Rev. Chris Mereschuk
May 7, 2017
If you’re anything like me – – and I pray for your sake that you’re not! – – you’re often plagued by an “Unholy Trinity of Enough:”
Do I have enough?
Am I doing enough?
Am I enough?
I think many people worry about if something is “enough.” Of course there’s the very real anxiety about enough when it comes to things like food, shelter, water, and healthcare. We need enough of those things to survive, and many people in this country and throughout the world do not have enough on a daily basis, and many more risk losing the bare minimum that they have in order to have enough.
Aside from that, what does it mean to have enough, do enough, or be enough? Will we ever be satisfied and feel that something is enough? How can we quench this seemingly endless cycle of longing and let down when nothing seems to be enough?
Beyond the worry about having enough to survive, the problem of these other kinds of “enough” — having, doing, being – – produces an existential anxiety that can bring about feelings of fear, guilt, shame, inadequacy, and sometimes resentment. When we feel that we don’t have enough of something and we desperately want more, we might retract ourselves, hoard and covet, and isolate under the threat of scarcity. When we feel we are not doing enough, we might respond by over-functioning and burning out, or conversely collapsing under the weight of all there is to do and wind up doing nothing. When we feel that we are not enough – – good enough, strong enough, smart enough, skilled enough, loving or loved enough, worthy enough – – we might succumb to despair and self-harm.
Do I have enough?
Am I doing enough?
Am I enough?
It is perhaps that third anxiety about “enough” that is the most emotionally and spiritually damaging. And so it is most essential to address that first. Alleviating the destructive feeling of not being enough directly lifts a person’s fear of not having enough or doing enough. And I have come to believe that this particular anxiety does not seem to be calmed by anything a person can do as an individual actor relying on themselves. It is only quelled by a release of control and a trust that God’s presence and love is enough.
What would it be like if we believed we had enough? Did enough? Were enough?
What if we thoroughly believed that God will provide? And how do we get to that place?
We need to be led by the shepherd.
If a person knows no other Judeo-Christian scripture, they at least having a passing familiarity with Psalm 23. It’s the default prayer at every bedside and graveside. Committed to memory by generations of faithful people, the assurance of God’s presence and protection brings comfort and calm in the most trying and tumultuous times of a person’s life. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
If you could travel through time and hold any job of your choosing, I’m willing to bet that you wouldn’t pick being a shepherd in Iron Age Palestine. Long hours in the field through all weather. Moving the flock from one pasture to the next. Warding off wild predators and poachers. Bedding down on the hard ground surrounded by the sounds and smells of dozens of sheep. Seems like an odd occupation to ascribe to the Creator of all that is and all that ever will be, but there we have it: “The Lord is my shepherd…”
Contrast this with the image of God as a mighty royal sovereign – – bedecked in the finest robes, dining on abundant delicacies, commanding obedience and loyalty. Now that sounds like a God to be worshipped by their subjects and feared by their enemies! But a shepherd? Not quite the mighty-warrior-cosmic-ruler God that would bring victory in battle.
But how comforting is that image of a mighty king God when you feel alone? When you’re in despair? When you feel lost and aimless? In those times, do you want a royal God to command, or do you want a Shepherd God to protect, accompany, and guide?
The image of God we read in Psalm 23 marks the emergence of a new way to relate to God – – not just over and above you, but right there with you – – throughout your life and all that life brings. This is a very personal and intimate God who takes notice and takes action in your daily life. The Shepherd God is there in the field with you. The Shepherd God gets down in the mud with you, is drenched by the same rain and baked in the same hot sun with you. The Shepherd God faces the same threats and dangers as you, and seeks out the same nourishment and sustenance as you – – all the while leading you to it and leading you through it, restoring your soul.
The Shepherd God goes further, caring and providing, honoring and even serving. God sets a table for you in the presence of enemies – – with all dangers and threats and critics and accusers and aggressors around you, a table is set where you are the honored guest.
God anoints your head with oil. Shepherds – – in ancient times and today – – would pour oils on the nose and head of their sheep to keep away bugs and parasites. The oils acted as a salve for cuts and scrapes from briars and fences. Sheep will butt their heads against each other to display dominance, often causing injury. But a head made slippery with anointing oil glances off the other head, decreasing impact and risk. God the Shepherd has anointed you to protect you.
The functional protection and care of anointing led to symbolic anointing. Like baptism, anointing with oils was and is a sign that a person is blessed, loved, and chosen by God for something special. Prophets were commissioned and leaders ordained through anointing. Hosts would honor dignified guests at their meals by anointing them.
