May 3, 2020 Worship Sermon - "The Lord Is My Shepherd"

Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser

Scripture:  Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.

I have a vague recollection of throwing a temper tantrum in the cereal aisle of the grocery store when I was about three years old.  I screamed to my mother that we should buy Cap’n Crunch cereal, while she insisted that we buy something less sugary, like cornflakes or shredded wheat, both of which I hated.  As the volume of my demand increased, my mother tried to use reason.  “Do you need Cap’n Crunch or do you want Cap’n Crunch?” she asked.  I was already savvy enough not to get caught in that trap.  “I need Cap’n Crunch!” I shouted. 

My mother was trying to teach me something that every human being must learn at one point or another: to distinguish between wants and needs.  Those of you who are parents have probably had this conversation with your children and you’ve perhaps discovered how much advertising distorts a child’s perception of what is a need and what is a want. 

Children are particularly susceptible, but advertisers do what they can to expand the definition of need in adults, too.  For the things that we really do need, like food and clothing, advertisers encourage us to buy more than we need.  For the things that we don’t need, like luxury automobiles, we are encouraged to see them as needs, even though they aren’t.  And then there are those things that are bad for us, like tobacco, where cigarette manufacturers at one point added nicotine in order to make us feel like we needed something, even though our bodies should have been telling us, “No! don’t smoke that!  You don’t need it!”

One of the side effects of the coronavirus is that it has forced every one of us to re-evaluate our needs versus our wants.  When I look in the mirror, it’s pretty obvious that I need a haircut.  But the fact is, I don’t really need a haircut.  My life isn’t in danger if I don’t get a haircut.  The worse thing that could happen to me if I don’t get a haircut is my ego will be bruised a bit by my unkempt appearance.  Haircuts are low in the spectrum of needs.  But what about chicken?  Or beef?  Is meat a need?  If so, how does my need for chicken weigh against the safety needs of those working in meat-packing plants?

Besides food, we have other kinds of needs that are less obvious, but still very real, like the need to love and be loved.  In the park near my house, there are often homeless people feeding the birds and the squirrels.  Now, you could ask, why are people who don’t have two nickels to rub together throwing away food when they don’t even know when their next meal might come.  But this just demonstrates how much all of us need to care for others and to feel like others care for us. 

The coronavirus is providing us with an opportunity to re-evaluate our needs.  And as we go through this process of re-evaluation, it’s helpful to remember that first verse of the Twenty-third Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.”  Psalm 23 reminds us of what God has done and is doing to satisfy our needs.  Our fear leads us to focus on what we are lacking.  Psalm 23 focuses our attention on what we have: God gives us clean water to drink and nourishing food to eat; God sustains us during periods of danger; God gathers us into community; God’s goodness and loving kindness are with us all the days of our lives.

One of the most important gifts our faith offers us is the reminder to celebrate what God has done for us.  Remembering God’s goodness to us and giving thanks for God’s goodness is key to moving from a life of fear to a life of joy.  When we take time every day to remember what God has done for us, our attention shifts from what we lack to what we have.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus said, I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.  That abundant life is possible, even during a pandemic.  The blessings of forgiveness, and freedom, and healing, and love are not ultimately diminished by Covid-19.  We may have to find different ways of expressing those blessings; but the blessings are still there because Jesus, our good shepherd, continues to give us life.

Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby