Sermons

Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

 

Psalm 23 is arguably the most well-known and well-beloved Psalm of all.  It is the most requested Psalm to be read at funerals, but, no matter the occasion, if you ask someone what Psalm they might suggest, chances are it will be the 23rd.

 

Psalm 23 provides the lyrics to some of our most beloved hymns.  Even Bobby McPherran loves this psalm enough to cover it.

 

Maybe it’s because of the posters that hung in our Sunday School classrooms of that blonde, blue-eyed Jesus holding the fluffy sheep over his shoulders, but this Psalm is, for many of us, a touchstone of comfort and reassurance.

 

Maybe it’s because we are so very far removed from the social and political implications of the Psalmist comparing God to a shepherd, or Jesus comparing himself to one that we so readily accept this image of God and God’s children as Good Shepherd and rambling sheep.

 

If Psalm 23 is a beloved Psalm of yours.  If it is the place to which you go when you are in need of comfort, in need of a warm fuzzy image of God and of life lived with God, I hope you’ll forgive me for what I’m about to say next.

 

 

I think Psalm 23 should terrify us.  Maybe not terrify, but it should certainly challenge us and shake the very core of our relationship with the divine.

 

If you have trouble with the concept of the resurrection, Psalm 23 should confound you.  If you struggle with the Nicene Creed, you might consider crossing your fingers the next time this Psalm appears.

 

Sometimes, when I read this Psalm, it reads like an articulation of what I knew to be true; like someone gave the contents of my heart the language for which it was longing.

 

Most of the time, though, this Psalm is aspirational.  Each line reminds me of what I long to believe; what I long to feel about my relationship with God; how I long to live.

 

Some of the time, this Psalm seems to mock me from the pages of my bible.  Like reading Mother Theresa or Martin Luther King the words of this Psalm taunt me in my place of uncertainty, doubt and fear.  “These words are how a person of faith should feel,” they say to me. “Look how far you’ve strayed” they jeer.

 

From the first line to the last, this Psalm casts a confession of faith to which most of us can only aspire, and yet we say it as though it were the most natural thing in the word.

 

The Lord is my shepherd.  

 

My psalm might begin, “Please, God, be my shepherd.”

 

God makes my lay down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.  

 

But do I go where I am led?  Do I rest at God’s insistence, take comfort in God’s care?

 

Though I walk in the shadow of the valley of death I will fear no evil?

 

Oh, won’t I?  Don’t I?

 

I am offered a cup that overflows, but how often do I bask in the abundance that is?  How much more often do I seek a larger cup that leaves me in want?

 

In the midst of all that confronts me, my enemies, God provides a banquet just for me.  How willing am I to sit and eat?

 

Finally, the Psalmist proclaims, “I will dwell in God’s house for ever.”

 

Do I really believe that?  Me? I will? In God’s house forever?  Do I even know what that means?

 

If I don’t know what it means, or if I’m not sure that it’s true, how is it supposed to comfort me?  How often do we hear that last promise and dismiss it as a nice idea, or a fate offered to someone more faithful, someone more deserving of such a gracious promise?

This Psalm is far more dangerous than we give it credit.  Or, it should be. It could be.

 

In it, the author proclaims that simply because God loves us, we have everything we could ever need.  We have more than we need, an overflowing cup of abundance simply because God made us, and God loves us.  Our fear is no match for God’s assurance, our enemies don’t stand a chance before God’s embrace.

 

This Psalm is a bold statement of someone saying “no” to the culture of “more is better,” “no” to the might of the oppressor, “no” to the power of fear, fear even of death.

 

This is a statement that says no matter what is going on in the world, no matter how scary life gets, there is only one relationship on which we need depend, and that is God.

 

This poem denies the power of the marketplace, or the halls of congress, the lure of addiction, or reward of self-reliance.

 

This Psalm starts by saying “no” to all the things in our lives that beg for our attention, that fight to lead us in a particular direction and “yes” to giving ourselves over to God; to go where God leads us.  As profound as “We believe in one God” the Psalmist proclaims, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”

 

Saying this Psalm is to pray for an end to the way things are in the world in order that the Dream of God might be ushered in.  This Psalm tells us we can’t have it both ways.

 

It is revolutionary.  It is visionary. It is a bold proclamation of what is possible.

 

Once we proclaim that God is our shepherd, once we begin to live our lives as though that were true, the promises of grace flow.

 

Perhaps it is time to rip the 23rd psalm off the pastoral posters of our childhood and claim it as a confession of faith meant to shape our relationships with God, and our very selves.

 

Lex orandi, lex credendi.  Praying shapes believing. In the Anglican tradition, we believe that what we pray shapes what we believe.  

 

Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivandi.  What we pray will shape what we believe.  What we believe will shape how we live.

 

Let’s pray to follow where it is God leads us.  To trust that God has given us everything we need.  That there is no evil of which we need be afraid. That our lives are cups that God fills to overflowing.  

 

Let us pray all this that we might, one day believe it.  And that we might, one day live it.

 

For, when we do that, then we will know what it is to dwell in God’s house forever.

 

Amen.

© 2018 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

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