The Faith We LiveEaster
Our scripture is found in the 23rd Psalm, a passage you know well. No matter what translation of this scripture you know, it is a scripture about hope.
We most often hear this Psalm read at a funeral. However, Psalm 23 is not written about the end of life; the scripture paints a picture related to all of life. I don’t suppose there is another passage in the Bible that sums up the faith this church was founded on more eloquently than the twenty-third Psalm.
How does this Psalm describe the faith we want to live?
The Psalmist explains what God has done that provides a place for us to live well in any circumstance. God is the good shepherd who knows us and our needs intimately. We can be confident when we are willing to give our lives over to God’s keeping. God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” It seems imperative that we bridge the gap between shepherds in that century and someone, anyone, in our culture who has the reputation of caregiver, provider, and protector.
Can you recall someone who taught and protected you at some time, in some way, when you felt most vulnerable? Take that experience and consider how God, in a much greater sense, has provided for us when life’s dangers crowded too closely and we felt more vulnerable than at any other time.
Too often we run the phrases together; “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” with barely a pause. Realistically, we do want, that is where we live. The Psalmist is saying that there is nothing that the world has to give us, and there is nothing that we have to give to each other even, that will ever quite fulfill our want. The verses that follow describe the dangers around us and the need inside of us.
Continue reading the Psalm and we find the image of green pastures and still waters, being led through dangerous passageways, feeling vulnerable and threatened, and finally being seated at a large table, a virtual feast spread in front of you as you are protected from any and all who would do harm.
The Psalm resembles a prayer of thanksgiving back to God. This Psalm needs to be read, heard, and understood as a Psalm about living for it puts daily activities such as eating, drinking, and seeking security in a God-centered perspective that challenges our usual way of thinking. You, Lord, make me lie down in the safety of green pastures. You lead me beside still waters; You restore my soul. You lead me on good paths. You are with me, comfort me. There is a calm restfulness that pervades all of these verses. The image used by the Psalmist means to sit still. “To dwell” is the concept of sitting still, resting, and being at peace amidst all the danger. The image begins with “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” The passage ends with “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” I am sitting still in the presence of God.
Throughout these verses, we find encouragement like no other for life’s battles. Strength to keep running, even when you feel surrounded and outnumbered by those who seem to oppose you. If that is our perspective, nothing we face has a chance of defeating or deflating us.
If we can accept the assumption that God is still working to claim and restore a broken world and a broken people, we can conclude that the Lord is our Shepherd, protector, and provider and we do have everything we need. If that is our belief and it can become our focus, then and only then can we do something different than recoil from life’s calamities. The Lord is our Shepherd; we have everything we need.
Psalm 23 is about God’s care through all of life. In the Gospel reading, Jesus explains that he is the good shepherd who calls the sheep by name and they follow because they know his voice. “I am the gate for sheep… whoever enters by me will be saved and will go in and out and find pastures.” Jesus is the gate that opens the world to God’s saving love. Does Christ at the gate keep us from evil or does God so love the world that the gate swings open to propel us out into service in the world?
Many of you might remember, I keep a journal, in which I copy the scripture in long hand to listen more carefully to the scripture’s meaning for me. When I came to the familiar twenty-third Psalm, I decided to rewrite the Psalm to describe its meaning in my own life. I share that with you,