I needed Psalm 23 this week – a sermon

You can listen here, or read on.

If my Facebook and Twitter Newsfeeds are any indication of the larger population, this week has worn us all out.  Monday, as we all know, was the Boston Marathon bombing.  Tuesday started the re-launch of the whole sending-Ricin-laced-letters-to-politicians thing that was so popular in the early 2000s.  Wednesday brought the highs and lows of our 24-hour news cycle taking us from relief that the bomber had been arrested to frustration that no one really knows much of anything.  For good measure, a massive fertilizer plant explosion brought us all to the brink of collapse.  And then there was Friday. I’m not a good enough writer to suitably describe the events of Friday, but Friday, most certainly, happened.   We’re tired: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Maybe you’ve come to Sunday worship to regroup, to catch your breath, to get recharged.  Maybe you don’t need me to rehash the stories of the week because you know them too well.  I get that.  I’m ready to talk about, hear about, focus on, something else as well.  So today, as I give thanks that I don’t live in a place like Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan where every day is like the week we just experienced, I am also exceedingly grateful that today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter: Good Shepherd Sunday.  I’ve needed to pray the 23rd Psalm with my community of faith all week.

The LORD is my shepherd; *
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; *
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul; *
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his
Name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; *
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of
mine enemies; *
thou annointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.[1]

I’m glad that we were able to pray the 23rd Psalm together, and I’m looking forward to singing its paraphrase during the distribution of communion because I think it is the perfect piece of Scripture for where we are today.  We can’t ignore what happened in our world this week, but at the same time, we can’t dwell on it.  We must acknowledge our pain and discomfort, but we need not be defined by it.  Victimhood doesn’t look good on anyone, but a life restored in God is a beautiful sight to behold.  Because of its language of “the valley of the shadow of death” and close association with the Burial Office, Psalm 23 is the perfect scripture to allow us the space to mourn, but the stark reality is that this Psalm is really a song of praise.

“You, Lord, are my shepherd. I will never be in need.[2]”  Our God is a God of abundance.  He pours out his blessing upon us as both sunshine and rain.  His gifts include the very breath of life, the miracle of birth, the joy of relationship, and the hope of the resurrection.  He is a shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who lays down his own life for his sheep.

“You let me rest in fields of green grass.  You lead me to streams of peaceful water, and you refresh my life.”  Here’s the crux of Jesus’ message in our Gospel lesson today.  As followers of the Good Shepherd, we hear his voice and follow him to eternal life, or what our Catechism calls, “enjoyment of God.”  Of course, we need not wait until the great by and by to enjoy eternal life.  The Psalmist, Jesus, and two-thousand years of Christian tradition are clear that eternal life happens when we allow God to refresh, restore, and renew our lives today.

“You are true to your name, and you lead me along the right paths.  I may walk through valleys as dark as death, but I won’t be afraid.  You are with me, and your shepherd’s rod makes me feel safe.”  There is, perhaps, no stronger a statement of faith in all of Scripture than this famous section of Psalm 23.  There is no inherent promise that evil will not befall us.  Accidents will happen.  Bad people will do bad things.  Illness knows no prejudice.  Thanks to a complicated tax code, death is the only true certainty in life.  However, in the midst of those challenges, the reality is that God is there.  Abiding.  Comforting.  Sympathizing.  God is there.  This is a helpful reminder today as the week past has us reeling.  It was confusing.  It was frightening.  But the Good News is that God is there: in Boston, Massachusetts; West, Texas; and Foley, Alabama.  God is there.  God is here.

“You treat me to a feast, while my enemies watch.  You honor me as your guest, and you will my cup until it overflows.  Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life, and I will live forever in your house.”  The Psalmist brings us back again to pondering on the overwhelming abundance of God.  This morning [at the 9 o’clock service] we welcome a brand new child into the household of God.  We do so, in full assurance of God’s grace and mercy; giving thanks for his kindness and love that overflows.  At the same time, each of us is invited to recall our own baptism, whether we can remember it or not, as the moment when the God of all Creation invited us to the heavenly banquet.  As we approach the altar and receive a foretaste of that feast, it is helpful to offer thanks for the eternal promises of God’s goodness.

Psalm 23 is one of those amazing gifts that transcend time.  Like the Lord’s Prayer or the Golden Rule, we know it by heart because it is forever etched in our souls.  When times get tough, as they did this week, it is helpful to have things we can easily fall back on.  So today, I’m thankful for Good Shepherd Sunday, for the comfortable image of Jesus tenderly carrying a lamb, for the promise of the heavenly banquet, and the assurance of eternal life starting right now.

I leave you with a prayer, written by a friend who prepared for Good Shepherd Sunday with all the craziness of this week and the added challenging of grieving the death of her mother.

The Lord be with you.

And Also with you.

Let us pray. “Holy Shepherd, you know your sheep by name and lead us to safety through the valleys of death. Guide us by your voice, that we may walk in certainty and security to the joyous feast prepared in your house, were we celebrate with you forever. Amen.”[3]

[1] Psalm 23 (KJV) from the Order for Burial, Rite I on pages 475-476 of the Book of Common Prayer

[2] The recapitulation of Psalm 23 from here on out is from the Contemporary English Version © 1995, American Bible Society

[3] Posted on RevGalBlogPals site by Rev Dr Mom.<http://revgalblogpals.blogspot.com/2013/04/tuesday-lectionary-leaningssheep.html>  Accessed 4/18/2013.

2 thoughts on “I needed Psalm 23 this week – a sermon

  1. Pingback: Completely One | Draughting Theology

  2. Pingback: The Power of the Psalms | Draughting Theology

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