April 25, 2021 - Deacon Deborah Drake - 4 Easter - 10AM Zoom Worship
The Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday and our readings refer to God as our Shepherd. Today I am going to focus mainly on the 23rd Psalm.
Most of us are familiar with Psalm 23 because it is regularly used at funerals as an expression of comfort, hope, and God’s faithfulness. It is cherished, sung, and recited by Jews and Christians alike. Jewish people sing it during the services on Shabbat evening, Judaism's day of rest on the seventh day of the week which is Saturday. This psalm of David is loved the world over for its calming and healing wisdom.
This Psalm can help turn around negative thinking and assist a person with their fears. It is used at funerals to bring comfort but the Psalm is really for the living.
King David, who wrote the psalm, grew up and worked as a shepherd, so he knew a lot about sheep and shepherding. He loved the metaphor of seeing God as a shepherd. The shepherd’s job is to care for the flock, making sure they are safe, nourished and calm.
Sheep are vulnerable to danger from wolves and other predators. To care for them correctly and safely, sheep require a shepherd to take them to the fertile areas to graze, protect them from predators and other hazards, and keep them together so they don’t stray from the group. This is the job of the shepherd. God wants to protect us and sent Jesus Christ to show us how to live in relationship with one another to offer that care and protection. This past week we had the verdict in the George Floyd case. The murder of Mr. Floyd taught us we need to be Shepherds and help to protect one another from danger and predators. We cannot stand by in silence when our brothers and sisters are abused and killed. In Psalm 23 we hear the words “I shall not be in want” I interpret it to mean that I will have everything I need if I allow God to be my shepherd, I do not need to put anyone else down to raise myself up. I may not have everything the ego wants, but I can put my ego aside when I feel cared for and loved with God as my shepherd.
I shall be free of want also expresses or is an affirmation that my life will not be controlled by wanting all the time. Always wanting things is an unhappy way to live, but a much to common one. We see this in many people who live never satisfied but always wanting something or something is always missing in their lives. This Psalm tells us that God provides nourishment for the body, the mind and the soul that is wholesome, healthful, and appealing and the most important thing we want is to be in relationship with God.
God revives our souls when we are facing traumas which cause much hurt and suffering and we need to continue the necessary work to restore health and justice for all, sometimes our souls may feel lost or stolen but we know we must persevere and keep on working for equal rights and justice for all.
The valley of the shadow of death was a location in Israel leading to Jerusalem which was a valley that was quite long so it took a while to cross. One would have to bring plenty of water and some food to rest overnight in the valley when taking this path. It was considered dangerous for you were vulnerable to killers and thieves.
The Psalm states I shall fear no evil. For you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Our country needs to go through a journey of healing, this may be the most important line in the psalm, though certainly not the only important one. It tells us that yes, we will walk in difficult and fearful territory in our lives. However, our fears will be calmed, for God is with us. We all need to review our lives and look into issues and conditions that need correcting, healing and perhaps reframing or a different understanding.
Anointing the head with oil was a practice in biblical days that was used to honor a person and to dignify a person. God wants all people, regardless of skin color to feel honored, dignified and deeply respected and it is also our responsibility to honor, dignify and respect one another.
Goodness and mercy shall go with me wherever I go, and whatever I do, even if I am in unfamiliar areas or places. Goodness and mercy are not just reserved for the people I choose but for all people wherever I shall meet them.
And the last line of the Psalm: "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." God is inviting us into a permanent relationship—a deep relationship.
In Judaism, the mitzvoth [commandments] are a way of retaining a relationship with God, so that everything you do--the way you eat, the way you use words, and the way you treat other people--is a way of spelling out your relationship with God. The sense that you are living every moment of your day in God's presence--that's what it means to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Let’s bring the 23rd Psalm into the land of the living, into our everyday lives and I suggest we use it as a daily meditation. Recite this Psalm every day and know how God is with us. Amen.