The Lord Is My Shepherd
When I was a child, adults often asked me, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I'll bet you get that a lot, too, right? My answer was not always the same. At one time I thought I wanted to be a teacher. Then a marine biologist, and finally a minister (adapt intro. to your own experience, of course). One job I never, ever considered was that of a shepherd.*
Shepherding is one of the oldest occupations in the world. Shepherds have been around for over 6,000 years! Shepherds are mentioned quite a bit in the Bible. They were sometimes older people who couldn't help with heavy work around the farm any more, sometimes hired hands and sometimes young boys or girls. Shepherds took care of herds of sheep.
Sheep eat, or graze, on grass and other plants that grow wild in fields, pastures or meadows. One of the shepherd's most important jobs was leading the sheep to food--to green pastures or meadows. The shepherds also needed to make sure there were streams or pools with clean water for their sheep to drink. If a sheep wandered away from the flock, the shepherd had to go find it and bring it back. Shepherds carried a long stick with a hook on the end, called a crook. In the Middle East, where the Bible stories took place, there were some rocky, hilly areas. If a sheep fell down between the rocks and the shepherd couldn't reach it, the shepherd would use the crook to help rescue the sheep and lift it to safety. Shepherds also protected the sheep from harm, such as wolves and thieves.
There is a poem in the Bible called the 23rd Psalm. The 23rd Psalm is a very popular, much-loved piece of Scripture. Many believe the Psalm was written by a king named David, who was himself a shepherd when he was a boy. In the 23rd Psalm, David describes God as a shepherd who takes care of all of his needs--who is with him through thick and thin--in good times and bad. God, the Shepherd, protects David and keeps him safe. I believe David writes for all of us. We are all members of God's flock. We can all agree with David that God is a good shepherd who cares for and protects us.
I'd like to close our time by reciting the 23rd Psalm together. I will read a line, and then all of you, the whole congregation, repeat the line after me, OK? This is from Eugene Peterson's modern translation of the Bible, called The Message**. Listen for some of the shepherding words and phrases that we learned this morning as we recite together.
A David Psalm1-3 God, my shepherd! I don't need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.
4 Even when the way goes through
I'm not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd's crook
makes me feel secure.
5 You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.
6 Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I'm back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.
*I usually choose to write children's sermons/stories in a way that do not engage the children in conversation. This is to avoid the uncomfortable and potentially harmful situation wherein a child answers a question or offers a comment in an earnest and sincere way, and the congregation's response is laughter. Granted, those laughing are usually touched by the child's comment and in no way intend for their response to be considered negative or derogatory, but the child may feel laughed at and embarrassed. If it is your congregation's tradition to engage in banter with the children, an easy opening to this story would be to ask them what they want to be when they grow up, then after they have answered, ask, "Does anyone want to be a shepherd?" and go on from there.
**I realize that to many congregations, this unfamiliar translation of a beloved Psalm will seem sacrilegious. Of course any version may be used at this point in the story.