Shall Not Want
Based on 1Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-12
Crises always shine a light on the character of a person or group. The larger the crisis the more people are exposed for what they truly believe; how they see the world in a time of want and need. Case-in-point, the young men in Kentucky who identified that there would be a need for hand sanitizer and went around buying up all they could (almost 18,000 containers) and then reselling each unit at a tremendous mark up. When they posted their “business” on-line, it didn’t take long for the authorities to show up and enlighten them that what they were doing was illegal both at a State and Federal level. It also didn’t take long for the internet community to condemn them as lacking morals and ethics. The explanation from one of the young men was basically that this is how capitalism works and he really didn’t see anything wrong in profiting from others – he felt he had just been more adept at seizing the moment! A sentiment that P.T. Barnum would have surely echoed. However, instead of getting quickly rich the men ended up being forced to give all the sanitizer away to a church and other charities.
On the flip side, there have also been many cases of humans being kind, compassionate, choosing others over self – the kind of thing that we are taught to model as we follow Jesus. Things like giving 15 dozen eggs to MESA to help out our neighbors in need; possibly opening the Main Street church as a place to use the internet for neighbors without a high-speed connection; keeping MESA open through staff and volunteers so that increasing numbers of those in need can find some relief. Rev. Hamilton speaks about these acts as acts of gratitude – being thankful for want we already have. In fact, he says, gratitude is learning to want what you already have. It is what our scriptures are talking about to us today about what we want. From God’s wanting the youngest and smallest because of the person he was inside, to Jesus bringing light into a dark world, and our beloved Psalm 23 which speaks to us about trusting the LORD (our shepherd) so that we will not be in want. Let us spend a moment with our LORD and shepherd in prayer before we go any deeper…
The Apostle Paul and the story of Jesus and the blind man from the Gospel of John speak to us about wanting to be in the light of Jesus so that we can be found to be “good and right and true” (to quote Paul). Notice in the story of the blind man and Jesus that the blind man does not request to be healed – he is not wanting anything from Jesus. Our Lord cures his blindness to bring him into the light of God. The healing light of God which flows from Jesus, illuminates how the Temple leaders want to condemn Jesus as a sinner, yet they cannot because in their belief model sinners can’t perform miracles (aka signs). When the man finally meets up with Jesus (see verse 35 and beyond) Jesus tells the formerly blind man that He had come to bring sight to the blind and illuminate the blindness of those whose eyes work normally.
The prophet Samuel is grieving because King Saul has lost favor with the LORD. God has no more time for Saul and wants Samuel to move forward to anoint a new king from the sons of Jesse who live in Bethlehem. Samuel wants to choose the eldest son of Jesse but God is looking for traits other than size and strength (he has had those in Saul). Seven of eight brothers are paraded before Samuel and none of them is the one that God wants to anoint as the new king. Samuel asks if there are any other sons and Jesse sends for David who is out herding sheep. God wants a shepherd to become the next king of Israel and so anoints what in human terms seems to be wanting – a ruddy and handsome child with beautiful eyes.
The 23rd Psalm is one that almost every believer knows by heart. Though we know it like we know the Lord’s Prayer, we don’t often spend time with the words – listening to what they really say. I point you to the opening verse…say it SLOWLY to yourself right now, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want….” How do you understand that final word “want”? Does it mean to you to be content with how things are and to not want anything but what God has already provided you? Maybe it means that God will provide everything that you want and you can go ahead and cancel your Amazon Prime membership? Perhaps it means that you can stop wanting (aka coveting) what others have that you do not. Possibly it means something else altogether in your mind?
Wanting (known biblically as coveting) it is probably our biggest and most common sin against God and one another. A friend of mine said to me, when I was about to move to the greater Washington, D.C. area twenty-eight years ago, that I needed to understand two things about people in that part of the world. First, he said, it is a place where everyone wants to be first; Second, he continued, it is a place where everyone wants to be someone else! I have found his words to be true not only of greater Washington, D.C., but to be true of our society in the U.S. in general. There are whole industries whose sole purpose is to market to us things we don’t need and to constantly drive us to compare our lives to others so that we desire to acquire what we think they have.
The 10th Commandment (see Deuteronomy 5) has God saying, “…Neither shall you covet (want) your neighbor’s wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor….” Focus on that last part…neither shall you desire (want) ANYTHING that belongs to your neighbor! Seems to be a pretty all-encompassing Commandment, isn’t it?! Yet, even though believers have had this Commandment for 3000+ years we have ignored it (along with most all of the other Commandments). We are like the young men from Kentucky who decided to corner the market in hand sanitizer. We want to make a lot of money so that we can buy all the stuff we want. Why? Is it because we believe that once we get all the stuff we want that we will be satisfied? Experience shows us that the idol of wanting is never satisfied, because there is always something more to want. Many people spend their lives wanting a better partner or spouse, bigger house, nicer car, more fulfilling job with more pay, more toys in the garage – only to realize that “stuff” never fills the God-sized hole inside us.
God’s call on our lives is both all encompassing and at the same time freeing. God’s call for us is to follow the good shepherd, the one who keeps us from want, who brings us to fertile pastures and then helps us to appreciate what we have by lying down so we don’t make ourselves ill from eating too much. The shepherd who leads us beside still waters wants us to erase our thirst in safety and peace. God wants us to be in a place where we are peaceful and our wounded souls are healed. God directs our journey towards righteousness because God loves us so much that God wants us to be able to live fully into our God image. We will want for nothing even in the darkest times, because God leads us through them and protects us with rod and staff. No matter what is happening in our lives, both individual and corporate, God is with us making certain that we have goodness and mercy for all time – and that we are always dwelling with God.
It is why Paul writes about wanting us to be children of light, “…for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord….” This is what we should be wanting…that which we already have. The prophet Micah has already told us what is pleasing to the LORD “to seek justice and to love kindness and mercy and to walk humbly with your God”. God wants us to get off the gerbil wheel of worldly wisdom and stop worshipping at the foot of the idol of wealth, power and success. To accomplish that, let us want to do what the Apostle Paul writes in the opening verses of Chapter five of Ephesians, “…Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God….” God says to us all…love me enough to follow me as your shepherd and you shall not want. What do you say in response to God? Amen and amen!