Natalie had won a contest, the prize of which was to sing the National Anthem before an NBA playoff game. The game was just about to start. The arena was buzzing with the energy of 20,000 fans charged up to watch the best athletes in the world play a do-or-die game. Then the announcer introduced Natalie, and out she walked in her nice black and white dress, and began to sing. When she got to words, “…at the twilight’s last gleaming…” she froze. Somehow, the words to the song were gone from her mind. Many in the crowd began to laugh, which only made the situation worse. Have you ever spoken in public and gotten tongue-tied? It is a terrifying feeling. But imagine being thirteen, and having that happen in front of 20,000 fans as well as a TV audience. For a few seconds, she just stood there, a look of absolute horror on her face. You could see the tears beginning to form in her eyes when suddenly, her rescuer appeared. Maurice Cheeks, the head coach of the Portland Trailblazers, walked up, put his arm around her, and began to sing. Natalie began to sing along with him. Then he urged the crowd to join in. The 20,000 people who earlier were making fun of Natalie’s plight now began to sing along. The camera showed coaches and players from both teams also singing with the crowd. Together, they got through the song, and by its end, Natalie was singing with a full, strong, confident voice again. Click here to see the youtube video of it.
In weeks to come, everyone talked about this touching moment. Maurice Cheeks was getting ready for the biggest game of the season. His coaching career was on the line. If you watch sports very often, you know that the athletes rarely sing the anthem; they are just focused, ready for the game to start. Yet out of the crowd of thousands, this man with so much on his mind not only noticed little Natalie Gilbert, he sprang into action to help her. Maurice Cheeks was a bit player in his days as an athlete. He has long since been fired as coach of the Trailblazers. I have no idea what he is doing now. But he will be forever remembered for rescuing a thirteen-year-old girl from humiliation.
If you are a Christian, you have an even more dramatic rescue story. The God of the Universe, who had much bigger things to worry about, redeemed your life from eternal condemnation through a spectacular sacrifice. That rescue, our salvation, is the subject of so much of our preaching and hymnody. But it's only the beginning of what God wants to do in our lives. Psalm 23 is easily the most famous of all the Psalms, and the only full chapter of the Bible most of us can quote from memory. David, the shepherd boy, wrote it to describe what life is like when God is in charge, like a shepherd leading and protecting His sheep. This Sunday, we'll look at this familiar Psalm from a very different angle: What happens when we as God's people forget He is our Shepherd? What are our lives like when we, like sheep, go astray? My hope is that, as we hear this message, many of us will realize the unnecessary anguish we're putting ourselves through and return to the Shepherd and Savior of our souls.