Plymouth United Church of Christ

Right click to download to your computer.

“Fear No Evil”
Sermon, Year C, Easter 4, April 21, 2013
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Psalm 23 and John 10

Our Psalm for this week is Psalm 23, the Psalm of comfort that we so often read at funerals and this seems to be an appropriate week to have come across to this Psalm again. I didn’t choose it for today. The people who put our lectionary together assigned this Psalm for this Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Easter, but perhaps the Spirit was at work here. This seems a good Psalm after what has happened in the past week. This is a Psalm of comfort. A psalm of comfort. Not a psalm of triumph, but a psalm of comfort. It was written in the midst of suffering. It is a prayer to God about what ought to be, not necessarily a reflection of reality or a reflection of the author’s reality. It is a prayer to God.

And so this Sunday we read this after we have had the bombing at the Boston marathon, and all of what happened after that; the explosion of a factory in Texas; and other tragedies that took place this week that didn’t make the news. Our murder rate this week would have continued with probably another 400 people or so murdered here in the U.S. The deaths of thousands by starvation, and by exposure, and from lack of access to health care. The whole host of people meeting a tragic end, or being in the midst of horrible suffering this week. A whole host of people for whom it appears that God did not set a table. And for whom their cup did not overflow. And for whom goodness and mercy did not follow. Who were not anointed with oil this week.

And so in some ways it may seem arrogant of us to sit here and read this Psalm and say “God is with me!” That God has set a table for me. God has done all this good for me. We who are so far from such pains and suffering this past, to look out to the suffering of the world and say, “Hey, everything’s good here! Everything’s good with me!”

But I don’t think we are so far away from all the pains and sufferings of the world. They are part of us, because we are a human family, and because we care. Even if we are not directly involved. And so it is not arrogant for us to say this Psalm, because it is not a psalm of triumph that everything is perfect with me. We might look at it and think that because we weren’t bombed, or blown up in a factory, or lost a house to flooding or foreclosure, or other obvious visible sign of suffering, that we are okay. But we are not necessarily okay. Not always okay.

And I wonder if some of this thinking of looking out and thinking, “Oh, they are having awful tragedies: bombs blowing up, factories exploding” whatever it is and saying, “That’s not happening here and so we must be okay” comes from a consumerist or materialist mentality that says that as long as you have your material things, you are okay, and you are not okay only when those get taken away. When you lose your house, or someone dies, or you get flooded. And that kind of thinking can ignore the fact that material goods don’t make life, and the absence of those goods don’t necessarily reduce life. They can – certainly the homeless are in a bad spot, and those who are hungry, those who don’t have enough to eat or don’t have medical care. And to look out at the suffering of others and think that we’re okay because we’re not going through these tragic things, I think that also ignores the very real suffering that we go through. The sufferings that don’t involve material things.

And so it might seem odd to claim that Psalm 23 is a good thing to say when we seem to have life too easy and others don’t. But I think we can say it because the truth is that we all don’t have it so easy. We might, in comparison to someone. But we still have our own suffering. And so we can say this Psalm not because it represents the truth of our lives, but say it because it doesn’t represent the truth of our lives. To say it as a prayer of hope. A prayer of supplication. A prayer of what God’s realm ought to look like. How things ought to be. And a prayer that God is present. Even if we haven’t had the table set up for us yet.

I know your stories. I know the stories of you in this congregation. I have been with you, gotten to know you over the years. I know the struggles with aging bodies, failing eyesight, difficultly driving at night or inability to drive at night, or not wanting to drive in bad weather and so some of you have spent a long winter alone not able to get out as much. I have heard your stories of medical issues, suffering from poor health, lack of energy, other things that keep you down. Those who have suffered from the suicide of loved ones – friends and family. Suicide, which some have said is the gift of pain that never stops giving. So difficult for the survivors to live with. And there are those that have had thoughts of suicide. There is suffering amongst us. Rick Warren’s son committed suicide a couple weeks ago, and I have known people who have committed suicide, or thought of it. I think of that phrase “God never gives us more than we can handle” and I think those that have known people who have committed suicide know that is not true. Sometimes we get more than we can handle. Some people can’t handle it. And that phrase also fails because it implies that our suffering is given to us by God. That thought is absurd and unfaithful. God does not inflict suffering on us or do anything to us that requires we “handle” it.

We suffer anxiety over money and jobs. Our children and aging parents. A changing world. Struggles with whether we are smart enough, diligent enough, hard-working enough, thin enough, do we wear the right clothes, are we saying the right words, do we fit in, are we the right kind of person? We worry about this church, Plymouth. We worry about our denomination. In some ways worry about mainline Protestantism as it has been declining. Anxiety over wondering, Are we losing our progressive voice to the increasingly loud voices of fear and hate? Of easy answers and black and white thinking. Of violent solutions to complex problems.

