The word camcorder' was first used in 1981. Now you can add cam' to just about anything and to kids of Kaeta and James age that's normal and they know what it means. Helmet-cams, bike-cams, skate-cams are cameras that give you the point of view from where they're attached. For you two, today I give you the sheep-cam. There's a 1970 book titled "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23." It's worth the read. It explains Psalm 23 from a shepherd's view. The point being that shepherding in 20th century AD had changed little from shepherding in 10th century BC. I don't know about that, but I do know being a sheep hasn't. And today you're making public profession that you're sheep of the Good Shepherd. So what does that look like? The sheep-cam shows you.
The Lord is my shepherd. What a condescension He makes. The Lord, Yahweh, who walked with Adam in Eden, divided the Red Sea, shook Mt. Zion, and walks among the lampstands in heaven is my shepherd. But this condescension doesn't hit fully home because we've lived through what David hadn't. God becoming flesh through the Virgin's womb and dwelling among us. God Almighty humbled Himself, not fully using His Divine Power as a Man, so that He might suffer and die on the cross. So, that He's my shepherd doesn't seem all that humbling. One day, Lord willing, you as an adult will play a game with a child. You will giggle, gambol, and be silly. And maybe that child you're playing with will have a poopy diaper. He won't smell it; you will. That's what the Lord does when He shepherds us no matter our age. Sheep stink of the devil, the world, and their own sinful flesh, yet our Lord Jesus delights in shepherding us.
That's right. What David actually wrote is "Yahweh shepherds me" not the Lord is my Shepherd. Ra'ah is a verb used 173 times in the OT. 75 of those times the KJV translates "feed", 63 times "shepherd." The point here is that in Psalm 23:1 we confess Yahweh, the Lord God Almighty is actively taking care of our needs. To some extent what you need at 14 will be what you need at 21, 31, 51 and 71. There never will come an age when you won't need forgiveness. You will always have needs of body and soul. No one, not even you, will always know what they are or how to fill them. The Lord who shepherds you, who feeds you does and will.
Watch the 1980 movie My Bodyguard. A kid at a new school hires the school's most feared kid a guardian. I'm not telling you having the Lord shepherding you means you will never be bullied, or sick, or sad. I am telling you what God's Holy Word says, You "shall not want." Actually that can be translated in the present tense, "I do not want" or future "I shall not want." In either case there is a fullness and confidence to the expression. There is no if', no but', no "I hope the Lord shepherds me." Nope, He has; He does; He will. That's why you shall not, cannot, do not, lack, want, need. The rest of the Psalm detailing green pastures, still waters, righteous paths, through death's shadow, a table in the presence of your enemies, shows from the sheep's view what that looks like. You know how many times I've read Psalm 23 to someone dying? You know how many times I've recited it in dire need? If the Lord shepherding the dying, the distraught, the lonely, the fearful, the tempted comforts them, it will comfort you as you go to high school, to college, to life.
The sheep-cam shows you your Lord Jesus shepherding you. It will also show Him hounding you. With your parent's permission watch the YouTube video of Richard Burton reading the 1893 poem The Hound of Heaven (youtube.com/watch?v=gToj6SLWz8Q). Or read the 17th century novel The Pilgrim's Progress or if that's too much read C.S. Lewis's The Pilgrim's Regress. You probably won't need them in high school years, but will in your college years. These will show you that the doubts, the questions, the temptations you have are not new to you but common to all sheep. And their only goal is to pull you away from the Lord who shepherds you.
Let me tell you a story: During WW I Turkish soldiers tried to steal a flock near Jerusalem. The shepherd woke to his sheep being driven off. Rather than chasing them and being no match for the soldiers anyway, he gave his peculiar call. The sheep hearing it rushed to him the soldiers unable to stop them (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 420). The liturgy you weekly hear; the Catechism you've memorized, and those bullet points I gave you, are your Shepherd's peculiar call. You're going to be exposed to people perfectly happy with their own truth. They won't have an ounce of guilt about their version of morality which you will recognize is immorality. They will be as confident as Humpty Dumpty that not just their words but God's Words mean just what they choose them to mean. You'll meet Christians who believe they've decided to follow Jesus; that Baptism is simple water only without forgiveness, rescue from death and the devil, and certainly without salvation. And you'll meet Christians who believe the Body and Blood of Christ can only be in heaven not on their altars and most definitely not in their mouths.
