Sermons are meant to be heard. There is something that gets lost in just reading one. The following sermon was written to be spoken aloud which explains why the writing is not always perfect and the punctuation is at times nonexistent. Nevertheless, I pray that it speaks to you.
May 7, 2017
Tonight our scripture focus is on the Psalm 23. A psalm that we have heard over and over and memorized even. A psalm that may have lost some of its power in multiple hearings – a psalm that we normally just think about at funerals - but nonetheless a psalm that speaks to us not only in times of grief but also in the normal everyday-ness of our lives. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
I shall not want. That is a powerful phrase. It’s powerful because we all have wants. Even if we don’t really understand them or even fully realize what it is we want.
Jesus seemed to understand this.
Do you remember the story of Blind Bartimaeus?
Jesus is walking along through the city of Jerico and there was a blind beggar named Bartimaeus sitting next to the road who heard that it was Jesus walking by. So Bartimaeus start shouting louder and louder “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And the people around him were like: “shush!!! Stop yelling! You’re embarrassing us.” But he just got louder until Jesus heard him and came over to him. And what does Jesus do? He asks him “What do you want me to do? What do you want?” And Bartimaeus knew what he wanted – and wanted to see.
Jesus had a habit of asking this question – What do you want. And I’ve often wondered why. Doesn’t Jesus know what we want? Why does Jesus ask that question? Maybe he’s trying to get us to really understand what we are looking for and to really think about what are the desires of our hearts. Maybe he wants us to examine ourselves and search our hearts and get to the root issue.
But it is an interesting question isn’t it? I think it may be the question that Christ is asking US today. What do you want?
See if you find yourself in these statements:
I want to be outside in the sunshine - on the golf course
I want to a krispy kreme donut
I want a better car
I want a house that I can afford
I want forgiveness
I want an x-box
I want the disease to be gone
I want a different life
I want an A on the exam
I want a friend
I want a child who seems far away to come back home
I want the bills to be paid
I want a job that allows me creativity and freedom
I want a marriage that is fixed
I want to make a difference
I want to be real with someone
We all have wants - and when Jesus asked Bartimaeus what he wanted - he was trying to get to the heart of the matter. I think tonight Jesus is also trying to get to the heart of the matter. What do you want?
Notice that when we talk about wants we are really talking about two kinds of wants. A want can be something deep and significant or something shallow and unnecessary. And it would be easy for us to just focus on these shallow wants - like maybe materialistic things that the world and marketing gurus say we should “Want Now”. And all of us in the United States fall into this trap – and maybe here in Buckhead we fall into even more. We find ourselves wanting things that will allow us to fit in. Wanting thing that make us feel like we belong. And yet, when we actually get those things we don’t have the space to keep them. Did you know that there are more self-storage facilities in American than there are McDonalds? In fact, there are more self-storage facilities in American than there are McDonalds and Starbucks combined! The world encourages us to want it now and satisfy that want now and for some reason we listen to that voice instead of the voice of the shepherd telling us to want not.
And some might say – “well, we just need to focus on our needs - not our wants.” And yeah, if we are talking only about these shallow, materialistic wants then yes, I can see that. Because we don’t really need a donut or a fancy car or an x-box. And while the 23rd psalm can of course mean we should not be wanting all these shallow things – but I think there is something deeper going on here.
You see, there’s that other kind of want. A want which cannot be easily dismissed as frivolous or shallow or something we don’t need. Jesus certainly did not dismiss Bartimaeus’ want. And we should not dismiss OUR wants - especially these other kinds of wants – these wants that are the deep desires of our hearts - the desire for love, for acceptance, for forgiveness, for healing. These are things we want deeply. And they are not to be trivialized.
I found myself asking the question this week - why do we even have wants? Why can’t we just be content with the way things are good or bad - happy or sad - just whatever is - is. But does that sound like any human you know?
We all have wants - even if we don’t admit it. In fact, I think we were created with the ability to want. I think we were created with the skill to be able to know that something is missing or wrong in our lives. There is something about us that recognizes a hole in our lives and as a result we spend a lot of time searching for what will fill that hole. And of course a lot of the time we try to fill that internal hole with foolish and even harmful things.
But the desire is still there. There is something in us that desires. And ultimately, whether we know it or not - something in us that desires God. And so when we hear the words “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” we are ultimately hearing God say “I know you have wants and desires - but with me all your wants are met. With me you won’t even have any wants. With me that hole is filled.”
But it’s not that easy is it? It’s not that easy just to say Ok, great, God! I shall not want. Because life comes in and we have days or weeks or seasons where we are acutely aware of our deep wants. We become aware of what is missing in our lives and then we realize our reality does not match our wants and that’s when we get flooded with worry and anxiety.
