Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Final Sunday of Capital Campaign (Psalm 23)

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this sixth and final Sunday of our capital campaign comes from the Introit we chanted together at the beginning of our service, Psalm twenty-three. Dear friends in Christ: What kind of God do you have? You live in the wilderness, in the desert, in the wasteland of this sinful world; what kind of God do you have? You are a sheep, harassed and helpless, threatened by enemies on every side; what kind of God do you have? You are on a journey, trying to reach a destination that always seems further ahead; what kind of God do you have? The answer to this question is vitally important; in fact, the answer to this question is literally life or death. The wilderness is unforgiving; it will chew up and spit back out those who are unprepared, those without protection. Sheep in the wilderness are easy prey to the enemies that gather around them. The kind of God that you have will determine whether you journey with confidence or with fear. And make no mistake, the sheep are watching each other, each one seeking the best path through the wilderness, each one asking the other: what kind of God do you have?

How do you answer? What kind of God do you have? What do your eyes see? Your eyes see scarcity, they see lack, they see need. Your eyes see a world where no one has enough, where poverty is quite real. Your eyes see food stamps and soup kitchens, they see dilapidated housing and worn out clothing. Your eyes see the price of everything going up, and they look at your paycheck with hope, only to realize that it has stayed the same. Your eyes look at your own bank account, and they see just barely enough; they look at your budget, and they see far too much red, and then you look in your bulletin and see the same at your church. Your eyes see the reality of the wilderness, the scarcity of the wasteland, and worry and fear is the result. You cling tighter to what you think is your own; your own time, your own possessions, your own money. Fear and worry drive you to hold back when the offering plate comes around, they tighten your fist when your neighbors have needs, they cause congregations to bunker down and think only of themselves. Your eyes see all that is aligned against you, and you live in fear; your life is not lived in confidence, in trust, in hope, but in worry. The wilderness stands against you, and it mocks you, asking, “What kind of God do you have?”

What kind of God do you have? What do your eyes see? Your eyes see the difficulty of your road through this wilderness, they see that it is fraught with dangers each and every step of the way. Your eyes see suffering, suffering everywhere, suffering that you know will someday affect you, suffering that is already affecting you. They see cancer, they see Alzheimer’s and dementia, they see congestive heart failure and auto-immune diseases, they see a whole host of other afflictions and maladies with hundreds of different names. They see loved ones suffering, they see your suffering, they see a world filled with suffering; your eyes watch the evening news and they are overwhelmed by the pain that fills every nook and cranny of the wasteland. And finally, your eyes see death. How can they avoid it? Death is all around us in the wilderness, as the bleached bones of other sheep remind us that no one escapes the wasteland alive.

Your eyes see that this journey cannot be completed on your own; the road is too hard, too winding, too dangerous. Your eyes see death and proclaim to you that the journey is futile, for there is no hope. As a natural sheep cannot survive on its own in the desert, so you know that you cannot make it by yourself. The wilderness will grind you up, it will finally destroy you; you will simply wander in the desert until death takes you, until you become another statistic of the wasteland. Your eyes can give you only worry, only fear, only despair. They present to you a picture so bleak it is terrifying, and they can see no hope of escape. You cry out in despair: “What kind of God do I have?”

Don’t trust your eyes. They tell you of a God who has left you to be destroyed by the wilderness, a God who is holding back His goodness, but they are wrong. Don’t trust your eyes; trust your ears. Close your eyes and listen. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” What kind of God do you have? You have a God who is your shepherd, and you shall not want. Your ears hear of a God who walks with you in the wilderness, who leads and guides you through that wilderness to the Promised Land. You have a God who walked this path Himself, who journeyed in the wilderness in your place, even unto death. You have a God who said, “I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” He laid down His life, pouring out His blood, to defeat the wilderness, to deliver lost sheep from the corruption, the scarcity, the death of the wilderness. He paid the price for the sin that makes the wilderness so harsh, that gives the wasteland its power. And when He rose on the third day, He stepped forth from the grave as the Good Shepherd, seeking out lost sheep, finding them in mercy, and guiding them to the Promised Land He has won for His beloved flock, refreshing them on their journey, bearing them to their destination, not by their strength, but only through His.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” He feeds you on the green pastures of His Word, He nourishes you in the still, life-giving waters of Baptism. This sanctuary is an oasis, where you are refreshed on your journey, strengthened for the road ahead. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Your enemies are all around you, but you need not fear; His table, the feast of His Body and Blood gives forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. They cannot take what this feast gives. In this place, your ears hear of His death and resurrection, here “He restores my soul.” He restores your soul by forgiving your sins, by making you holy, righteous in God’s sight by applying His death and resurrection directly to you in the Means of Grace: by grazing you on the green pastures of the Word, by washing you in the still waters of Baptism, and by feeding you at table of His Body and Blood. 

Your ears hear the Good Shepherd’s voice, guiding you through the wilderness. “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Death no longer threatens you, because you belong to the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep only to take it up again in victory. Your path through the wilderness is carved by the cross, it is watered by His shed blood. This path is His righteousness, given to you, covering you like a robe so that your enemies cannot deter you from your destination. The sheep know their Shepherd’s voice, and it leads them home; neither scarcity nor disaster, neither disease nor any enemy, will be able to keep you from your destination, from the Promised Land that awaits you.

What kind of God do you have? Your ears hear that there is no want, that this God, this Shepherd has given to you all that you need. “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” He who has given up His own life for His sheep, to give to them an eternal treasure that will never fade away, certainly provides all good things out of His bountiful goodness. Goodness and mercy pursue you, they chase after you all of your days, because you have a God of abundance, a God who delights to give. Your ears hear God’s promises, and you live in faith, no longer in fear or worry. 

With Saint Paul, you can face any and all situations with confidence. “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” We, too, can do all things, even sacrificially give of ourselves and our resources for the good of Christ’s kingdom, even serve our neighbor in his every need, even boldly pursue the Lord’s work as a congregation, because the Lord is our Shepherd. We do not live in fear, for the Lord is our Shepherd, and in Him, there is no more want, no more scarcity; He will provide according to His good and gracious will. What do we have to worry about? God takes care of the humblest creatures of this earth; He will surely care for His people in His own way, as Christ Himself says: “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

What kind of God do you have? Your God is Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who took on human flesh, who became one of the sheep, in fact a Lamb without blemish, to give up His life for the sheep. Your eyes see scarcity and need; your ears hear of green pastures and overflowing cups. Your eyes see suffering and death; your ears hear of victory and eternal life, the Promised Land that awaits you. We live by faith, by what our ears hear, not by what our eyes see. And what our ears hear is what David delights to proclaim: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want… Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

This is the God you will have for eternity. The Lord is your Shepherd, and He will send goodness and mercy to pursue you for the rest of your days, until you dwell in His house for eternity. As your ears heard last week: “The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” The wilderness cannot overwhelm you, because it doesn’t have the victory. What kind of God do you have? The God who defeated the wilderness, who leads you through it, who gives you confidence even in the valley of the shadow of death, for His rod has crushed death’s power, His staff will drive away the wolves. The Lord is your Shepherd, you shall not want. Amen.

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