Making a more loving world
Open and Affirming
2010 Moholt Dr. (Directions)
Eau Claire, WI 54703
Worship at 10:30 am Sunday
This is a poetic love letter to God, this 23rd Psalm. Think of it as a poetic love letter to God, saying “This is who you are, God, as our shepherd.” And it was possibly written by David, more than likely written, whoever it was, not in the midst of a happy time of life but in the midst of turmoil. Written in the midst of turmoil. Maybe the writer trying to convince himself of these things. “Remember, this is what God is like. Don’t despair, don’t fear. This is what God is like.” Writing to give himself some hope. To give the rest of us some hope. And to remind himself, “This bad stuff happening around you, that’s not God. The turmoil is not of God. God is the one who wants to bring you out of the mess. God is the shepherd that wants to lead you out of that mess. Or if not lead you out, because we don’t always get led out of our messes, but God is at least the one who is with us. Who is with us in the mess, journeying with us.
This is the God who wants to be with you in the difficult times of life, and the God who is with us all in the difficult times.
We’ve been talking about some of those difficult times. Some of the roadblock of life. The stones that block our path from following Jesus, or from having the full life that God wants for us. The stones that block our ability to leave the tombs that we find ourselves in. We have been talking about those the past few weeks. We talked about self-doubt, the ways we sabotage ourselves, thinking we are not worthy, not creative enough, not capable. Forgetting that we are worthy, forgetting that we are loved. Last week we talked about the desire we may have to want to run away or ignore the problems and difficult decisions in life instead of facing them, forgetting that Jesus is with us as we face them and that we can do them because Jesus and the Holy Spirit are with us. Today, the stone or roadblock to talk about is a corollary to running away. Sometimes we may run away because of fear. Fear that we can’t overcome it. Fear of facing a truth. Some fear in there. And the corollary being the thinking that we are on our own, that we have to be self-reliant, forgetting that God is our shepherd and with us. That is a roadblock: thinking that we have to do it on our own. Forgetting we have a shepherd, and that we have a flock around us.
There is a lot of social pressure in western civilization that we shouldn’t ask for help. That asking for help can be shameful. That we are supposed to be strong, independent, self-made, and self-reliant. That’s a roadblock. That’s forgetting that we are part of a flock. It puts us into a tomb of thinking that we are alone, or that we ought to be alone when w have a problem to face. That we ought to be creative enough, powerful enough, clever enough, strong enough, whatever we think we ought to be so that we ever have to ask for help or to trust that God is with us.
I see two things in that kind of thinking: 1) Forgetting that God is with us. That’s easy to fall into, I do it lot. Forgetting that we have a shepherd. And 2) forgetting that we are part of a flock, here as the church, and whatever flocks we have around us, like friends and family. We forget that we are part of God’s flock and we have fellow sheep that we can rely on.
We are all in this together.
Forgetting about God, as I said, is a trap that is easy to fall into. I fall into it. It may sounds weird that the pastor, in the vocation that I am in, is automatically or magically connected to God’s presence all the time. But not always. Sometimes only rarely. I can easily get into the sense of being alone, and forget that God is here to help, so find myself in the place of “It’s all up to me” or “I need to do this” or “I have to do this” or “I have to figure this out” or “I need to deliver ….” and it’s all up to me. Instead of remembering that the LORD is my shepherd. He’ll help me do his. It’s not up to me alone; it’s not up to us alone. God will help. The Holy Spirit is with us. Look to see where the shepherd is going and then follow. You don’t have to blaze the path ourselves all the time. W can follow. Don’t be afraid to ask God for help. Don’t forget that Go is available.
Don’t forget that God is your shepherd.
And then there is forgetting that we are part of God’s flock. Easy to forget that we have people in our lives who want to help and who are willing to help if we would only ask. Or thinking that we are not allowed to ask. That the is something wrong with asking, to trust our fellow flock members.
And we do very much love to celebrate leadership. That’s absolutely worth celebrating. But we go too far sometimes, celebrating only the leaders. We are especially enamored of the stoic leaders, the cowboy, the renegade, the self-made inventor industrialist, the single-focused men or women who just do whatever they want following their vision regardless of criticisms levies against them, the go-it-alone giants. They get a lot of attention, a lot of praise. But followership is also worth celebrating. Communal work is worth celebrating.
