The Lord is My Shepherd
At the beginning of last week, I thought I was going to preach on the Revelation passage for today, entitling the sermon A Glimpse of Heaven. But by the time I was ready to write I felt by the Lord to go a different direction. So, my sermon for today is “The Lord Is My Shepherd”. I have been given a new slant on shepherd. We usually think of a gruff, rugged male who shepherds sheep. But as I was reading this psalm, I got thinking about the women in my life who have been a shepherd to me.
The first one is my grandmother, Cora Mae Hess. My parents divorced when I was 7 years old. Afterwards I spent most weekends and much of the summer at my grandmother’s home in Canfield, Ohio. Each night as she tucked me in bed, she would read to me a story from the Bible. It was there that I first heard of Jesus. Cora Mae introduced me to him. She was a very loving person and also guided me very carefully. Also, she loved history and told me of the people and events of World War II from General Mitchell to Adolph Hitler. In the process she gave me a love of Jesus and of history that are powerful forces in my life even today.
She lived with my grandfather Sam who gambled and drank a lot. She divorced him to keep the family from financial ruin. He had a bedroom upstairs and she had one downstairs. For alimony she had him use his carpenter skills to remodel an old inn into a large family home.
She was a Christian who was a Lutheran; but she attended the First Christian Church because it was down the street from her home. I had not been baptized as an infant because my father got into an argument with the pastor. So, she asked the pastor of the church to baptize me. He said the First Christian Church did not baptize people until they could make a profession of faith in Jesus, and I appeared too young to make that commitment. She said; “Ask him. He knows Jesus and wants to follow him.” The pastor finally asked me some questions. I don’t remember what they were, but the next Sunday I was baptized. I had no idea what God was doing that day and have been spending a lifetime coming to some discoveries about the awesome gift of baptism.
While Cora Mae and Sam were divorced, when he got incurable cancer, she ministered to him until the day he died and provided the cost of his funeral.
One day she gave me a check book with both our names that contained $1,000. She instructed me to take this money when she died to help pay for my college tuition. This money later paid for my first semester of college.
A second way that God provided a human shepherd for me was my mother, Betty. When my father abandoned us, she got a job as a bartender to take care of our family needs. My other grandmother, Sophie, provided a place for us to stay in her home. At night when my mother would put me to bed, she would take out a Superman comic book and we would read. She was Lois Lane, and I was Superman. That technique made me a good reader. She also warned me about my strong voice by saying; “Never tell a secret, the whole world will hear you.”
Through Cora Mae and my mother there was never any question about whether I would go to college. All my schooling and grades I sought were in preparation of going.
After high school I had decided, I was going to work a year and then go to college. But when I graduated our country was going through a recession and I could not find a full-time job. The week before Youngstown University was registering students for the Fall semester, she got me off the sofa and took me to meet with the Dean of the school to start. I wonder if I would have ever got off that sofa if she hadn’t said, “Let’s go.”
From both these women I knew I was loved, and that people were making sacrifices to take care of me and give me a shot at success. They gave me as much freedom as possible, but if I started messing up, they knew how to jerk my chain.
In the middle of college my parents were going through crises. My stepdad had become an active alcoholic, and my mother had what was called a nervous break-down. In the meantime I discovered through a fraternity: wine, women, and song. I knew I would graduate from college someday. I even knew God was calling me to be a pastor.
Then I met Ann Farnum on a blind date. We quickly fell in love with each other. Her presence in my life gave me the drive to get on with my education, get married to her, and become a pastor.
Our early years were difficult in getting to the goal of getting married and becoming a parish pastor. But she was the Lord’s shepherd who got me off the floor and got on with my education.
She has been a shepherd and my partner for over 50 years. Here are two ways that she got firm with me and got me moving on when I was becalmed by life. I was serving a church near Cleveland but knew soon I needed to be leaving, and since my parents lived in Ohio, and hers moved to Florida it seemed like we should be looking at churches in North Carolina. One day while I was complaining Ann said to me, “I don’t want to hear another word from you until you do something.” That got me off the sofa and set things in motion that eventually led to my being called to serve a church in Charlotte, NC.
The next time she was my shepherd was after both of our children became teens. One day she said to me, “I am tired of raising three children.” I responded, “We are raising two children.” “You are raising two children; I am raising three. You get help working through whatever issues you have, or I am leaving you.” I immediately got into counselling and I started to resolve many of the issues from my childhood, and our life at home got a whole lot better.
I could list other females who have been shepherds in my life. I have only mentioned three this Mother’s Day. But they are mentioned to give God thanks for the female shepherds you have sent into my life. How about you? Who are the female shepherds in your life who have made the difference?
Thanks be to God who through grace provides us with shepherds, and often they are women. Amen.