May 20, 2007
"FOLLOWING THE SHEPHERD"
"Close Enough For Comfort"
(Psalm 23:4, John 14:15-18)
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
A little girl asked her father if he was afraid of the dark. He told her no. She asked if he was afraid of snakes. He said "No." The little girl asked if he was afraid of long, slimy worms. Her father again told her he wasn't afraid, not even of long, slimy worms. The girl thought for a moment and then concluded, "So, then, the only thing you're afraid of is Mom!" (1)
We laugh but there are certain instances when we would all probably act the same because we all have fears. And that's where the 23rd Psalm comes into play. 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 4: "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."
This verse is probably most often used at funerals to remind us of the triumph of the resurrection over death and that we no longer have to fear the dark shadow of death. But it also has deals directly with all the other fears in the world, too.
You see, we know that the question really isn't whether we'll have a handful or a truckload of valleys to go through in our life. The question is "how do we get through them." The answer is in this verse because it teaches us that we don't go through life or the dark valleys of life alone. The Good Shepherd is our constant companion.
Being our constant companion means we don't have to be afraid of the shadows. Do you know what a shadow is, it's the outline of something blocking the light. It's not the light. It's harmless except for the fear we let it generate in our hearts because of the unknown whatever which it hides and we sense lurking. But a shadow has no substance and it can't hurt you.
Let me ask you this, would you rather be run over by a truck or the shadow of a truck? The shadow has no substance. And the light which shines upon whatever fear is causing that shadow is the Light of Christ reminding us there is nothing fear for He is with us. As I was think about and working on this sermon, something Dr. John Lukert shared with us at one of our Charge Conferences came to mind. He said: FEAR FREEZES, FAITH FREES.
A. And that is so true. FEAR FREEZES.
The Truman Show, which is really a parable of life, is about a man, Truman Burbank, whose entire life has been broadcast live in a 24 hour a day soap opera. It's the ultimate reality show and the most popular TV show on television. There's a scene in the movie that shows exactly what I mean.
In this scene we discover that Truman is afraid of the water. In his job, he's asked to cross the bay on the ferry in order to collect an insurance form from a client. Truman tries to get out of it but gets the job anyway. As Truman starts down the pier, he gets just about to the middle. He looks down and sees a small dinghy that has sunken and he freezes. He can't go any further. He can't get onto the boat to fulfill his job because of his crippling fear of water. He turns around and goes back.
B. Fear takes on many forms, from simply being afraid of embarrassing ourselves to phobias like archibutyrophobia (the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth). Check it out, that one's too weird to have been made up.
There are so many things in life that fill us with fear. Fear of failure. Fear of succeeding. Fear of disappointing someone or yourself. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the great unknown, Death.
Most of our worries are wrapped up in this because our minds start spinning out of control when there is any kind of crisis. We begin to expect the worst. And we blow the smallest thing out of proportion. Kind of like the news and weather did with the ice back in January. It was bad but it wasn't disastrous. But by the time they got through beating the flames of everybody's anxieties, we all expected at least a half an inch of ice on the roads and everything shut down for days. And what did we get, ulcers and about two hours inconvenience.
And then there's everyone's fear. The fear of being found out that you're not who you really say you are. That you will be exposed. That kind of fear often FREEZES us out of doing something to change, doing something to become the person we want to be.
And then there's the worst FEAR of all. Whenever we fail are fall or stumble in our walk of faith, the enemy begins to creep in with words of doubt. "You failed. You fell, God can't really love you like that. You're supposed to be better than that. What if someone else finds out? What will they think? What does God think? God's probably up there, disgusted, ready to thump me on the head and boot me out."
That kind of fear cause us to doubt. FEAR FREEZES. But that's not what God wants.
A. While FEAR FREEZES, FAITH FREES. FAITH FREES us to go on. FAITH FREES us to take that first step. FAITH FREES us to try in spite of the possibility of failure.
A man who was a worrier suddenly changed. He looked more rested, had more energy and he was actually nice to be around. Somebody asked him what happened to cause such a change. He said he read in the Bible that "He who keeps Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps" and all of a suddenly it dawned on him "If God's going to be awake there's no point in both of us not getting any sleep. And I've slept like a baby ever since.
