Stay Close to the Shepherd
May 3, 2009
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away--and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, Good morning! “Stay Close to the Shepherd” is our topic and our title for today. We must take a moment today to embrace this scripture that is before us, the beautiful 23rd Psalm. Do you love the 23rd Psalm? I do. It is just such a mountaintop of the Holy Scripture, this beautiful song about the shepherd who loves his flock.
The 23rd Psalm is like a garden, sort of like the garden we have right outside those doors, with so many flowers, so many colors, so much to see, so much beauty. The 23rd Psalm is like that. Everywhere we turn in this psalm is a phrase of beauty, a wonderful concept of spiritual heights. Friends, today I invite us to embrace this psalm, take it into our hearts, and look at just a few passages. Let’s think together about what it means to stay close to the Savior.
Here is something that we can know about Jesus that we don’t exactly read in the Bible. We can know that Jesus loved this psalm too. We can know that Jesus knew this psalm and that your eyes, your precious, beloved eyes, touched the same words as were touched by the eyes of Jesus Christ. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?
Jesus loved this psalm, and He adopted it as a theme for His own ministry. He said, “I am the good shepherd.” In the gospel we read today, He said, “This is the way I want you to feel about me, because this is the way I feel about you. I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. And there are even other sheep that I must draw unto myself that you know not of.” He was talking to the Jewish people, and He was talking about us. He was talking about Gentiles, about you and me.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd. What I want to leave you with today, my friend, is this simple idea: stay close to the Shepherd. Because if you stay close to the Shepherd, there are three promises in this psalm – at least three – that are there for you.
First of all, the Shepherd will lead you beside the still waters. That phrase means a lot to me. I interpret it as not just calm waters but deep waters. Jesus leads you beside the deep waters of the presence of God. We were talking about this during confirmation class the other day. If you were to go out on the front lawn of the church with a drilling machine and you drilled down about three feet into the lawn, do you know what you’d find? Shale, rocks, dirt, yes. That’s about it. If you drilled down five feet, what would you find? The same stuff. But if you drilled down about 85 feet, you would probably hit something very different. Do you know what you’d hit? Water! Crystal clear, cold, pure, life-giving water. All the pollutants aside, we’d take it just the way God made it; we’d hit clean drinking water to refresh our souls.
The presence of God is like that. The presence of God never imposes upon us. But if we drill for it, if we look for it, if we seek it, if we stay close to the Shepherd, He leads us to the deep waters of the presence of God, and we are fulfilled. Jesus will do that for you. I invite you to think about that concept this week should you become troubled, should you become anxious, should you become tempted, should you be tempted to be down on yourself. Stay close to the Shepherd, and He’ll keep you near the deep waters of God’s love and God’s presence.
My godson Dylan and I learned a lesson about that a couple of weeks ago when we were visiting England. We spent one glorious day of that trip in Paris. We got up at 4 in the morning and were taken to the train station in a beautiful Mercedes Benz limo. We went into the train station, got on the EuroStar, and we went to Paris. We were greeted by a guide named Sammy. We stayed by that guide. He was just great. He showed us all the sights we needed to see. He made a special adjustment in our trip so that we could spend more time at Notre Dame. He told us what to watch out for and which folks might give us a bit of trouble – he kept us safe. We stayed close to that shepherd – I mean, that guide – and we were okay. He led us to the good places. He took care of us.
Friend, I’m saying that the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, is the One who will do that for your soul. He will lead you beside the deep waters of God’s presence. He watches over you. He keeps you safe. Stay close to the Shepherd.
Another thing the Shepherd does for you is He restores your soul. How many of us need our souls restored today? How many of us need to be reenergized, encouraged, lifted up? That’s what Jesus does for you. Jesus has a good word for you; Jesus has an encouraging word for you. You see, Jesus is the great encourager. Don’t you want to be an encourager? Don’t you want to be the kind of person who makes a positive difference in other people’s lives? I’m sure you do. I am surrounded by encouragers. I am surrounded by models of the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the ultimate encourager, the One who restores your soul.
Can I just tell you a story about a word of encouragement that I got 41 years ago? I remember it to this day. I was 16 years old and taking organ lessons in New York City with Professor McDermott. Every Saturday, I’d take my satchel of music, get on the train, and go over to New York City. I’d take the subway up to 98th and Amsterdam, climb the stairs to the musty old loft at the Holy Name Church, and sit at the huge console of that organ and take a lesson from Dr. McDermott.
We had a little ritual. I would stop at the Nedicks Orange Drink shop before my lesson and get myself an orange drink and him a coffee, milk, no sugar, and bring it up to the loft. Anyone remember Nedicks? That's okay. It’s before your time.
Dr. McDermott was very, very demanding. He’d stop me every other measure, it felt like. He’d say, “Oh, there’s a repeated note in the alto voice. You didn’t give it half value. You didn’t break it long enough.” “That’s a B natural, not a B flat here, son.” He’d always be making sure that I got it just right.
One day, I brought in the piece I was going to do for my college audition. I played it through, and he didn’t stop me. I was amazed. I looked at him and he smiled. He gave me a gesture that meant he liked it - he poked me with his elbow. He said, “That was good.”
I said, “What?!”
He said, “That was good.” He took a breath and folded his hands and said, “You know what? You’re going to be all right. You really are. You’re going to be all right. When you get to the Choir College, study with George Markey, because he’s all right, too. You just keep that fire in your playing, all your career long. You’re going to be all right.”
Well, I floated home from that lesson – didn’t need a train! I was so touched by his word of encouragement. But you know what happened later that week? I got a call from his wife. Dr. McDermott had passed away while traveling to play a service at another church.
I will never forget that he left me with the blessing of encouragement.
That’s what Jesus does for each and every one of us. He has a good word to say to you. He has an encouraging word to say to each and every one. He has a blessing in store for you.
And last – won’t you remember this? – you’ll dwell in the house of the Lord forever, if you stay close to the Shepherd. It’s the promise of eternal life. He leads you beside the still waters - the deep waters of God's presence. He restores and encourages your soul. He promises you eternal life. How we need His nearness!
Stay close to the Shepherd, and He will stay with you, and bless you in ways that are absolutely amazing. It’s all because – He loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2009 Anthony J. Godlefski