Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fourth Sunday of Easter

John 10
25Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, 26but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[c]; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. 30I and the Father are one."

Psalm 23.1
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

My son’s job is to keep me honest. I can’t recall (or refuse to recall) the number of times my son has said, “is that a new cell phone?” Or, alternately, “did you need a new cell phone?” I try various ways to wiggle out of this situation: “Maybe not,” I might say, “but look at this—it’s so cool!” This seldom works, mostly because whatever feature I’m showing him has been in the pocket of one of his friends for months. In fact, I have recently learned that Isaac’s friends are a reliable source of information before my next cell phone purchase.

I do, however, keep an ace up my sleeve. “Isaac,” I will ask, “how many game systems do you have?” Even before he speaks I can smell victory. “And how many systems are on your current wish list?” Now he’s getting worried. It’s about this time he will concede, usually with words like “yeah, this phone’s cool.”

When my son is finished (or defeated) in his effort to save me from myself, the world usually conspires to find a way. The news from our big neighbour to the south is that sometime in 2009, millions of old televisions will become garbage. With the analog signal turned off, millions of sets will simply stop working and landfills will inundated with bulky and harmful plastics and metals.

Listening to a radio program on this coming crisis I was feeling a bit of relief know that I’ll manage to keep my old TV working even if Canada makes this change. Then the expert on the radio said this: “What’s equally harmful is the proliferation of cell phones in the world. People are constantly changing cell phones and landfills are filling up with discarded phones and their batteries.”

I must be in a confessional mood. Maybe I’m just making up for the fact that I didn’t get the chance to preach last week on Earth Day. Or maybe I’m feeling convicted by a bit of ancient poetry we heard this morning. You all know it, and it only takes the first line to hear the message:

The LORD is my shepherd…

“I shall not want.” We most often hear this poet at funerals, and it endures as one of the most comforting set of ideas ever set down. It powerfully conveys the comfort God provides in the face of loss, that even “in the valley of the shadow of death” God will be with us will tend to us. It is, however, more than a funeral psalm. It is an extended reflection on companionship, on the ways in which God remains at our side throughout life’s journey. It is about certainty in an uncertain life and finding rest: 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.

But it is more: it is also about how we meet the world and how we imagine our place in it. It is about claiming God as the shepherd of my life, and rejecting all the other shepherds that seek to lay claim to me. I do not belong to the marketplace. I do not belong to the latest guru who would point to some secret way to success or happiness. I have a whole other sermon planned on “The Secret” and so I won’t begin my rant quite yet: but imagine an author suggesting that the “law of attraction” that is supposed to govern the universe caused a tsunami because millions of people somehow attracted disaster through the way they were thinking. I do not belong to ideologies that suggest that the wealthy are somehow favoured by God.

The LORD is my shepherd…

The post-Earth Day message of “I shall not want” is about making our confession and somehow acting on it. Somehow lost in the message about CO2 and the warming of the planet is the old fashioned message about consumption. Our appetite for things is killing the planet, and yet we continue to live with the myth that consumer spending is good and critical to the success of our economy. We are driven to consume, and the message we receive is spend more, use more, and discover which products say “I’ve arrived.” In 1940 the average household enjoyed 400 square feet of living space per person. Today the average is 1000 square feet per person. Suddenly my shoebox makes me feel smug.

The LORD is my shepherd…

I shall not want is about letting go. Google “letting go” and you will discover a million ways that people have described a need for letting go. Imagine all the things in life that we cling to and remember the LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. We cling to our need to be right. We cling to our need to control things and others. We cling to the belief that somehow we are indispensable and without us things will go terribly wrong. We cling to our point-of-view. God invites us to say “I shall not want” and to let go.

The LORD is my shepherd…

I shall not want for other shepherds. I will turn to God alone in the face of difficult questions and situations, waiting for understanding to be revealed or just sitting with the silence to know that God cares. I will allow my shepherd to care for me through the work of others, understanding that the Risen Christ comes to us in very guise and form.

This is perhaps the most powerful want to all: the desire to look after ourselves, to be self-reliant, to show the world that we are autonomous. But the LORD is my shepherd. I cannot find my own way, and cannot fill the want of independence in any way that has meaning. Independence is a harmful myth when we need to be connected, one to another, and find what binds us rather than what keeps as separate. And over-all is God, acknowledged or unacknowledged, our Shepherd.

There have been countless attempts to sum up all that God is and all that God does for us. There have been countless attempts to better describe the comfort that God provides. There have been countless attempts to articulate an environmental ethic grounded in stewardship and care for the earth. There have been countless attempts to summarize our need to “let go” and allow God to live at the centre of our lives. All of these attempts have fallen short of the most profound and simplest articulation of all…

The LORD is my shepherd…


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