Reflection/Poem for IV Easter St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Nags Head, N.C. May 3, 2020 Thomas E. Wilson, Supply Clergy
The Psalm for today is the Psalm that is the best known of all the Psalms, the 23rd , often known as “The Good Shepherd.” “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” But the reality is that we do want-- all the time. The meanings of words change over the years; in 1611 “to be in want” meant you were poor and deprived, and “I shall not want” meant I have everything I need. However, 4 centuries later “want” means a desire, like I want a bowl of ice cream. We are rich people, and we have the ability to meet most of our desires. What deeper needs are we missing? In what ways are we poor?
When I was in 2nd grade in Montpelier, Ohio, I attended a Vacation Bible School at the Presbyterian Church. We played games, had lessons and made things out of cloth and the boys put together a small wooden étagère, which we called “that little wooden corner shelf.” We were also taught the 23rd Psalm in the King James version. As a reward for memorizing it I was given a glow-in-the-dark plastic Jesus, as the Good Shepherd to place on my “that little wooden corner shelf.” I kept them on my desk in my bedroom in Ohio, and moved it faithfully after we moved to New York the next year. Every night until I graduated from High School, they were the last things I would see after the lights went out. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, watching over me.
The purpose of this plastic glow-in-the-dark Jesus sitting on that little wooden corner shelf, according to the lay leaders of the Presbyterian Vacation Bible School, was to remind me that I was never alone. Jesus was walking with me to remind me how his love for me was to be a model of my love for others.
However, when I would louse up and do something bad, I would feel guilty; and at the time for my nighttime prayers, before I tried to go to sleep, I had the little plastic glow-in-the-dark Jesus reminding me of all the wrong choices I had made. When I went off to college in North Carolina, I made sure not to pack them with me. I was all grown up now and did not need to feel guilty, or at least I did not want to feel guilty. My vision of Jesus was turning, away from being a Good Shepherd, to being a kill-joy. I did not “want” Jesus to be my shepherd. I did not “want” because I was full of myself.
In the lesson for today from John's Gospel, Jesus claims the image of the Shepherd, but as the lesson goes, the editor writes:
Like the disciples, I did not understand what Jesus was meaning using the image of the Good Shepherd. During my time of college I grew fond of the sayings of H.L Mencken who said: “Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time.” and, “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.” I enjoyed being clever, putting down the smugness of the churches; but on the other hand, I missed the vision that could shine in the darkness of my selfishness. I was lucky for I found people who pointed to Jesus as their strength in doing good.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of those people not ashamed to call on Jesus as a way of living. In his address to Riverside Church, April 4, 1967, he declared:
I started to realize that the “Abundant Life” that Jesus was talking about was not about saving oneself for a life after we are dead, but about committing oneself for living a life in which the good news was meant for all people and abundant life meant to live as if I was not the narrow center of a narrow universe. I needed to treat people not as objects to meet my wants, mere things to be used, but as the second person singular intimate form of “Thou” who is loved by God abundantly.
I still mess up a lot, but each time I reap the consequences of my missteps, I receive Grace for strength to return to the Good Shepherd. Not all things can be “fixed” but they can be redeemed even when bad things happen.
Richard Rohr wrote in his April 14th Meditation on Why Suffering?
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
The Good Shepherd
Enough! I've had enough of this!
I'm a grown up person not needing
someone to spend energy feeding
dependence as ways to find bliss.
Without considering others’ needs,
we each need to take care of # one,
first and foremost; have some fun,
by saving us from boredom seeds.
However, if I am able to be set free,
then I have to face things I'd regret,
doing by word, deed, or having let
happen; what I'd not want light, see.
Of all of my appetites, I want it now;
grace to treat others as loved by Thou.