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Join Us For Worship!

Join Us For Worship!
Sundays at 8:30AM, 9:45AM, and 11AM

Saturday, May 14, 2011

SERMON ON PSALM 23                MAY 15 2011

When I was around seven years old the very notion of God scared me to death.

At seven my God was pretty simple: like a stern parent God was always watching; far far worse than Santa Claus. God really knew if you had been good or bad. And the consequences were much worse than a few lumps of coal in your stocking which of course we would hang every year on the card board chimney in our living room.  

I remember accidently swearing  - caught up in the excitement of a rather enormous game of freeze tag involving half of our block – running as fast as my little legs (and they were little then) could carry me and having the person who was “it” run me down; me running like some small rabbit with a sprained ankle.

Nearly 40 years later I can recall that day with perfect clarity  - my seven year old self  looking up at the darkening twilight sky as the inappropriate expletive came out of my mouth of its own accord. And this is the thought that held me captive: would God send lightning to strike me dead right then and there? I had used God’s name in vain. My memory of some Sunday school lesson seemed to recall a commandment or two that strictly forbade that. So I knew in my heart that at seven years old my life was over – before I got to walk on the moon or swim with dolphins and do all those other things that I had hoped to get to before the term “bucket list” even existed.  


The LORD is my shepherd;
            I shall not be in want.
The LORD makes me lie down in green pastures
            and leads me beside still waters.
You restore my soul.
 
Well, I never did walk on the moon or swim with the dolphins – at least not yet - and God never did get around to sending that lightning bolt though mom did keep a bar of soap around just in case my mouth spontaneously uttered one of George Carlin’s 7 dirty words and a few more besides.   

So no lightning, but what did happen, I think, is that every opportunity that arose in my life that by all rights could have driven me away from God, a God who seemed at times scary or distant or indifferent or even cruel - didn’t. Could’ve, but didn’t.

Sheep have a reputation for not being the most intelligent of creatures and I was and at times and still am from time to time a sheep with the particular habit of getting myself lost. And there was enough pain and tragedy and confusion and teenage audacity to do so some several times before I was old enough to vote. Every opportunity that arose in my young life that by all rights could have driven me away from God, in which I could have taken another road and never look back until I left God in the long forgotten distance of unimportance and irrelevance, did not. The Good Shepherd keeps an eye on the sheep even when our eyes are looking for the next even more green pasture – the one with that simply scrumptious turf that everyone is always talking about – that we just have to try.

The LORD is my shepherd;
            I shall not be in want.
The LORD makes me lie down in green pastures
            and leads me beside still waters.
You restore my soul.

In college while the Good Shepherd was keeping an eye on me, I stopped going to worship. I slept – Sunday being the only morning not ruled by the alarm clock.

No worship. No faith community. At the most critical time in my life, I wandered away from God and focused on other things. Like sleep. And girls. And a thousand other things that I deemed more important. Like sleep. And girls.

But the Good Shepherd just wouldn’t let me go. Couldn’t let me go.
Instead, Jesus sent a Godly woman already involved in a faith community to bring me back.
 
These days we had numbed ourselves to writing things off – cutting our losses  - even when it comes to friendships. Nothing is sacred when it comes to our search for personal happiness, it seems. But our God is a strange one. Does the complete opposite. Shows us the way we ought to live.  Would leave the 99 sheep to search for the one that is lost. Even and especially if that one…is us. Would welcome one back who had turned their back upon God. And not greet with conditions or demands or with chastising and a cross word or even an “I told you so,” but throws a party instead. A ridiculously loud celebration with good food.  The kind that if heaven had neighbors they would be calling the police – a crazy loud, raucous party. For us.

 The LORD is my shepherd;
            I shall not be in want.
The LORD makes me lie down in green pastures
            and leads me beside still waters.
You restore my soul.

Our God will not deny us the ability to make choices. We see a pasture over the next hill that we find interesting – well off we go! Or we want are feeling particular lazy and the rest of the sheep head off looking for new pasture, the old having served its purpose and its grass gone, so be it. Off they go, while we stay put. For me that defined my faith experience for much of college. But the God the Good Shepherd must have an awful lot of fingers and toes – keeps count – knows when we go missing – and will not abandon us even if we try to abandon God.  And boy, sometimes we try real hard. We want to take this journey to find ourselves. That journey can be scary for those who love us. I can’t begin to count the number of anxious parents who have come to me sharing that their teen or young adult has informed them that they no longer believe in God. The kids want to find themselves and seem to question everything, particularly if it came from an adult. They need to authenticate everything even their faith in God.

And God has prepared people like you and me, through our own journeys, our own faith experiences, our doubts and questions, and even getting lost a time or two, to be little shepherds, servants of the Good Shepherd, in helping people find their way, through the power of the Holy Spirit, back home. Back to God.

I want you to think of someone who God wants you to go and find and then lead back. Back to God and a loving faith community. Someone once led me back when I had wandered off and I cannot begin to fathom what life would have been like if that little shepherd had not come into my life when she did.  God wants us all to be little shepherds doing the Good Shepherd’s divine work. Think of a name and write it in your News and Announcements – the insert that we encourage you to take home each week. Write their name at the end of the prayer list as a reminder to pray for their return and when you do, pray that God make us all ever so bold to put that prayer into action.

The LORD is my shepherd;
            I shall not be in want.
The LORD makes me lie down in green pastures
            and leads me beside still waters.
You restore my soul.
Amen.

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