“The God Who Pursues”

“The God Who Pursues”

Worship for the Weekend of September 6, 2020

The weekly worship video of Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church

Posted by Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church on Sunday, September 6, 2020

Pentecost 14 (NL2) John B. Valentine
Psalm 23 – Week #4 September 6, 2020

“THE GOD WHO PURSUES”

Welcome back ... fellow sojourners!

Welcome back to the final leg of our four-week-walk through the 23rd Psalm!

I know that at least two of you told me ... when we started this journey back in the middle of August ... that you couldn’t imagine HOW we could actually spend four whole sermons talking about just six verses from the Bible.

But I trust that the fact that we’ve made it thus far without any of you openly rebelling is a witness to just “why” this psalm ... this ancient poem ... the ancient song ... has been SO beloved by the People of God for oh so many years.

● The first stanza ... the couple of verses were this wonderful affirmation that our God is the One who provides for our every need ....

● The second stanza was about how God is the One who protects us from those who would do us wrong ...

● The third stanza was this beautiful assurance that God is the One who prepares a feast for us ... and prepares us for the feast ...

And this week ... we’ve got yet another addition to our list ... though I suspect it’s a rather unexpected addition ...

● The God who PROVIDES ...
● The God who PROTECTS ...
● The God who PREPARES ... and
● The God who .......

Actually ... I’m not going to tell you just yet.

+ + + + +

You see ... the particular stanza of the Shepherd’s song that we’re going to be considering is the one that reads:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Or ... as another familiar translation puts it:

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

And I can’t help but guess that at least some of your ears pricked up at the word ... the phrase .... which is different between those two translations.

One reads “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long” ....

While the other reads “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”.

Now ... truthfully ... there’s been a whole lot of ink shed over the past half-century as to just HOW that verse should be read ...

Because the actual Hebrew phrase of the text is ambiguous ... and really more akin to “the length of days”.

● So one camp has insisted that it means “the length of MY days” ...

● While the other camp has demanded it be read “the length of ALL days”.

And it’s been an academic bicker-fest of the first order ... and ... at least to my ears ... a big waste of time ...

Because if God is ... in fact ... the Author and Creator of days in the first place ... as we confess God to be ... don’t MY days and ALL Days both get subsumed in the broader set “God’s Days” anyway???

After all ... apart from God ... there actually aren’t any days in the first place!

+ + + + +

But that’s actually NOT the part of this final stanza that I want to draw your attention to ... because there’s another quirk within these last lines of this song that for the most part gets glossed over ....

And it has to do with how “goodness and mercy follow me all this length of days”.

You see ...

When I think of “goodness and mercy following me” ... I always kind of imagined it like the shepherd having these two affable buddies ... “Goodness” and “Mercy” ... who just sort of tag along everywhere we go.

If you’re looking for an image:

● Think Harry Potter ... how Crabbe and Goyle also seem to follow along in Malfoy’s wake ... or

● Think Winnie the Pooh ... how timid Piglet and bouncy Tigger always seem to be not too far from Pooh .... or

● Sancho Panza to Don Quixote ... or

● Robin to Batman ... or

● The Supremes to Diana Ross.

Any time those leading figures show up ... the sidekicks ... the backup singers ... are never far behind ...

And similarly ... I always assumed ... “Goodness” and “Mercy” were just these two sidekicks of the Good Shepherd ... just there to make our lives in faith a little bit richer.

+ + + + +

But ... for some reason or other ... one day I got to thinking about that word “following” ...

So I looked it up in one of those big fat theology books that we used to have to buy while at seminary ... “the Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament”.

And I happened to notice that here in Psalm 23 ... the word gets translated “follow” ... but almost every other time it ‘s used in the Bible ... it gets translated “pursue”.

Remember back to the story of Exodus that we look at earlier this summer ...

We wouldn’t think of saying that Pharaoh’s chariots “followed” the children of God out of Egypt as they headed toward the Red Sea ... we say that they “pursued” them!

Any more that we would say that a lioness simply “follows” her prey ... or that an army simply “follows” its enemy.

Point being ... “Goodness” and “Mercy” aren’t out there just to follow us ... they’re out there to get us ... to catch us ... to catch up to us ... to claim us as their own!

“Goodness” and “Mercy” aren’t two lovable Golden Retrievers that just kind of follow along behind the Good Shepherd to make you feel comfy ...

They’re a couple of well-trained Australian Sheepdogs whose job it is to help the Shepherd make sure that no sheep ever gets lost ... and ... if they need to ... they can even be a little bit aggressive about it!

And so the fourth and final word on our list ... along with “Provides”, “Protects” and “Prepares” ... is the word “Pursues”.

+ + + + +

I actually got to thinking about this pursuit of “Goodness” and “Mercy” stuff the other day ...

Whiles preparing for a graveside service for Will Tissue up at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery near Davis.

You see ... Will was one of those guys ... along with Pastor Jack Davies and Rollie Otto ... who was forever trying to stir up another church fishing trip ...

Wherein we’d get a dozen or more members of the congregation to head out on a chartered fishing boat when salmon season was nigh.

Now my experience on those fishing trips was pretty instructive ...

There were two kinds of people on those boats ...

● The people who were really serious about fishing ... and
● Those who were just out for a day on the water.

● Will was definitely numbered among the former ....
● And I was definitely numbered among the latter.

I don’t actually get it ... I don’t know why ...

Because ... to my observation ... salmon fishing in the waters out past the Golden Gate basically consists of throwing your baited hook over the side of the boat along with the other twenty people on the boat when the charter captain tells you to ... and hoping that you get lucky and snag a fish as the boat slowly motors along ...

But Will would constantly be monkeying with his rod and reel ... adjusting this ... changing that ... pursuing his prize ...

Whereas ... once my bait went over the side ... I had no clue what to do beyond just waiting.

But on the three or four occasions that I went out with that group ...

● Will inevitably caught his allotment ... and
● The boat inevitably limited out ... and
● I inevitably caught ... nothing.

Point being ... when “Goodness” and “Mercy” are out to get you ... they look a whole lot more like Will Tissue with a fishing rod in his hand than they are like me with a fishing rod in mine ... actively working to catch what it is that they’re after.

+ + + + +

Now I don’t want ... not even a for a minute ... to give you the impression that I believe that the Good Shepherd ... the Fisher of Men ... and his buddies “Goodness” and “Mercy” finally caught up with Will ... finally “caught” Will as it were ... in the waning days of his life.

No ... “Goodness” and “Mercy” and the Good Shepherd had been in the picture of Will’s life for many many years ...

And I do believe that ... late last month ... as the breath of life slipped out of his body ...

That “goodness” and “mercy” were there ... just waiting to haul him aboard ... saying “got it” ... “got you” ... “GOTCHA!”

And when they had caught him up ... to whisper in his ear ... “and now ... Will ... you will dwell in the house of the Lord ... for the length of God’s days.”

And THAT ... my friends ... is a promise that belongs not just to Will Tissue ...

It’s a promise that belongs to you!

“The God Who Pursues” was preached by Pastor John Valentine in the context of our weekly worship video for the weekend of September 6, 2020.  It represents the fourth and final installment of our walk through Psalm 23.