June 3, 2007
"FOLLOWING THE SHEPHERD"
"Followed By Mercy"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
A couple of months ago, Leadership Magazine had a story about a Christian Grammar School in Wheaton, Illinois. The third and fourth-graders were asked to complete the following sentence: "By faith, I know that God is ..." Amanda answered: "forgiving, because he forgave in the Bible, and he forgave me when I went in the road on my bike without one of my parents"
Brandon answered: "providingful, because he dropped manna for Moses and the people, and he gave my dad a job."
Paul said: "caring, because he made the blind man see, and he made me catch a very fast line drive that could have hurt me. He probably sent an angel down."
Jeremy wrote: "merciful, because my brother has been nice to me for a year."
One of the students wrote: "faithful, because the school bill came, and my mom didn't know how we were going to pay it. Two minutes later, my dad called, and he just got a bonus check. My mom was in tears."
And Hannah said: "sweet, because he gave me a dog. God tells me not to do things that are bad. I need someone like that." (1)
We all need someone like that. Someone who "tells [us] not to do things that are bad."
The 23rd Psalm tells us we have someone just like that; God in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Let's look at the 23rd Psalm 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 portion I want to look at today is the first part of verse 6: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:"
You've probably heard about the little boy who came home from Sunday school crying and saying he was never going back. Mom and dad were concerned and kept asking what was wrong. Finally he said, "I don't want that lady chasing me, Sunday School teacher said, she's chase me the rest of my life?."
Well, Mom and Dad were totally confused and continued to question him about what happened. Finally the boy explained, "Teacher said, 'Good Mrs. Murphy was going to follow me all the days of my life.' I don't know who Good Mrs. Murphy is, but if she's gong to follow me everywhere I go, then I'm not going back."
A lot of us are just like that little boy. We don't quite get this part of the passage. We think it implies sort of a big brother relationship. Maybe we need to ask ourselves what it is that's following us. Are we being followed by the goodness and mercy of God. Or are we being chased and haunted by our past. There is a big difference you know.
God's goodness and mercy aren't there to judge and condemn, God's goodness and mercy are there to set us free from the baggage we've been lugging around so long. We all know John 3:16, we can quote it in our sleep. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
But we forget verse 17 which clearly states: "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
And the truth is, God doesn't have to condemn us. We do a pretty good job of doing it to ourselves and each other.
But that's not what God wants. That's not why Jesus came. God wants us to experience Grace and forgiveness. God wants us to experience Grace because Grace leads to Mercy and mercy leads to Goodness.
I think there's a great example of Mercy in the holiday classic, A Christmas Story. In the story, it seems all the adults are conspiring against young Ralphie's one desire. All he wants is a Red Ryder B-B gun. Everybody keeps telling him, "You'll shoot your eye out."
He gets more and more frustratated and irritated and it spills over into all of Ralphie's relationships. After one particularly trying day at school, Ralphie runs into the school bully while walking home. Tired of being teased, his frustration gets the best of him. He pummels the bully and bursts into a string of obscenities.
Ralphie's mother hears his tirade and sends him up to his room. And is given the ultimate sentence, "Wait 'til your father gets home." Tearfully waiting for his father to come home, Ralphie anticipates the worst punishment possible.
(CLIP) Ralphie's mother finds his brother, Randy, hiding under the kitchen sink. "Randy, what's the matter? What are you crying for?" she asks. "Daddy's gonna kill Ralphie!" he sobs.
Mom assures Randy that everything is going to work out, but she starts to fret about what might happen. Ralphie, still in his room, fears the worst and narrates:
"I heard the car pull up the driveway, and a wave of terror broke over me. He'll know what I said, the awful things I said!"
Hearing his dad's voice, Ralphie walks downstairs to meet his fate. After some small talk, Dad asks, "What happened today?" Ralphie realizes it's all about to come out. He looks at his mother with a pained expression. Surprisingly, his mother responds, "Nothing much. Ralphie had a fight."
Tension rises as Dad puts down the paper and looks at Ralphie with a stern gaze. "A fight? What kind of fight?"
Mom replies, "Oh, you know how boys are. I gave him a talking to. Oh, I see the Bears are playing the Packers Sunday."
