Rev. Katherine Todd
John 14:1-7 and 10:10b
When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them: “I am now one hundred twenty years old. I am no longer able to get about, and the Lord has told me, ‘You shall not cross over this Jordan.’ The Lord your God himself will cross over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua also will cross over before you, as the Lord promised. The Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. The Lord will give them over to you and you shall deal with them in full accord with the command that I have given to you. Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”
Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their ancestors to give them; and you will put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
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.
John 14:1-3 and 10:10b
14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Have you ever gone out of your way to surprise someone, to honor and celebrate someone? The careful planning. The details and arrangements. The coordinating.
Can you recall a time when someone when out of their way to surprise you?
Some of us have these kinds of memories.
Others of us may not.
But I want to tell you that God has done just this for you.
You prepare a table before me, in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.
I’ve always read this line and immediately switched out of the sheep/shepherd analogy and back to real life. It is a beautiful image, and one I believe to be true, of God preparing a place for us, at a table of abundance, in the presence of our enemies.
But I hadn’t before thought of this image in relation to sheep.
The Shepherd, Phillip Keller, who wrote the book “A Shepherd’s Look at Psalm 23” tells that the word table is often used in reference to high country: the tablelands. The Spanish word “mesa” is often used to refer to such lands, and mesa literally means “table.” When one thinks of how a table is where we find our sustenance, nourishment, and fellowship, it is most appropriate to think of the highlands in this way as well. The tablelands are the place where the sheep find their nourishment, sustenance, and closeness with the shepherd during the hardest, hottest season.
And in the same way, the assertive shepherd will go ahead of the sheep, making several trips to the tableland, before even all the spring snow is melted, to determine the best route, the best camp, the best bedding grounds, the best pasturage, and the areas of danger. He or she goes before.
Carefully planning. Each detail.
The shepherd will likely take with him or her some salt and minerals, to place in certain areas, for the benefit of the sheep, and he/she will scout out poisonous plants, sometimes even going to lengths to eradicate them.
Phillip Keller tells of his own experience at his first range. When he bought it, he didn’t know the ranch was covered in blue and white cammas in the spring. Though gorgeous to the eye, the white cammas were poisonous to the sheep. Lambs were especially vulnerable to its poison and would stiffen up like a block of wood and die, if they ate even a few of the leaves. So Phillip and his children would go into the fields, every spring, on hands and knees and pull each camma from the ground. It was grueling work, but it was necessary for the sheep’s survival.
David was likely familiar with what it took to prepare the land for the sheep, as well.
He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
He anoints my head with oil; my cup overflows.
I don’t know about you, but there’s something about that going before, about that preparing everything in advance for me, that I find so loving. Our good shepherd will lead us along valley pathways, onto highlands, into lands flowing with milk & honey, good lands. And the whole journey, our Shepherd has taken before. The dangers, the temptations, the fears, and hope, and love…Christ has felt it all before. Christ has gone before us – through the valley of the shadow of death and to glory eternal. And Chist goes to prepare a table before us, preparing a place at the table of God, for us.
And Christ doesn’t just go ahead, and leave us to try to make our own way. In John, we hear Jesus speaking of returning, to get his followers, so they will be with him.
In both this image of the Shepherd, who goes to lengths to prepare the highlands for his/her sheep, and Christ, who has gone before us, both in life and in death,…to prepare a place for us…
I feel that deep and abiding love of God for me.
I feel comfort that the Shepherd will come back for the sheep, to lead them through the valleys and into the highlands – that promised land of nourishment and sustenance.
I feel comfort that Jesus promised to not leave us alone but to come back so as to lead us safely home.
I read the book “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo a number of years ago now. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. It is a father’s retelling of his own journey through extreme valleys in his life, culminating in his 4 year old son Colton’s major brush with death. In the time following his son’s recovery, his son would say things, casually and unexpectedly, over time, about experiences with Jesus and heaven and angels…from when he was near death. And the family was blown away by the Biblical truth, by the details and things their son could not have otherwise known, had he not indeed had such an experience with Jesus, while barely hanging on to life.
Whatever your feeling about the book or their story, I respect that.
Myself, I found it very compelling, overwhelming, profound, and simply beautiful.
One of these moments in which they got a glimpse into Colton’s experience, was when Colton and his Dad went to visit a man in the nursing home, who was very near death. Colton’s dad Todd is a part-time pastor like myself, so where his Dad went, he went also. Let me share a bit from this story:
Read p 117-119 of Heaven is For Real by Todd Burpo, starting at the last paragraph, “Colton peered out the window…” and reading through the end of the chapter.
I find it very comforting, that we are not alone.
That our Lord goes before us
And comes back for us
For every season of our journey.
From the Israelites crossing over the Jordan and entering the promised land… to now
God has promised to go before us AND to be with us.
Our Lord has prepared a table for us.
And Christ leads us to it
It is not merely a heavenly table, surrounded by God, in all God’s glory
I believe it is that,
But it is also a table, here and now, in the presence of our enemies…
In the midst of our trials and troubles… In the presence of those who hate, bad-mouth, and look down on… In the muck and mire of our real, day to day… In the misunderstandings and hurt feelings… In the systems we feel powerless to change… In the battles we fight over and over again… In the midst of all that would threaten our life and our happiness…
God prepares a table before us.
In this place,
Our cup overflows!
What a miracle of our Lord!
that our life and healing
protection and closeness
happiness and sustenance
would be given us
in the midst of such adversity
Let us pray.
Lord, Christ, we long to be in the tablelands. We long to know what it’s like that our cup overflows!!! We want to know your loving preparation and provision. We want to see your fingerprints all over every aspect of our lives!!!
We want to follow you into the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey.
that you have gone before. Thank you that you are getting everything ready even still.
that you have not left us on our own to find our way.
that you lead us still
Thank you for being the Lord of our life
– life to the full! –
both in this life,
Lord, do it. Make it so!!!
We love you.