That's the sentiment of FAITH. FAITH FREES us to pursue what God has called us to do. There's a great scene in the movie Hoosiers. Based on the true story of a small-town Indiana team that made the state finals in 1954. Hoosiers tells the story Norman Dale, a volatile coach with a spotty past and the father of one of the boys on the team. This father just happens to be the town's basketball-loving drunk. Norman Dale takes this group of undisciplined athletes and a town chock full of second-guessing fathers, and leads their high school team to victory.
The boys have arrived in the state capital and the coach takes them into the stadium where the game will be played. It's huge. It's like comparing our gym to the American Airlines Center. The boys are awestruck. The coach pulls out a tape measure and has them measure the free throw line. It's 15 feet. Then he has them measure from the rim ground to the rim. Ten feet. Then he looks at them and says: "I think you'll find it's the exact same measurements as our gym back in Hickory"
I saw a bumper sticker that read: "If God can Handle Creation and Eternity, Then Surely God and I Can Handle Today."
FAITH FREES us in the midst of trials and tribulations and reminds us that no matter how big the problem our God is bigger. And no matter how dark the valley we walk with the Light of the World. We are not alone. The problems may seem big but God is still the same size. And God promised to walk with us through them.
That's where the Church comes in because the church is the greatest network and resource for comfort that has ever been created. The church is filled with people who can and will reach out and help remind us that FAITH FREES us to focus on God, not the problem.
I think God planned it that way because the one who is most able to help someone else is the person who has faced the same fears or trials or failures. They understand.
It's sort of like being a Grandparent. Until I became one I had no point of reference. Until I became one I just sort of smiled and shook my head or laughed at the stories told about grandchildren. But now that I am a grandparent I know that incredible love you have for these children of your own children. And the joy they bring. Now when somebody shares a story about their grandchild, I understand. And, I'm armed and ready with five or six of my own stories. But it's because we share similar experiences.
B. Another area of comfort and strength is Scripture. Philip Keller suggests that you can compare the Rod spoken of here to the Bible or the Word of God. Because we find comfort in these pages. We also find challenge, confrontation, adventure, passion, joy, you name it, it's in there. But as we struggle through the valley of the shadow of death, we need God's Word to remind us whose we are.
That Word lives in our hearts through the presence of the Holy Spirit and in those times of trouble the Word of God begins to speak to us about companionship with Christ and what God has already done in our lives. We're lead to those words which bring the comfort we need. And if not on our own then through the help of one of the flock.
Do you know how many times the Bible uses the phrases: "Do not fear, Fear not or Be not afraid?" In the KJV 137 times. In the NRSV 130 times. That's almost twice in every book you read in the Bible, that God reminds us that God is in charge and God is right there with us in whatever dark valley of life we're going through.
Jesus couldn't have been more plainly. Listen to what He says to the Disciples at the Last Supper.
John 14:15-18 (NRSV)
 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
 "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.
Deuteronomy 31:8 (NRSV) says: "It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed." Romans 8:31 says: "What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?"
God wants us to remember that no matter what happens in life, God is with us. We are not alone. And the more we study the Bible, the more we read and hold in our heart, the more we are strengthened against the fears the world can bring.
Remember FEAR FREEZES, FAITH FREES. There were two rabbits who were being chased through the woods by a pack of ferocious foxes. The rabbits dove into a hole. One rabbit cried out, "What will we do? What will we do?" The other rabbit replied calmly, "We'll just stay in the hole until we outnumber them!" (2)
What we need to remember is that we outnumber all of our problems through faith in Jesus. Trust in Jesus. Have FAITH, faith enough to thaw the FEAR that FREEZES.
1. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), September 1997
2. Preaching-Vol. 9, #4
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Circuit Rider, (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville, TN)
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The New Interpreter's Bible, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995)
Lights, Camera...Faith by Peter Malone with Rose Pacatte (Daughters of St. Paul, 2002)
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