‘The Lord is My Shepherd’ March 19th 2023

March 19th 2023 – Hardraw Lent 4

1 Samuel 1:20-end, Psalm 23, Luke :33-35

‘The Lord is My Shepherd’

Mothering Sunday traditions in the church can be dated back to the 16th century. It is told that this was the day when people were encouraged to return to worship in their ‘Mother Church’ – the place where they had been baptised. People who usually attended the local parish church, would make a longer journey to their ‘Mother Church’ or Cathedral of the Diocese. Girls who were in domestic service were allowed time off from their chores to visit their mothers and their family but the focus was on giving thanks to the Lord for His love and provision. Inevitably, it has become a day where commercial enterprise has, for the most part, taken it over but it’s always good to remember before the Lord, those who to whom we are grateful for loving us and caring for us … they need not be a biological mother … but to especially remember the Lord himself in that role.

A mothering role involves love and promise and sacrifice. Mary was warned very early on about the personal cost of her love as a mother, Hannah honours the gift of her child with personal sacrifice and in the words of our psalm, we are reminded of the Love of God himself to each and every one of us. Let’s take a closer look at that love and those promises.

We all have moments in our life when we feel overwhelmed and times when we need direction and protection. King David knew those feelings well but he also knew the one who could help him overcome them. I’ll adopt a ‘Broad Brush’ approach and encourage you to take time later to re-examine the words and to ponder how they apply to you.

David is speaking from a deep personal relationship with God that has revealed a close understanding of His nature and character. Scripture speaks regularly of God as a Shepherd and Jesus himself in John 10 describes himself as ‘The Good Shepherd’. Having had no direct experience of sheep farming, it’s always interesting speaking in Upper Wensleydale about sheep … David begins by declaring his relationship with God.  He is living his life under the care of God and as such is reaping all of the benefits that are associated with that relationship. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, we too enter into this same relationship. God desires to be our Shepherd but it’s our decision whether we allow him into that role. As we have come across this last week in the ‘Christianity Explored’ session on Grace, God gives us free will and his desire is that we will use that freedom to choose to follow him.

‘I shall not be in want … I shall lack nothing’ …. Doesn’t mean that everything we desire will be given to us, but it does mean that when we have accepted the Lord as our Shepherd then we can walk in contentment and security, knowing that the Lord is looking out for us.

‘He leads me … He restores me … He guides me ..’   Humans, like sheep, are naturally social creatures – we like being with others – like sheep we can feel insecure or weak when alone and so we like to follow … and we all follow something. Our own moral code, ambition, fashion, football teams, social trends, so called ‘influencers’ on social media. Jesus spoke about the dangers of following the wrong leaders and influence and constantly encourages us to look to our heavenly Father and to follow Him.

It’s so important that we help our children and grandchildren to understand that following God is a good thing to do. I am frequently faced with the statement from parents that with regards to God, they are letting their children decide what they want to do – they will not ‘brain wash’ them, they can make their own choice … and it’s said as if they’re doing them some great favour. How many adopt the same philosophy when it comes to their children learning how to cross a busy road I wonder? If we leave our children to make their own decisions then the world will most certainly get to work in washing their minds and the water that is used there can be very grubby indeed … choosing the right Shepherd for our lives is crucial.  Some are helped into that early, some recognise it later and some never at all.

I read this week that the later in life we are introduced to the saving power of the Gospel, the less likely it is that we are able to respond. The world has already created a follower and it can be very hard to begin to realign our thoughts and behaviour .. ‘Train up a child in the way they should go and they will not depart from it’  Pr.22:6

‘When I walk through the valley … I will fear no evil.’  When I face times of challenge and difficulty .. when I’m confused about the direction my life is taking, when I’m concerned about the future, when I’m lonely, when things are hard and a challenge … I need not be afraid because I know that the Lord is walking with me and beside me.   I know that many of you are walking in that valley right now …. Things are hard – you’re concerned over many things – with the Lord as our Shepherd we know that we are in safe hands – ‘For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.’ Jer.29

‘You prepare a table for me … you anoint my head with oil … my cup overflows’  The Lord’s promise is that it might like look like you’re surrounded with difficulties but He’s got you … when you have chosen Him as your Shepherd, then His love and generosity outdoes everything else. Jesus said ‘I have come that you may have life in all its fullness’  John 10 . A wonderful song by Michael Smith that is regularly played in our home has the line: ‘It might look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by you!’

‘Surely goodness and mercy will follow me’  A closer translation of the word follow in this context is ‘pursue’. It’s a wonderful image of God’s love chasing after us … a pursuer is dedicated and determined. They tend to succeed when the one they are pursuing slows down or stops … then they can catch up. What might we need to slow down on in our lives to allow the Lord to come alongside? For His promise is that when we allow Him to be our Shepherd our future is secure in Him.