April 25, 2021 / 4th Sunday of Easter/ Richard Holmer
First Reading Acts 4:5-12 / Second Reading 1 John 3:16-24 / Gospel John 10;11-18
The Good Shepherd’s Prayer
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, and as always the appointed psalm is the 23rd Psalm. Of all the 150 psalms it is the most familiar and the most beloved. Many of you know Psalm 23 by heart. Just about all of you recognize at least the opening verse: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.”
The psalm is attributed to King David, which means it was written a thousand years before the time of Christ. However, as we heard in today’s gospel, Jesus claimed for himself the title, Good Shepherd. Christians find in the verses of Psalm 23 a beautiful description of Christ’s loving and devoted nature. What is Jesus like? He is the faithful, compassionate shepherd of this psalm. This is the image we have committed to memory. Jesus is the one who knows us personally, by name. He’s the one who seeks after us when we are lost and brings us safely home. He knows the way and calls us to follow. In good times and in hard times, the words of the 23rd Psalm provide comfort and assurance. They are truly memorable.
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We have some other words that are deeply imprinted on our memory. Toward the end of her life my mother had lost most of her memory. Often she did not remember that I was her son. But whenever I began the Lord’s Prayer, she would join in, word for word. Like my mom, we know this prayer by heart. However, as familiar as I am with both Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer – it was only this past week that it dawned on me how much these two have in common. We know them both so well – but did you ever consider how one serves to interpret and expand the other?
Jesus taught his disciples how to pray – and he taught them to know him as their Good Shepherd. It is eye opening for me to see how the psalm and the prayer go together.
We pray: “hallowed be thy name”. Jesus is known to us by many names. One of the most revealing and enduring names for Jesus is Shepherd. Jesus gave this name to himself. He uses this name to illustrate his steadfast devotion to us. The shepherd will lay down his life for the sake of his sheep. There is no greater love than this. We respond to this passionate commitment with affirming words of faith. We say, “Yes, the Lord is my shepherd.” We hallow his name, we keep it holy, by putting our trust in Jesus. Luther says we keep the Lord’s name holy by living in harmony with his word. We place our confidence in the Good Shepherd.
We pray: “thy kingdom come”. Luther reminds us that God’s kingdom comes both now and later. It’s already and not yet. It comes “when by his grace we believe his holy word and live a godly life on earth now, and in heaven forever. The psalm points both to how the Lord is with us now and how we will be with him forever. Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom has come among us in him – and so it has. Christ’s presence brings grace and peace. God’s goodness and mercy follow us / pursue us all our days. And our destiny is to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
We pray: “thy will be done.” Luther says, “God’s good and gracious will is done when he strengthens our faith and keeps us firm in his Word as long as we live.” The psalm says it this way: “he guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.” The shepherd shows us what it is to live according to God’s will – he invites us to follow him on the way that leads to life. Jesus is both our guide and our ultimate destination.
We pray: “give us this day our daily bread.” Christianity is not only a spiritual / mystical enterprise. God came to us in flesh and blood in Jesus and knows that our bodies need care and sustenance. When they were hungry, Jesus fed 5,000 people. A shepherd makes sure the flock gets what it needs: he brings them to green pastures; he leads them to still waters; he spreads a table before them – even in hard times. Because Jesus is our shepherd, we are not in want. We have bread enough for today.
We pray: “forgive us our trespasses.” Our bodies need food. Our spirits need grace and mercy Our souls get weary and faint, weighed down by our failures and inadequacies. Sin takes a toll on our lives. The Lord revives, restores and renews our souls by blessing us with abundant mercy. He fills our cup to overflowing with grace. The shepherd revives us from all our weariness and lethargy. This is the blessing of worship: our souls are revived by words of grace, by the bread of life, the body of our Lord. Worship s always about revival because it always brings the assurance of forgiveness.
We pray: “Lead us not into temptation.” The world presents many temptations. The psalm is realistic about how things are: there are shadows, there are enemies, there is darkness and death. Yet where does the shepherd lead us? We are led by still waters, along right pathways – and even through the valley of the shadow of death, yet we do not go alone. We are led in the way of faith and hope and love.
We pray: “deliver us from evil.” This is what the shepherd does. On our own we are no match for sin, death and evil – but we are not on our own. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil – for you are with me.” Because we have a shepherd, we are never alone. Our Lord promises: “I am with you always.” And so we can have peace in the midst of conflict, grace in times of stress, life even in the shadow of death. In the darkest night, Christ, our shepherd, is with us.
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The words of the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm are familiar to us all. More than the words, we need to remember and keep in mind the Shepherd himself. Especially in these long and trying months of pandemic, we need the blessing of revival for our souls. We need guidance to go the right way. We need assurance that we are not alone. We need hope that goodness and mercy are never far from us. We need a vision of our eternal home.
Jesus came to show us that God is not far off, but close to us; not above and beyond us, but with us – as a shepherd is with his flock. By coming in person, Jesus makes God personal. And he taught us to pray not to a high and mighty, remote deity – but to Our Father. And he is happy to be known as my shepherd and yours.