The Lord is my Shepherd

This past Wednesday, I attended the Haywood Street Congregation’s worship service which is at 12:30 pm. This congregation is Methodist and every Wednesday they have a meal for folks who are hungry. One of the chef’s in town encouraged other chefs to donate different meals a couple Wednesdays each month so the food is always excellent. I never attend these meals because they are very chaotic. In fact the church’s motto – “Holy Chaos” – was coined by Rev. Shannon Spencer, a former pastor there. One day, I will attempt to go but I may not attend worship due to this “holy chaos.” (Too much stimulation for me!)

Rev. Brian Combs shared the homily which is in a conversational style. He makes a few statements and then folks are invited to respond. I really love it because most of the comments are made by folks with no theological training. Many live on the streets or formerly did. The comments, raw with so much wisdom, are just what I need to hear. I feel so comfortable in a worship space with folks who know what it is like to struggle for every meal and to walk thrugh the wildernesses of life.

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Brian began with the following statement which he made without notes. He posted a copy of the homily on their website and he began:

“The analogies for God are many. God is creator, painting every empty canvas with brushstrokes of beauty, the heavenly potter fashioning all that’s ‘out of sort’ back into shape. ….. God is gardener sowing seeds in every indiscriminate direction, believing that new life can grow in between the cracks of concrete just like in the fertile fields.”

“But of all the ways to understand God, it is the shepherd that’s most enduring.” He then asked, “Why do we choose this analogy for God?” Several folks responded: “The shepherd will lead us.” “We need reminding that we’re as helpless as sheep.” “Shepherds know their sheep by name.”

I couldn’t help remembering a first person sermon I preach about Hagar who was thrown out into the wilderness by Abraham and Sarah. (Gen. 21:8 -19) The first time I preached it was as a student at Central Baptist Seminary in Kansas City in the late 80’s. I then used it as my senior sermon at Columbia Seminary in Atlanta in 1992. I have since preached it many, many times. It’s short, 10 minutes, which allows time for other things. I love preaching it and hope to have more opportunities. In it, I have Hagar say:

“It is there in the wilderness where we discover the comfort and the courage of God’s love. Often it is in our deepest darkness where we find God’s power and creativity. The 23rd Psalm contains a beautiful image.”

“God, the hostess, has prepared a feast for us, the travelers. A warm fire is burning in the fireplace, as the food is set out on the table. You would expect this feast to include all our friends and families but this feast is different. It is special. For there at the table sit our enemies. Those people that have hurt us and caused us to wander. The folks with whom we cannot get along.”

“And there are other enemies. Confusion. Blindness, Miscarriage, Brain injury. They are all there at the table. God takes some healing ointment and lovingly rubs it onto our sores. Our wounds no longer hurt. The bruises remain and we continue to bleed, but it is warm by the fire.”

“When you walk through the wilderness, know that God is with you. God will comfort and you will be changed.”

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