Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Lord (Not Wal-Mart) Is My Shepherd!

I'm not anti-Capitalism, but am becoming more anti-Consumerism. Here's the sermon, comments not only welcome, but fervently desired.

Revelation 7:9-17

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, "Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.

They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." Jesus answered, "I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one."

Psalm 23:1-6

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

This is the Word of the Lord.

It happens every time you turn on the television, or listen to the radio, or open a newspaper or magazine, or check your email, or look at something on the internet, drive or walk down the street, or get placed on hold while calling a company. It’s called “advertising.” It may be as complex as a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, or as simple as a familiar logo on the side of a building. From almost the moment we wake up every morning, to the time we fall asleep at night, we are being sold.

The basis for successful advertising is simply to make you believe that you need a given product or service. When you believe that you need it, you are unsatisfied until that need is fulfilled by purchasing that product or service. That’s why the same old things are suddenly “new and improved,” why this model year car has a nicer sound system than last year’s model, why the “next generation” cell phone has more things you can do on it (besides make phone calls) than the last-generation cell phone.

According to marketing analysts, Americans see some 5,000 advertisements every day. As those numbers have risen, the need for marketing which rises above the noise and catches your attention has grown as well. In an article titled “Jesus is a Pair of Jeans,” Jean Kilbourne writes that, while advertisers have long promised us a better relationship via a product: buy this and you will be loved, they’ve more recently gone beyond that to promise us a relationship with the product itself: buy this and it will love you. The product is not so much the means to an end, as the end itself.

She says, “We are surrounded by hundreds, thousands of messages every day that link our deepest emotions to products, that objectify people and trivialize our most heartfelt moments and relationships. Every emotion is used to sell us something. Our wish to protect our children is leveraged to make us buy an expensive car. A long marriage simply provides the occasion for a diamond necklace. A painful reunion between a father and his estranged daughter is dramatized to sell us a phone system. Everything in the world – nature, animals, people – is just so much stuff to be consumed or to be used to sell us something.”

Kilbourne continues, “The problem with advertising isn’t that it creates artificial needs, but that it exploits our very real and human desires. Advertising promotes a bankrupt concept of relationship. Most of us yearn for committed relationships that will last. We are not stupid: we know that buying a certain brand of cereal won’t bring us one inch closer to that goal.
But we are surrounded by advertising that yokes our needs with products and promises us that things will deliver what in fact they never can. In the world of advertising, lovers are things and things are lovers.”

The Twenty-Third Psalm is a wonderful source of comfort. Its familiar words accompany most funerals, and remind us of God’s love, providence, and protection. And when viewed in the context of our noisy, consumer-driven world, they serve as a radical call to return our hearts to the One who can, and does, truly fill our needs!

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

To be sure, this first verse isn’t at all about never desiring stuff, but about having our needs – our real needs – met. In this verse, and in the one and a half that follow, our physical needs – food, water, peace and joy and restoration abound. When we walk with God, we walk in right paths. Even when our way leads through danger, uncertainty, loss and hardship, God is with us, taking us through. Even when we are surrounded by enemies – outside as well as inside ourselves – God is with us. When God is our Shepherd, we lack nothing.

Instead of being enslaved by what Alan Greenspan called “infectious greed,” where we have to have the next, the newest, the fastest, the shiniest, the best – In the twenty-Third Psalm, God reminds us that life is not a series of new-and-improved possessions, but a gift.

As I was writing this sermon, I was keeping an eye on the weather: in Mississippi, ten people died as a result of a tornado. Here in Alabama, there were reports of injuries near Huntsville and property damage in Parrish and Cullman County. It was, for me, a stark reminder that, even as I am learning to look in a new way at the Twenty-Third Psalm, to merely say that “our life is a gift, we have everything we need thanks to God,” and close in prayer, is to ignore the questions that must be asked when we see pain and loss from natural disasters – whether they be tornados, or storms like Hurricane Katrina, or earthquakes like the ones who have so recently hit Haiti, Chile, and China, or famines which sweep across Africa with deadly regularity.

What do we who have enough, and more than enough, say to those who are hurting? How are we to respond?

As Clinton McCann of Eden Seminary in St. Louis observes, when we view life as a gift and not as something we earn or deserve, the appropriate response is infectious gratitude – a gratitude that sets us free to share, quite literally, for God's sake – to share our food, our drink, and our sources of security with those who are hurting, those who are dying, those who are forgotten, those who are lost – whether they be across the ocean or right next door. We are set free to share even with the enemies who are with us at the table God prepares!

The objects we own, and the objects we want, are not the source and focus of relationships: people are. Relationships are hard, messy, sometimes painful, usually costly in some way… and they are vital, both to our health as human beings, and to our spiritual health as children of God, as sheep of the Shepherd.

The writer of Revelation declares, “…the Lamb… will be their shepherd.” Jesus declares in our Gospel reading, “My sheep hear my voice.” The challenge for we who are God’s sheep is ongoing – to tune out the noise and the sales pitches, step away from the TV, turn down the radio, close the Web browser, and listen for the Shepherd’s voice.


  1. This is so right-on. I get freaked out sometimes about money and things- which is way stupid. I realize that when my mind is worring about my money- it isn't really trusting in God. thanks for the word

  2. Neither WalMart nor Government, nor any other power shall be able to separate us from the love of God.