A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on June 28, 2015 by Pastor Dale Raether
Please visit our Synod’s website at www.wels.net
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.
Psalm 23:3

Do you ever feel your life is in a rut? You keep going over the same ground day after day, but it seems like you’re not moving forward. Nothing changes. And no matter how hard you’ve worked on certain problems, they’re still there. Whenever we have times like that, we may also start wondering about God. What are His plans for me? Does He even have a plan, or is He leaving me on my own? These are painful questions. Today we continue our study of Psalm 23. In verse 3, we learn that God does in deed have wonderful plans for us. He is guiding us in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. 1. His goal is that we have a close personal, relationship with Him. 2. Sheep illustrate what keeps us from being as close to God as we could be. 3. What shepherds do illustrates what Jesus is doing to guide us.

1. God’s goal is that we have a close, personal relationship with Him

God wants our relationship with Him to be a two way street. Here’s what He brings. He calls us by name. In John 10 it says: The sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. – John 10:3 Jesus knows everything about us. He knows our likes and dislikes, as well as our strengths and weakness. Especially, He knows where our faith is at, and the sins we’ve committed. This just blows us away! When God turns toward us, when He forever speaks our name in our Baptism, like He spoke Mary’s name on Easter morning, He’s not thinking about the sins. He’s thinking about us by how He paid for our sins on the cross, and according to all the promises He made to us. Jesus is standing before us with His arms wide open and inviting us, “Come to me.”

Another thing Jesus brings to our relationship with Him is He treats us as His friends and tells us His secrets. He said to the Disciples on the night He was betrayed: I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. — John 15:15a Many are in the dark about the ways of God. They can’t for example understand why He allows sin and evil. Without getting into lots of different topics this morning, the more we learn about Jesus through His Word, the better we will understand His ways. I’m not saying we’ll understand everything perfectly in this life. But we will see His love more clearly, and then troubles will actually draw us closer to Him.

One more thing that Jesus brings to our relationship with Him is calls us to be co-workers. Reading on in John 15: You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. – John 15:16 The fruit that lasts is the glory we bring God by our attitudes and by our words and actions. For example after that shooting in South Carolina, the Christians there did not riot for revenge. Rather, in their unimaginable grief, they forgave, and they’re calmly doing what Christians do. This shows the power of God, and it’s going to cause someone somewhere to ask, how can I have that kind of inner peace too? So, if God can use our suffering, or if He can use our personal witness to bring even more soul to heaven, that’s a joy that lasts! And it’s a joy that leads us to thank God for each day He gives us. Now, all of this together, everything I said so far is this path of righteousness in which Jesus is leading us. But are we following? Not always. Or, not as well as we might like to. But sheep illustrate what’s holding us back.

2. Sheep illustrate what keeps us from being as close to God as we could be.

Sheep are creatures of habit – on steroids. If they walk a certain path from one patch of grass to another, that immediately becomes the only way they can go from that particular patch of grass to another, and any other way is wrong. Over a short time, sheep can wear such ruts into the ground, that that ground is ruined for anything else. Or, a particular patch of grass may have filled them up on one day, so, that same spot is where they have to go everyday, and soon the grass there is gone roots and all. Then the rains come, and what was once rich pasture lands becomes a muddy wasteland. Unless the shepherd moves his sheep into a different pasture, they will get sick from drinking the mud water, and they will starve.

People can be creatures of habit too. Did you ever notice how many always sit in the same pew? I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I’m just saying it’s a habit. Or, maybe there are certain few hymns that really spoke to them at one time, and now they want to hear those certain few hymns every week. We thank God for the gift of hymns, and if the Holy Spirit has used a particular hymn to especially help us, praise God for that. However, a hymn God Himself inspired, says: Sing unto the Lord a new song! – Psalm 96:1 God doesn’t want our worship to get into a rut, so that we’re just going through the motions. Perhaps this is why God has enabled so many to continually write new hymns. A case in point is our opening hymn, Christ Be Our Leader. This is a relatively new hymn, but right now it’s one of my favorites, because the words really hit home for me.