I think Jesus knew we were going to have trouble with our wants and worries and anxieties. When he was teaching in the Sermon on the Mount he said:
25 Here is the bottom line: do not worry about your life. Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will drink. Don’t worry about how you clothe your body. Living is about more than merely eating, and the body is about more than dressing up. 31 So do not consume yourselves with questions: What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?32 Outsiders make themselves frantic over such questions; they don’t realize that your heavenly Father knows exactly what you need. 33 Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too. 34 So do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today.
Jesus knew living without want, without worry, without anxiety would be hard. And so he teaches us that God knows our needs and that instead of seeking to fill our life with things - instead of seeking to remove want from our lives - instead of worrying and creating anxiety wherever we can - we are instead to seek first the kingdom of God - Seek first the righteousness of God - seek God first and all these wants they will be taken care of.
I have to tell you, this past week was rough for me. And there were many times this week I found myself not seeking God first. I found myself seeking information: anything I could get my hands on regarding how the health care bill would affect special needs kids. I found myself seeking diversions – anything to take my mind off the things that consume it. I found myself seeking fixes to the things that were bothering me. But there were not many times I found myself seeking God. And yet, since I have been working on this sermon all week, I HAVE found myself hearing the words of the psalmist “I shall not want” – I shall not want.
But then I think - is this even possible? What would a life of not wanting look like? What would a life of seeking God first look like? How can I get that kind of life - because I’m sorry but the news keeps coming and the bills keep coming and the diagnoses keep coming and the crazy people we have to deal with just keep coming and the anxieties and worries they just keep coming.
So how does this happen? How do we live a life or wanting not?
The answer, I believe is in the very first words of this psalm. Why do I want not? Because the Lord is my shepherd.
We are not out here on our own - the Lord is our shepherd
We don’t have to try and fix everything ourselves - the Lord is our shepherd
When the anxieties start to bubble up - the Lord is our shepherd
When the worries start to multiply - the Lord is our shepherd
When the deep wants overwhelm us - the Lord is our shepherd
And if the Lord is our shepherd and we are his sheep - what are we supposed to do? The Gospel lesson that Taylor read gives us the answer. Hear it again from John 10:
3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
Later in that same chapter Jesus says:
27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
My sheep hear my voice. I know them. They follow me. The Lord is my shepherd. My sheep hear my voice. When we are faced with wants - when we are faced with anxiety and worry - we HAVE to start asking - where is the voice of Christ? Am I listening to him or to something else? Am I listening to the voice of Christ or the voice of the world?
The only way to want not, is to listen to the voice of the shepherd.
Let me see if I can give you an example of this. A few days ago I was headed down GA 400 on my way to church and my mind started to race. This has never happened to you guys, right? And then when I got to the office there was an email that just set off all kinds of anxiety in my mind and in my gut. Don’t worry it wasn’t from one of you. And it wasn’t a bad situation - just one that was causing me anxiety. I found myself wanting that feeling to be gone. So I poured myself into my list and doing the things I usually do and to be honest with you I tend to try and ignore my wants and worries by keeping busy. But I also try and have some meditation time at the start of each day but this day I just wanted to stay busy and certainly not take the time to sit down and meditate.
But something pulled me. So I sat down and as soon as I stopped being busy – sure enough all the wants came flooding back. And it did not feel good. But I had just been thinking about this part of the sermon – about hearing the voice of the shepherd and so I was like – ok God – I’m listening.
Now, I wish I could tell you that I heard a voice right there in the office - but you know hearing an audible voice would have created more anxiety I think! Instead - I just focused on the internal voice of Christ. And slowly the anxiety in my gut started to loosen and I could feel the worry and the want start to leave me.
The Lord is our shepherd - we hear his voice - and we shall not want.
But what happens then? What happens when we hear the voice of the shepherd and we realize that we have nothing to want. Is there something else that happens? As a matter of fact, I think there is. I think the rest of the Psalm happens.
The Lord is my shepherd, we shall not want.
When we want not, He makes us lie down in green pastures - we stop looking at the other sheep’s pastures and the brown spots in our own and realize we are in green pastures.
When we want not: He leads us beside still waters - We are in the calm, deep waters - not the churned up waters of anxiety and fear.
When we want not: He restores our souls - even when we have been battered and bruised by this world - even when it feel like our soul is being ripped apart - it is restored.
When we want not He leads us in the right paths - So we don’t have to worry about which road to take or what path is the right one - he leads us on the right one.
When we want not: Even though we walk through the darkest valley, we fear no evil. Evil is all around us. Just turn on the TV - but we do not fear. We are comforted by the shepherd.
When we want not: A table is prepared before us, our head is anointed with oil, our cup overflows. This is Abundance. In Christ we have abundance - not want.
When we want not: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long. Why? Because the Lord is our shepherd.
This kind of life. This “want not” kind of life is already here. It’s already in you. Because Christ is here - Christ is in you. The voice is there. Listen for it. Seek it. Find it. And want not.