark with threats;  wicked people & the unpredictable world cause us fear.   This world was supposed to be our place for life & health & happiness;  but it’s broken;  the world has  injury,  sickness,  sorrow;  it’s filled with irrational & foolish things.   The greatest enemy is death,  because it stops our living;

it ends all our plans  for things we’d hoped to do.

So, we have good reason to fear.  Life is fragile,  & death is a shadowy presence every day.   Death should remind us of the beginning,  the Garden of Eden;  it connects us back with our first fallen parents.   Because of their disobedience against God,  Psalm 23 is the truth:

“I walk thru the valley of the shadow of death.”

*What is mankind’s reaction to living under the shadow of death?   Mostly,  people try

to ignore the shadow of death.   Younger people like to imagine that death is a long way off;

they dismiss it,  & don’t look too far ahead.

Those of middle-age  will ignore death by doing as much ‘living’ as they can.  It’s good to be busy.  But our old nature will turn our life into a ‘race’;  a competition for possessions & activities.   Some people act like,  if they’re really busy,  death won’t catch up to them.

God says this is foolish.    Psalm 103 says,  “As for man,  his days are like grass;  he flourishes like a flower of the field;  then the wind passes over it,  and it is gone,  and its place knows it no more.”    To ignore the reality of death is foolishness;  it’s like a dumb & defenseless sheep trying to out-run a wolf.    …which brings us back to Ps.23.

*How is it that Psalm 23 is everyone’s favorite?  If the Lord is our ‘Shepherd’,  it means that we are the mindless sheep;  there’s no such thing as ‘smart’ sheep.    In the Psalm,

God makes US the weak, foolish, threatened & wandering sheep = it’s an insult!  …But it’s true.

As sheep,  we go our own way;   we run after excitement & youth,  entertainment & pleasure,   not realizing how lost & vulnerable we are to the wolves   until troubles & death come out of the shadows,  and pounce, & tear & wound us.      And if we have no relationship with a strong shepherd,  its no wonder we feel alone & scared.  Sheep are not equipped to deal with wolves;  those without a shepherd  have no defense,  and no hope.

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It’s into this  ‘valley of the shadow of death’  that The Son of God has come;  Jesus comes to bring God & God’s right perspective of our weak selves & of  the dark world;  & he brings His help.      He comes to be The Good Shepherd = who lays down his life for sheep.  The Shepherd knows his own scared lambs  better than they know themselves.    He speaks in such a way  so that the sheep will hear the sound of his voice,  and know the comfort of his call,  and have the safety of his presence.    This is OUR Shepherd;  he has the strength that supplies a greener pasture,  & a water that cleanses & quenches thirst.    He comes as the One & Only  who can protect & restore the souls of the lost,  and lead us in the right path.

With Ps.23,  God reminds us  that in this world,  in life & in death,  we are not alone.  How important that message is!   Tempted by our own foolishness,  threatened by evil,  & surrounded by enemies,  we are not alone = He is with us.   It cost Jesus everything to come to be with us & to rescue us.   Satan tempted Him with the most fulfilling earthly life possible,   but He didn’t take it == and neither should we!   There is only one true life,  & it can’t be lived  in this fallen & evil world.

So,  The Shepherd arrived to trade his life for the sheep;  he surrendered it on the cross,  & died in our place.   And when The Shepherd rose from the dead,  that was the sign that He now has power over all things for our good.   And because he ascended-on-high,  now he is with us wherever we are.  The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want;  that means we are not ever alone.

“From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties,  and things that go bump in the night,  Good Lord, deliver us.”   Psalm 23 is God’s answer to that prayer;   the Psalm gives us a confession of faith:  “Yea,  though I walk thru the valley of the shadow of death,  I will fear no evil,  for Thou art with me.”

This is not some clever imagery of a poet;  these are the very words given by the Good Shepherd  who understands us.   This is His voice to give hope to scared lambs  who cry out in darkness,  looking for comfort & peace.    We will notice how this confession of faith  sounds different than  ‘TV Christianity,’  or many things you might see on YouTube,   which say  that IF you get right with God,  you’ll have a good life;   they say that God wants you to have health & wealth,  and happiness & good things;  but somehow,  you’re preventing Him.

But too much of real life  is not like that.  There’s darkness & evil in the world;  it’s the world I live in,  so evil will affect me.   *What’s the solution?  The Good Shepherd is with us.

“I will fear no evil,  for Thou art with me.”   There is a calm confidence in this 3,000 year old Psalm.   Psalm 23 is true to life,  acknowledging real monsters & real fears.   But this Psalm places all those real wolves  in the real presence of The One who is ‘the Good Shepherd,’  who lays down his life for the sheep.

*Who is He again?   He’s the One who said,  “take up your cross  and follow me.

He said,  “in this world you will have trouble;  but take heart,  I have overcome the world.”    He said,  ‘set your hearts on things above, not on earthly things;  for this world is passing away.’  He’s the One  who actually came into our dark & scary place to be with us,    and to say to us,  “I am with you,  always.”    This is the Savior who is with us now,  and who will return to finally bring us to His own place,  where there will BE no more evil.

“I will fear no evil,  for Thou art with me.”   *Where is he with us?   He says,  ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name,  there am I among them.’    God promised the people of Israel that He would dwell in the tabernacle & temple for them.

Likewise,  God has promised to meet with us  where we gather in his name & with his word.   So,  here in church is the place where our Shepherd restores our souls in his still, baptismal water.   This is the place where he prepares his table  with his own body & blood  surrounded by a world that treats him as an enemy.

When we come here,  and humbly bring to him our sins,  he anoints our heads with the oil of gladness,  filling our cups with forgiveness,  always ready to pardon us again with an overflowing grace.   Here in his presence,  his goodness & mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives.   Coming here in Jesus’ presence,  receiving His forgiveness,  doesn’t make the evil world  or our troubles go away;   but it does make hell go away.   Because where Jesus is,  sin, death & hell have no power.    His faithful church,  with his word & sacraments,   has become the threshold & the door of the house of the Lord  so that we can dwell with him,  now & forever.   The Savior Jesus is our true comfort;  we come here  to make sure he is still with us = and  by His own voice,  He promises   He IS.

Because we can’t see Jesus,  the world mocks us for believing in things that ‘aren’t real.’    But,  when we have to face the monsters of this life,  & all things that go bump in the night,    we DO have his real voice,  & our faith hears him.

What truly calms our fears  is that the Good Shepherd is here & with us;   in his Word,  in his Sacraments,  in & thru his church & people.   Our Lord Jesus is not way-off in the bleachers,  cheering us on  as we fight with our troubles.    He is here,  with his gifts & Spirit for our  journey thru ’death valley,’     In a world filled with uncertainty,  He is the One  in whom  we are certain.

“From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties,  and things that go bump in the night,  Good Lord, deliver us.”    To the child who cries out in the night,  nothing is more welcome than the comforting presence of Mom or Dad.   Likewise,  the Son of God has come to deliver us from wolves & monsters.   Even though you are a defenseless & needy & foolish sheep,  The Lord is your Shepherd.   He protects & guides you;  He leads & forgives you;

He comforts you now,  and with the promise that you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.   That’s why Psalm 23 is our favorite one.   Because Jesus makes it true.      Amen