Sunday, 11 May 2014

Sermon 11 May: Living with Purpose

Psalm 23; John 10: 1-10

Do you know that today every hymn we sang could’ve been based on or inspired by the same 6 verses?

It has been changed and paraphrased, and set to music over, and over again
We just sang, “I will trust in you”
We could also have sung
The King of Love my Shepherd is
Abide with me
In heavenly love abiding
For the beauty of the earth...
And any one of four settings...

There are 15 hymns listed in the scripture index in my hymn book attributed to it
It is of course
The 23rd Psalm
The Lord’s my Shepherd – only six verses, but six verses that have spoken to generation after generation.

Ever since I first visited the Holy Land the 23rd Psalm has had a deeper meaning for me. And, when I read it I get very impatient with translations that change the meaning of verse 4.
Which is why I asked Jean to read from the NIV this morning rather than the Good News – because you see, the Valley of the Shadow of Death is a real place.

The Wadi Kelt 2012 (JMW)
This  is what that land looks like; and this is the pathway through it.
It is just as dry and dusty and desolate as it appears.

As you walk you may see in the distance another traveller; walking away, or coming towards you.
Wlderness travellers (JMW 2012)

That prospect was one to instil fear into travellers.
Who is it?
Another traveller?
Or a bandit?
A shepherd and his flock?
Or a robber setting up an ambush?
Walking through that terrain was a treacherous journey; it was a perilous enterprise.
Very few people would travel alone; they would gather together for support and protection; protection against wild animals at night and marauders on the journey by day.

It is still a desolate place; visited now by pilgrims who come to see what the wilderness is really like.
When you stop to take it in, even though the place seems empty, uninhabited something amazing happens.
From nowhere come traders!
Selling cloth; beads; water... selling photos with the camel!
You do not see them before you stop, because this place is too hot, too exposed to hang around just in case
But they see the buses long before they reach their destination, so they pack up and head out – on camel and donkey; to try to ply their wares, in the place where you can look along the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

This was the road from Jerusalem to Jericho; along the Wadi Kelt, and there are many, many places that were sites of ambush and attack.
So, the psalm suddenly has a deeper meaning
The Psalmist was writing of a real fear; a genuine situation of peril... and yet, he was still able to say
“even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me”

The Psalmist knew absolutely that with God as guide and guard he would be safe...

Nowadays when pilgrims are taken there the bus stops on a rocky outcrop and all that can be seen is a large cross erected a little farther on at the top of the hill.
Pilgrims are encouraged to go and look at the cross... and amid much grumbling they make their way up.

It is worth the climb, for what you see next is extraordinary.
This is desert; wilderness; there is nothing here... yet, in the 5th century John of Thebes took it upon himself to build a monastery.

St Georges Monastery - Wadi Kelt (JMW 2012)

It clings to the side of the rocky valley; a tribute to humanity’s tenacity.
Much of the building that is there now was built during Crusader times, being restored by the Greek Orthodox Church in the 19th century; it is still occupied now by a tiny group of monks and pilgrims who choose to make their own journey into the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

When you walk this Holy Land, suddenly scriptures that were so familiar and beloved take on another dimension.

Now as I read these words I can visualise the place.
The stories come alive; the imagination is fed by something much more tangible.

And I can sit, and listen to Jesus telling me the stories of a shepherd who knew and cared from his flock... and I can see what the shelter looked like; what the landscape was like.

The shepherd knew his own sheep.
The shepherd still knows his own people.
And when he calls – the sheep; or the people respond.

The shepherd’s task is to protect and nurture his flock.
The Psalmist knew this, and used it to inform his psalm of praise to God...

The shepherd not only protects and nurtures.
He cares for, prepares for the future too: “goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

When Jesus revisited this shepherd motif: which would have been known and understood absolutely by his followers – and the onlookers, he took it further, not only protection and nurture, but safety and a life full of purpose.
A life, full of life.
We are given that challenge
That promise
That hope
How do you live?
If you walk with Jesus by your side; calling you; leading you; following you then you have this promise to hope for, to live by
When you invite Jesus into your life, then he comes wholeheartedly
Not a little bit
Not some days more than others
But abundantly, richly, lavishly – unconditionally – for ever

That was his purpose
When we see friends, others who have no purpose, no goal, those who struggle, we can help them by explaining this

The Lord is my shepherd
God is my Shepherd
He gives me everything I need
When I am afraid
When I walk through the dark and dangerous times of my life
He is there protecting and guiding

When I seek answers – I pray
When I seek help – I pray
When I need direction – I pray
When I need to right words – I pray
Because, I know that wherever I go and whatever happens, when my fears are real, and my grief is tangible, and the way is uncertain
There is one this that is certain
God is my guide
And God sent his Son Jesus to show me
To show us all
The reality of that Psalm
Jesus said
I am the gate for the sheep
Whoever enters through me will be saved
I have come that you may have life
Life in all abundance
Life with purpose
Life in full!


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