Psalm 23

Sermon based on Psalm 23

The actual preached sermon was pretty different from the written, per usual. And, once again, incredible questions from worshipers.

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.

 

We continue in the Psalms – our song book and our prayer book of the Bible. The book that you can turn to in times of trouble or joy, sorrow or confusion, deep lament and mountain top joy. The book’s got it all.

 

Today’s psalm is one that even those who aren’t church-goers or Christian or Jewish know. Or, at least they’ve heard of it and, I’m willing to bet, could recite a few words if not a few lines. It’s read at funerals most often. We read it when we’re in times of struggle. Yet, clearly, it’s not a lament psalm. It’s not a psalm calling out for help. It’s not a psalm asking God to do things, to get busy already. It’s a psalm of trust. It’s a psalm that lays out just what God has done and is doing.

 

That is not to say the psalm writer wasn’t going through something hard. It’s just that, probably, it wasn’t their first thing. It wasn’t their first rodeo. They’ve seen some stuff, they’ve come through it. They’ve had hard times and this is another hard time. The psalm itself seems to walk through the whole of life and point out when God was there, or actually, when God is there. It’s all in present tense.  The Lord is my shepherd – not used to be or was, or once a upon a time, but IS. The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.

 

Well now. Just take that in for a moment. Let the staggering significance of that sentence just sink in.  Because the Lord is the one who takes care of me, because the Lord is the one who I follow, well then, I shall not want.

 

This past week I spent some vacation time with family at a friend’s home on Long Lake just outside of New London, Minnesota. Naomi and Jon saw their oldest son, Ben, off to college last year and one of the things they said to Ben as he left home was, “you have all that you need.” She wasn’t speaking about money or dorm room supplies but something deeper. You have all that you need. It’s like they believe Psalm 23 and taught this to their son.

 

Our identity is rooted in God. And because we are children of God, that very thing tells us that we have all we need. God’s faithfulness to us gives us all we need, including one another. So, while Ben is actually a talented young man, his life, his existence is not all about what he will achieve but who he is and remembering that reminds him that he has all he needs.

 

The psalm writer begins this psalm of trust with this bedrock claim that the rest of the psalm is founded on – this ultimate trust in God. The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.

Trusting God so much that the writer has been led beside still waters, to green pastures – both places that have restored the writer’s soul. Where is that place for you? Is it the lake? Or the cabin? Is it at home, wherever that might be. Do you follow the shepherds lead to rest, to be restored? Do you believe that you have all you need?

 

It’s only a matter of time before we are in the valley of the shadow of death. And because of that bedrock trust, there is no fear. In fact, there is comfort. When have you encountered this in your life? Frank Goodrich, a River of Hope-er who died just a month or so ago, was a witness to incredible trust in God as the cancer came back. “I’ve lived a good life. I know God is with me – he always is. I am not afraid.” Who are those psalm 23 people you’ve known as you’ve seen them walk through the valley of the shadow of death and watch them teach you that there are far worse things than death.

 

Even in the midst of enemies, the Lord prepares a table. Would they, the enemies, be invited to eat? Eating with our enemies? Psalm 23 offers us a vision of trust in God when perhaps our knee jerk response is “lock the doors.” Or “get out of here.” Psalm 23 is a vision of abundance when perhaps we’d rather cling to scarcity and doubt. When has this happened to you? When have you found new life amongst those you thought were against you? When has that absolutely shocking transformation happened?

 

The psalm ends with grace and mercy following all the days of their lives, dwelling in the house of the Lord forever. It’s no wonder we read this when we’re scared or suffering, when we’re grieving. This is promise after promise of God showing up and leading and being in our lives, all the days of our lives, forever.

 

Maybe you’re in a spot where you don’t know what you believe.

Maybe you’re in a place in your life when you don’t feel as if God is there at all.

Maybe you’re in a place in your life when you just don’t know.

 

Let this psalm, in all its familiarity, ring new in your ears today. Let it wash over you that yes, this is true for you today. Right here right now.

 

You have all that you need. Say it with me: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

 

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