Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Text: Psalm 23:4
“Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd's rod and staff protect me.”

“You are with me!”

A husband was awakened by his wife's concern that she heard a burglar downstairs.  He slowly got up, went grumpily downstairs, and found himself staring into the business end of a gun.  The burglar ordered him to hand over all the household valuables and then started to leave. “Before you go”, the husband said, “I'd like you to come upstairs and meet my wife.  She's been expecting you every night for over 30 years”. 

It’s interesting how anxiety and stress take over our minds and affect our lives at times.  It might be that we wake up in the middle of the night or answer an unexpected telephone call and suddenly our demeanour changes, our minds are filled with all kinds of things that begin to swirl around and we can feel our bodies becoming tense as anxious thoughts fill our heads and we begin to stress. 

We worry about situations that might eventuate and possibilities that might happen in the future.  We get so churned up about what might happen that we lose sight of the facts and a sense of what is real.  It’s highly unlikely that what we stress about so much will ever happen but we get ourselves in such a state.  It’s like a thick fog settles over us and we can’t see clearly and rational thinking goes out the window.

Sometimes it takes a friend or a spouse to snap us out of the cycle of anxiety.  Worry spins us around.  We need someone else who can help us get a grip on reality and to see that what is troubling us is not as severe as we have made it out to be.  Stress has distorted our world and twisted our thinking and affected our confidence. 

I was asked to visit an elderly woman who refused to leave her home.  She never went shopping, never answered her door, and never collected her mail.  A neighbour became concerned and knowing that she had something to do with the church asked me to try and to talk to her.  After a while the woman let me in.  The curtains were drawn and the house as very musty smelling.  The woman told me how she had received a phone call from what I guessed was a telemarketer who had made threatening remarks to her when she said she wasn’t interested in whatever the person on the phone was selling.  The voice in her ear kept her awake at night.  It made her afraid to go out.  Anyone who knocked on her door was considered a threat.  The only person she opened her front door was her neighbour who did her weekly shopping.  Anxiety had taken control of her life to the point where everyone was evil and had lost all confidence to leave her house.  Anxiety can be a powerful overwhelming thing.

Mostly anxiety is a good emotion.  It’s helpful to have a healthy level of anxiety.  It keeps us safe and prevents us from getting ourselves into harmful situations.  If you are walking down a dark unfamiliar street at night and you begin to feel anxious, it’s wise to take notice of that feeling and to act accordingly.  When Miriam and I are travelling and camping in strange countries, cities and in unfamiliar places we have a golden rule, namely, to take note of our anxiety levels.  If we begin to feel unsafe because of the people or the circumstances around us we take note of that feeling and quickly take action until we feel safe again.  It’s amazing how often we feel anxious about the same thing at the same time and we look at each other and say quietly, “Let’s get out of here!”

God created us with the emotion of anxiety and a sense of uneasiness.  It’s an emotion designed to keep us safe.  A parent is anxious about a child who takes the family car out solo for the first time.  The parent knows that he/she has a licence, is a good driver, and is sensible but is still anxious because that’s what parents do – they want their children to be safe.  By the way the child is anxious too because he/she wants to get the car home safely without any dents or scratches and so keep the confidence of his/her parents as a safe user of the family car.

But there are things that will happen in our lives that are certain to give us grief and send our lives down paths that we would prefer not to take.  There will be sickness, accidents, loss of loved ones and loss of property.  These things are inevitable.  Let’s take an example.  One of your parents has been diagnosed with an illness that is fatal. You can’t be sure, but there is the possibility that you have inherited the same illness.  And as you watch your parent’s health decline, your anxiety levels about your own future rises.

What do you do with this kind of anxiety?  It’s real?  It’s about a possibility.  You don’t know if you can endure the same torment as your parent suffered.  And so you worry.

One of the things you could do is to ignore, ignore all gloom and doom and be all cheery and care-free.  You could take the attitude that it will never happen to you and if it did you have the ability to handle anything that comes your way.  I think we would all be surprised at how many times we take this kind of attitude.  There is something that frightens us or causes us concern in the future but we lodge it in the back of our brain and ignore it.  It’s only when it becomes impossible to ignore that we suddenly become anxious.

I believe there is a far better way to deal with anxiety when it comes to looking to the future and fearing the disasters that might really happen and the risks in which our family members and friends might be involved.  We have Jesus Christ who will not only helps us cope but also provide the resources to be strong even in the most challenging circumstances.  We have God's divine power that took the tragedy of the cross and turned it into the greatest triumph for all humanity – it is this divine power that we call the ‘Good Shepherd’ who lovingly cares for and watches over his sheep.

Isn’t that what the twenty-third Psalm is saying, Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”?
 David is saying that even though there are some very scary moments ahead in the future; he has nothing to be afraid of.  It may be dark and his future may be unknown and the path life will take will be mysterious and uncertain but he has nothing to fear because the Lord is his shepherd.  He says,
‘The Lord leads me;
he guides me;
he restores my energy;
he is with me and protects me’.

Like a shepherd who closely watched over his sheep, walked with them, knew each one by name and cared for them, Jesus does the same for us.  Those times when we are scared and anxious we are able to join with David in the Psalm and say, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.

It is this kind of boldness and strength that we see in the apostle Paul as he sat in a jail in the worst kind of circumstances.  Yet was able to not be overcome with gloom but instead he joyfully praised God and boldly told others about Jesus.  When he was the weakest Paul boldly stated, I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Philippians 4:13). 

In another place he says, “If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? Can trouble, suffering, and hard times, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death? In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us” (Romans 8:31,35,37).

When we are the most vulnerable, anxious about what the future holds for us, living in dangerous and hard times, it’s great to know that we have nothing to be afraid of.  The Shepherd is walking by our side and makes sure there is no trouble, suffering, and hard times, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death that is able to stop the Shepherd watching over us and caring for us. 

It is this that gives us a boldness to face surgery, an illness, the death of someone close, a disaster or whatever trouble might come our way that is so hard to deal with that it overwhelms us.  We have Jesus who knows us, knows our needs and knows how to deal with us in the best way and will walk with us.  We have nothing to fear. 

That’s not to say that all trouble will automatically go away. It means that Jesus will walk with us and guide us and help us through the maze of things that make us anxious.  Even if it should mean that we leave this life, we have nothing to be afraid because Jesus is with us.  Jesus describes the closeness between himself and the sheep by referring to the closeness between himself and the Father.  There can be nothing closer.  As the Father knows me and I know the Father, in the same way I know my sheep and they know me”.

I don’t know about you but there are times when I forget all this and I become a worry-wart.  I become anxious and my stress levels go up and I become upset about this and that.  It’s as if it’s all up to me to sort things out and I worry about things that are far too big for me to fix.  It’s just then that I need to repent of my short sightedness, my forgetfulness that Jesus has been waiting for me to hand over this whole issue to him and let him comfort me and help me through it.  I need to be reminded that Jesus the Good Shepherd never gives up on his sheep.
He keeps on looking for the lost,
he reminds the lost of his love,
and invites the lost to follow him,
to trust him,
to look to him for help and strength,
to allow him to guide the lost. 
What a joy it is to know that really we have nothing to worry about because Jesus is walking beside us.

I don't know all that the future holds. I could stress and worry about it or I could leave it in the hands of my Shepherd.  Though we tend to naturally be people who stress, we pray that more and more we will learn to lean on Jesus and trust him to lead us through the tough times.  May we join with David and say, Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me”.

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
29th April 2012
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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