And this is what God has done and is doing for you. God has invited you to the table, set the table for you, and honors you with anointing. God fills your cup, and your cup overflows. Not only does God give us enough, but so much that it spills over – – we can’t contain it. God’s loved is in abundance, we have more than enough and we are more than enough.
That all sounds pretty wonderful. Pretty much like heaven. All this is ours – – is yours – – through God the Shepherd.
But here’s the thing: If we want God to be our shepherd, then we need to be part of the flock. And sometimes we don’t want to do that. We’d rather be a flock of one, convinced that we alone can lead ourselves to green pastures and refreshing streams, that we can get through the most treacherous valleys on our own. We set our own table, anoint our own head, fill our own cup, and our cup overflows with despair.
Encouraging someone to fully trust that God will provide and that they will have enough is asking that person to do a very scary thing. They are being asked to give up control. Sometimes they are being asked to give up ambition or prestige. They are also being asked to give up familiar feelings that – – while maybe damaging and self-defeating – – have become part of their identity and bring an odd sense of comfort and familiarity.
Friends, you likely know by now that preachers pretty much always are preaching to themselves. My sermon today is a perfect example of that. Oh, how I would love to stand up here and tell you that I have turned over all of my care to God, that every hour of every day I can trust in the promise of God’s presence and love without question, and that I am free from want!
The Lord is my shepherd;
But I want to have control over everything in my life, direct everything, get it on my own do it on my own. I don’t want to follow. I want to lead!
I shall not want.
But I still want.
I want more money and more stuff. I want to do more for the people I love and the things I care about. I want to be more, be better, be the best. It is not enough; I am not enough. I want!
And I want to be free from this.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. God is with me, I am with God, God’s love is enough, God loves me enough, I am enough. I want to believe this – – or at least believe it more fully and consistently. Not only believe this, but live this. I want to trust this and rest in this promise. The path to get there is laid out in Psalm 23, and God is our guide.
How many times have you heard or recited the 23rd Psalm? Too many times to count, probably. I think many people – – myself included – – have grown to be dismissive of this Psalm because it’s so well-worn. But it’s well-worn for good reason. It’s the Psalm recited in times of need for a reason. The psalmist is sharing a promise that we need to hear anew. Maybe daily and in different ways and words.
Not long ago I heard it sung – – the heart of the psalm at least – – in the words of one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands, and it finally began to hit me. I don’t mind telling you it was at the end of a long and difficult work day as I was driving back home one night. I was hurting. I felt like I wasn’t enough. I hit play on the song “Sweet Nucleus” by Lungfish, and the poet sang my prayer for me:
“Oh Lord, if you are here we shall not fear. We shall move through and stay near to you. Oh Lord, if you are everywhere we shall not despair.”
The words were different, but the message of Psalm 23 came through: God is here. God will guide. God’s love is abundant. God loves you. You are enough. And in that moment, I felt simultaneously held and released.
Lord, if you are here we shall not fear. The Lord is my Shepherd. We shall move through and stay near to you. God leads me to still waters and restores my soul. Oh Lord, if you are everywhere we shall not despair. Even though I am scared, you are there with me. And exhale.
See, I wanted to hold on to control. My mind spun with all of the things I could do to try to be more, to be enough. The fear, the shame that I wasn’t enough dogged me throughout the day and was certain to keep me up through the night.
But then through those words, God led me through the valley. God dropped a bit of anointing oil on me – – maybe dumped a bucket. And man did that feel good. That moment felt good and right. My soul was restored, and I caught a glimpse of what it might be like to live my whole life like that. Green pastures. Still waters. Overflowing cup. Enough.
Every now and then I can catch up with the rest of the flock. But then I get some bugs swarming around, or I get a scrape on the brambles, or I butt heads with another sheep and I stray off. But God takes notice. Calls me back by name. Anoints my head with oil. Fills my cup. Tells me I’m enough. And when it all happens again the next week or even the next day, God calls me back again. That’s just what the Shepherd does. And God calls you back as well – – again and again and again. That is the promise of God the Shepherd.
May we all trust in this promise and discover what it means for our lives, see how it can and will transform our lives. May you come to be able to know, to proclaim, and believe this promise. And through the enduring presence and liberating love of God, may you find comfort and rest, your soul restored, and may you pray it until you believe it:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want
I have enough.
I have done enough.
I am enough.