Saturday, June 27, 2015

Asking Directions From A Stranger Sitting On A Stump In The Middle Of Nowhere - Psalm 23, John 10

Psalm 23:1-6

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 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.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

John 10:1-11

1 "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.
2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.
3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice."
6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.
8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.
9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

            Some of you know I have been away for several days.  I was in West Virginia in an area known as the National Radio Quiet Zone.  I did not even know there was such a thing.  Because of scientific and military research installations in that area, there are no cell phones and no Wi Fi for the Internet. 

            It is the perfect place for a spiritual retreat. 

            When I left, I had a problem.  My GPS system in on my cell phone.  I had a map – you know, those old fashioned paper products.  Up is north, down is south.

            But still, before I left the National Radio Quiet Zone, I got lost. 

            I found myself driving down a country road – it did not have any signs, no intersections of other roads, no stores, no painted marks or lines down the center of the road – nothing.

            I was beginning to get worried and I finally came to a man who was sitting by the road on a stump of an old tree.

            I stopped and asked, “How far is it to the highway.”

            He looked at me and asked, “What high way?”

            I told him my situation and that I was trying to make my way to Florida and he gave me some instructions – go so far, turn this way, go another distance, turn the other way, yada yada yada.

            Before I left him I said, “If you don’t mind me asking, what are you doing out hear in the middle of nowhere sitting on that stump.”

            Without a hint of hesitation he answered.  “Beats sitting in a car driving around lost in the middle of nowhere.”

            I smiled and drove on – I had my directions.

            Guidance on how to get out of the National Radio Quiet Zone.

            Trusting instructions from a total stranger.

            Now in this case, it turned out well.

            My being here before you is proof positive that I made it out of there and back home.

            But it occurs to me that we often look for guidance for our lives from sources that may, or may not be, the best of sources.

     On my second day of college, I went to the school bookstore to buy a handful of books that I would need for my English literature course. I bought all the books that I would need for the course, except one. They were out of copies of that book. And it was the very first book we would study. The very first one!

     I wasn't alone, there were four others who had been in the book store trying to get copies of that book, and we were too late.

     One of the book store workers suggested that we might find copies of the book in the bookstore of Anderson College, which was about an hour's drive away.

     "Great," I said, "My car is parked right outside. Let's go."

     And off the five of us went, introducing ourselves to each other and trying to get to know one another as we went.

     It wasn't until we got to the city limits of Anderson, SC, that we realized that none of us knew where Anderson College was – beyond being somewhere in the town of Anderson.

    "I think it might be this way," one of the students said. "Go down this way."

     So I turned and went down that road until he yelled up from the back seat, "Turn left up there."

     And I turned left.

     Now take a right at the light.
     And I took a right.

     Now turn left and then make another left at the next turn.
     I did all that.

Finally, after several turns, I came to a stop sign and turned around in my seat to face the fellow who had been giving instructions and asked him if he had ever been to Anderson, SC.
    "Nope," he said, "I'm from New Jersey and I never even heard of Anderson College. I'm as lost as can be, and I'm just having fun getting you as lost as I am."


   Sometimes I think that the leaders we pick out for our lives are as lost as we are, and leading us nowhere fast.

            We need to be careful about our sources of leadership. 

            In 1982 the Air Force Thunderbirds suffered a tragic loss of four jets and pilots.

            You probably know about the Thunderbirds.  Like the Navy’s Blue Angels this demonstration team performs in air shows all over the nation.

            In 1982, during a practice, all four jets flew into the side of a mountain and crashed.

            What happened? 

            The lead jet suffered a jammed stabilizer.  The other pilots, in accordance with their training, did not break formation.  These jets are so close together that they have to follow the leader very carefully and closely, and not knowing the leader had a malfunction, they all crashed.

            One has to be careful about the leadership you follow.

            That applies to political leaders, religious leaders, Scout leaders, youth leaders, educational leaders, good friends, or strangers sitting on some stump in West Virginia.

     Human leadership will always have the potential for misleading us – intentionally or otherwise. 

Our Scripture lessons today from both Psalm 23 and the Gospel of John teach us that we can trust our spiritual leadership in our Lord.

     The Lord is my shepherd.

     When I think about a shepherd, the first image that I have is of a person leading a group of sheep from one place to another place. A shepherd does many things for the sheep, but one thing he always does is lead.

     Now what does that mean to me that the Lord is MY shepherd? My guide? My leader?

     Well, obviously, the first thing that it means is that I have some direction in my life. I am going from point A to point B.

     A lot of people are wandering aimlessly in life. They don't know where they are headed or how they will get there.

     When they lose their jobs, they don't know what to do.
 They have no leader.  They have no direction.
     When they are faced with a decision, they don't know where to turn.

When they come to the end of their high school or college careers they have this wonderful experience of graduation – but then they flounder.  The have no direction with what to do next.  They have no leader in their life to guide them.

When faced with a tragedy, they don't know how to respond.  They have no leader.

        But Christians can say, the Lord is my shepherd. He is my guide and he is my leader.

     And so our life has some direction. We are on a journey from point A to point B, and the Lord is guiding us on that journey.

     Point A is birth. We all started there. And we are all headed to point B, which not death, but life--life in the Kingdom of God. That is where we are headed. We have some direction in our life.

            What a wonderful thing – to have some direction in life.

     A young child trying to deal with first friendships struggles on how to respond when a playmate wants to fight about something.

     The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord has told us, treat people the way YOU want to be treated.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We teach this golden rule to our children, and as we do, we are introducing them to the one who can lead them through life, who will be their shepherd.  We have a guide as we move from point A, birth, to point B, life.

     A teenager faces all sorts of issues. Should I go to college? What should I major in? What career is for me? Should I be sexually active before marriage?  Should I take drugs? When
should I marry?

     The issues become more complex and more varied as we grow up, but the solution remains simple and singular: The Lord is my shepherd.
    In all the questions I face, in all the struggles I experience, the best leadership eventually comes from him.

     And as we grow older, we struggle with how to be a good husband or wife, how to raise children, what career decisions we should make, how to handle our finances. Again, the problems are becoming more and more complex, but the answers are simple and singular:  The Lord is my shepherd. The best solutions eventually comes from him.

     And we grow older. We deal with adult children and young grandchildren.  We face transitions into retirement. We struggle with health issues.  Again, the problems are becoming more and more complex, but the answers are simple and singular: The Lord is my shepherd. The best solutions eventually comes from him.

     And think about the times in our lives when we tend to turn to the 23rd Psalm. It is at those times in our lives when we need leadership.

     It is often read at weddings. A man and woman stand before the people of God announcing their intention to live together as husband and wife. Starting a new life, they desperately need leadership -- more than they even know.

The Lord is my shepherd.
     At a funeral, we gather at the graveside and read the comforting words from the 23rd Psalm, because in the midst of our grief, we need guidance.  The Lord is my shepherd.

     Do you need direction in your life? Well, of course you do.  We all need direction in life.  We all need guidance in our moral and spiritual development.

            We have a million voices trying to lead us – most of them are like strangers sitting on a stump – we don’t really know we can trust them, but we do.  We listen to peer pressure, celebrities, Friends on Facebook we barely know.

            But in the midst of all of those millions of voices trying to tell us how to live our lives is one voice we can always trust.

            The Lord – the Lord is my shepherd.

Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.