LENT 2011- “Inhale” sermon for 4th Sunday in Lent, Psalm 23
God’s life giving breath- creation, valley of dry bones, Jesus with the disciples, day of Pentecost.
I Samuel 16:1-13
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
I shall lack nothing. And here comes a list of the things I don’t lack.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
3he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Green pastures and still waters- these represent food and water supply for a sheep, not just serene, artistic scenes.
“he restores my soul,” could have been translated, “he saves my life.”
The “right” path is important here. More than “righteousness”- it is the right path that makes life possible. The wrong path can lead to danger, destruction, death.
4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
Note the change in voice here. It’s no longer third person; God is specifically and personally addressed.
The darkest valleys were/are inevitable. It’s what happens on the way from here to there. This Psalm has no interest in promising you a way around the dark valley; rather, this Psalm promises God’s companionship in and through the darkest valley.
The staff was used to guide and perhaps to prod and rescue. The rod (reminiscent of the King’s scepter) was used to defend the sheep from predators. I heard a rabbi mention that the rod might also have been used to mete out discipline. Either way or in both ways, there is a comfort to it all. The rod and the staff are used in the course of companionship, as evidence of God’s ongoing commitment to us.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Are the enemies in the room being taunted? Are they defeated? Has there been reconciliation? Whatever the case may be, the enemies are not a threat, not so long as the biggest kid on the block in on our side, and He is.
6Surely 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.
“follow” is not strong enough. “Pursue” is better, and in fact there is the underlying meaning of the word “persecute.” So, in other words, where before I’ve known enemies to pursue and chase me down, now I know that God’s goodness and mercy will pursue and chase me down every day, and my whole life is now lived in His presence, in grateful response.
1-3 God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.
4 Even when the way goes through
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.
5 You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.
6 Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.
1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4Yea, 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.
5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
After verse 1, the rest of the Psalm lists what the singer is not lacking….
So many of the things “not lacked” are reminiscent of the people who lacked nothing as they wandered in the wilderness following the Exodus: leadership, protection, food, water, etc.
The Psalm remembers what God has done for all His people. But the singer is here grateful for the ways in which that Story continues to be true in individual lives, like his.
The message of comfort is not separated from the calling of Mission. This is very important. This is about the felt companionship with God as we are obedient to follow God where He leads, out to do His will and work.
This can’t be reduced to a “Calgon take me away” moment. It’s about much more than personal serenity; it’s about the love and care and provision of God when we follow God into the messy and sometimes dangerous work of the Gospel.
Luke 15- parable of the Lost Sheep. The shepherd seems to care, deeply, about the one lost sheep.
John 10- Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.”
A rod AND a staff? Why? Both give comfort, one is for discipline, the other is for rescue
The shepherd term was often used to describe a king, with his people being the sheep. In our tradition, the Israelite kings (and David himself) was described by God as a shepherd.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=051okrUGfoU&feature=related I Phone
Brueggemann says, “It is God’s companionship that transforms every situation.”
It’s not that there is any kind of magic in the Temple, but there is hope there, because it is where God is. Beyond that, we shouldn’t read the language of Temple as limiting the companionship of God to a particular place, but we should understand anyplace where companionship with God is possible as a potential Temple.
Brueggemann- “Psalm 23 knows that evil is present in the world, but it is not feared. Confidence in God is the source of new orientation.”
“He makes me to sprawl out on the green grass.”
In Psalm 23, the singer sings a solo, and we get to listen in. In this Psalm, the singer makes unbelievable claims: that God can be known intimately, that God can (and desires to) know a person intimately, that God can be trusted- even where basic needs are concerned (see the Exodus for God’s provision of food, water, and even shoes), that relationship with God can be enjoyed so deeply that a person might respond with the gifts of her/his life, faith, future.
It’s important that this song be “re-sung” with conviction. Testimonies often are more compelling than sermons, and there might be someone out there sitting and listening who would be compelled to give her/his life away.
This Psalm is much more likely to have meaning for daily life in cultures where shepherds and sheep are more familiar. In those contexts, people seem to “get” the metaphor- that sheep rely on the shepherd for life, health, future, sustenance, protection. The sheep seems to know only a life lived in response to the shepherd.
When the 23rd Psalm is used only or primarily as a funeral reading, we miss the “life lived in daily response” part.
In still other parts of the world, where political leaders are often referred to as “shepherds,” this Psalm can serve as a stern rebuttal and critique of bad leaders and unhealthy leadership. In this sense, the Psalm takes on a political feel. “The Lord, the One by whom all other leaders are measured, is my shepherd. To the Lord, the Good Shepherd, I pledge my life. No other power or authority
Other OT places where the shepherd is (or is supposed to be) the good and helpful leader of the people-
10Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them. 11For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 2Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. 3Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. 5The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
From Henri Nouwen’s Gracias- “All is grace. Light and water, shelter and food, work and free time, children, parents and grandparents, birth and death- it is all given to us. Why? So we can say gracias, thanks: thanks to God, thanks to each other, thanks to all and everyone.”
Alan Greenspan- “our national illness is…. ‘infectious greed.’”
Thomas Merton in Contemplative Spirituality- “Even though there’s a certain freedom in our society, it’s largely illusory. Again, it’s the freedom to choose your product, but not the freedom to do without it. You have to be a consumer and your identity is to a large extent determined by your choices, which are very much determined by advertising. Identity is created by ads.”
Gratitude is the cure for greed.
After an incredible luncheon with Luz Y Vida (our Latino congregation) this past Sunday, I’ve seen with my own eyes the capacity for gratitude. They thanked us, and thanked us, and thanked us. It got uncomfortable, but THEY could not have been happier. It’s almost like they knew the secret of the power of a life lived in gratitude.
We’re back to a myth of scarcity vs. truth of abundance.
Psalm 23 is often read at funerals, and why not? But perhaps we aren’t taking full advantage of the resources it has for us for daily living and life.
READ PSALM RESPONSIVELY, EUCHARIST