St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Safe and Secure”
Collect: O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd…”
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." Jesus answered, "I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one."
In years to come, the Age we live in could very well be called The Age of Fear. We live in the most affluent and prosperous nation in the history of world, and yet we speak of scarcity and lack. We speak of not trusting our neighbor or the stranger, and yet crime is down across the board. Anything that happens anywhere, it is sensationalized for our entertainment, not for our information. Infotainment has become more prevalent than news. Like a potato chip or a salty peanut, if we try it once it is hard to stop. Fear begets fear begets fear, and our emotions drive the car not the brain God gave us. That is the problem with fear. In its grip, our mind turns off. There is a mantra used in one of my favorite novels. It goes, “Fear is the mindkiller.” [Dune by Frank Herbert] Though from a novel, it could not be more true.
There was an interesting article that received a lot of press last fall looking specifically at fears. Bloomberg had an article on September 5 (link) that talked about the mega-rich hidden safe houses in case calamity strikes the world. Plague or killer virus, nuclear war, natural disaster, or even zombie apocalypse, these so called Bolt-Hole Homes are put in secluded areas, and put in in such a way that not even locals in these far flung locales should even know that these Hidey Holes even exist.
The homes are often pre-made security bunkers, and then they are buried 11 feet underground so that they can even survive nuclear fall-out. According to the article, much of the Silicon Valley 1% Elite have plans to fly directly to their property in New Zealand where they have things squirreled away for their intentional and self-imposed isolation. Why New Zealand? “‘If you’re the sort of person that says ‘I’m going to have an alternative plan when Armageddon strikes,’ then you would pick the farthest location and the safest environment — and that equals New Zealand if you Google it,’” says former Kiwi Prime Minister John Key.
The New Zealand Parliament actually had to ban any further billionaire Apocalypse Refugees from encroaching on their shores. Sounds like the safe place getaway wants to keep their safe place for themselves.
We live in anxious times, where fear seems to be the parlance of the day. I watch the news and it seems my blood-pressure just rises. The way the news is shared, too often, is to drive us to outrage. If they can tap into our fears than we no longer rationally consider whatever the topic is and can be easily influenced. These fears are becoming universal as people are driven to strong-man politicians to alleviate them of their fears. The mega-rich express it with their bunkers, but even in recent times it has moved into the middle class.
You may have heard about the so-called Panic Rooms that people have installed in case someone invades their home. They even made a movie about one.
So where do we look for safety and security? Where do we feel safe? Wealth? Health? Education? Possessions? How much is enough to let you feel safe?
Once I had a dream, for real. (I was in seminary, and had lots to worry about.) I was wandering in a desert, lost, alone, desperate. I pushed, I shoved, I inched along. As I came over a rise, looking for view from which I could find hope or some source of rescue, I saw instead an oncoming sandstorm heading directly for me. I went back down the dune hoping for some protection. Curled into a fetal position, the wind and sand bit at all that was me. Darkness and pain reigned through the whole night. Sometime in the storm I passed out. Still dreaming, I came to. There was light! There was silence! There was hope that came with the dawn. I sat up and opened my eyes. As I shook off the sand, I looked around. The hollow that I was sitting was no hollow. As I looked around I found, that I was resting in the very hand of God.
Where do you find your hope? Where do you find your security?
The religious leaders were looking for a little security when they confronted Jesus in John 10 in today’s readings. The rumors were flying and so many were asking of Jesus, “Could he be the one?” They went to him while he was in the Temple.
“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep...”If Jesus would just answer them they could know what to do. They obviously wanted to be in on the side of the Messiah, but they wanted the Messiah on their terms and in their image.
Jesus wanted to show them another way. A way apart from the legalism and judgmentalism is what Jesus was offering. He wanted them to know him, but they had to let go of the security of the expectations and wrong assumptions about who he was to be. Jesus talked about how his followers know him for who he is, and who he claims to be through his actions, through his teachings…
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one.”We are his sheep. Echoes of Psalm 23 cannot be missed. But for me the most powerful image here is not the one we know so well, but tucked in here is a promise. NO ONE WILL SNATCH THEM OUT OF MY HAND. There is nowhere that I would rather be.
If we are Christ’s, we are Christ’s own FOREVER. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God [Romans 8:38]. There is nothing that can snatch us out of the palm of God’s Hand.
And even more comforting is that the Hand of God is not just in this world, but we rest there safe and secure in whatever world there is to come.
In our Psalm reading, we hear King David’s comforting words, the words of a shepherd who says that the Lord is the True Shepherd. And as a shepherd himself, David would know.
Psalm 23 remains a favorite, and most funerals I do use it as a consolation and touchstone for the grieving. Even those who have never been to a church, or have not been in decades have heard and can recite the words, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”
We say those words for comfort. But how might we act if we lived in that promise? How might we live if we truly believed and acted on this as guiding philosophy? WHAT WOULD WE DO IF WE WEREN’T AFRAID?
I have seen this question rise up in our culture. I have seen this asked in so many ways. It is a response to our times, which does its best to pump our fear the best it can. But I would encourage you to read or watch on TED or Netflix the groundbreaking work of Brene Brown. So much of her work is about this question surrounding fears.
So if we are to live in the promise of God as our Shepherd, let’s look at that closely...
Psalm 23 (this translation is from the Book of Common Prayer, pp. 612-613)
1 The Lord is my shepherd; *I shall not be in want.2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *and leads me beside still waters.
We all have needs, we all have to have our basics covered. Food. Water. Shelter. When we have these cared for then can move on to higher matters. Maslow and his hierarchy of needs identifies this. The Lord is our Shepherd, he will provide our needs. When we have the foundational stuff covered, we care for higher concerns, meaning, purpose, self-actualization. David identified that with what came next.
3 He revives my soul *We have time and space to care for our souls when the worries of this world are taken care of. Our shepherd is not out to hoodwink us, or to drive us to fear. In his resurrected form his first words were often, “Peace” or “Fear Not.” He wants to take care of our whole selves, our bodies, minds, and souls. Our Shepherd restores our souls.
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; *Even in our greatest fear, the only promise to everyone born, death, we need not fear it. The valley of the shadow of it, or as he said it in John’s Gospel. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one and nothing will snatch them out of my hand.”
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.Think on this. Nothing burns the biscuits of someone who has it out for us than when we succeed. A full and bountiful table spread before us, and they see it. They hate THAT. We are chosen, and the sign of that is anointing, an anointing from the very hand of God. We live in abundance and bounty, and our cup cannot even contain it.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *We have no worries. Goodness and mercy are with us all our days. And the verb used there for goodness and mercy is more than follow. The Hebrew there is far more active. Radaph, the verb here, is not a puppy chasing after us. The very Hounds of Heaven are on our path. “Chase after or pursue” is a far better translation of Radaph. God’s blessings pursue us. Thanks be to God. And in the world to come, we will be with our Shepherd forever. And nothing and no one can snatch us out of his hand.
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
So, Monday morning, you wake up, do your routine, and as you start your day, ponder this. If God is my Shepherd, how will this shape my day? How will I act? What will I say (or not say)?How will I respond to people? How will I let people respond to me? It makes a difference when the Lord is my Shepherd. Amen.