The bullet points, the Catechism, the Liturgy are meant to be 10,000 little hooks to snag you, hold you back, give you time to consider just what it means to go from one confession of faith to another. It's not a matter of changing clothes. It's moving out of one house into another. It's even harder when the houses are similar in many respects and you're told the differences are only external. Jesus, The Hound of Heaven, says different. He says, "My sheep hear My Voice." If the Liturgy, the Catechism, or the bullet points are not faithful to His voice, by all means leave, run even, move out, but know that's what you're doing. If, however, you can't say they aren't faithful to the Shepherd's voice, then know if you move out you're also moving away from His "goodness and mercy."
These are the 2 hounds with which your Good Shepherd pursues you. Think of them like sheepdogs. Watch a video of how they work to keep sheep with the rest of the flock. They don't hurt the sheep, but they don't let up either. By the Goodness that follows you to high school, to college, to life, and even into death, the Good Shepherd provides all your needs. By the Mercy following you, He blots out all your sins. These twin Guardian Angels, Goodness and Mercy, since they always follow you, will always have your back and since they are provided for Jesus' sake you can always beckon them. The Good Shepherd, who is a hound, doesn't bay after you in anger. No, He went to the cross bearing the anger of God against all your sins, and everyone else's. He went there, suffered, damned, and died there to put out that anger. And He was risen from the grave to give chase with Goodness and Mercy. Today, you two confess, He caught you. Today, I'm telling you He will continue to give chase no matter where you go with His Word and Sacrament which are the epitome of His Goodness and Mercy.
This can only mean one thing. Of the 37 translations I checked, only two translate the first word of verse 6, "only" instead of "surely". Indeed, KJV translates 'ak more often only' only not here. Only' makes the promises of the Good Shepherd from a sheep's point of view, too big for life; certainly bigger than my sins, my death, and even the devil himself. When you were a child, like most children, you probably liked to be chased. As you grow not so much. "Follow me" can be translated "pursue closely." When I say, "breathing down your neck", you know exactly what it means. Education, love, work, family, sin, temptation, etc. can and will pursue closely. Till at the last, all that is on your heels will be Death. Not so fast. "Goodness and Mercy" will always be there, and Jesus says, you can look back and see only them.
And you know what only having God's Goodness and Mercy for Jesus' sake means? You're not only going to cross that river; you're not only going to live forever; you're going to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Virtually all people will turn into God's house to say a prayer. This is the old adage that there's no atheists in foxholes. With my generation I can say that; with yours I'm not so sure. However, it's still true even in this benighted age, the House of the Lord, beckons in times of trial and fear, and people do turn in here to say a prayer, but they don't dwell here. It's like Kipling's poem "A Time for Prayer" says: "In times of war and not before,/ God and the soldier we adore./ But in times of peace and all things righted,/ God is forgotten and the soldier slighted."
But you two are of tender conscience. That's much to be preferred to a hard one and certainly to an evil one that feels guilty for everything. But being of tender conscience, you sense too much of you in dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. It's really not there, but you hear the "I" will dwell louder than the rest. In times like this, run quickly to the Gospel that is louder still. Jesus says in John 8:35, "The servant dwells not in the house forever, but the Son dwells forever." Jesus is the Son who dwells forever in the Father's house and has made plenty of room for you by living the perfect like you can't and dying the guilty death you could but don't have to. Actually, from another viewpoint, from the sheep-cam perspective, He not only dwells in the Father's house and has prepared rooms for you, He is the Father's house. John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and pitched His tent among us." Or jump to Rev. 21:22, "The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are" heaven's temple.
You were baptized into the Lamb who is also your Shepherd as infants. Now, you're going to be bodied and blooded to Him for life. Since Baptism you've had all the gifts of the Good Shepherd, but when you're admitted to His Table and His cup overflowing with forgiveness is given you, it's a special day. The church of the first 2 centuries expressed this by giving the newly confirmed their first Communion together with 'milk and honey' to symbolize they had entered the Promised Land (Church from Age to Age, 18). No sheep-cam can see this, but sheep can. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday of Easter (Confirmation); 20200517; Psalm 23: 1,6