We don’t have bombs going off in Eau Claire, but we have little bombs going off in our lives all the time that reduce us of life and reduce us of wholeness. That take away part of who we are, or who we wish to be.

And so we can say this psalm, this twenty-third psalm, to remind us of who God is, and how life is supposed to go. To remind us who God is. To say, “The LORD is my shepherd.” The LORD is my shepherd. To say that is to say that’s how God acts: the LORD is shepherd. That’s what the LORD does. God shepherds us. God does not act as terrorist, or factory explosion, or earthquake, or flood. God does not act as a mental illness, or child that turns away, or a financial disaster. That’s not God. God acts as shepherd.

And to say that the LORD is my shepherd is also to say that our only shepherd is the LORD. Or if you don’t like language of LORD, one can remember that when we see LORD in all capital letters like that in the Old Testament, that’s where God’s name is: Yahweh. We can call God by name. Yahweh is my shepherd. This God who knows me by name, and that I know by name. Yahweh: “I am who I am”. The divine mystery, “I am who I am”, is my shepherd. The God of Abraham and Sarah. The God of Ruth and Esther and Mary. The God of Mary Magdalene and Peter. That God is my shepherd. That God who became incarnate as Jesus Christ is my shepherd. And my only shepherd. My shepherd is not any other god, or king, or emperor, or president or any other politician. Nor is my God violence, or torture, or revenge, vindictiveness, lack of mercy, weapons of war, guns, fear, anxiety or suffering. None of those are my God. None of those are my shepherd. Only Yahweh, only Jesus, is my shepherd.

That’s the relationship we have with God.

And all that this God wants for us is to lead us to still waters and green pastures, and to lead us on right paths, and for us to know that God is with us. God is with us on that journey. To know that we do not need to fear evil, because evil is not our shepherd. Evil is not our lord. Evil only has the power that we give it. Evil has no power except when we squander God’s power by giving it to evil. Evil only has the power that we give it. And so, the psalmist says, “I fear no evil.” Or as we say in the Lord’s prayer, “Deliver me from evil”. Which is not a statement of magical protection from evil, but a truth that we do not need to give in to evil, or do not need to fear its repercussions. There might be consequences for not giving in to evil. We’ve seen that over the years, as Christians and others who have been martyred, harassed, arrested, treated poorly, assassinated. There are consequences sometimes for not giving in to evil, but those are holy consequences, in a way, for standing up for what is good and what is Godly. We need not fear evil. It doesn’t have to have power over us.

And also, God can’t set a table for us before our enemies if we are busy fighting our enemies. There has to be a pause to come to the table. God can’t anoint our heads with oil if we don’t sit still long enough for God to touch us, to reach out to us. Especially if we are busy searching for some other god or idol or lord or shepherd to do it for us. That is not going to happen. The LORD is our shepherd. We don’t have to give in to evil, we don’t have to play by its rules.

I think that is partly what Jesus is saying in this passage in John. He is not playing by the old rules any more. He says that this is a new world. God is doing a new thing. The old rules that didn’t work, the old rules that still don’t work but which we seem to haul out every now and again and give them a try anyway, those rules are gone. It is a new world, and a new Way. “My works testify to God,” Jesus said. And testify to himself. What we do testifies to the god we believe in. And so acts of love, charity, mercy, generosity, hope, trust, all testify to the God of the Bible, who is incarnate in Jesus Christ. The One who is the Great Shepherd and showed us The Way. And The One that lets us know that in the midst of pain whether it is bombs, floods, mental illness, or friends dying, loved ones dying, financial anxiety, whatever it is – to let us know that in the midst of pain, in the midst of anxiety about tomorrow, that God is with us. Always. Always with us.

In the harshest moments of life, God is there to set a table before us and to overflow our cups with people who rush into places where bombs have gone off, people who move in to help, people who bring food, people who bring comfort, people who bring a visit, quilts, clothing, people who provide a house for those who are homeless. In the harshest moments of life, God sets a table before us and overflows our cups with acts of love and generosity in the world. God is with us. Our LORD and our Shepherd, through whom mercy and goodness shall follow us, and in whose house we will dwell, forever and ever, for all of our life.


Share |
Follow @revdavidhuber Follow @plymouthec Tweet

Rev. David Huber's Facebook profile

Return to previous page.
Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

Webpastor: Pastor David