Last Sunday, as I sat in the Fort Lauderdale airport, I overheard a father ask his teen age children how many days Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Law from God. The answer he gave was forty days. What I became more interested in was the conversation which followed. The younger daughter soon asked why the Children of Israel forgot about God and began melting down their gold into a molten image. While I was not pleased with the answers the father gave, it got me thinking about the deeper issue within this part of the Exodus story.
It is so easy to look at this story and cast blame on the Children of Israel for their lack of faith, or for their inability to see the whole picture. The truth to this story, however, has little to do with the misbehavior and more to do with the loss of faith. As one reads through the wilderness story, what we find is typical human behavior when we allow ourselves to be overcome by fear.
In the story of the Molten Image, the Children of Israel become overwhelmed with fear as Moses’ absence goes beyond what they believed was a reasonable amount of time. They grew afraid because they wondered how they would survive without the guidance Moses provided. There, in the middle of desert, the Israelites waited and wondered if and when Moses would return. As the time grew too long, they sought out that which was comfortable to them, that which they already knew. They reverted back to the God’s of Egypt which they believed had protected them until they had departed via the Red Sea.
Each and every one of us goes through those times when we wonder if God is really there. In the Psalm of Holy Week, Psalm 22, the Psalmist begins his lament with the all too familiar words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me and seem so far from my cries. As I have said so many times, these words resonate deep within us, because they become our words and our thoughts when the hardships of life seems crash in on us.
Why has my friend been stricken with cancer? Why has my spouse been taken away so young? Why does my child suffer with addiction? Why does there continue to be so much violence throughout the world? And our lists go on and on as we search and seek comfort in the darkness which often accompanies our lives.
This is why the twenty-third psalm is a wonderfully juxtaposition to Psalm 22 during Easter. It brings our cry of ” my God, My God to “yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thy rod and thy staff comfort me.” As the words, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me,” are filled with fear and sorrow, “yea though I walk through the valley of the Shadow of Death” are words filled with comfort and assurance. They tell us even in the deepest and darkest of places, God is with us and that God protects us from the worst of what evil can hand us.
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus assumes the role of the Good Shepherd as depicted in Psalm 23. The good shepherd was a familiar and well understood image by the people of Jesus’ day. It spoke of trust, intimacy, and most of all protection.
In today’s world, sheep are often thought of as dumb and dirty. They are prone, when left to their own devices, to wonder and often get lost. But sheep are not easily frightened, and are loyal both to their herd and to their shepherd. Unlike cattle and other herd animals, sheep cannot be moved from behind, sheep must be led by their shepherd from in front and they will only follow if they recognize the voice of the one who is leading them. Animal behaviorists believe this indicates a high level of trust between sheep and their shepherds.
Thus when Jesus tells us he is the good or model shepherd, he is telling his listeners that he is the one in whom we can trust, he is the one we are to follow, he is the one who will search for us when we are lost, he is the one who will fend off the evil that surrounds us, and he is the one who will find us when we are lost in the darkness of life.
God is never far from our cries for as Christ tells us this morning, as the good shepherd, he is always with us.
In the book, Ordinary Grace, William Kent Krueger expresses his understanding of the Good Shepherd’s love when Paster Drum speaks to his congregation the Sunday following his daughter’s murder in the passage that follows.
“I confess that I have cried out to God, ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ ”
Here my father paused and I thought he could not continue. But after a long moment he seemed to gather himself and went on.
“When we feel abandoned, alone, and lost, what’s left to us? What do I have, what do you have, what do any of us have left except the overpowering temptation to rail against God and to blame him for the dark night into which he’s led us, to blame him for our misery, to blame him and cry out against him for not caring? What’s left “to us when that which we love most has been taken?
“I will tell you what’s left, three profound blessings. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Saint Paul tells us exactly what they are: faith, hope, and love. These gifts, which are the foundation of eternity, God has given to us and he’s given us complete control over them. Even in the darkest night it’s still within our power to hold to faith. We can still embrace hope. And although we may ourselves feel unloved we can still stand steadfast in our love for others and for God. All this is in our control. God gave us these gifts and he does not take them back. It is we who choose to discard them.
“In your dark night, I urge you to hold to your faith, to embrace hope, and to bear your love before you like a burning candle, for I promise that it will light your way.
“And whether you believe in miracles or not, I can guarantee that you will experience one. It may not be the miracle you’ve prayed for. God probably won’t undo what’s been done. The miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day.
“Jesus suffered the dark night and death and on the third day he rose again through the grace of his loving father. For each of us, the sun sets and the sun also rises and through the grace of our Lord we can endure our own dark night and rise to the dawning of a new day and rejoice.
“I invite you, my brothers and sisters, to rejoice with me in the divine grace of the Lord and in the beauty of this morning, which he has given us.”
My father’s eyes swept over the congregants who filled the pews silent as dandelions with upturned faces. He smiled and said Amen
As pastor Drum declared, whether we struggle with God because illness has descended upon us or because the world has overwhelmed us with darkness, remember to listen for the voice of the good shepherd. For he will always find you and he will carry you out of the darkness of fear and despair and into the light of hope and grace.
Excerpt From: William Kent Krueger. “Ordinary Grace.” Atria Books. iBooks.
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