May 6, 2007
"FOLLOWING THE SHEPHERD"
"A Soul Restored"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
A young woman shared the story of her mother who has a fear of tunnels which isn't unusual. Anyway, one Spring this Mother had to drive the Pennsylvania Turnpike to visit her daughter at college. Knowing the mother's fear of tunnels, the daughter was a little concerned about the trip.
When Mom arrived safely the daughter asked: "Did you have any trouble?"
"Just the tunnels," Mom replied. "One of them was 2 1\2."
Puzzled the daughter asked if she meant 2 1\2 miles or 2 1\2 minutes.
Mom answered, "Neither - 2 1\2 times through the 23rd Psalm." (1)
Psalm 23 is so full of comfort. It can be that Psalm of refuge which reminds us of God's constant companionship and God's faithfulness. It can keep us focused and it can feed our undernourished souls.
Let's look at it again.
 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
The part I want to look at today is verse 2 and part of verse 3. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul."
I believe one of the reasons this Psalm resonates with so many people is because there is a deep spiritual hunger in their lives just like there is in America and around the world today. We yearn for and spend billions of dollars each year trying to fix ourselves or conform to some amorphous shifting image of what we should be which society has painted for us.
We spend endless hours and countless dollars searching for an uncertain kind of peace and renewal that we can't even really identify ourselves. And while doing so, we reject the simple for the complicated; the new for the old; the untested for the proven, and the ethereal for the solid. Or we cling so tightly to antiquated and rigid understandings of the simple proven truths, that we choke the life out of them and they no longer have any power to help us.
What makes the 23rd Psalm so unique is the power that lives in these six verses and how fresh and new they seem every time we read them. It's almost as if they are imbued with the power of the Good Shepherd, Himself. And like a time release cold capsule, each time we read it, just enough of that power is released into our spirits to refresh and renew and restore.
So, let's look at some of the ways the Good Shepherd Restores our Souls.
A Pasture is both a place of Rest and a place of Refreshment or nourishment. We live is tough times. Some of us are being asked to put in more hours because of cut backs in our department or simply because your under the gun for a completion date. We come home exhausted, sometimes feeling like we've been in battle. Or worse, feeling like we've been mugged. The stress levels are astronomical.
The world has shrunk, whether we like it our not a world economy is developing. What happens here effects the world and what happens in other parts of the world effect us almost immediately. Television and the Internet have brought us closer together than ever before. Have you seen the Cisco commercial of the two little boys having a staring contest over the Internet? One is in a classroom here and the other is in an Asian classroom?
Our world is shrinking. and IT'S becoming more complicated at the same time. We need a place where we can recharge and be fed and nourished. We need a GREEN PASTURE where we can be fed and where we can find rest. For in that REST we put our feet firmly back on the strong foundation of God. We regain our balance, so we don't stumble and get lost or get swallowed whole by the uncaring world. The stress is removed and we are recharged so we can make a difference in the world.
The Christian writer, Gordon MacDonald, shares that "God built a rhythm of rest and work into human existence. Rest wasn't meant to be a luxury, but rather a necessity to those who want to have growth and maturity." It doesn't do any good to have a strong body and a weak and shallow soul.
We have to take advantage of the rest established for us through the Sabbath. We have to practice Sabbath. Because it is part of the nature and nurture of the GREEN PASTURE.
B. The GREEN PASTURE is also a place of nourishment, too. A place where we are fed.
Worship, Sunday School, Bible Study and even life in our families is where we learn these Christian principles. It is in these environments of trust, love, caring, comfort, compassion etc., that our spirits are fed. Sometimes we don't like what's put before us. The church often times offers things we haven't acquired a taste for. We think discipline is like broccoli, cauliflower or brussel sprouts. We know they are there and they're good for us. You can eat them if you like them but please don't put any on my plate. Just give us the mac and cheese, pizza and burgers and we'll be fine.
I'm not a health nut but I know our physical bodies require a balanced meal, we need the green stuff. We need antioxidants and vitamins that can only be found in vegetables and fruit. It's the same when we seek to nourish our souls. They need the good stuff, they need to be fed and cared for. The Apostle Paul called it Pure Spiritual Milk.
Today is one of those days when God's provision of Pure Spiritual Milk is laid before us in a very concrete way. Today we come face to face with God through Christ. Today we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion. God has provided a table with the finest spread upon it. It's an all you can eat buffet of God's Grace. A banquet of God's love. And we need that nourishment.
Worship, prayer, study and the Sacrament are all integral parts of the GREEN PASTURE which the Good Shepherd provides for us.
