Psalm 23: Shepherding
A Favorite from April 10, 2011.
I attended a memorial service yesterday preceded by a celebration of the life of the deceased. These things are never easy. Part of the service was the comforting 23rd Psalm, the Old Testament reading was from Proverbs 3 (wisdom as a feminine force) and the New Testament was John 14 (Do not let your hearts be troubled . . . I am going to prepare a place for you.) Scripture has the power to heal . . . if we allow it.
I am struck by how often we turn to the divine seeking solace – expecting the comfort and wisdom of the words to be instant much like our meals in the microwave, our movies on demand, and our relationships which must fulfill some purpose for us in order to be profitable. The sermon today was given by Bishop Newman and he spoke of his time as pastor at the Cathedral of Mary our Queen when he asked a sound engineer to find the places in the immense building that did not receive sound well. He referred to these places as “dead areas” and he asked us to think of the dead places in our lives that were like the deadness of Lazarus which we had heard in today’s Gospel (John 11:1-45). He asked us to think of the “little deaths” we experience: addictions that govern us, work losses that discourage us, damage to relationships, troubles in a marriage that gnaw at us; and he asked us to think of how we resolved these problems or how we stirred ourselves to address these dead places. Surely goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives . . .
As he spoke, I thought of the dead zones in my life, and I thought about the opportunities I have been given for resurrection and redemption. Surely we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever . . .
We must be persistent and fearless in our pursuit of God’s understanding and in our practice of God’s love. I will fear no evil, for you are with me . . .
We must be courageous and creative in our determination to resolve the problems that create dead zones in our lives. Your rod and staff comfort me . . .
We must always take all problems with our enemies to God, remembering that God alone can deal with betrayal and deceit. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies . . .
We must remember that God constantly seeks new ways to love us and to bolster us on our journey. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows . . .
We cannot hear God through the cacophony of our days. We must make a quiet place where we might allow rest and restoration because he makes me lie down in green pastures . . .
We must look for our imperfections, confess them, and ask God to heal them for God is more powerful than any force we know, even death. He called the dead Lazarus from the tomb, and so he calls us to come to him for healing. The extent of our “deadness” or the number of the “little deaths” in our lives is unimportant. God is more powerful, and more loving, and more present than we have imagined. The Lord is my shepherd . . .
I love Marty Haugen’s version of this Psalm from the GATHER hymnal which we so often sing, and which I use as an opening prayer in my classes during this time of year: Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life . . .
Let us rejoice that God is among us always to comfort, to heal, to restore, to transform and to redeem. And let us open ourselves more to God’s wise and merciful shepherding.
Tomorrow, crossing the Jordan.