I have been invited by the “Daily Word” team to offer a few final “Daily Words” before my last days as your Rector. As some of you know, a few years back, Church Publishing published my book, “Bits of Heaven.” It is a collection of devotionals appropriate for the summer months and as summer is upon us, I thought I would pull a few of my favorite passages. I hope you enjoy them and if you do not yet have a copy of the book, you can pick one up at St. Martin’s Gift Shoppe, Amazon or other online book sources.
Each meditation includes a title, a Scripture, a meditation, a probing question of sorts and closes with a prayer — either from my pen or that of those much better and wiser in authoring prayers.
Let us continue to pray for one another and I pray that we all — all of us — have a blessed summer. May it, indeed, be a little bit of heaven.
The Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr.
So grateful to be
Fourth Rector, St. Martin’s Episcopal Church
Holding Fast to the Shepherd

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.”
Psalm 22:1-3
Who is your shepherd?
In Blount County, Ala., tucked deep into the woods, there is a fascinating cave. It is not a tourist attraction. There are no signs that point the way to the opening and you have to find a local to get you there, but “Bangor Cave” was one of those off-the-road spots that my grandmother took her grandkids to visit.

Before we got there, she told us that during prohibition, a small-time gangster by the name of “The Yellow Kid” had set it up as a speak-easy. Wiring the cave with electricity, he filled it with gambling tables, food service, a dance hall carved into the stone, alcohol and with all of that – customers. I was old enough to think Grantzie might have been slightly tugging on her grandchildren’s collective legs, but, armed with small Ray-O-Vac flashlights, we were off.
When we got to the cave’s entrance, it was a spooky sight for sure, but with our grandmother leading the way, we stepped beyond its opening. We did not have to go far to see that, lo and behold, she was telling the truth. The dance floor was still in place, as were cooking areas and carved steps leading into a second large room. Our flashlights were frankly too weak to reveal too much, but Grantzie pressed on through a second large room and up steps toward a third. On the way to the third, the passageway got smaller and all the kids felt not only a bit claustrophobic, but began to feel “The Yellow Kid” breathing down our necks!

Grantzie had been to the cave before – several times evidently. She knew the way in and the deeper we went, the tighter we held; and when the adventure was ending, she knew the way out. She knew her grandchildren well, knew how far they would and could really go and guided us safely home.

The 23rd Psalm, sometimes called “The Shepherd’s Psalm,” is perhaps the most well-known amongst all of the Psalms and, to be quite honest, perhaps the most famous of Bible passages. Even those not familiar with its words will often join in chorus when it is read a funeral service.

The relationship in David’s day between the sheep and Shepherd was vital. A good shepherd cared for his sheep and sheep who trusted their shepherdess knew she cared for every aspect of their wellbeing – food, water, rest, safety. Centuries later, Jesus would use the analogy of the shepherd/sheep relationship to describe His relationship with His followers,

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.”[1]
You may know, but a common practice of identifying sheep to their owner is to paint a certain area of their body (usually around the bum) with a particular color of paint. The first time I ever saw this was in a field only a few dozen yards from the ancient mystery we know as Stonehenge. Sheep were set behind makeshift gates on virtually all sides near that primitive circle of stones. I was fascinated to see that some had marks of blue, others green, some pink or red. The mark identified the sheep to its owner, in much the same way branding identifies cattle to their owner in my part of the country.

Those of us who follow Jesus sometimes get a bit confused about Who our true Shepherd is. We turn to the wrong things for comfort and security. I will not list them; the wrong shepherd is likely as different for each person and each person is from the next. The point is, for Christians, there should be only one Shepherd and our identifying mark is His Cross – the symbol of the lengths to which God has gone to show His love for us and the symbol of our pathway back to Him.

The philosopher Plato described the world of the unreal as a kind of cave out of which humans seeking real meaning, purpose and life need to emerge. Fortunately, for you and me, if we turn loose of any false shepherds and hold fast to the true One – the only One – our deepest wants will be met and He will lead us to green pastures, still waters and a restoration of our very souls. He really is the Good Shepherd.

A Question to Ponder
Are you holding fast to the Good Shepherd? Are there other shepherds you should release so your grip on the true One can be all the faster? What steps can you take today to let Jesus lead you to places that and people who will, truly, help restore your soul?

A Prayer
O Jesus, Good Shepherd;
Without you,
           a weak and hungry lamb am I,
           dry with thirst, parched of peace.
Too often I have fed on pastures not of Your Own tending,
           and lost my way,
           wandering far from the child you have created me to be.
Bring me home, O Christ,
           Bring me home.
Silence all voices but Yours,
           bring to life within me, I pray,
           a sheep that hears its only Shepherd’s voice.
Turn not just my ears, but my ways, that as I hear,
           I too will follow,
           the Source of life,
           assuages all hunger, whets all thirst;
Who, by Your mercy, finally and fully
           meets all my wants, and not for my sake alone,
           but also for Yours,
                       my soul.
[1] John 10:14-15; see also John 10:11-13.
The Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr.
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