A smile breaks across Ralphie's face, and he beams at his mother. Ralphie says to himself: "I slowly realized that I was not about to be destroyed. From then on, things were different between me and my mother."
Ralphie just experienced Grace. He didn't get destroyed, The doom he was so certain he was going to face, faded away. Why because of grace and mercy of his mother. (2) And he knew his relationship with his mother would never be the same. Wesley called this ASSURANCE. It simply means you don't have to doubt your salvation.
And when we're filled with the assurance of the love and mercy and grace of God, we can live as God has called us to live. We can be good and do good and goodness will follow us just as much as God's Mercy. Let me give you an example. How many of you have seen the movie The Greatest Game Ever Played?
The movie is based on actual events. A young amateur golfer finds himself in the U.S. Open. It's the last day of the U.S. Open Championships and Francis Ouimet and his 5th-grade caddy find themselves in a three-way tie for first place, and on their way to the playoff round. Francis enters the clubhouse and finds two representatives of the golf club that, a week ago, wouldn't give Francis the time of day.
(CLIP) The men say that they "have been talking it over." One says, "The members say you need all the help you can get out there." The other says, "According to the rules, your caddy is the only person who can give you advice." Like a tag-team, the first explains that Francis needs a person "who really knows our course."
Francis responds that, "Eddie's doing a great job for me." The men respond in disgust, telling Francis that "This is the U.S. Open, not some junior club championship!"
The problem is that Eddie doesn't want to step aside. The men offer a bribe. They say that they will "take up a collection" for Eddie, with one saying, "I understand his family could use it."
Eddie pleads with Francis not to replace him, but Francis wants to make sure Eddie knows what's at stake. Eddie is determined, "I wouldn't do it for ten bucks; I wouldn't do it for a hundred!" Eddie is committed to seeing their partnership through to the end.
Francis assures Eddie that he won't be replaced, but Eddie, nearly in tears, replies, "They said you'd want to." Smiling Francis says, "Who cares? We're a team. They don't get a vote in this." He tells Eddie to wait for him outside, then turns to the men from the golf club and tells them, "Never talk to my caddy again."
Francis and Eddie were the most unlikely team possible. Francis, the amateur, is tied for the lead at the U.S. Open with two seasoned veteran professionals. His caddy, Eddie, was in 5th grade. Eddie volunteered when all the other caddies said no. When Francis became a contender, people came out of the woodwork to help him. But ultimately what they were asking Francis to do was betray Eddie's faithfulness and friendship.
Eddie stuck with Francis when no else one believed in him, and Francis stuck with Eddie when the experts doubted his usefulness. Faced with a tough decision between potentially, Francis chose the better part and maintained his character.
That's the kind of Goodness I'm talking about. When the Assurance we find through the Mercy of God and Grace of God allows us to maintain our character and be who God called us to be.
Wesley called this Grace, Sanctifying Grace, the Grace that leads us and touches us and molds and grows us into the likeness of Christ. The Grace that leads us on to Christian Perfection.
I think this is the perfect United Methodist Psalm. It's very Wesleyan. It talks about God's Prevenient Grace, the Grace that goes before us preparing the way for us. The Grace of God going where we will go before we choose to go there, anticipating all our needs before we even have a need, laying a trail through the valley of shadow in order to lead us through.
It also discusses God's Justifying Grace. The idea of still waters and the restoration of the soul. The only way God lead in paths of righteousness is if we've given ourselves to the Shepherd's Care. That's Justification. It's not anything we've done but what is done for us that makes us the Shepherd's.
And then there's this ongoing Perfecting or Sanctifying Grace spoken of here. It's the Grace that follows us. The Grace that continues to remind us of God's faithfulness. It's the Grace that allows us and grows us into being like Christ.
You've probably heard or maybe even used the phrase: "Don't worry, I've got your back!" That's what this Grace is all about. God's got our back. No matter what happens in life, God's got our back. Not only is God leading the way but God's Mercy and Goodness are following behind strengthening and molding us into the Disciples we've been called to be.
Surely Goodness and Mercy will follow us all the days of my life. And like little Hannah said, "We need someone like that."
1. Leadership, Vol. 18, #3
2. Leadership, Summer 2003
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