Sunday, May 7, 2017: "The Lord is my GPS" Fr. Carey Stone

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Easter 4A’17
7 May 2017
Psalm 23
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone
For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. –From I Peter 2.25
Have you ever gotten lost? My wife and me had a meeting at St. Luke’s Church in Hot Springs Village and we had gotten off to a late start. We tried as best we could to make up the lost time. As we arrived at the front gate a guard asked where we were trying to go I told him and he started to give us directions. I quickly interrupted him and flashing my trusty new I-phone I assured him that we would be able to find it. He gave a final warning and told us that not all of the roads were accurate on the GPS. Shannon and me smiled at each other with a knowing look and thinking to ourselves, ‘that poor gatekeeper must really be behind the times,’ we were positive we would get there. We entered the address in the GPS and up came the red dot at the end of the blue line and we took off into the maze of hilly and winding roads. As we came up to the circle drive of a nice house the GPS informed us that we had arrived at our destination. 
For the next hour or so we kept trying to find the church. We called the church number but there was no answer. Finally we turned onto the last road that we had not been down and there was the church. There were only two cars left in the parking lot and the meeting had concluded about 15 minutes before we got there! The only one there was the church sexton and being duly humbled we asked him how to make it back to the gate. The moral of the story, always make sure and listen to the person at the gate. 
In today’s gospel lesson Jesus mixes his metaphors saying that on the one hand he was the good shepherd and on the other hand saying that he was the gate of the sheepfold as usual the disciples didn’t understand, Jesus was attempting to relate to them using images that they would have been familiar with referring back to the psalm that they would have known as do we the 23rd Psalm. Countless millions have found comfort in these ancient words and no matter how difficult it is for 21st century people to relate to they are trying to tell us something that is amazing about God – that God wants to give us guidance that will lead to an abundant life! When Jesus says “abundant” I don’t think he was talking about a prosperity gospel that says, “If you follow God, God will turn your Toyota into a Cadillac and your Cadillac into a Lamborghini.” As noted author Brene’ Brown recently tweeted, “I hoped faith would be an epidural for pain. Turns out to be a midwife who says, “Push, I’m here. Sometimes it hurts.” I believe we will have enough of the stuff we need but the abundance Jesus promises is something much richer, something that is satisfying to the soul, blessings that can reach those deep places within us that are so in need of God’s love and care, places that no amount of money could buy or touch for that matter.  
Let’s open up the images in Psalm 23 to see what they are telling us about our amazing God and about ourselves. First we see the metaphor of sheep and shepherd, “The Lord is my shepherd,” our culture likes to tell us false stories about “self-made” men and women but Psalm 23 tells us the truth that there is no such thing. We are all God-made and God’s dependent children and when we follow we’ll have what we need. 
What else do we see about God from this psalm? “He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.” In my work before seminary as a counselor one of the exercises that I would do with clients would be to help them find their safe place. I would ask them to close their eyes and envision a peaceful scene in their mind that they could return to during times of stress. Almost all of the scenes they would imagine would be either a beach on the ocean or lush green hills and meadows with a lake, pond, or stream – just like the green pastures and still waters of Psalm 23. Our God wants to lead us to safe places where our bodies, minds, and spirits can find rest. Here God “revives our souls and guides us along right pathways for his Name’s sake.” As we follow the Good Shepherd we can find deep rest for weariness that sleep alone won’t relieve. 
The next image Psalm 23 presents us with is that of a dark valley of death. Though we long for the mountaintop experiences of life we all know that sooner or later we will find ourselves in a dark valley of tears, but even though death may be nipping at our heels we don’t have to live in fear. Why? Because we have a strong defender! God like a shepherd with a rod and a shepherd’s crook protects us from dangers of all kinds. Real shepherds are always on the look out for snakes in the grass and wolves hiding in the brush. At times the sheep need protecting from themselves having a tendency to veer off the safe path and fall into a ditch, or wander away and get lost so the shepherd uses his shepherd’s crook to firmly pull the sheep back onto the right path. 
The psalmist continues by saying the God “spreads a table before us in the presence of those who trouble us” (one translation says “before our enemies”). In other words God can provide for us just at the times we need it most when we are vulnerable enabling us to go through hard times with the abundance of grace. 
The good shepherd “anoints my head with oil, and my cup is running over.” This ‘running over’ happens in the context of the rough and tumble of daily life. The oil is what the shepherd rubs the sheep with who have gotten wounded along the path by the thorns and briars they encounter. God’s supply comes in the midst of our great needs, the wounds of life, again not a prosperity message without suffering.
As the journey of life continues the psalmist has a positive outlook: “Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” I really like what biblical scholar Jeff Paschal points out: “The Hebrew here may be translated, “Surely goodness and kindness shall dog me all my life.” Imagine that, every moment of life God is hounding us with goodness and kindness. This good shepherd grants our needs, causes us to rest and be restored, leads us in the right way of living, protects us from evil, honors and blesses us and never stops pursuing us with goodness and kindness.”  This is the kind of life that awaits those who are willing to admit that they aren’t self-made but God made, for those who are willing to admit that they are not independent but God dependent.   As for the end of the journey, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
The Good Shepherd takes many forms in life it might be a co-worker, a family member, someone who you know well or someone you don’t know at all, it might be the book that someone told you about, a movie or TV show you just happened across, or even a church sexton. All of these and more may be the voices that are pointing us in the right direction toward the abundance that we long for. Keep your eyes and ears open for the Shepherd may just turn up when you least expect it, over the next hill, even when your GPS fails you. Amen.