It’s “Good Shepherd Sunday.”
Three weeks after Easter Day is always Good Shepherd Sunday.
It doesn’t take long, flipping through the Bible,
to understand why this theme gets a whole Sunday.
The Bible is filled with sheep and shepherds—
–REAL sheep, and REAL shepherds,
but also the important METAPHOR of how God calls and cares for us.
Maybe that’s why the 23rd Psalm is our most popular Psalm.
It has been set to music,
inspired work on canvas
burnished on our memory.
It’s recited at funerals, at bedsides,
at commencements and confirmations.
But what surprises—is the range of impact this Psalm has.
The 23rd Psalm is NOT popular just among the pew-sitters,
to be found only in dusty old hymnals
or in the next generation of Christian song writers.
The 23rd Psalm is equally popular among the popular—
–in songs you might actually hear blaring from iPods. 
“Jesus Walks” by Kanye West.
“Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio
“The River” by Good Charlotte
by Puff Daddy and Nortorious B.I.G.
“Sickman” by Alice in Chains
“Love Rescue Me” by U2.
“Sheep” by Pink Floyd
“Ripple” by the Grateful Dead
“Shadow of Deth” by Megadeth.
(U2, having a special place in my heart, gets an embed…)
–From rap to reggae to metal to alternative to punk rock—
–the 23rd Psalm is everywhere across popular culture!
Biblical scholars categorize the 23rd Psalm as a Psalm of trust,
one that expresses confidence in God.
But…here’s the fascinating thing.
In the music of the last 20 years, when the 23rd psalm is referenced
this so-called Psalm of Trust is usually argued with,
or struggled against,
or read as UNtrustworthy.
This musical reaction is telling, really,
about the sentiment of our age.
The purpose of a Psalm of Trust in our scriptures is theological:
that is, it is meant to praise God, to Thank God
for FREEDOM from ANXIETY.
So biblical scholar Walter Bruggemann can say:
“Such a Psalm…has a social function of importance.
It is to articulate and maintain a ‘sacred canopy’
under which the community of faith
can live out its life with freedom from anxiety.
“…there is a given-ness to be relied on,
guaranteed by none other than God.” 
But just look at the news, or take in the profound pictures of our day:
typhoon and civil war and massive hunger and urban decay
and such a bold, profound, counter-cultural trust such as in Psalm 23
is DISORIENTING today.
This sort of bold claim does not fit comfortably into our world.
You read the same news that I do…
But this Psalm—in fact, the whole SHEPHERD theme in the Bible
does not shrink away meekly.
This psalm, and later the Good Shepherd, acknowledges:
Reality is not overwhelmed by the call, the claim to trust.
Our world does not become a magical place
of peace and meaning just because we are invited to TRUST GOD.
But also the converse is true:
the Psalm and the Good Shepherd assert
that neither does TRUST in God become OVERWHELMED
by any present reality.
I can’t quote you most of Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks”—
–it’s not really a song made for church time.
Early on, referring to the tough streets of Chicago, West says:
I walk through the valley of the Chi where death is…
…As Psalm 23 is put into the middle of gang life,
and imminent, tragic, young danger.
It’s almost as if the song is a challenge.
If Psalm 23 is going to be truly a song of TRUST,
If Jesus is going to be truly the Good Shepherd—
–then it has to be true HERE.
NOT just in the quiet of the personal meditation of a church pew.
NOT just in the hushed solemnity of the graveside service.
–BUT here, where trust is most at risk.
My momma used to say only Jesus can save us
Well momma I know I act a fool…
I Hope… (Jesus Walks)
God show me the way
because the Devil trying to break me down
(Jesus Walks with me)
The only thing that that I pray is that my feet don’t fail me now
And I don’t think there is nothing I can do now to right my wrongs
(Jesus Walks with me)
I want to talk to God
but I’m afraid because we ain’t spoke in so long
…The “valley of the shadow of death” is not metaphorical
for anyone who is living their life
in a real place with real problems
and real struggles of life and death.
