Shepherd Me, O God

Fourth Sunday of Easter B
Preached at Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI.

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

Yesterday, at approximately 1:00 am our time, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck the Asian country of Nepal. Then a second, 6.6 magnitude earthquake struck, followed by over 30 aftershocks.

At 2:00 pm our time, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America released this press statement.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

It is at times like these that the words of Psalm 23 ring most true. It’s one of the most beloved psalms. It has been translated into some of the most beautiful songs, including the one I just quoted (Shepherd Me, O God) and our Hymn of the Day (The King of Love My Shepherd Is). Frequently, when reciting this psalm, the image of lush green fields, babbling brooks, sunny days, and Jesus carrying a gentle lamb in his arms come to mind. It is a happy, idyllic scene captured in many paintings.

But that’s not the scene in Nepal, which is surely, today, one of the darkest valleys. In the press release I read, it said that over 1000 people have died. As of this morning, that number is closer to 2300, with more still trapped, and the death toll is expected to continue rising.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

When events like these take place, one of the most asked questions is, “Why did God let this happen?” or “Where is God in all this?” I can’t answer the first, as I don’t believe it’s the right question. But the second, I can answer. “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.”

This is not just a statement about God walking beside us in green fields. It’s an affirmation that, even and especially in times of great disaster, and pain, and death, God is walking alongside those trapped under the rubble, alongside those who have died, and alongside those who are searching for, rescuing, and aiding the survivors.

At least 20 countries have already mobilized money and/or emergency rescue personnel. International relief agencies, such as our own Lutheran Disaster Relief, immediately dispatched emergency personnel. Even websites such as Facebook and Google are involved, with Facebook allowing people in the area to mark themselves and their family and friends online as “safe” and Google launched its Person Finder tool to help people locate missing persons.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

It isn’t surprising that Psalm 23 is often chosen to be read at funerals. It is a powerful statement of our trust in God’s ability to lead us in death to new life. We know nothing about that journey. Nothing about how it happens, nothing about what it will be like. We have images and poetry in our scriptures that attempt to describe the new life we will have, but they all come up short. In this, we really are like dumb sheep, absolutely at the mercy of our shepherd to provide for our every need, to keep us safe from things we don’t even know are out there, and to lead us along the way, through dark valleys, through the presence of enemies and evil forces that would seek to destroy us along the way.

We put our trust and our faith in a God that is able to be our shepherd from death to life, because we put our trust and faith in a God who’s already walked that road. The Easter season is the bold proclamation that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. It is the firm belief, the bedrock of our faith, that death, no matter how tragic or how disastrous, does not have the final say, does not hold any power, does not dictate terms to us any longer.

As often as we walk scared-stiff through the darkest valleys in life, God walks beside us, keeping us away from the shadows and the beasts. In Nepal, God walks beside everyone, giving comfort and rest to the survivors and taking the dead into God’s own care for their own journey.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

It is not a psalm about the pleasant things in life, but a psalm about the the worst experiences in life. It is there, in those horrible places, in those tragedies, at our lowest points, that God is most present with us, leading us beside still waters, leading us along right paths. Even in death, we are still carried back again to the house of the Lord for as long as we have new life.

This Easter season, we celebrate with great joy both our baptisms and the new life given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, whose body and blood we eat and drink in Holy Communion. In our baptisms, we died. We died with Christ. We entered a dark valley. And as we came up from the water, we came up to new life, where a table was set before us even as the old ways, the old life was still there waiting to devour us once more.

Today, especially, we celebrate with our new communicant, who takes her place at the table that is her baptismal right, a place that was set for her years ago. As we celebrate with her, and hear the words for ourselves again, “The body of Christ broken for you,” and “The blood of Christ shed for you,” we remember to what lengths God went to protect us sheep.

We do this in remembrance of the good shepherd, who willingly gave his life for the sheep and was raised to a new one. We do this in remembrance of all those who have died, especially those in Nepal. And we do it for all those who live and will live, who will return to the house of the Lord at the appointed time.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

Featured Image: “nepal” by Mapbox is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


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