31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
There was a time when I would read the 23rd psalm at a memorial service, and people would say it along with me. That rarely happens anymore.
These days when I mention the 23rd psalm while planning someone’s memorial service, I often receive a blank stare from their family. I go on to say, “The Lord is my shepherd”, and then their faces light up as they respond “Oh, yes, that one.”
Do you know the 23rd psalm by heart? Most of it? Have you heard it or heard of it, but don’t have any of it committed to memory?
It’s ironic that this psalm that is so familiar has actually become unfamiliar, so well known that we barely pay attention to what it says.
Which is the reason I read you a non-King James version. So we could hear the psalm in a fresh way; so these familiar words wouldn’t be ones we just recite by rote or half listen to; so these familiar words might capture or recapture our hearts, reminding us God is always with us, the way the writer knew God was always with him or her.
A long time ago, some faithful person wrote the 23rd psalm as an expression of their personal faith, their relationship with God.
They wrote – when I feel like one of many, unseen and unheard, a number, just part of an enormous flock of sheep, when I feel like that, I know God is with me.
God is with me, paying attention to me, making sure I have everything I need. God finds me a place to rest. God nurtures me with abundance. God leads me where I am safe and nourished. God restores and revives me.
When I feel forgotten, a number, one sheep in the herd, I know God is like a shepherd. MY shepherd. Watching out for me. Protecting me. Nourishing me.
And when I feel like I am walking through obstacles that are as challenging as a valley filled with death, when I feel the cliffs of hardship closing in on me, when I wonder what’s around the next corner, waiting to attack me, I fear nothing because God is with me. God is my shepherd, protecting me, nourishing me, watching out for me.
That’s not where God’s amazing love ends though – when I feel like I am surrounded by animosity, surrounded by those who do not wish me well, sitting among those who are plotting and scheming to harm me, God doesn’t just protect me. God provides a lavish feast for me. God calms me with fragrant oil. God anoints me, marks me, declares I am God’s own. God overfills my cup. God provides me with that kind of abundance.
And I know, I know to the depth of my soul that God’s goodness, God’s mercy, God’s protection, care, and love will go with me every day of my life, every step of my journey – because God goes with me every day of my life and every step of my journey.
Thousands and thousands of years ago, someone wrote about their faith in God, their trust in God, how their relationship with God felt, how they knew God was always with them, no matter what they were feeling, no matter what was going on in their life and world. And then they shared it with someone else.
I can picture the writer saying, “Whenever I am feeling forgotten or overlooked, a face in the crowd, I imagine God as a shepherd leading me. When I feel like the journey in front of me is dangerous and difficult, I imagine God walking beside me. When I feel like everyone is against me, I picture a banquet God has provided for me. Whatever I am feeling, whatever is happening, I know God is leading me, caring for me, protecting me; God is with me. I am God’s, and I always have a place in God’s house.”
Thousands and thousands of years ago, someone wrote these words and shared them with someone else who was likely feeling forgotten, anxious, afraid, hopeless, and that person said, “Thank you for the reminder that God is always with me. My relationship with God feels like that, too.”
And likely that person shared these words with someone else, who shared them with someone else, who shared them with someone else, until “when I am feeling…..” became “when we are feeling…..” And these words of comfort and hope, these words of trust, these words that speak about our relationship with God, were written down in the songbook of the Israelites to be recited by people of faith throughout time, throughout the world.
That is how much of our Bible, our holy scriptures came to be. Someone wrote about their relationship with God and others in the community said “I feel that way too. That is what God looks like to me. That is what God feels like to me.”
And over time, these words that expressed an individual’s relationship with God became words that expressed the community of faith’s relationship with God.
For such a time as this, for such a time of hardship, anxiety, fear, disruption, for such a time as this, we need to be reminded by the 23rd psalm, that whatever we are feeling, no matter the challenging journey before us, no matter the adversity all around us, we are God’s sheep; we are God’s people; we are God’s beloved children. And God is with us. God is protecting us. God is providing for us. God is with us on our journeys, and we always have a home in God’s house.
The Lord is your shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is our shepherd.