As a child I loved to follow paths. There was one path at my grandfather's farm that was my favorite and I would walk it every chance I could get. Thinking about Psalm 23 in preparation for Good Shepherd Sunday reminded me of that path.
The path started at the barn and went through the woods, across a field, back into the woods, and down to the creek. My mother never wanted me to go by myself because she was afraid that I would get lost. I never did.
Once in a while I was spooked by something and I went flying back toward the barn. I would be spooked by a cow at the edge of the woods or possibly in the middle of the path. I would be spooked by staying so long by myself in the woods. I would be spooked when a sudden cloud would come up and I was not yet back to the barn. But I never got lost.
Once I did get lost on another path. The path to Rattlesnake Cannon at Morrow Mountain State Park in North Carolina was right, but somehow I lost my way. I followed another path. I could hear the voices of my friends playing in the cannon but I couldn't get to them. I was hopelessly lost because I didn't go down the right path.
Suddenly I recognized my older brother's voice. I yelled to him and he called back to me, guiding me until I was able to get on the right path and then to Rattlesnake Cannon.
This Sunday, the images of Psalm 23 and of Christ as the Good Shepherd remind us that sheep sometimes need help making it through the path of life. Sheep do not know which path is the right one. They often follow those who are already lost, but sheep know the voice of their shepherd. Sheep can live a long time and through those years learn to know and love the voice of the one who cares for them. When they are lost, just one sound of the caretaker's voice can bring them back to the right path.
One day long ago, Jesus talked to his disciples. In his mind was the powerful image of the 23rd Psalm. In the Gospel of John this teaching occurs as Jesus sets his direction on the last right path of his earthly life. He knew that this path was the path of righteousness, the path that he must take for our sakes, for the forgiveness of the sins of the world. The path of righteousness of his name's sake was the right path of the cross in the presence of God and for his sheep.
Jesus wanted his disciples and all of us to know that we have nothing to fear in choosing the right paths of our lives, for in his name's sake means that we are in the presence of the Good Shepherd-always in his presence, no matter what our path might be. And that as the Good Shepherd he is able to call us by name and lead us.
Jesus didn't come to lead us in the wrong paths. Jesus said that he came that we may have life and have it abundantly, but in order for us to have this abundant life, Jesus also had to walk his own right path, the path that led to the cross.
As Jesus' path became clearer, do you think that this Psalm 23 became more comforting? Do you think this psalm became more vivid for Jesus? Do you think this psalm became more powerful for Jesus?
I believe that this psalm held great comfort and great power for Jesus. I believe that Jesus prayed this prayer more and more, the closer his path took him to the cross.
It was his path, the right path and Jesus knew that he was not walking it alone, but with the love and power of God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, and that even as this right path brought Jesus death, it brought the rest of the world life and life abundant.
"He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake."
Each day of our lives, there is a right path in front of us, and each day we have the choice of whether or not to take this right path. Sometimes it is not so difficult to take that path. Sometimes we overlook it and go another way. Sometimes we may feel uneasy about taking it, thinking that we are not up for the task, not in shape enough, not talented enough, not wise enough. Sometimes we just do not want to take the path that is in front of us.
Jesus wants us to know that he is ready and waiting to walk the path with us-leading us on those paths that might be difficult for us-through the dark valleys, to those places we need to rest and be restored.
How blessed we are by this Good Shepherd who wants our lives to be abundant, who knows our paths will lead to abundant life and love and peace, even when the path appears difficult and treacherous.
Each day it becomes important that we listen to the voice of our shepherd telling us the path to take, encouraging us when we stumble and lose our way. The more we seek his guidance and wisdom, the clearer we hear his voice. May all of us listen to the voice of the Shepherd in our lives, so that we can find and walk the right path.
To God be the Glory!
Festival fundraiser. Today, during the Strawberry Festival, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Chapel Hill UMC offers shortcake made with homemade cake, homemade ice cream and/or whipped cream. They also have sugar cookies and hot dogs, so you can eat lunch or dinner and then have a special dessert.
Wesleyan District Conference, Sunday, 3 p.m., Chapel Hill UMC
Drew Seminary Class Visit, Wednesday- Friday, May 21-23
Parish Council dinner with Drew guests, Thursday, May 22, 6 p.m., Fish Hawk Acres
Mission trip. Upshur Helping Hands Work Team will travel to McDowell County, SundaySaturday, June 1521. Ages 9th grade thru adult are welcome! If you would like to join the mission, contact Cheryl Reger firstname.lastname@example.org, Barb Loftis email@example.com, or Mark Lynch firstname.lastname@example.org
Pentecost Picnic and Sing, Sunday, June 1: Picnic, 5 p.m., Holly River SP, followed by Sing, Jerry Run Theatre, Alexander
Life Line Screening, Friday, June 6, Chapel Hill UMC
Clean-up at Adrian building, Sunday, June 8, 4 p.m., followed by bonfire
Annual Conference, Wednesday-Sunday, June 11-15, WV Wesleyan
Salad lunches, Thursday-Saturday, June 12-14, The Parish House