“At Times Like These!”

Psalm 23, May 8th, 2022 “Mother’s Day”

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

“Here now these words from the book of Psalms, Psalm 23.”

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

“Having listened to the words of the Psalmist, how shall we apply the message contained within the poetic verses we have just heard, in this present time!”

“At Times Like These”

My mother passed from this life nine years ago. I was sixty-five years of age. She was ninety-four. I loved her with all my heart. I like to think I got that from the way she showed her love towards me throughout my whole life. Which began long before I took my first breath on my own power. She loved me, even as she ‘felt’ those first labor pains of my birth. Where did she get the stamina, and the grit, the fortitude, and the tenacity, to go through all she went through to carry me and bring me to that first moment? Was it passed to her from her mother, who in turn, received it from her mother?  Did that process begin way back?  I have never followed the branches of our family tree back beyond my grandparents. But from my father’s parents came the Woodard’s and the Smiths. From my mother came the Dixons and the Bancroft(s). Did they get what it takes to be a good parent, a good mother from their parent and grandparents? The theologian in me causes me to say they passed forward to my generation that love which first began with God’s love. The grandson in me wants to say it came from my grandmothers, the daughters of a preacher and a farmer, and from hard working mothers who knew what it took to nurture and protect their offspring. The origins of love are truly and surely – in the heart of the beholder.

What about the words of the Twenty-Third Psalm? What does the image of the Shepherd give us as we ponder the love of our mothers, our caregivers and those who raised us from the time of our birth and continued to love us as long as they had breath to feed the desire and strength to do – all that they did do for us! How do we honor both the poetic beautiful of the Shepherd of the Psalmist and the love of our Parents? The ancient Psalm was of course written to be used in worship. As its poetic rhyme and verse made an easy chant or hymn of adoration and praise. A hymn of faith, confidence and trust in the devotion and loyalty of the Shepherd. For a shepherd is charged to care for the flock at all costs. The Shepherd must care for ‘ALL’ the needs of the sheep in his care. The stories of the length to which Shepherds go, to protect their flocks by day and by night from all forms of predators – are numerous. It is quite clear that the Psalm, like much of scripture, is meant to be an allegory. Lifting-up the Shepherd’s role in parallel to the role of our Heavenly Father’s role in our lives, as the ‘children of God.” In Like manner the role of a parent, a devoted mother or caregiver is held up in parallel, matching to that of the Shepherd in our Psalm.

There are many stories contained in scripture depicting the role of a shepherd and all the peril they encounter while tending to the needs of their flock. In Psalm 78, verse 52 we hear: “Then (Moses) led out his people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid; but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.” Then there is the lament from the Psalmist in Psalm 80, verse one: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock!” From the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 40, verse 11, we hear: He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” In Second Samuel chapter 5, verse 2: “It is you (David) who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” Our last lesson is among the first: Genesis 48, verse 15; He blessed Joseph, and said, “The God before whom my ancestors Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day” Clearly, the imagery of the Shepherd has been used to speak of a shepherd’s role as caregiver, overseer, and protector of the sheep, from the very beginning of recorded scripture. Raised up as the greatest of this is without a doubt the Twenty-Third Psalm! Each speaks to the role of the shepherd as these examples indeed parallel the role of parent, and caregiver!

Listen to this adapted version of the Twenty-Third Psalm as we bring it into line with our theme of today; Mother’s Day. “Our Mother is our shepherd; we shall not want. She makes us lie down in green pastures; our Caregiver leads us beside still waters; She restores our souls. Our Parents lead us in right paths for God’s name’s sake. Even though we walk through the darkest valley, the valley of death, we shall fear no evil; for You are our Caregiver and Protector, You are with us; Your rod and Your staff – they comfort us. You prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies; You anoint our heads with oil; our cups overflow. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we shall dwell in the house of the God of Love, Compassion and Mercy our whole life long.

It’s Mother’s Day. Psalm 23 is about the Lord our God being our protector. We acknowledge God’s love for us as we praise and worship together each Sunday. Today, we also pause to express our gratitude for our mothers, our caregivers, and parents. We honor them for the love they have passed forward to us. As we reflect on those, who have cared for us, tending our needs we give thanks by following their lead. We honor them best by passing forward, all that we have received, to the next generations which shall follow us into the future. It is what those who have loved us have done. We do not raise our voices in praise of those who have not done so. We save our praise and thanks for those who have lived into the image of our Creator. Our Creator, like a truly loving Mother, and Parent, has supported our needs throughout our lives. We each know the names of those who have been there for us when we have needed a helping hand. May the heavens resound with our jubilant praises.

The 23rd Psalm was written to remind the Israelites of the faithfulness of The God of the Hebrews. A nation of peoples that surely knew the agony of the life of Nomads, wanderers through the arid and scorched desert. For they wandered for a long, long time in the wilderness beyond Egypt from whence Moses led them to freedom. We also celebrate the one true God; the God of many names and faces throughout the history of the Bible. Yet, it was and still is a difficult journey, this journey of life. It is needed and it is good that we remember the love of God. It is fitting that the Psalms were written to a people who had seen disappointment and struggles too difficult to bear!

Yes, we must remember the Good Shepherd’s that travel, walking alongside us on our journeys. Many have carried us over some difficult terrain. They take on various personalities and have many diverse attributes and fill many roles. Many of us has seen their faces, remember their names and the love we received from them. Through their examples we have learned the art of caring for others. We have learned to put the needs of others ahead of some of those things we perhaps want, but do not necessarily need. We remember those like dear old grandmother Dixon, the preacher’s wife, who loved helping others; she taught me what tenacity and dedication mean. She also taught what those around her, by her example what selflessness, and generosity truly means. Then there is “Uncle Herby” as they called my grandfather, the old pastor who gave his all for the sake of those he was charged to serve and care for. His devotion and his willingness to spend his semi-retirement building up a Christian camp for both girls and boys, is a truly hard act to follow. Yet his example lives on from generation to generation. Grandmother Woodard passed forward the ability to feed the hens, milk the cows, and clear away the weeds from the corn, all while lovingly preparing a meal to feed a hungry family; being sure to use some of the fruits of her labor and that of others to serve fresh vegetables with the meal.

What memories can you bring forth to put words to your experiences surrounding the mothers, caregivers and parents who went that extra mile, carried that extra burden to be sure everyone under their care had all their needs met? Have you and I, have we done our best to pass forward the examples they set? Have you and I, have we worked to pass forward the love which was given to us? Will the next generation be inspired to give to others as we gave to them?

So where did all this love come from? Surely both the the clergyman and the grandson in me knows that there is a reconnection that binds these two together. The common connection is Love. A love that can only come from God. Yet a love that must pass through the hearts of real people facing all that life offers.  This includes the good, the bad, and the ugliness of humanity. Love can and does overcome. Living through the words and deeds of faithful parents, compassionate caregivers and of course; the bountiful love of parents, mothers, and fathers that give their all for their offspring! Indeed, it is times like these that we must be reminded of God’s faithfulness. We must be reminded of what those who raised us from the cradle have given us. We must never forget the gifts they gave us before they too laid down to rest in their own graves. Now it is our time to carry the mantle of ministry, the ministry of God’s eternal love which has no end. 

Praise God for the Good Shepherd’s in our lives. Mothers, Fathers, Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents. Let us not forget the caregivers of many names, many faces, all those who also were there for us. Thanks be to God!

Happy Mother’s Day! 


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