Week 5: Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life . . .
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: Psalm 23; John 10:7-10; Ephesians 4:1-3, 31-32, 5:1-2
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
What thief is trying to steal your life?
Who or what takes away the life God wants you to have?
Jesus came so that his sheep may have life and have it abundantly. The only Good Shepherd is the One who provides life and wholeness and healing and mercy and love.
But if Jesus, the face of the Good Shepherd the Triune God is for us, wants abundant life for you, and you don’t have it, maybe you’re facing thieves and bandits as Jesus warned.
We’ve spent five weeks singing to our Good Shepherd, who made and loved us.
But thieves and bandits are always around the edges of the sheepfold, trying to get in and destroy. Fear is a thief: it drains confidence and hope and leads into a life of despair. Anxiety and worry do the same. Loneliness is a bandit: it isolates and separates you from those who love you, even God. Boredom is a thief: it leads to distraction and offers empty, soulless things to fill up your days. Self-centeredness is a bandit: it turns you inward and draws you to actions that harm others and isolate you. Busyness is a thief: it fills your life with so much activity and doing you barely have time to breathe.
There are many more of these robbers hovering around our lives. But if we’ve learned anything from David’s 23rd Psalm, there’s one answer that drives away all who would steal your life and keep you from abundance: stay with your Shepherd. Keep close to the One who desires abundant life for you, and you’ll be safe.
Everything we’ve focused on these Wednesdays reveals the abundant life God desires for you.
Your anointing in baptism as God’s child; God’s guiding you on safe, nourishing paths, forgiving you and putting you back on the path when you fail; God’s feeding you with the Lord’s Supper as a meal of reconciliation with all; God’s loving hand supporting and strengthening you in the valleys of fear and darkness.
Living aware of all these ways God shepherds you brings abundance and joy. A life shaped in every way by David’s last line: “surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” When you’re in the care of your Shepherd God, your fellow-travelers are goodness and mercy.
Jesus says we find this abundant life filled with goodness and mercy when we go in and come out by his guidance.
Jesus is also the gate of the sheepfold. When our comings and goings in all our moments are through Christ’s life and grace, we find pasture. Abundance. Life.
Paul shows how that works. He invites you to be imitators of God, as beloved children. To go and come as God goes and comes. When the sheep imitate the Shepherd, walking in safe paths, drinking good water, staying away from evil and thieves, they live a rich, full life.
Imitators of God live with humility and gentleness. With patience. Bearing with one another in love. Making every effort in peace to keep the Spirit’s unity. Imitators of the Shepherd get rid of some things: bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander, malice. They replace them with kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness like God’s forgiveness.
Mostly, they imitate their Shepherd’s love. Christ offered God’s very life on the cross in love. Share God’s beating heart of love for the whole creation, even for those who harm you, and you will know life, Paul says.
If your life is less than the abundance Jesus deeply desires for you, there’s probably a thief around.
Keep your eyes open for who or what is stealing life from you. With this community here, listen again for your Shepherd’s voice. Whatever the thief is, nothing can separate you from the love and care of your Shepherd. Even in the valley of the shadow of death you will find hope and mercy and life walking with your Shepherd.
And when you learn to imitate the life of the Shepherd, to shape your heart around the kindness, mercy, gentleness, patience, and above all, love of your Shepherd, you will learn what real abundant life is, no matter where your path winds.
And goodness and mercy will follow along at your heels, all the days of your life now and in the life to come.
In the name of Jesus. Amen