A. The Good Shepherd also leads us beside STILL WATERS where our thirst can be quenched.
For me, this is our involvement in the Christian community. This is where we drink deep of the relationship with Christ, through our relationships with others.
Most of the time, we don't even know what kind of impact our faith walk makes on the lives of others. It might be something simple such as the way we live our faith. I doubt Mr. Dick, or Grace Little or Nannie Denham or Viola Caruthers or Mrs. Woolsey or Dick & Carol Curtis or any of the other unknown, unsung saints of the church know how they touched my life and the lives of countless others. But for me, their memory is like drinking from Still Waters. It refreshes.
Neither Leslie nor I will ever really know the impact our ministry has had on other people until that day we stand with Jesus. But I hope that, in some small way, our ministry and lives have been able to be Still Waters for at least a few because we want people to drink deep of this grace and love God has for each of us. We want everyone to experience the new life and the refreshment God offers.
B. I guess that's why gossip just crawls all over me. Because gossip has the opposite effect in the Church. Gossip poisons the waters. It stirs them up and muddies them to point they are undrinkable because the trust level has dropped to zero. I think it's the insidious work of the devil trying to build disharmony in the life of the body of Christ.
But when our lives reflect the love of God, when we are trying to live our best even when we fail, our lives still become Still Waters for others. And you never know what a simple drink of water can do or the impact an act of kindness can have.
There's a story told about Christopher Columbus: It seems he was discouraged one day as he walked by a monastery. He was thirsty, so he went into the monastery for a drink of water, and he sat down. As he was being refreshed with a drink of water, an old monk listened to his story of how he wanted to go on an expedition to find another land.
That monk listened to that story. And when it was all over, Christopher Columbus went on. But that old monk was a personal friend of Queen Isabella. He went and convinced her to finance the expedition of Christopher Columbus. The discovery of the Americas may have started with a drink of water and a quiet moment of refreshment in a monastery.
We can't really know what the impact of our faith and faithfulness will have on others. So, let Christ lead you so you might partake of the STILL WATERS of Christian Fellowship.
While Green Pastures and Still Waters bring about Restoration to the body, there is only one thing that can bring restoration to our soul. And that's God's Forgiveness.
The Sacrament today is not just a symbol of the Nurture and Nourishment we receive from God on a regular basis, it is THE symbol of all that Christ did for us through the cross and the empty tomb. It is a symbol of life and love and forgiveness all wrapped into one. And all we have to do to experience the RESTORATION promised in this Psalm is to accept Christ and accept what Christ did for us.
Not just generally but individually. I've been a preacher for over 30 years now and the one thing that has always struck me is every time I hear people talk about their experience of accepting Christ, the one thing they say, over and over again is: "I've always known that God loves us but what really blew me away was I found out that God loves ME and God forgave ME."
The RESTORATION the Psalmist talks about here can only come through that personal and individual relationship with Christ. We can feed in the GREEN PASTURES and drink of the STILL WATERS. We can get rested and refreshed. But it's only when our experience of faith and forgiveness becomes personal and individual, that the Good Shepherd can RESTORE OUR SOULS.
I read a great story this week, it's told by another preacher. It seems this preacher had a friend he thought he knew pretty well. He was a powerful and successful businessman, the kind who makes decisions easily but always drove a hard bargain.
One day this preacher was having dinner with the man's son, and they were talking about the father. The son revealed something new about his Dad. It seems that when the son was in the army he made a terrible mistake. He got into trouble and was given a dishonorable discharge. He said he knew what he'd done disgraced his family. And he was absolutely certain his father would be outraged.
But he also felt he owed it to his father to tell him what happened and try to ask for forgiveness. So, he did. This young man sent a telegram to his father explaining what had happened. The father sent a telegram back. The telegram had three sentences in it:
"I will stand by you no matter what happens. I will be there in the morning. Remember who you are."
That's the way our personal relationship with God works. This father was disappointed, his heart was broken, but the loving, caring relationship wasn't. (3)
God wants each of us to experience the RESTORATION OF OUR SOULS. So, as you come to partake of the Sacrament this morning, be nurtured at the GREEN PASTURES and drink deep from the STILL WATERS. But then, renew your relationship with God through the Sacrament. Leave that which has burdened your heart and soul at the foot of the cross. And then leave as A SOUL RESTORED.
1. The Pastor's Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), July, 1992 By P. Troup in Ford Times
2. John Maxwell, "God's 'Troublesome' Timing," Preaching Today, Tape No. 147.
3. Adapted from a story told by Dr. Theodore Parker Ferris of Boston, Mass. Found at www.sermons.com
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