Faithlife Sermons

Shepherding Love

God's Caring, Saving, and Upholding Love  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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To claim what it means to trust God.

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Seeing the Need/Introduction

Shepherding was a common occupation in ancient Israel through the centuries. Since all of this was so familiar to the ancient Israelites, the words shepherd and sheep became popular metaphors. The Old Testament describes God himself with the metaphor of shepherd (; & ). In the New Testament, it is Jesus who is “that great Shepherd of the sheep” (; ; ).

Shepherd Metaphor -

Psalm 23:1–4 NRSV
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
The profound nature of the opening statement comes to the fore when we remember that David himself had been a shepherd in his boyhood days () and now he is the shepherd of the people of God (; ). In proclaiming the Lord is my shepherd, the twice-shepherd king of Israel therefore acknowledges that he himself has a shepherd.
That shepherd is none other than God. The king himself admits his own need for the divine shepherd. It is natural for the people of Israel to look to David as their chief earthly shepherd. David’s identification of a shepherd higher yet should keep them from idolizing the king.
How do we resist idolizing those who would claim to guide us today?
This shepherd provides for all our needs; David knows that the God of his ancestors supplied all their needs, and he will continue to do so. The reference to green pastures may bring up mental images of lush, rolling meadows that extend as far as the eye can see. But in reality the land in ancient and modern Israel often bears little resemblance to such an ideal. It is semiarid climate that experiences little or no rainfall for five months each year.
Shepherds therefore have to lead nomadic lives, moving from place to place in search of suitable grazing for the sheep. So shepherds often have to settle for the scarce grass that is found on the “the hills” and in “grasslands of the wilderness”. The shepherd has to be skillful in finding adequate grazing, and be ready to move on to prevent overgrazing. So for the psalmist, God is able to provide sources of food that are more than adequate for our needs.
How can we improve at recognizing when God is leading us toward “green pastures”? What can happen if we don’t?
We have a shepherd that will lead us beside quiet waters. Notice the often overlooked part of this statement - he leads me - here lies the importance of knowing the shepherd. The place of of abundant food and water is not a place where one hastily rushes to, but rather a place where one is led to. It is as much a place of repose and respite versus a place of appointment.
The shepherd also restores or refreshes the soul because we trust that God is with us, guiding us in the way to go, even when we are not having an earth-shattering day of overwhelming spiritual experience. He is a shepherd that not only leads, but guides us along right paths. Traveling correct paths requires proper leadership. God always desires to lead us down the right path. But that becomes reality only as we choose to “listen to his voice”.
We have a shepherd in whom we can take confidence. Whatever dangers lurk in dark places of our lives, the expert shepherd knows how to avoid or neutralize them. At first, we may think that the presence of the word evil tips the scale of life toward understanding the valley as symbolizing the spiritual dangers of living in a sinful world. However, we must remember that our shepherd is with us; his rod and staff to protect and rescue the sheep that gotten themselves stuck in relatively difficult situations.
In what ways can we be God’s instruments of comfort to those in a dark valley of life?

Host Metaphor - ,

Psalm 23:5–6 NRSV
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; 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 my whole life long.
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We should take great security in the fact that we have a shepherd that host us in the midst of our needs and desires. Tables of food are prepared by those who host banquets, feasts, or other meals for visitors. To do so is part of one’s obligation to extend hospitality. Notice how David has so much security in God, his shepherd, that he can dine from the table God prepares, even in the presence of enemies.
Our hosting shepherd honors the guest by anointing their heads with oil. The anointing is done to recognize and give honor to Gods continual love and power. God anoints and also gives a cup that has enough in it to satisfy the thirst of every believer.
Surely there is no doubt about the very characteristics of God that are goodness and love! Instead of worrying about any enemies who may be in temporary pursuit, the psalmist focuses on the goodness and love that follow him permanently.
When was an occasion that God’s goodness and mercy followed (even pursued) you, but you didn’t recognize it at the time? How did you grow spiritually from the experience?
Finally David expresses his conviction about where he will dwell. God dwells in heaven and in the earth. For David the best place for him is in the house of Lord all the days of his life. In doing so he remains in the presence of the Lord, his Shepherd!
What specific things can we do to prepare better to dwell with the Lord forever?

Conclusion

The metaphors of shepherd and host remind us that God is our trustworthy provider. For all physical and spiritual needs, he is the source. The ultimate question, then, does not concern God’s unworthiness, but ours. Do we yield to his shepherding leadership, or do we rebel? Do we accept his provisions with a sense of entitlement? Do we walk only in his paths of righteousness, or do we take little “side trips” occasionally? Think carefully - living eternally in his presence is at stake!

Prayer

Loving God, you are trustworthy provider and protector. Even when our eyes are not on you, your eyes are always on us. You know us inside and out. Teach us to trust you more and more, and bring us back to you when we lose our way; in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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