Highway 87, at least as I knew it, ran north and south from Lubbock to San Angelo Texas. It look just like you would picture it. Dusty dirty 2 lane road. Borders on both sides by ranch land not very busy, with the occasional tumbleweed bouncing across the road.
It was here that one of the great West Texas urban legends takes place. Here there was a rancher with a small plot of land and a limited number of animals. He had big dreams of expansion as far as the eye could see, and in the desert that was pretty far. Then a drought hit. The first major drought since he took over the ranch was upon him. He watched as the reservoir dried up. He watched as the plants died. He watched as his well dried up. Years passed.
He was running out of time. He was running out of options. He was running out of hope.
He drained his limited resources having water tanked in from another ranch and feed for the cattle and food for himself was purchased hoping to make it through the drought. He didn’t. His funds ran out.
Now he really was out of time, out of options, out of hope.
His animals started to die off. He, himself started to starve. Every night he went to sleep knowing not only might his animals not wake up, but he might not.
Out of time, out of options, out of hope.
The valley of the shadow of death.
Our Old Testament lesson, the very familiar Psalm 23 tells us to have no fear in the face of the shadow of death.
We are told to have faith when we are out of time, out of options, out of hope.
Who hasn’t felt the valley of the shadow of death upon them. Who hasn’t been in the doctor's office or there with a loved one and the news is just more than we can digest all at once? Or
Who hasn’t looked down at the bills for the month and wondered how to make it to the next? Or
Who hasn’t been finally caught up in the sin we’ve been so carefully carrying on and hiding from everyone and we wait for the chips to fall.
Who hasn’t felt out of time, out of options, out of hope?
The Easter season where we are faced week after week with doubt, even in the face of the risen savior, reminds us that as long as we're alive in this broken sinful world, the doubt will creep up on us when stress makes us feel like bursting at the seams and all to often we really feel out of time, out of options, out of hope.
We are called sheep over 500 times in the Bible. No wonder we need a Sunday dedicated to exactly this! But this is no compliment, sheep lack intelligence, sheep run in groups following one another. If we add those things up, sheep would follow each other off a cliff or straight at certain danger. When a sheep falls to their back, they lack the ability to right themselves up onto their feet. In short, sheep need a shepherd.
Doesn’t this sound exactly like us!?! When we get caught up in sinful behavior we find safety in numbers. When we’re headed for consequences, somehow we feel better knowing we’re not headed there alone. When it comes to our sin and left to ourselves we have no hope of getting back onto our feet.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus explains that when it comes to sheep, if a shepherd is simply a hired hand, he will run the first sight of danger. But then he tells us that the good shepherd- himself- he is willing to face the danger straight on and lay down his life for the sheep.
The story on highway 87 finishes like this. The man rations his last meal between himself and his last remaining couple of animals and lays down for a nap absolutely out of options, time, and hope. Then two men wake him up for the nap, starving and probably wondering if he was dead. They explained that they were petroleum engineers who had found oil that was underneath his property and wanted to negotiate drilling rights, immediately. The man lived and in the town where he was from, every student who graduates from high school gets college paid for automatically.
The man said he didn’t want anyone from his town to ever again feel out of time, out of options, and out of hope again.
My friends, when the Lord Jesus tells you today that he lays down his life for you, he is promising you far more than even this. He has found every one of us on our backs struggling in sin defeated by the world and he takes the danger head on and defeats sin death and the power of the devil for you. So that even when the world has you feeling out of time, out of options, out of hope- hope can always remain. Hope and comfort that the good shepherd has died and given you an eternity of peace by his side.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the lord forever. Amen.