Text for Today
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
God makes me lie down in green pastures,
God leads me beside quiet waters,
God refreshes my soul.
The Lord guides me along the right paths
for God's name's sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
“The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep 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 are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Valleys, Wolves, & Poetry
Jesus speaks of being the "good shepherd" to his disciples in our Gospel reading today. Jesus uses this metaphor to help his disciples understand his relationship to them and their relationship to others-- specifically the religious leaders and false messiahs of their time. Jesus uses this metaphor of being a good shepherd--whose voice the sheep recognize, who guards the sheep from those who would do them harm, who challenges the wolf, rather than running away, who would even risk his life for the sheep-- past it's breaking point.
What shepherd-flock pairing does these things:
"I have come that they may have life and have it to the full..."
"I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen..."
"I lay down my life--only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own accord."
We are clearly not talking about sheep and shepherds and pens and gates anymore.
And yet, we all know what it is-- from experience or close proximity-- to be found in the darkest valley, as the Psalmist writes. Or to be confronted by a wolf or a thief or abandoned by a hired hand. We know what it is to be lost and betrayed and disillusioned and afraid.
And it is in those moments that we most need poetry, metaphor, a God who is bigger than our language and understanding can contain.
The most turbulent times give birth to the most creative, poignant, and beautiful art. The most painful experiences lead people of faith back to ancient poetry and liturgy.
During this Easter season, we are spending several weeks at our House Gatherings talking about Joy. John 10:10 is about this joy: That we may have life, and have it to the full. That is what Christ came to bring and guard and ultimately lay down his own life for. This joy that fully humanizes us-- causes us to be fully who we are as human beings created in God's image.
Even as Christ promises this fullness of life, he speaks of thieves and wolves. In the Psalm, even as the psalmist experiences the joy of abundance, of beauty, of refreshment, of direction, so too there is the darkest valley, there is evil, there are enemies.
Joy anchors us to our beloved identity as children of God. Joy anchors us to full life. And poetry, art, metaphor, story anchor us to joy.
This week may we dwell, not only on the content of Scripture, but also the form. May we follow the way of Jesus and the Psalmist by creating and seeking art that can hold our full experience-- joy, pain, hope, abundance, fear, betrayal-- and point us to the joy of a God who is found more readily in a poem than a doctrine.