Sermon 4 Easter Yr C
April 23, 2010 Leave a comment
4 Easter Yr C, 25/04/2010
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“I shall not want”
During a Sunday School lesson, the teacher asked if anyone in the class could recite the twenty-third Psalm. One little girl enthusiastically raised her hand, stood up and began to recite: “The Lord is my Shepherd. That’s all I want!” Then she sat down.1 The little girl was profoundly wise and correct, there is a causal relationship between God who is like a good shepherd and not wanting. In fact, the sense of the Hebrew could justify the verse to be translated: “Because the LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
Among both Jews and Christians, the twenty-third Psalm is still the best-loved passage of the Bible. Although the twenty-third Psalm was not likely written for the occasion of a funeral—nonetheless, both Jews and Christians often read, sing or recite the words of this Psalm at funerals. When the words of this Psalm are spoken at funerals, I’ve witnessed an almost instant comforting and peaceful effect that it has on the mourners. Almost everyone finds consolation in picturing God as a loving shepherd. In the Bible, several passages refer to God as a shepherd caring for his people. Jesus also speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd. As a living sign of how popular this image of God as a shepherd is; all we need to do is observe the names of churches. Many churches are named Good Shepherd, or Shepherd of the Hills, or Shepherd of the Valley. Such names remind us of the importance of this image of the LORD as our Shepherd. So, yes, we can say because the LORD is my shepherd I shall not want.
What do the words “I shall not want” mean? Well, the word “want” here does not give us unlimited rights to wanting anything and everything that our hearts and minds desire. No! The word “want” does not promote values like “shop till you drop,” or “more is never enough.” No, the word does not give us the right to engage in unbridled greed—even though that is how many may choose to interpret it.
Reflecting on this verse of the Psalm, Dr. Ben Witherington III tells the following story:
I once had a parishioner who was developmentally disabled. He was a sweet and very spiritual man in his mid-forties. He was always reading his Bible, and he especially loved Psalm 23. But he was puzzled. He came to me and asked, “Dr. Ben, it says that the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. But why does it say I shall not want? I want him, Dr. Ben—I need him.” I was deeply touched by this simple question and the faith that stood behind it. I explained: “Ralph, it means that because God is your shepherd, you will lack nothing essential.” He smiled broadly and said, “I just knew it couldn’t mean I wasn’t supposed to want him.”2
You, I, and everyone wants—or, more correctly, needs—God. I think that we can misunderstand this verse of the Psalm when we confuse our wants with our needs. Our wants are those things that we desire over and above our needs. We can live without having what we want. We cannot however live without our basic needs being met. You, I, everyone have the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, for example. We cannot live or survive without these basic needs. The psalmist is speaking of these basic needs, plus what I would call the ultimate basic need of being in a trusting relationship with our God.
I shall not lack anything. I shall not have any other yearnings or desires that fall outside the gifts of God. What God gives will be enough for me. This is a statement of enormous confidence in the generosity of God, the one who knows what we need and gives well beyond all that we ask or think. But notice at the same time that this phrase, “I shall not want,” is a decision made against the greed and lust and satiation and aggressive ambition of a consumer society. Our consumer society is driven by the notion that we always must want one more thing, and we are entitled to it, and we will have it no matter what.
And now comes this…invitation: I will refocus my desire. I will not entertain all those other lusts and greeds and yearnings that keep me busy and make me selfish and cause me not to notice my neighbour. Here, I suggest, is a…project for all of us who are competent and affluent and driven and anxious and greedy. Faith in this God requires a refocus of all our desires, because most of our wants are contrived and imagined and phony. This Lord will be Lord of our wants and our needs, and we need much less when we are clear about the wonder and goodness of God. No substitutes allowed or required.3
I don’t know if you have noticed it or not, but compared with ten or twenty years ago, television commercials today are played a lot more often. Back years ago I would say a valid way of describing T.V. would have been: “We interrupt our program for a brief message from our sponsors.” Today, I would say it is the other way round: “We interrupt our commercials for a brief message from our program.” Recently this hit home to me when I was watching a movie. I know the movie at the theatre would have run for two to two-and-one-half hours at the most. On this particular channel the movie ran for four hours! I couldn’t believe how often and how long the commercials were during the movie. In fact, I would say that half the movie time was actually commercials. What is the purpose of these commercials? Well, the top priority of commercials is to get you the T.V. viewer to want to buy whatever the commercial is selling. Then, after that want is created within you, to convince you that your only option is to go out and buy the product.
The fact that there are so many commercials in our mass media, and that the commercials are getting longer, and obviously more expensive to make, is an indication that the freedom you have today is only geared towards the freedom to be a consumer and purchase products. The world out there would have you believe that your image of yourself is based on what you choose to buy, which is based on the advertisements that created the want within you to motivate you to go out and buy their product. So your identity in the world then is not based on who you are in God’s eyes, but who you are in the eyes of other consumers and the stuff that you possess. Your possessions define your identity.
In contrast, as Christians, your identity is based on who you are in relation to your Creator, Saviour, and Sanctifier; the LORD your Shepherd—who has made you in his own image. Because he is your Shepherd he cares for you. He provides for all of your needs. He protects you from danger and harm. He preserves your life now, and provides you with eternal life in the future. So rather than living by the mottos of: “shop till you drop” or “you are what you buy” or “more is never enough;” I suggest that as Christians trusting in the LORD our Shepherd, we live by the mottos of “live more simply that others might simply live,” and “less is more,” and “I am my neighbour’s keeper,” and “there is enough wealth in this world for everyone to be rich,” and “in God’s eyes we are all equals,” and “in God’s eyes we are all precious treasures.” Yes, “because the LORD is my shepherd I shall not want; I have everything I need; today, tomorrow and forever!” Hallelujah! Amen!
1 Cited from: Maurice Berquist, DAVID’S SONG (Warner Press, Inc., 1988), pp. 8-9, found at <http://www.epulpit.net/070429.htm>.
2 Cited from: Ben Witherington III, “The Supervising Shepherd and the Heavenly Host,” in: Incandescence: Light Shed through the Word (Grand Rapids, MI & Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), pp. 156-157.
3 Cited from: Walter Brueggemann, “Trusting in the Water-Food-Oil Supply” in: The Threat Of Life: Sermons on Pain, Power, and Weakness edited by Charles L. Campbell, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), p. 92.