Psalm 23
JOHN 10: 1-10

April 30, 2023

Church, I don’t know about you but my wake up routine begins either when Chelsea decides that she has a responsibility … as my cat … to climb up on my chest while its still dark outside and to start to use her paws to wake me from my sleep or else one of my double alarms goes off.

If you are a cat owner then you know that your first priority upon putting your feet on the floor and off of your bed is to FEED THAT cat. They will stare at you … meow at you … GLARE at YOU. They have expectations from their humans that we will fill their bowls out of either love or at the command of the cat.

Once Chelsea has her food then it’s off to coffee for me but as I have mentioned often, I usually take a quick glance at either my phone or my I-Pad because it is there that GOD’s MINUTE will be waiting for me. A quick devotion … a couple of verses … always important but I will admit sometimes I am still so in need of coffee that I don’t read it through but this morning once again the verse that was in my face is very relevant to where we are … a reminder to me that GENEROSITY does begin with God’s EASTER PEOPLE and friends, if you have aligned yourself with Jesus Christ .. if you have accepted that God is God rather than some historical mythical creation of some purveyor of fiction … then you are one of the EASTER PEOPLE … CHRISTIANS … FOLLOWERS of JESUS CHRIST.

This morning’s eye opener comes not from the Gospel of John but from the first letter of John … and so before my morning coffee but definitely after feeding Chelsea I read these powerful reminder words from Scripture, “HE HAS GIVEN US THIS COMMAND: ANYONE WHO LOVES GOD MUST ALSO LOVE THEIR BROTHER AND SISTER.” If you are wondering who John is referring to as HE … well, I think you know … Jesus Christ … the same Jesus whose lessons on life are easily accessible these days even more so than when I was a child because back then I had to go search for my Bible but today I just have to open my easy to carry I-Pad or my phone. You remember those Bible days don’t you? Those were the days when most people who attended church actually carried their Bibles from their homes into their cars and then into church with many adults even attending Sunday School classes along with the children.

I know you remember EASTER because that is the day the tomb was empty and we all know that He IS Risen <<He is Risen Indeed>> but as April morphs into May and summer escapes become more appealing to many of you the challenge for us as people of faith is to remember that God expects … not that God suggests but God expects people of faith … God’s very own who have changed their lives and life behavior to align with Jesus Christ … to be in a position to go through that narrow gate one day where Jesus is the gatekeeper … God expects that of all the humans in the world … that GENEROSITY BEGINS with GOD’s VERY OWN EASTER PEOPLE.

That’s you and me and frankly that can be a perplexing challenge … that can be a frustrating challenge … that can be a destination that perhaps some of you never want to head towards because being a person known for generosity might conflict with your desires to enhance yourselves, your families, the generations who will carry on your name, or perhaps being generous goes against every thing you believe in, have been taught, and that you hear from the human leaders who some of you imply are better than everyday humans like us just because they have the public spotlight.

We live in a time when all so many folks are declaring ME, ME, ME … I DESERVE … I WANT … and those who don’t have tough! We live in a time when landlords are increasing rents beyond the reach of the lower middle class Americans much less those living in poverty, which continues to result in good people being homeless on our streets and people struggling but perhaps those are the folks you want to ignore because after all … it’s not our fault they are hurting … not our fault that they don’t have a place to live and after all, we are comfortably living in our homes that we entered when costs were lower. We forget that when we were young rents were reasonable, cars didn’t cost more than our first homes cost, and everyone went to a place of worship where at least they were exposed to God.

But God does not want us to be enveloped in the mindset that our daily goals are to be self focused … God offers God’s generosity to us but frankly we can only experience God’s generosity of peace, joy, hope and the devaluation of fear when we consciously as individuals make the decision to allow God to take over. I am wondering this morning how many of my friends and how many people who are in church on this last Sunday in April are ready to sincerely declare that today and on every day that will follow that THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD … I SHALL NOT WANT. I obviously won’t ask for a show of hands but perhaps in this moment you can answer that question for yourself … is the LORD GOD, the Creator of the Universe, the One you want shepherding your life? Are you allowing God to have some control? Any control?

Take that brief statement out to the populace of the 21st century … what do you mean I SHALL NOT WANT … though this often repeated and perhaps many of you have it memorized Twenty Third Psalm … God is attempting to show us how God’s generosity and love works by telling us to SLOW DOWN and NOT BE FOCUSED ON OUR WANTS and DESIRES … soak up God’s love … turn off the world … be more than willing to allow God’s guidance for your life rather than regularly turning down God’s efforts to get each of us to lie down in green pasturesto go besides the still waters and to have our souls restored.