Moving from music to movies,
a small settlement of prospectors and their families
has been overrun by a villain who has sent thugs
to drive them off using force.
In one of the early scenes a daughter of the settlement kneels,
smoothing over fresh earth of the grave of her dog,
which had been killed in the attack.
While there she prays.
Kneeling, she begins reciting Psalm 23, but interspersed with her own lament:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. he leadeth me beside still waters;
But I do want.
The LORD restoreth my soul.
But they killed my dog.
Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;
But I am afraid.
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff – they comfort me.
But we need a miracle.
Thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
If you exist.
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
But I’d like to get more of this life first. 
The promise of the psalm—the promise of a Good Shepherd—
–does NOT fit neatly into the reality of much of our life.
The trust offered by these texts…needs to be FORGED.
Because first the Psalmist’s promise
that God will be with us always,
and the Good Shepherd’s promise to lay down his life
and to gather all to him…
…seem to be an insufficient answer,
and of insufficient comfort.
Living our life in a world like ours
by TRUSTING the Good Shepherd—
–means we have hard work to do,
crossing through the world
with many valleys that fall in death’s shadows.
Of course, if Jesus is the Good Shepherd…
…you know what that makes you and me?
Some may bristle at the idea of being thought of as dumb and mindless sheep.
Barbara Brown Taylor tells of an acquaintance
who had actually grown up on a sheep ranch
and dispels the myth that sheep are dumb.
It was actually the cattle rancher, apparently, who started that rumor,
because sheep do NOT behave like cows.
Cows are herded from the rear with shouts and prods from the cowboys.
But that does NOT work with sheep.
If you stand behind sheep making noises,
they will just run around behind you.
Cows can be pushed; sheep must be led.
Sheep will NOT go anywhere that someone else—
–their trusted shepherd—does not go first,
to show them that everything is all right.
That’s not all:
Did you know that sheep can only see SIX feet
in front of their face?
That means SHEEP…get lost six feet at a time!
Sheep graze in a grass here.
Then they see something a little greener—SIX feet…over here.
Then they see more green grass six feet over here.
Then they see BETTER grass—six feet by six feet by six feet…
…they move away from the fold.
The thought occurs: WE get lost…a little bit at a time.
A sheep does not wake up some morning and say
“I think I’ll try some green pastures over in Oklahoma today,
or down at the beach”—they can’t see that far!
A sheep GOES ASTRAY six feet at a time.
WE get lost a little bit at a time!
SOMETIMES…it’s falling into little traps that we don’t know are traps. 
Sometimes, it’s not noticing when you get your financial statements
that your mood goes UP…or DOWN—depending on the figures
going UP…or DOWN—SIX FEET.
Sometimes, it’s just enjoying a SMALL grudge.
Nothing major, mind you.
Just a something you can hold and savor, against someone else—
Sometimes, it’s letting stress become your life—SIX FEET.
Sometimes, it’s letting your SCHEDULE become you life—SIX FEET.
Sometimes, it’s modeling for your kids to worship at the altar of BUSY—
—SIX MORE FEET.
SOMETIMES, it’s listening to a little NPR…or Fox News;
reading a little New York Times,
or listening a little Oprah;
and surfing a little Beliefnet, and thinking
“oh, that was a good spiritual thing to do—now I’m set…”
SOMETIMES, it’s listening to a little GOSSIP.
Over the grocery counter gossip.
Parking lot after-the-meeting gossip—SIX FEET,
Sometimes, it’s NO Bible, NO prayer—SIX FEET,
and miss a few Sundays—SIX FEET.
Sometimes, it’s “I don’t agree—so I’m not coming”—SIX FEET.
Sometimes, it’s “let’s discuss it, and discuss it, and discuss it—
–let’s NOT do anything,
but we’ll talk about it real good”—SIX FEET.
Sometimes, it’s…I don’t like the way they do this or that–SIX FEET.
Sometimes, it’s something I heard from a “reliable source”
that has me upset—SIX FEET.
Sometimes, it’s I don’t need to go to church—a walk in the woods,
or a cup of tea and a good book is the same—SIX FEET.