Now with sheep, each time they got to a new pasture, they’d get all excited, like they were in the best place ever. Then before long they would wear that place out too, and the shepherd would have to move them to another place, even though they didn’t want to leave. But eventually the shepherd could bring them back to that first pasture, because the grass had grown back, and it would be as new and exciting for the sheep as any. Here’s my point. Worship isn’t about the outward the forms of our worship, new or old. Worship is about Jesus. Worship is about remembering and reminding each other that the Father is our Creator, the Son is our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit is our Sanctifier, who brought us to faith and keeps us in faith. With these things in mind it’s fun to sing, Christ Be Our Leader; and then it’s fun to go back to an old favorite, like we did last week with What a Friend We Have in Jesus. As we keep our focus on Jesus, Jesus, only Jesus, we will experience as much closeness with Him in our worship as is possible on this earth. This is also how Jesus keeps us humble and trusting in Him, and then instructs us in right attitudes, words and actions.

Unfortunately, people, like sheep, can be slow learners. They like their ruts. In their worship they stop listening as they once did, so they stop growing. Or, in their daily life a rut may turn into a sinful habit, because what’s really behind many ruts is self-centeredness, or just plain fear and not trusting. At any rate ruts can hinder a person’s closeness with God and keep him from bearing as much fruit as he otherwise would. Whenever our lives fall into this, Jesus for His part, keeps on loving us. In fact:

3. What shepherds do illustrates what Jesus is doing to guide us.

Whenever a shepherd would bring his sheep to a new field, it wasn’t random. A good shepherd, knowing his sheep and knowing the area, knew exactly how long his sheep could stay in one place, and where the next place would be and for long, and when he could bring his sheep back to that first place. A good shepherd had that all planned out. Jesus is all wisdom. Knowing us as He does (in fact He even knows how many hairs on our head), Jesus gives us just the right amount of blessings for a time, so that we may lie down in green pastures besides quiet waters, that He may restore our soul. However, did you ever notice that just when we think our life is settled, and we think we know where everything going to be for years to come, that everything changes? Why does God do that? We may not appreciate changes in our life, and we may complain about them and say, “This is really baaaad.”

Fear not! Jesus calls us by name. And if He’s changing things up for us again, it’s either so we may glorify Him in some new and exciting way we never thought of before. Or, Jesus is guiding us away from some sinful ruts we may be getting ourselves into, and wants to protect us. But it’s all good! Also, what kind of shepherd would Jesus be, if He just let His stubborn, wayward sheep keep doing whatever they thought they wanted? Or, what kind of shepherd would Jesus be, if He doesn’t complete in us what He started, or let’s us stagnate, so that no one by looking at us could ever tell we were Christians?

But now Jesus is our Good Shepherd! Not only does He want us to have the joy of ever growing closer to Him, He wants our joy to shine through us to others with patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Furthermore when He sees us getting caught up again in the ruts of our sinful nature, He guides our life in order to rescue us. Maybe he allows changes that hurt, and then rescues us from that hurt. Or, at other times He may protect us from the hurt in the first place, but instead corrects us with His Word, which He brings us through one of servants or through another Christian.

If only we knew then, what we know now! Have you ever thought that? Jesus has been guiding us in the paths of righteousness, and sometimes we weren’t even aware of it. It’s no wonder then if at times we felt our life wasn’t going anywhere, or we were getting ourselves into foolish ruts. But now we know that Jesus IS guiding us. Knowing this, David was led to pray as he did in Psalm 25. Earlier we sang a portion of that Psalm, but here’s David full prayer list: that God protect his faith. He said, “Do not let me be put to shame.” Next David prayed for forgiveness. He said, “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways.” David then prayed that he live a godly life. He said, “Show me your ways, guide me in your truth and teach me.” Finally, David prayed that God protect the faith of others. There you have it! This is what’s important in life. This is where we want to be going with our life – that we be strong in our faith, that our sins are forgiven, that we live a godly life, and that we do what we can to protect others in their faith. Everything else is just the details that our Shepherd has under good control. But keep praying for these things, and we will never ashamed or sorry we did. And here’s how our Good Shepherd will answer us. He will guide us in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Amen.

Please visit our Synod’s website at www.wels.net