In the light of the escalating tensions with North Korea and the demonstrations in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend, Psalm 23 could not have landed at a better time during our Psalm preaching series.
Psalm 23 is a Psalm of trust. The author of the 23rd Psalm, and the handful of other Psalms of trust, are written for a time when individuals or groups find themselves on a path that is unusually dark or dangerous yet still needs to be traveled. Like the child who reaches for the parent's hand when they are a bit unsure of what is ahead, Psalm 23 is a petition we can use for those very times of needs.
For us in the faith community, we hear this Psalm regularly, but most often at funerals. We read the 23rd Psalm not only as a word of needed comfort for the path of life ahead without a loved one or friend, but we also invoke the Psalm trusting God will shepherd the deceased to a place of "green pastures" and "still waters" in the afterlife.
It is also important to note here that Psalm 23 is the most referenced of all scripture verses in popular media. It is a well know Psalm and loved by many.
Psalm 23 spoke to us on Sunday, because we needed to be reminded that "the house of the Lord" is a house of peace and love. In the face of racial tensions and threats of nuclear war we trust God will shepherd us through "the darkest valley" having "no fear of evil."
We opened and closed our time with a prayer for peace, but we could not end our reflection time together without identifying the divine Good Shepherd: Jesus. When our time on this earth comes to an end, God willing in old age with many years of peace, we who identify as followers of Jesus look to the 23rd Psalm as a reminder that life is forever. Jesus not only provides us words of comfort now, but will be the shepherd who leads us on the eternal path to our eternal dwelling place. A place where we will come together again, with those who have gone before us and those who will come after us, to live in "comfort."
One final note on verse one. The words "shall not want" or said another way "lack nothing" are only used a few times in the Hebrew Scriptures. One place of significance is Deuteronomy 2:7 in reference to the Israelites who wondered the desert for forty years after fleeing slavery in Egypt.
7 Surely the Lord your God has blessed you in all your undertakings; he knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing. (NRSV)
In our culture of abundance, it is good to be reminded of God's provisions of simple food, water and protection. The Israelites by our standards had nothing, yet lacked nothing.
Praying for peace in your home and in our world today.
Psalm 23 (NRSV)
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.