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"I Shall Fear No Evil"  May 7, 2006
St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Arroyo Grande, CA
This sermon talks about how our Good Shepard calls us into the dark places of life to learn that we can fear not, and to help others do the same.  And it invites you to join me in my mission to Liberia.  Also based on:
The lectionary readings for the fourth Sunday in Easter, Year B
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil. Amen

The Good Shepard.  We have heard this term often, and it is comforting isnít it. A Shepard who will look after us, who will keep us from harm, who will lay down his life for us.  We are his sheep. 

If youíve ever been around sheep, or tried to work with sheep, now Iím talking literal sheep with wool, you canít help but notice how stupid they are.  Sheep would follow the leader among them, the lead sheep, right over a cliff.  If a sheep is attacked by a dog, it will just roll over and give up.  The Shepard has a lot to deal with.  Not only does the Shepard save the sheep from attack, the Shepard has to save the sheep from themselves. 

Jesus calls us his sheep.  Jesus knows how weak and fallible we are, but Jesus does not loose patience with us and abandon us.  Jesus is the Good Shepard who stays with us, who loves us despite our weaknesses, who cares for us, who lays down his life for us. 

Jesus says ďI know my own, and my own know me.Ē  Even in the dark times of our life, our Shepard is there, and he isnít invisible.  We know him, and if we look around with our hearts we can see him. 

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil.
That is Jesusí promise to us, he is the fulfillment of this scripture, he will take away our fear, and teach us how to walk in love.

The last time we read Psalm 23 on Sunday morning was in October.  I had just arrived in Mississippi to volunteer with the Red Cross for a month.  I had seen Katrinaís ground zero, not New Orleans, but Mississippi, 75 miles of coastline, homes, businesses, communities wiped away.  I was worshiping in a tent set up next to a ruined Episcopal Church.  And together, a congregation of survivors and volunteers, we read Psalm 23.  And all of a sudden I had a new image for the ďvalley of the shadow of deathĒ.  It was driving along what was left of interstate 90 along the coast.  And then we got to the ďI shall fear no evilĒ part.  I had a mysterious sense of peace, which I could not understand. 

It is that promise that Jesus gives us to be our Shepard.  As sheep it is not our job to make sense of death and destruction.  But as we walk through it, our Shepard is with us, turning despair to hope, suffering to joy.

I ended up going back to Mississippi twice more, once just last month, to stay at Camp Coast Care, the Lutheran/Episcopal Disaster Response camp.  And I learned through my experiences there, that God is all over place in the valley of the shadow of death.  There are volunteers from all over the country and even the world, there is laughter, hugs, a hot meal, a shoulder to cry on, a warm hand reaching out to help.  After the hurricane people all over this country wondered how a loving God could rule over a world like this.  But if you go there, you wonít have to wonder, you will see God. 

We fear the places in this world were there is pain and suffering, whether they are just down the street, or across an ocean.  We can only think of wars and famines, genocides and natural disasters so much before we have to distance ourselves, to keep the despair from consuming us.  But Jesus invites us to these places of suffering, to the valley of the shadow of death itself, to learn that we can fear not.  That our Good Shepard is there also.  

In the gospel reading Jesus says that there are sheep of a different fold, and that we will all be one flock.  We are one, not just with Christians, but with all people around the world.  And if we get involved, not just thinking about, but really get involved with the suffering and despair of the world, we will see our oneness with people so different from us, and we will see Jesus.

I am going to be a missionary for the Episcopal Church.  I leave in July to go to Liberia for a year.  There is an Episcopal University there that has an agriculture program, and I will be assisting them with row crops and livestock. 

When people hear that I am going to be a missionary in Africa, I can see that they are impressed, and then they immediately classify me in their minds as one of those people.  Those helping people, those brave people, who have it all together.  And they say to themselves, I am not like her. 

If you thought any of those things youíre wrong.  I am a wandering sheep just like you.  I forget to pray, I doubt God, I go through periods of darkness.  If you would have asked me, even a year ago if I could be a missionary in Africa, or even if I could stand here and give a sermon, I would have said absolutely and categorically NO on every level, never, never, absolutely not.  I opened my heart to the possibility of what God might be calling me to do.  And grumbling, dragging my feet, and even shaking my fist at God, I started down a new path.  A path that since I quit my jobs last fall has taken me to Mississippi, to El Salvador, to a missionary training, to preach at other churches in our county, and now to you. 

I have become passionate about mission work, because I have seen how it has changed my life, how it has opened my world to include so much more than I could ever imagine, more love, more joy, more peace.

I donít go to Liberia thinking it will be easy, but I know it will be good.  Liberia is a place where there has been much suffering.  Their Civil War, which ended in 2003, claimed 250,000 lives, more than 10% of their population.  80% of people live in poverty, over 70% unemployment.  And I will be able to do nothing about all of that.  I go to experience their lives, to experience the way they see God and the world, to witness their joy and be changed by it. 

And I want to take you with me.  There are three parties who are equally important in mission work: the missionary, the community she goes to serve, and the community that sends her.  All three are united and enter into the experience of seeking to know the other, to share suffering and joy, and to be strengthened by the presence of each other in our journey with Christ.
So I am asking to be your missionary, a missionary of St. Barnabas, Arroyo Grande.  To share your love with the people I go to serve, and to share their love with you. 

You can sponsor me either financially or with prayer.  And I will keep in touch with you by email and newsletter articles, sharing my experience with you, the joy and the sorrow, the struggle and peace.  And I know that I will be strengthened by your prayers, and your presence with me. 

I have two sign up sheets in the back.  Thatís the only way Iíll have your information to be able to keep in touch, so please put your name down.  One is for prayer sponsorship, and the other is financial sponsorship.  The way Iíve organized financial sponsorship is people are sponsoring a specific day of the year.  It costs $30 a day to sponsor my mission.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil, for you are with me.

I hope that you will join me on this journey, that you will open yourselves to it, and be changed by it.