God Gives Hope: In Troubled Times
The Fourth Sunday of Eastertide is known as "Good Shepherd Sunday". The Psalm for the week is Psalm 23; the stanzas have long been used to provide comfort in difficult times. It is one of the first memorization exercises for Sunday school, and while other biblical stories are read from modern translations, most of us who have memorized Psalm 23 know it in the poetry of the King James Bible. The translation may not be nuanced and accurate to the original Hebrew, but it is beautiful and comforting to us. The other texts for this Sunday also focus around Jesus as the Good Shepherd who loves and cares for us, the master who guards and watches. The shepherd is someone who actually brings the sheep out of the pen, drives them into the dangerous world, but stays with the sheep and protects from those very dangers. The sheep might seem to have better protection remaining within the sheepfold, but they would not have exercise, fresh grass to eat, and the wolves could still infiltrate and steal the sheep. As counterintuitive as it may seem, the sheep are safer with the shepherd outside the pen than inside without anyone providing direct care.
The Hope theme this week is "In Troubled Times". It is no secret that we are living in troubled times, but that fact is really no change throughout all human history - we have always lived in Troubled Times in one way or another. If we try to stay inside that metaphoric sheepfold, closed off from the world, we only have the illusion of safety, plus the added fear of the unknown outside. The shepherd leads us out of the pen, into the troubled world. The shepherd shines a light on our fears, and when we fall down the hole of doubt, this shepherd hooks the crook around us and lifts us back to safety. What are troubling times? They are learning opportunities, knowing that if we fall down our Good Shepherd will pick us up again. Troubling times will always be with us, but we have the tools to ameliorate them, starting by listening to the voice of our shepherd.
Finally, April 22, the date of this upcoming Sunday, is Earth Day.
The Shepherd will supply my needs in troubled times on Earth.
The pastures grown so verdantly, scarred and damaged, now they strain
to cleanse the water, clear the air, and feed the wand'ring deer
Our God cries out in painful voice, "I provide, but do they care?"
These lines are a new verse written in honor of Earth day in troubled times to one of the many tunes associated with Psalm 23: Resignation. The name of this tune evokes weariness, giving up. Being resigned to something often means accepting something undesirable that cannot be avoided. Having this attitude associated with the words to Psalm 23: "The Lord is my Shepherd, I will not want" creates tension - it is nice that God cares for us, but what happened to being able to forge our own path, make mistakes? The Lord will provide for us, but do we care to accept this provision? Add to that tension: awareness of our earth, the poisons that invade the lakes, rivers, streams, wildlife. Are we resigned to creation's plight? Are we, as stewards of creation, hireling shepherds under the aegis of Christ, the Good Shepherd, or just sheep in need of care ourselves?