Fearless with Our Divine Shepherd in the Valley of the Shadow of Death
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS THE CHRIST.
Several weeks ago, we looked at the dawn of our faith in Christ as we were called out of our common sheepfold world through Holy Baptism and fell into step behind Jesus with a cadence of life which proclaims “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” In the weeks since, we have seen physical and emotional hunger, thirsts, and fatigue taken care of by The Shepherd Who: “makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters” and Who “restores our soul and leads us in paths of Righteousness for His Name’s Sake.”
Our text today has the feel of late afternoon – almost evening. The hot sun is no longer centered above us, but appears to be coasting toward the western horizon. A beautiful sight – perhaps – but for the Holy Land shepherd and his flock, we are now truly in the valley of the shadow of death.
Well, let’s just take a moment to look at that valley of the shadow of death. I’ve been there literally – and, as members of Christ’s human flock, we all have been there figuratively. In the Ephrathah region of Judea – where David cared for his father’s sheep – the Judean landscape is made up of little barren valleys nestled along hillsides and even at the foot of high ridges. With the rising or setting of the sun, the land is a mass of shadows – of places where the wolf Jesus speaks of in JOHN 10 can easily hide until it catches the sheep and scatters them or worse. The valley also provides good hiding places for human thieves wanting someone else’s sheep for supper or for a lion like the one Samson fought to protect his flock. The sheep and goats walking on the dry dusty paths raise thick dust clouds which provide additional cover for those seeking to snatch one or more of them. It takes a committed shepherd to lead his flock through what for the sheep is truly a valley of the shadow of death, yet David is still able to confess concerning his own life that “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”
Notice how David says “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” - not “Yea if I walk”. There is no doubt whatsoever in David’s mind that his life’s journey will carry him “through the valley of the shadow of death”. David’s words are not some formalized hypothetical statement of a faith he has been taught to have when and if things get rough in life. David’s words are a creedal confession he lives by every day on his paths of life.
Throughout this summer, we have thought of how many theological thieves and robbers in shepherd’s clothing beckon us to follow them.
The Shepherd Who Restores Our Souls and Leads Us in Paths of Righteousness
“THE SHEPHERD WHO RESTORES OUR SOULS AND LEADS US IN PATHS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS”
Text – PSALM 23:3
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN DIVINE SHEPHERD – JESUS CHRIST.
The past two weeks, we have thought of how many human wolves in shepherd’s clothing beckon us to follow them - pagan agendas, idolatrous religions like Islam, fallacious political correctness, the basest of human desires and temptations, addiction, greed, loss of purpose, loss of identity as members of our Divine Shepherd’s human flock. In the media, in the halls of higher education, in political arenas, even in the church itself – they all beckon “follow me”.
David, as a shepherd was always aware of how totally his sheep depended upon him and he was even more keenly aware of how much more dependent he himself was upon The Lord Who alone is worthy to be our Shepherd. Everything David had – including his very life – was a gift from God and was totally sustained by God. When David destroyed the relationship God had established with him, God was quick to forgive and repair that relationship. Whether David always acknowledged it or not, he was totally dependent upon God and upon God’s faithful commitment to him.
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISE LORD AND SAVIOR – THE GOOD SHEPHERD JESUS THE CHRIST.
Dawn - and as the sun appears a glowing sliver on the eastern horizon – the smell of coffee wakes the shepherds and the compound becomes a hub of activity. Each shepherd crouches by the fire for coffee
and breakfast and then prepares his large goat skin bag in which to carry the day’s supplies. He arms himself with a sling and a couple of large stones and a rod which is about a yard long with a nob on the end. Claiming his staff, each shepherd, in turn, approaches the stone corral or the cave to be granted entrance by the shepherd serving as the human gate.
Each shepherd takes his turn standing by the human gate - calling his own sheep out of the compound. The sheep lift their heads at an angle as if listening for a specific voice – which they are – for in pairs and trios the sheep move toward the voice of the shepherd they recognize as their own. The shepherd inspects each sheep as it passes by the human gate. Cuts, bruises, or infection-prone scratches are immediately tended to.
When all the sheep in the flock have been tended to, the shepherd walks in front of them. They are his charge and wherever he leads them throughout the day they will follow.
With God’s human flock, there are many voices and tempting sights seeking to be our shepherd during these temporal years and we hear Jesus’ Own Words of Warning - “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.”
Forty six years ago (06-19-71), I clipped this Joseph Farris cartoon out of the SATURDAY REVIEW. The cartoon shows a school of little fish swimming “follow the leader” style into the mouth of a large fish. One of the little fish is heard to say to another, “Quit complaining! He’s the only leader we’ve got!” This cartoon, with its tragic outcome, provides what could also be an apt description of the relationship between sheep and their shepherd.
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR PERSONAL CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOUR … JESUS THE CHRIST.
Last summer the entire Tharp family went on vacation together. Early one morning Guenther’s Uncle Henry went for a walk along the side of a huge cliff. He slipped over the edge and a hundred feet down a shrub broke his fall and Uncle Henry managed to grab a branch. Well, there he was - suspended a thousand feet above a gorge with only that branch keeping him from certain death. He cried out, “Help! Help! Is there anyone there?”
After some time and more than a few pleas for help, a deep voice from the clouds replied, “I’m here.”
Uncle Henry looked around but couldn’t see anyone, so he called out, “Who are you?”
The voice replied, “I am God.”
After a moment, Henry asked, “Can you help me?”
“Yes, I can” God replied. “Now, let go of the branch. And I will take you to safety.”
Henry was silent for a moment, and then he called out, “Help! Help! Is there anyone else there?”
Last week, we thought of how many pseudo human shepherds and wolves in shepherd’s clothing beckon our Lord’s flock to follow them - pagan agendas, idolatrous religions like Islam, fallacious political correctness, the basest of human desires and temptations, addiction, greed, loss of purpose, loss of identity as members of our Divine Shepherd’s human flock – in the media, in the halls of higher education, in political arenas, in the church itself – they all beckon “follow me”.
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS THE CHRIST – OUR DIVINE SHEPHERD.
Several decades ago, Robert Goulet had a record out about his life being tuned to a different drummer. The writer of that song was quoting the naturalist-philosopher Henry David Thoreau: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” What both Robert Goulet's song and Thoreau's philosophy are saying is that within every one of us there are those beliefs, values, goals and hopes which combine to set the cadence which motivates our lives. Who or what do we believe in? Where do we put our trust? What is ultimately important to us? Who do we love? The cadence founded in our answers is always with us because it is composed of those beliefs and values which shape our temporal journey.
Now caring for sheep in Judea has been and still is a rough job. In Judea, the land where shepherds tend their sheep is dry and parched ... dust on top of limestone rock. The rain is minimal – perhaps a few short showers during two months each year ... and nonexistent the rest. There are no grasslands and the plant in greatest abundance is the thorny burnette - a dry, brittle, sun-bleached-out thorn bush. In David's day, the land had lions and wolves among its inhabitants and robbers were frequent in their attempts to steal a straying or unwatched lamb or two.
During the daylight hours, the sun bakes down so hard you cannot be outdoors without a head covering. At night when the clear skies permit the heat to escape from the earth, the temperature drops rapidly and you need to bundle up. You’re out in all the elements – the sun bakes your skin and roasts your body. When the wolves don’t attack your flock, the sheep stray and you must find and rescue strays. You rise with the first crowing of the rooster and you go to sleep when the night is far spent. The cadence that beats within you most certainly is as monotonous as Revel’s Bolero on a never-ending CD.