David states in this psalm that the Lord makes him lie down but frankly so many of us 21st century self-focused people … even self-focused people of faith do not want to give up control to God so I am not sure how many of us would be willing to say that our life’s activities are directly related to our faith or God’s direction even in those lie down in green pastures type of days at Red Bank Park or my favorite Longwood Gardens … or at some other peaceful location where God can easily be sensed … would we say in those moments that the Lord makes us lie down in green pastures or was it our choice?

So as is often my habit, I return to the theme of loving our neighbors … standing up for those who are hurting … having the confidence in our faith to be invitational to not only strangers but to the familiar humans in our circles of life. As you journey … IS YOUR CUP OF JOY, HOPE, CONFIDENCE, and FAITH overflowing? Have you been healed by God so that you can boldly embody the Light of Jesus Christ with the unique generosity of love that begins with God’s Easter people?

In [1]The Book of Joy; Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote, “How do we help people who really want to be joyful, who really want to see the world become a better place? They look at the world and they see the horrendous problems there are. And, they face quite extraordinary adversity in their own lives. Why are you joyful, even when you see these problems and have faced such challenges?”

Perhaps in this season when Easter is quickly fading in our rear view mirrors the connection between God’s call to be generous by sharing the gifts and love and Jesus that God offers us and God’s impact on how we live our lives needs to be examined more closely.

I again won’t ask for a show of hands but how many of us here in this church today or worshiping with us online have at least one problem or issue or challenge that we consider overwhelming … so overwhelming that not a single soul would understand what it is like to be the people we are? How easy is it for us to focus on those challenges … it is right in our DNA folks to sense that hurt, that pain, and to ask the WHY ME questions but all too frequently we exclude God from the healing process and instead scream at God or push God aside. I have had many a good screaming match at God and in Scriptures Lamentations and the Psalms give us examples of that same frustration but …

But, at the end of the day we have two choices and one is to return to the shelter of life that God offers. The one that God is calling us to … God is ready to embrace us … God provided Jesus to teach us how God expects us to live as well as taking our sins and deficits in faith to the cross. The other choice is to just join the human chaos, self absorption and ongoing rejection of allowing God to be our Lord … our Shepherd because when we allow God in then we SHALL NOT WANT.

Perhaps then … we will be willing to have God take control and have God makes us lie down in green pastures … and have God restore our souls that is … if your soul is like my soul … then your soul needs regular restoration work after dealing with the world around us.

I issued the TEN DOLLAR challenge a few weeks ago because yes those medical clinics in Sierra Leone need the solar batteries to keep the electricity flowing so if all of us and our friends gave just $10 each then in a spirit of Christian generosity my friend Phebian would not have to worry about the lights going out in the middle of a night-time surgical procedure. But, the heart of my challenge to each of us was to get each of us to be generous in sharing our connection to faith and God … to actually put the request out to our friends and family on social media that “MY CHURCH … ST PAULS UNITED METHODIST CHURCH OF WEST DEPTFORD” is raising money to help two medical clinics in Sierra Leone’s rural country side have the electricity they need … but I am still hoping that you will have the courage to tell those folks I LOVE ST PAUL’s UNITED METHODIST CHURCH of WEST DEPTFORD because our church feeds the hungry, cares for the broken, welcomes all with love, and worships God with joy and love … why don’t you come to church with me?

But to make that “ask” it takes a faith that has your cup overflowing because of God’s love … that you sense God’s goodness and mercy each and every day. That you are walking with Jesus along God’s paths of righteousness for God’s name sake.

Bishop Tutu in his book answers his own challenge in a dialogue with The Dalai Lama, [2]You will be surprised by the joy the minute you stop being too self-regarding. Of course, you might have to be somewhat self-regarding” Bishop Tutu wrote, “Because the Lord I follow said — taking it from the Scripture — ‘love thy neighbor as thyself. Love others as you love yourself. You must long for the best for that other as you would want the best for you.”

So, when we pause to consider this remarkable psalm of life … it offers to us the guidance we need to regain a place of comfort … hope … faith … joy … peace that goes beyond human understanding. And, when we get there then we will realize how God has not only called but expects that generosity in the world begins with God’s Easter People.

I have to admit I smiled this morning when I opened up my God’s Minute Devotion because I knew I was including the words of Bishop Tutu in this message … LOVE friends and then always remember … remember daily … and allow this to be your truth.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. The Lord God maketh me to lie down in green pastures; the Lord God LEADETH me besides the sill waters. The Lord God RESTORETH my soul; the Lord God LEADETH me in the panthers of righteousness for His name sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil. MY CUP RUNNETH OVER … surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


[1] THE BOOK OF JOY; Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, published by Hutchinson London

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