4th Sunday of Easter Psalm 23 4.22.18
I normally don’t read from the King James Version of the Bible very often. I don’t read it on account of the fact that is not a very good translation and it is more of a paraphrase version that has been translated from Latin, as opposed to a direct translation from the original Greek and Hebrew, as found in the New Revised Standard Version that you see in the Bible that sits in front of you next to the hymnal. Today however, because it is listed as the Psalm for the day and because the 4th Sunday of Easter is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday”, it seems appropriate. So here goes…
Psalm 23 KJV
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The truth is, no one speaks this way anymore. I have yet to hear any of you use words like “preparest” or “leadth” or any of those other words that end with “th”. That being said, there is something poetic about this translation and it is for this reason I tend to use the King James Version when I am asked to read it at a funeral and I have noticed that even people who have nothing to do with a public faith life seem to know about this psalm.
Every time I read this psalm I am intrigued and I wonder, what is it about this particular psalm that has caught the imagination of everyone who has heard it? I also think about the thousands and thousands of books, articles, sermons and devotionals that have been written based on the 23rd Psalm. Why is this particular psalm so striking, so captivating? Maybe we are attracted to its utter simplicity, wrapped as it is in its deep seated images of days gone by. It is so unlike life as we normally experience it.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
What is so great about green pastures and still waters? Green pastures are lush, full, moist. I wonder of “green pasture” for a sheep is the equivalent of an all you can eat buffet?And “still waters”? Unlike the running waters of a river or stream, “still waters” involves water caught in ponds. It would seem to me that it would be easier to drink from a pond as opposed to s rushing stream—you would not have to worry about the water going up your nose! Plenty to eat. Plenty to drink. Everything we need. Wanting for nothing. Our souls rested. Our spirits refreshed. Contentment. What’s not to like?
On the other hand--think for a moment about the millions of dollars that Americans spend in a vain search for the simple pleasures depicted in this psalm…I recall reading years ago about an uproar in a city down in Texas when a cable company could no longer air a major network. It led the news, it was a huge story. People who got 110 channels would have to make due with 109. Customers of that particular cable company would have to use rabbit ears if they hoped to get that particular channel. Oh how will they ever cope? One woman was interviewed on the news.
In the background, her husband was feverishly reading the directions to their new antenna so she could watch “Who Wants to be a Millionaire? She said, and I quote, “There are only three things in my life that mean the world to me. My grandson. My granddaughter. And Regis Philbin and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Think about that for a moment…
As I think back on this the words of the psalm…” leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.” I can’t help but wonder--maybe our lives would be much richer if we would turn off the 109 channels and sit quietly, imagining the green pastures and still waters that our shepherd leads us to, that our souls might be revived. That we might take time to be content, grateful.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”
My wife Julia and I have two kids. My daughter Katie is about to graduate from the College of St. Benedict and to Concordia College in Moorhead to start an internship and Master’s program in Dietetics next fall. I sometimes have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that she is no longer a little girl but a kind, beautiful, intelligent and fun young woman whose company Julia and I truly enjoy.
Our son Ted is wrapping up his second year at Gustavus studying geography. When he was younger the two of us would spend a lot of time traveling from ice arena to ice arena for hockey practices and games. He has set his goalie gear aside and now he plays rugby and cross country skies. Much like his sister, Ted is also a smart kid, thoughtful in the sense that still waters run deep. He too is fun to have around and it is fun watching him explore and discovering the world around him.
I mention all this because I am not thrilled with the thought of my kids having to walk through dark valleys. I want them to skip the whole enemy thing. I want a world for them that is safe, kind, stable, and fun. I want a life free from struggles, troubles, pain, insecurities, uncertainty, disease and tears—but I don’t see that happening. The fact is, life is difficult. Life is broken. Life is hard. And, while I wish it could be different, even for my children—who I believe are pretty well adjusted for Pastis’s Kids—this life is going to be hard. It already has been.
My kids, much like many of your kids and grandkids as well as millions of others, have already lived through some dark valleys and terrifying times. They have every right to be scarred and cautious and dare I say, angry. There is simply no escape from it. But what there is a simple promise. The promise is this: God will never leave us alone. We won’t get stuck in the valley, but God will keep us moving on through. We might have enemies but that doesn’t mean that they’re are going to keep us from enjoying our time together. Life is hard. But life is also good. Both/And. God is not going to let us go. God is not going to let us go it alone.
And this brings me to the final verse… “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
I can’t help but ponder, what a surprising way to describe God. A God who pursues us. Dare we envision a mobile, active God who chases us, tracks us, hounds us, following us with goodness and mercy all the days of our lives? In the early chapters of Genesis, God is looking for Adam and Eve. They’re hiding in the bushes, partly to cover their nakedness, partly to cover their sin. Does God wait for them to come to him? No, the words ring in the garden. “Where are you?” God asks (Gen. 3:9), beginning his quest to redeem the heart of humanity. A quest to follow his children until his children follow him. God is still following, pursuing, seeking and redeeming all of His children, even, and especially those not yet part of the flock.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”.
So, once again, what is it about this psalm that sets it head and shoulders above the rest? As familiar as any other famous passage in the Bible, what is it about this psalm that strikes us as fresh and anew this morning? Is it the poetry, that speaks of the beauty of green pastures, the peaceful still waters, and the ominous dark valleys? Is it the personal character of the language—my shepherd, leads me, with me, comfort me, follow me, I shall dwell? Perhaps it is the memories. These words evoke memories for me of family after family sitting in my office or at the funeral home planning a loved one’s funeral. “He always loved the 23frd Psalm.” I’m sure it is all of these for me.
The morning however, what strikes me is the irony. From earliest childhood we are taught that our deepest values are freedom and rugged individualism. We’re taught to stand on our own two feet, to depend only on ourselves, to chart our own course in life, and to pull ourselves up by our boot straps. Frankly, while all of that is good, it doesn’t make for much of a life. It isn’t as very far walk from freedom and individualism to loneliness, isolation, emptiness, and purposelessness. While separateness is important, togetherness and community is required of we are to truly have a life—an abundant life.
The 23rd Psalm, although written in personal terms, is very much about togetherness, community. It is about the promise of the One leading, guiding, protecting and keeping us literally through all the days of our lives. Through the peaceful times and darkest times. Now and forever. It is a song of hope and promise. We need them both. And the One who knows our every need has given us language for the journey.
Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, be our good shepherd this day. Guide us, protect us, keep us safe from anything that would separate us from you and those with whom we share our lives. Bring peace into strife, hope into despair, plenty where there’s a want. In Jesus’ name. Amen
[Want to actually hear the sermon? Go to zionmilaca.org and click “Hear the sermon” under Pastor Blenkush's picture.]
[Feedback is always appreciated.]Pastor Stephen Blenkush
Zion Lutheran Church
Milaca MN 56353
Love like Jesus!