Living A Resurrected Life - Psalm 23
Two weeks ago, we celebrated Easter. Many folks have already moved on from Easter to focus on Mother’s Day and summer. As a matter of fact, Joshua’s class at school is already learning “summer fun” songs. We tend to get geared up for and celebrate Christmas, starting in November (between November 1st and Thanksgiving) and continuing on until either the day after Christmas or January 6th, when in reality, the Christmas season only spans from December 25th through January 6th, a mere twelve days of Christmas. However, when it comes to Easter, we do well to celebrate Easter from the weekend of Palm Sunday through Holy Thursday to Good Friday to Easter morning, and when that is over, for most of us, we are pretty much done with Easter. It is funny that our focus on Christmas is so long and Easter remains so short, when Scripturally, Easter is what most of the New Testament is about. If we were to sit down and examine how much of the New Testament talks about the birth of Jesus, we would find a little less than four chapters of Matthew and Luke consider the birth of Jesus and the Gospel of Mark and John do not even talk about it. On the other hand, when it comes to the final week of Jesus’ life, the Gospels collectively spend more than twenty six chapters in reflection. If you add to that Acts, the letters of Paul, and the other letters which spring forth from the death and resurrection of our Savior, we should come to realize that our celebrations are kind of backward. Historically the church has had it right, though, because while the Christmas season is twelve days long, the Easter season of the church, including the celebration of Jesus’ ascension, runs for fifty days. So today we continue our reflection of what it means to celebrate Easter, to celebrate the resurrection of our Savior. Today, we consider what it means not only to celebrate the resurrection of Easter, but to live a resurrected life.
Last week, as we considered that the resurrection even was a revolutionary stand by Christ, I suggested that, contrary to what we normally think, that the resurrection is about life after death, that the resurrection is so much more. In fact, as I mentioned, the resurrection is not only about life after death, the resurrection is about life before death. We are called to live a resurrected life, and last week I referred to Paul’s letter to the Romans, specifically Romans 8:37-39, as a clue to that resurrected life. Today I want us to consider a passage much older than the resurrection that I believe not only addresses the comfort that David found in God, but what it truly means to live a resurrected life.
The Lord is my shepherd...
To live a resurrected life means to understand Christ as our shepherd. What is the role of a shepherd?
A shepherd is one who leads the sheep where they need to be, even when they do not know that is where they want to be. To live a resurrected life is to surrender the direction of our lives to Christ. It means that we no longer assert where we want to go, we no longer push for our own agenda, but that we submit to Christ’s leading. To live a resurrected life means that Christ is in charge, not we, ourselves. Living a resurrected life means that it is not about what others want us to do, or about what we want to do, but what God is leading us to do. For instance, our friends may invite us to go see a movie that everyone claims is hilarious and fun, but we know that it is full of promiscuity and profanity, and God has made it clear to us that we are to avoid those types of movies…in a resurrected life with God as our shepherd, we choose to heed God’s direction rather than our friends’ persuasion. It means that if we are working a secure job in which we are enjoying comfortable life with a six figure salary and we hear God calling us to a life of poverty and missionary work that we will walk away from the career to head the calling.
That leads us to consider the next part of living a resurrected life…I shall not want. Now as I grew up, I thought this meant that if I was seeking after God, then I would never want or desire anything…that God would give me everything that I could think of possessing. However, I soon learned that was not the case, because there were plenty of things through my life that I have desired, that I still do not have, from a particular girlfriend in high school to a fully restored convertible 1965 Mustang, preferably candy-apple red.
What I have learned is that in a resurrected life, it is not about not desiring anything that we do not have, but learning that “I shall not want” means that our lives will not lack anything that we truly need. In a resurrected life we realize that God is going to provide all that is needed to sustain us and benefit us. We hear the words that Jesus spoke, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing…But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well[i]…Ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give it a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, now how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”[ii] And I have learned in this resurrected life, that what we desire may not be what we need…while I may have wanted that girlfriend in high school, it never happened, but when the right relationship came along, one that would adapt to a change three years into marriage from working an 8-5 job in one location, to a life of moving around and being gone at any hour as a pastor’s family, God brought me the wife I needed. (And while I would still love to have that Mustang, I even turned down a newer model about a month ago, because I realized it was not what I needed to do all that God had set before me.) A resurrected trusts God for the fulfillment of our needs and places our true desires within His Will.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul…
When we live a resurrected life following where Christ leads us and trusting in God to meet all our needs, we will find that while we may not know where we are going and while we may think we want more than what we have, that where we end and what we have will bring us peace. We will find ourselves in green pastures, vibrant and full of life. We will find ourselves beside still waters, finding peace and contentment. We will find that where God leads and what God gives us will sustain and restore us.
