The Dark Night

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08/09/2009 The Dark Night Knox 16 PC

374/794/653 Psalm 23 Isaiah 43:1-7 Matthew 28:16-20

OOPS! In 1987 the fourth most worrisome fear among younger teenagers was that their parents might die. In 1997 that concern jumped to number one on the list of fears with 65% of teens surveyed saying they worry about the possibility of losing mom or dad. Comedian Woody Allen once said, "I'm not afraid of dying. I just don't want to be there when it happens."  
  UGH! C. S. Lewis makes an interesting comment towards the end of the movie. When you are the boy, you seek safety. When you are the man, you accept suffering. We are all very vulnerable when we are going through the valley of the shadow of death for the first time. We are very tempted to travel in our own way and in our own path. It is like we are pushed and we are pulled. There doesn't seem to be any certainty.
The first very deep valley for me was the time when my Grandfather died when I was 14. His life was so important to me that I wondered if I could live without him. When we are young it is easy to be gun shy. We can't seem to sense the presence of the living God.  
  C. S. Lewis has commented that he felt that there was no heaven and there was no God when his mother died. If there was a God, he could prevent this from happening. He was very lonely and he walked through the darkness alone. It is a very frightening experience when you are engulfed with darkness all around and you don't know which way to go and you're not sure that you can be safe and so you fear.
Before I was out of my teens, I also lost my father. I didn't have any idea what good this experience could be. Like C. S. Lewis, I looked for the safe ground. It wasn't until 10 or 15 years later that I met the Lord Jesus Christ and all the pieces began to fall into place.  
  The Church could make any sense for me in these troubled times. The Church was absent. The Church is made of human beings!
Dr. Leonard Cammer, a psychiatrist, has specialized for 30 years in treating depressed persons, said, “The human being is the only species that can’t survive alone. The human being needs another human being—otherwise he’s dead! A telephone call to a depressed person can save a life. An occasional word, a ten-minute visit, can be more effective than twenty-four hours of nursing care. You can buy nursing care. You can’t buy love.”  
  AHA! In the movie Shadowlands, the story of C. S. Lewis, we learn that C. S. Lewis lost his mother to death at the age of nine. When his wife, Joy died, her son was nine years old. It becomes a growing point for C. S. Lewis. He reaches out his stepson to comfort him. They cry together. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil; for You are with me.
WHEE! From a shepherd's point of view this statement marks the halfway stage in the Psalm. It is as though up to this point the sheep has been boasting to its unfortunate neighbours across the fence about the excellent care it received from its owner on the "home" ranch throughout the winter and spring.  
  Now it turns to address the shepherd directly. The personal pronouns I and Thou enter the conversation. It becomes a most intimate discourse of deep affection. This is natural and normal. The long treks into the high country with their summer range begin here. Left behind are the neglected sheep on the other side of the fence. Their owner knows nothing of the hill country - the mountain meadows to which these sheep will be led. Their summer will be spent in the close companionship and solitary care of the Good Shepherd.
One of the nasty realities of life is that we have to go down through the valleys to come up to the higher ground. In order to reach to the resurrection, we must pass through the valley of the cross. Jesus Christ has gone before us in this matter.  
  This is the reality when the sheep are being led to higher ground in order to find the forage which they need to subsist on. Ironically, the safest passage to higher ground is down through the valleys and then gradually up the long incline to the higher ground.
In my life there were still times of valleys lying ahead on the road. And I am sure that there are valleys lying upon the road ahead of us even now. The difference is that as we travel through these valleys of the shadow of death, we gain experience and more confidence that God is with us through it all.  
  A young child lost on the streets of a large city began to cry. Seeing her distress, a man questioned her and gained enough information to learn where she lived. "Just go down this street and cross the big iron bridge," he said. "Then turn to the right, follow the river, and soon the surroundings will be familiar to you." The youngster, chilled by the raw evening wind, didn't fully understand, so she started on her way still sobbing.
  But at this point, a policeman saw her and said, "Come with me." Clasping her hand in his and drawing one side of his warm coat around her, he led the little one right to her door.
A people who were in exile and not certain of their lives and their hopes for the future hear this word of the Lord that comes through the prophet Isaiah. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. It is the presence of God that makes the difference.  
  One of the most meaningful songs for me at times in the valley is a song from the musical Carousel which I watched as a teenager. When you walk through the storm, hold your head up high and don't be afraid of the dark. The one true way the darkness can be handled is having somebody walk through the darkness with you.
I have been amazed at the number of times I have been brought before people who have lost their grandfather and their just 12 or 13, or perhaps 14. The number of teenagers who just lost her father and can't make any sense of life. Because of the experience that I have gone through I have been able to minister to them.  
  The thing we tend to forget is that we need to grow stronger by translating these experiences into something good. We cannot do that on our own. We must allow the Lord God to deal with each situation of the valley in order to lead us to higher ground. In reaching higher ground we mature and grow stronger because of what we have come through to reach this place.
We haven't reached this place by simply taking a big leap forward from there up to here. It has involved going through a series of valleys and moving steadily higher and higher to higher ground.  
  The same God who was with us in our childhood is the same God we have today in our older years, the years of experience. We can look around and say we have a disadvantage here because we are all getting rather old. But why don't we focus instead on the tremendous number of experiences of life that we have all come through.
None of us here arrive by taking one giant leap. It is a slow and painful process. But it is also a rewarding process. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; we will not fear. Why? Because God is near in the past, in the present, and in the future.  
  With the approach of autumn, early snow settles on the highest ridges, relentlessly forcing the flock to withdraw back down to lower elevations. Finally, toward the end of the year as fall passes, the sheep are driven home to the ranch headquarters where they will spend the winter. It is this segment of the yearly operations that is described in the last half of the psalm.
During this time the flock is entirely alone with the shepherd. They are in intimate contact with him and under his most personal attention day and night. That is why these last verses are couched in such intimate first-person language. And it is well to remember that all of this is done against a dramatic background of wild mountains, rushing rivers, alpine meadows and high rangelands.  
  As we face challenges here in our corporate life together as a part of the body of Christ, as we face challenges in the ageing process as individuals, we need to remember what we have been through here before. This congregation is a very durable congregation. We have 176 years of experience.
Quitting and fleeing to safety is not an option for the Christian. We need to recall the memories of the time when we travelled down through the valley of the shadow of death and came to the higher ground. There will be difficult times in our life, it is a guarantee. But we will also have the spiritual mountaintop experiences as well. It is called engaging in life, not being afraid of life.  
  True life comes from Jesus Christ. And this is the testimony, God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life. He who does not have the Son of God, does not have life.
George Matheson, engaged to be married, learned he would soon be totally blind. His fiancee said, “I cannot marry a blind man.” He left her with his dreams shattered. He thought of taking his life, but instead took hold of himself as he wrote the moving hymn, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.”  
  YEAH! While making a brief Christmas address to the people of the British Empire in 1939, King George VI spoke of his faith in God's leading. World War II had begun, and Great Britain faced the onslaughts of Hitler's reckless military barrage. As the King spoke to the people on that Christmas day, he concluded his remarks with these lines written by Minnie Louise Haskins some 30 years earlier: "And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: `Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied: `Go out into the darkness and put your hand in the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.'"
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