Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

April 21, 2024. Texts: Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18.

Many years ago I lived in in close company with sheep and shepherds on the eastern slope of the Colorado Rockies. There were two sheep ranchers in the congregation. I freely admit that I still know very little about sheep. But I do know this: sheep do not get to choose their shepherd. This can go well for them, and it can go badly.

This hasn’t changed one bit over the millennia since the memorable twenty-third psalm was first sung. According to tradition, King David wrote it. It is a song of trust that even now rings true for people who long for something or someone to be worthy of their trust.

David never chose the Lord. From the very beginning the Lord went after David. God made David king over Israel.

King David began as a shepherd himself. Being king surely made him realize that shepherding people is not all that different from shepherding sheep but the stakes are higher when the whole lives of people are in your hands. As king he must sometimes have missed those simpler days when it was just him and his flock in the pastures.

On certain days David probably would gladly have given his kingship back. And on certain days the people would gladly have exchanged David for someone else. That’s the way it goes between shepherds and sheep. It can go well or it can go badly.

David came to know his own limitations and learned humility as Israel’s shepherd. So, instead of hearing Psalm 23 as David’s claim on God as his shepherd, (I choose the Lord as my shepherd) it might be better heard as David’s song of pure joy that God chose him. (The Lord shepherds me.)

On the strength of the bible’s witness we can say that it did go well for David to have the Lord as his shepherd. The Lord commands rest, gives refreshment, and when the force of life within grows faith, the Lord breathes it back into strength.

On certain days it also went badly. Life isn’t always green pastures and still waters. Sometimes it’s a parched place, a bad neighborhood that must be traversed, or a riptide of evil.

David learned to take the bad with the good. A staff can rescue and it can restrain. A rod can drive away danger, and it can chastise. But however it goes, David discovered that you can trust the Lord to be there with you.

Though surrounded by enemies, David knew safety with the Lord as his shepherd. He was fed, healed, and blessed. Everything he really needed was provided in abundance.

It’s not too much to think that David’s memorable song of trust was sounding loud and clear in the people of the early church. They found their way forward after Easter with the message of God’s deliverance. They leaned into the amazing news that Jesus was alive and would live with them and in them forever. With God their souls were safe. They practiced sharing this good message by holding Jesus as their only truth and his love as the guide to all their acts.

As we see in the other Bible texts today, it is a matter of faith to keep reminding ourselves that God sent Jesus to be our good shepherd. Jesus chose us all to be the sheep of his pasture, to dwell in his house and eat at his table.

Jesus helps us when there are wolves at the door, and when we are running scared. Jesus fills us with the Spirit we need in this world.  Because it can go well, or it can go badly for us.

Peter and John remembered this when they were detained and accused of being allied with demonic powers. In what demonic name had they acted? Peter let God’s Spirit reply saying, a man was healed here, and since when have demons ever done good? Demons enslave, but God saves, God delivers.

God shepherds with love. God delivers by love. God calls by love. And there is no one whose name God does not know. It is not by our wisdom or faith that we belong to Jesus. Nor do we choose who else belongs to Jesus. It is all a matter of God’s grace and love.

Psalm 23 is pure poetry. It ends by saying that the Lord is goodness and mercy that simply will not let go. Not ever. To which David responds with his own gift: in your house, O Lord I will live and sing praises for as long as there are days. 

What possible response can we make to such gracious hospitality as God gives to us? Gratitude is a good beginning. Like King David, we can offer it in our songs, prayers, poems and in the love that flows mightily from God through us into this world.