SOMETIMES, it’s “I’m don’t want to be with all those HYPOCRITES…”
Sometimes, we move SIX FEET toward those who we like.
We’ll go six feet to be with those who we think are like us.
Other times, we’ll go a quick six feet
to get away from those we don’t like.
We’ll travel six feet away from those who are NOT like us.
Six feet: to go IN with them.
Six feet: to keep them OUT.
…We get lost like sheep—a little bit at a time! 
Because a sheep can see only six feet—
the sheep has NO ability whatsoever…to find its way back.
It can’t see that far.
And so the Bible asserts unambiguously:
Because WE, as sheep,
can’t find our way back to the shepherd—
–the Good Shepherd—Jesus—comes looking for YOU.
The Bible is packed with sheep/shepherd imagery.
And they all make the same point:
The shepherd looks and looks and looks and looks…
…until the Shepherd finds YOU!
Are you struggling to TRUST in a world fraught with peril?
–The Good Shepherd knows the danger,
and will come find you,
and care for you.
You will NOT be left wondering in every “darkest valley”
how God is with you—
–the Shepherd will seek you and find you
and care for you until
you FEEL that presence
and find your SOUL restored…
And, there’s one more thing:
Jesus says: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
I must bring them in also…”
Which presses on us a key question,
as relevant as today’s news,
What kind of community is formed by the shepherd’s work?
We can yearn to experience this radical TRUST in a world like ours.
We can struggle with always getting LOST six feet at a time.
But it’s clear here that the Good Shepherd goes out and finds us,
and brings us home—
–NOT JUST for our own sake,
but so we can be gathered in God’s beloved community…
…which is as vast as the oceans,
…and as diverse as a rainbow in the sky.
In any direction we travel SIX FEET—
–God is already there—for everyone.
The Good Shepherd will find us there—
–and bring along everybody else as well.
My friend Mark, two years ago was preaching on this text
and he referenced a horrific event that happened in Norway
a few years ago.
Anders Breivik was on trial for killing 77 people—
–mostly youth and children—
–in a rampage that devastated Norway
and drew new attention to Islamaphobia
and extremism in Europe.
Here’s what stood out to Mark during that time:
In a musical act of defiance,
Norwegians crowded public squares Thursday
to sing a gentle tune that confessed killer has argued
was “brainwashing children to embrace multiculturalism.”
Massive crowds—40,000 or more—
–gathered despite a steady rain, bearing roses.
Together they sang a Norwegian version of “My Rainbow Race,” 
by American folk singer Pete Seeger.
A sky full of stars, blue sea as far as you can see
An earth where flowers grow, can you wish for more?
Together shall we live, every sister, brother, you and me
Young children of the rainbow, a fertile land and seashore.
“In a world so fractured,
so intent on shutting you OUT if you are not like me
so lacking in trust,
–I could swear you could hear that song
being sung SIX FEET away
in every direction.
It sounded like the VOICE of the Good Shepherd.
The Shepherd who calls the flock together…against all odds…
…in JOY and TRUST—
–who BANISHES all fear and danger—
–Because this is the Shepherd…
…who lays down his life for ALL sheep.”
My prayer is that you may hear the voice of the Lord, singing,
every SIX FEET you roam.
May it be so…
 Was excited to see this analysis by Karl Jacobson in a paper on the Society of Biblical Literature webpage, entitled “Through the Pistol Smoke Dimly: Psalm 23 in Contemporary Film and Song.” This whole section is indebted to Jacobson’s interpretive work, and the idea and content for this sermon I first heard in the sermon “Six Feet” by the Rev. Mark Ramsey.
 Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002) p 18.
 Jacobson. Op. Cit.
 Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon “The Voice of the Shepherd” makes this point, and is cited in Feasting on the Word, Year B Volume 2.
 This section and the next is indebted to Mark Ramsey’s sermon cited above. He notes that this “six feet” idea originates with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, in a sermon preached to the Festival of Homiletics in Chicago many years ago.