Sermon Preached Online!
Sunday March 22nd 2020
The Reverend Alan Neale
Between the profound pathos of Psalm 22 and the exuberant exaltation of Psalm 24 comes the beloved, cherished, precious Psalm 23 with its endearing references to a tremendous shepherd, nurtured sheep and vistas of rolling greens and full-loaded banquet tables.
I sometimes think that Psalm 23 is embedded in the souls of humanity for, no matter how near death someone is, the recitation of the Psalm invariably causes a reaction as eyes move and fingers tighten.
It is recited at funerals and it is recited at weddings – crucial words for such significant life events.
No wonder this Psalm was quoted by President George W. Bush from the Oval Office when he addressed the nation on the eve of September 11 2001; and here we are again facing a national catastrophe beyond our imaginings and stretching our resources and our nerve.
In the first three verses the Psalmist speaks of God in the third person:
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.
It is, to quote our Prayer Book, “meet and right” to meditate upon, talk about, sing aloud the unchanging attributes of our God. Sometimes we sense our prayer is weak, to strengthen it we do well to mediate upon the greatness of God; when we have God in right perspective then we struggle not with prayer but rather yearn to develop our conversation.
Fearful of scarcity, the promise… He will take care of our wants
Wearied by anxiety and dull vistas, the promise… He will help us to rest amid verdant pastures.
Overwhelmed by frantic measures, the promise… He will lead beside still waters.
Feeling drained, the promise… He will restore us.
And, unsure of the future, the promise… He will lead us.
GOD’S CARE IS NOT SEASONAL BUT CONSTANT AND ABUNDANT.
With verses 4-5 we now speak of God in the second person:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow 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.
There must come a time, in fact an infinite number of times, when the Christian soul moves from statements about God to a relationship with God. We wish it could be other but, alas, such times of personal, real-time connection often accompany times of great suffering, angst, dilemma.
The shepherd’s rod has a fourfold use: to fight off enemies, to gently seize the errant sheep, to examine the sheep for wounds and to count the sheep – each one beloved by the Shepherd.
The profuse, copious, lavish grace of God, my God and your God, my Shepherd and your Shepherd – this grace promises an abundance in the “very face of our enemies”. Do not cower.
And the final verse:
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.
Brother and sister in Christ, know for sure, be confident that you and those whom you love can never strat too far from God’s goodness, mercy and this tremendous invitation… “to stay with Him in the house of the Lord forever.”
Jesus, good shepherd, you know each of us by name; you know us deeply and accept without blame our fears and anxieties, our doubts and our questions. Please deepen in us the awareness of your presence and the opportunity to serve you in ways yet unimaginable.