The LORD is our shepherd, we are the sheep. We are part of the flock, and thus we re not alone. We are not separate from each other. We are not separate from Jesus. We are a community. Whether it be the church, or the city, or whatever group or organization you are involved with. We are a community. We have each other.
We saw that at the thrift sale yesterday and in the past week. This flock, Plymouth, coming together to work toward a greater good. To do something on behalf of all of us.
We are allowed to not be self-made.
We are allowed to not be self-reliant.
We do not have to be self-made, we don’t have to be self-reliant. It is good not to go to the opposite extreme. But trust also that God is with you. And trust that God is with all of us. Trust that we do not have to do this alone, and trust that, in all honestly, we simply cannot do it all alone. There is no self-made person, no fully self-reliant person. Trust the people around you, the people who love you. Asking for help, admitting that you need help – these can be scary things to do. They can feel like they ought to be shameful. But they shouldn’t be. We should never be ashamed to ask or help, whether from a person or from God. To admit that we aren’t perfect, that we don’t have all the strength or talent that we need, those can be tough admissions. But it is true that none of us are perfect. There is no self-made man or woman
Think of all those great musicians, the ones we celebrate as being at the top of their field. Like Itzhak Perlman, who’s been a professional and amazing violinist for 50 or 60 years: he still takes violin lessons! He has a teacher. He doesn't do it alone. All the great business people, actors, writers, ministers, doctors… people we think of as being the top of their field, a great many of them take advantage of personal coaches, trainers, mentors, seminars, classes, their friends, their colleagues. They are not doing it alone. It might look like it, but they aren’t.
You can’t do it alone.
No man or woman is an island. We are all part of a flock, whether that flock is our family, our co-workers, our peers, an organization, our circle of friends, and we who are the church. WE are part of this amazing flock that belongs to Jesus, both as Plymouth and as the worldwide church. Even all of humanity, for we all God’s people, and part of one flock. We are not alone.
Jesus is our shepherd. We have a flock around us.
Now the last few weeks I’ve been giving some assignments at the end of my sermon time. Some things to do the following week. The first week I gave you a prayer card with a prayer for when you feel self-doubt. Last week, I asked you to pay attention to the times when you felt like running away from a problem, or ignore them, or pretend they aren’t there. I asked you to pay attention in those moments and consider your feelings, why you felt that way. Why do I feel this way? And then say a prayer asking God to be with you, or to open your eyes to see God is with you. [then I asked if anyone did this; and challenged them to keep doing it]. It can help to be aware of when we are doing that, and to know that Jesus is there to help us through those times. Jesus as our shepherd. Or to ask some of our flock to help us. No shame, nothing wrong with asking for help from those who love you: they want you to succeed, too!
My assignment to you this week is to remember you are part of a flock. I want you to connect with your flock, or some part of it, to remind you that you are not alone. I thought that maybe the easiest way to do this is to think of a friend you don’t normally see a lot of, and invite that friend to lunch, to a coffee, to your home, or out for an activity. Invite a friend or a couple of them to do something together simply to spend time together. Invite them for conversation and fellowship, and to reconnect. Or think of a friend far away, and make time to have a phone conversation.
All I want for you is to be intentional to connect with your flock.
To remember you are not alone. Keep those relationships going. Invite a friend to do something this week. Don’t wait for a couple weeks, do it this week. Force yourself to clear time if you have to; that will also help remind you that friend time, flock time, is important.
I have no agenda other than to reconnect with your friends, but you can say, when you invite them, “My pastor said that he wants us to reconnect with our flock, and you are part of mine, so I am inviting you to this. I want to spend some time with you, to remember that we are connected. That we are part of a flock.” Now that may lead to some conversation about your church, it may not. It may help you think of it as being an invitation to a holy time with your friend.
Connecting with your flock will remind you that you are not alone. That you have helpers. That you have supporters. That you have people in your life who are willing to help, to be with you, love you, and who who want the best for you.
You don’t have to go it alone. When you feel that roadblock that you feel you need to be self-reliant, that you can’t ask for help – you CAN ask for help! You do not have to be self-reliant!
You are part of a flock that God has put together for you with Jesus as the shepherd. The Good Shepherd who loves, who watches over you, who is with you, and who has called you and all of us into this great flock of his people of mutual support and love. What a gift, what a wonderful and blessed gift that is! I hope you will take time this week to remember that. To remember what a wonderful and incredible gift it is that God has called us into God’s flock and into whatever other flocks of people we have in our lives.
And may God be praised through those connections, and may you be blessed through them. Amen!
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