…he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Where Christ leads us and what God gives us will not only sustain and restore us, but it will also bring God glory. When we trust and rely upon God it bears witness to the world that God will provide and that God is in control. When we live a resurrected life before the world, it shows to the world that God has changed our lives.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me…
Living a resurrected life means that we live a life that has been freed from fear. That maybe be one of the more difficult parts of a resurrected life for some of us. Many of us, myself included, struggle with moments of fear and anxiety. However, the resurrection proves to us that there is nothing that can separate us from God…that God is greater than anyone and anything, any circumstance and any threat. Death has been defeated; the worst thing that can happen to us has been conquered. Anywhere we go, the worst that can happen is that we walk through the valley of the shadow of death…that, as the Shepherd has promised, those who believe in Him will never die…Living a resurrected life means that we know that no matter how scary things may seem, that God is with us, and that we will, in one way or another, emerge in life on the other side of the valley…no loss of income, no illness, no fighting, no crisis will end our lives, they are simply valleys that we travel through as the Shepherd leads us.
…thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
What does it mean for God’s rod and staff to comfort us? We may think of the shepherd’s rod and staff as something used to beat or strike the dumb sheep. How would that bring us comfort? The truth of the matter is that the rod and staff are not used to hit the sheep. The rod is a tool that the shepherds used to strike, but not strike the sheep, but the sheep’s enemies. The rod was used to beat back the bears, wolves, or thieves that would seek to steal or kill the sheep. The staff, with its hook, was used to guide the sheep or rescue them if they had wandered off. For us to live a resurrected life means for us to trust in God for our protection and rescue…a resurrected life means that we know that it is not physical might or wealth that will save us, but that it is the Shepherd alone.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies…
Living a resurrected life means that we understand that God has already won the victory. It is trusting, even as we are confronted by those who would hurt or attack us, that God will see us through, that God has already claimed the victory. It means when our boss calls us into the office to tell us that the company has hit hard times and we are going to be laid off, that God has already declared victory (we shall not want). It means when the doctor calls us into the office to tell us that we have cancer, that God has already claimed the victory (His rod and his staff comfort us). It means when our homes have erupted in chaos and conflict, that God has already claimed the victory (He makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters). Living a resurrected life means that we know the victory celebration is already underway before the battle starts.
…though annointest my head with oil…
Living a resurrected life means that we realize that God chose us and set us apart. Those who were anointed in David’s time and Jesus’ time are those who were to be priests, prophets, or kings. To live a resurrected life means to understand that God has called us to those vocations as well. We are called to lead others to worship God, we are called to speak for justice, and we are called to draw others before God’s royal throne.
…my cup runneth over…
Living a resurrected life means that we realize that God’s grace is more than sufficient. Living a resurrected life is a humble life. For our cup to run over suggests that God gives us more than we need and more than we deserve. It is remember that Christ, the Shepherd, gave his life for us His sheep while we were still wandering off, while we were still sinners. It means realizing that God has loved us more than we ever could deserve.
And as that grace fills our lives and our cup overflows, we are reminded that the same grace that God has offered to us and filled our lives with should overflow into others’ lives. It means that we don’t wait for them to deserve or earn grace (that is not what grace is), it means that we offer our love and help even in the midst of their struggles against us…it is loving our enemies and doing good to those who persecute us.
…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…
Living a resurrected life is a life in which God’s goodness and mercy will flow from our lives into the world. Have you ever seen a boat traveling through the water, as the boat cuts through the water, it leaves a wake. The waves and ripples flow from behind the boat in a seemingly endless stream across the pond or lake. When we live resurrected lives, the goodness and mercy that God has put into our lives, our cups that are overflowing, should flow out from our paths, our journey in endless waves touching all of those around us with goodness and mercy…as God meets our needs and ensures that we do not want, so He expects us to reach out to those in need around us…as God has shown us mercy, He expects that same mercy to flow from us to those around us.
…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Finally living a resurrected life means realize that we are never outside of God’s presence. It means that we understand that we do not have to wait until we die to be in the presence of God, that we stand and sit, move and breathe, all in the presence of God.
My brothers and sisters, as we continue to celebrate the great and glorious news of Easter, let us commit to living a resurrected life with Christ as our Shepherd leading us and guiding us. Let us commit to living out Easter, not for just a week, or even for just the traditional fifty days, but every day as we dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.