Psalm 23, May 3rd, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these words from the Book of Psalms, chapter 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, (the valley of death,) 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, (forever).
“Having heard this ancient Psalm let us consider who is our shepherd, who is it that guides us through our lives.”
How can something so old, still be so powerful? The Twenty-Third Psalm was used in worship by ancient Hebrews of old. It was sung during Sabbath meals. Modern Pastors have used it as part of their final blessings for those near death and during funerals and memorial services. Rabbis have been using this Psalm since ancient times, as a part of worship rituals of all kinds! During difficult times, this psalm can be used as a form of meditation and prayer, reminding us that God is with us, especially in our darkest hour and at the time of our passing from this life to the next. We, you and I, we can use it to seek guidance through this perplexing time in which we find ourselves. Its power still guides many through the darkest valleys of life!
We all need guidance, we all need someone in our lives that helps us through the night; for life is not all bright shining moments upon the mountaintops that we all pray for, and even long for at times! When we need that extra guidance, prayerfully, we have hung our allegiance on the one who is truly dedicated to assisting us in times of trouble, in times of despair and most certainly when peril lurks ahead! We have entered a truly ‘disquieting time’ and it is easy to get confused and lost in the noise of it all. If we are being cared for by a guide, a leader, who has influenced us and cared for us along our pathway to this point – most probably we know the shepherd to which today’s Psalm refers. If not, we may need to make a change.
In the analogy of sheep and shepherds, sheep always follow the shepherd and when they wander off or go astray the shepherd is the one that brings them safely home. In human reality, some of that responsibility to care for ourselves – falls squarely upon our shoulders. You and me, we get to choose our guides. We get to pick our role models. We do not need to follow those who have their personal ‘best’ interests always ahead of our own. This is our responsibly, to follow a ‘guiding light’ which will truly care for our needs. Yes, this can be confusing and difficult at times. Yet, we need to look carefully at our choices. If we are following in the pathway of a guide who always picks the easier softer way, we maybe led down a pathway which shall leave us unprepared for times of peril.
When we were children, prayerfully, we had good caring parents or at least a caregiver who was there for us in good times and in bad times. As adults, we have learned that everything we want is not necessarily what we need. Some of the things we wanted were not healthy or appropriate either! We were fortunate indeed if there was someone who was willing to say ‘NO’ to us. No is a word which is oftentimes hard to hear. Yet, mature adults learn the benefit of having someone who is willing to say no, now and then when necessary! Many who have gone on and gotten a good education, and even a great many who have come to understand these principles of good common sense, surround themselves with folks who, support them, yes, of course; but, also, are willing to tell them when they are wrong. It is crucial to be able to recognize that we all need a little help; especially being we are human and all!
The question for each of us is ultimately the same. Ask yourself this: “Who is my shepherd?” “Who can I put my trust in?” “Who will be there for me when my plans fall apart?” “Who will show me how to live a worthy life in the midst of chaos, turmoil and seeming madness?” Let us be reassured, we are not the first to find ourselves needing to ask these questions. You, see, we are not the first to have put our trust on the wrong things or the wrong guides. Sadly, many of us in the present time, and many in historical times, times which came before us, have put their trust in the wrong models, the wrong standards and most assuredly they became influenced by people, places and things that took them on the wrong pathways; to their peril! We, therefore, need to pay heed to what, and to whom, we put our trust in!
The Psalmist of old understood all this. It is believed that the Psalmist was inspired by God to write as he did. Surely, the writer of these ancient writings believed this to be true. The results are there for us to ponder as we reflect on the influence, and the inspiration which they offered the people of God. Especially those who listened and sang and meditated upon these ancient words. The Psalms, like the one in which we study this day, gave people more than inspiration! The Twenty-Third Psalm offers hope! “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” /Palm 23:1/ We all desire to be guided and led by others who will not leave us wanting! If we get lost upon the pathway, we want someone or something to put us back on the right path! This Psalm gives us some pertinent clues as to what a good leader or guide might possess: credibility, character, selflessness and faithfulness.
Does all this mean that we would not be in this mess, this self-isolating pandemic mess, if we had made better choices. It is not that simple to answer this question, yet there are some things we might consider as we seek the guidance necessary to move forward. First, we must act like adults and learn to accept life, on life’s terms! This is not always easy. Right now, this all too real virus, is causing a lot of real-life pain, grief and dismay. In current time, there is an array of things which are happening all around the world, that are contingent upon accepting the realities of this moment in time. It is not an easy time.
Somewhere along the course of life, many have come to realize that facing difficulty is not a choice; but how we respond to it is! Many are hiding their heads in dark isolation as they consume more alcohol, drugs and things that are not healthy for them. How can we say this? Easy, alcohol sales have been reported to have skyrocketed. Some say sales have increased four hundred percent! It is easy to assume that if more people are turning to alcohol to escape life’s hardship then the same is true for drugs. Conversely, there are millions of people who are using and have diligently used this time of self-quarantine to increase their time of exercise and catch up on chores and other things that needed attention! The question for us all – is still who or what are we turning to during this time of distress? The Twenty-Third Psalm widens our options, that is for sure!
People of God turn to their faith for the answer. This morning’s reading has pointed us to the book of Psalms and within it this poignant, emotional and moving Psalm, the Twenty-Third Psalm. Let us now allow, in this time, to avail ourselves of this powerful tool, which will help us move through this phase of our journey, reassured of God’s faithfulness, compassion and love. This is available to all who are willing to trust in God’s steadfastness. “God is our Guide, through all the trials, tribulations and stumbling blocks along the way.” “Our Creator leads us to green pastures and still waters, quenching our hunger and thirst, while restoring us to the depths of our emotions, our passions and our empathy for humanity, thereby upholding life for righteousness’ sake!” “Fear has lost it’s grip upon us as God guides us through the darkness, pointing us to the light of compassion and kindness in all things.” The Living Spirit of Christ walks with us in the night, stabilizing and comforting us.” “Christ has welcomed us to the table, even as our enemies look on, the Risen Christ is anointing, blessing us with abundant life.” “With assurance, our God has showered us with mercy throughout our lives and promises us a place in Heaven, for ever and ever.” /Psalm 23, adapted/
As we prepare ourselves for a time of prayer, let us give thanks that we are welcomed to the table, at that last supper so long ago. Look to the table spread before you with the sustenance of life, found in the broken bread and a table drink, which Jesus blessed for our, yours and mine, our consumption. Jesus asks us to remember the gift of his body, broken for us, and for the blood spilt for us, for the forgiveness of wrong doings; whilst blessing us with new life and a new opportunity to pass on to others the fullness of life which is offered through the gift of Christ Jesus. Let us now bow our heads, giving thanks for all which has been given us.
Prayer… Heavenly God we give thanks for the forgiveness that is now ours through the Life, the death and the resurrection of Christ. With gratitude we humble ourselves in your presence. May we be worthy of such a gift.
Today, we ask for your mercy, your love and compassion on those whom have suffered loss of loved ones during this global crisis, this pandemic. We rest assured of your love for the fallen that they now rest in peace with all the saints that came before us in your heavenly home. May we pass to others through acts of kindness that which you have bestowed upon us.
Be with the caregivers and all those that stand on the front line caring for loved ones and providing us with the necessities of life.
Allow us to feel your presence in our personal lives as we continue to walk through the dark valleys of our journey. Remind us always of your companionship as you walk with us hand in hand. May we be reminded how Jesus taught his disciples to pray as we join-together in prayer at this time.