Psalm 23 is one of the most enduring passages in scripture. It speaks of our trust in God and the promises we find in that trust.
In light of John 21: 15-19 we are also called to be shepherds to the people of this world. How might we live out that calling through the lense of Psalm 23?
Scripture: Psalm 23
Something that all of us have in common is a distinct lack of what it means to be a shepherd. Yes, some of us have or do work in agriculture. However, our experience is far removed from what Jesus is referring to as a shepherd or what we find in Psalm 23. The shepherd in ancient Israel, with its rolling hills and valleys is far removed from our modern condition. Dealing with the threat of wild animals and bandits seeking to steal from our flock is far removed from our reality. The shepherd existed to guide and protect the flock.
This morning we have two passages that deal with the image and idea of God as shepherd. We read these passages in the light of our reading from John’s gospel last week, when Jesus asked Peter to feed his sheep and care for his lambs. How do we act as the shepherd in today’s world? Must we carry a rod and a staff? Is training provided?
As followers of Christ we are asked by Jesus to Feed his Sheep and Care for this Lambs. If that is true, then we have an obligation to look out for those who are in need of help. To find those who need to be brought under the protection of Jesus’ fold. Just as we look to God, who is our shepherd, we are also asked to be shepherds to others that we meet.
Are we the shepherds that Jesus needs us to be? Do we do the work, or do we hope that Jesus will do it for us? Is the love that Jesus has only for us or is it for everyone we meet? Our actions will speak loudly on this question. Acting as a shepherd in the world is no easy task.
The problems seem so enormous and overwhelming. How do we adequately shelter and feed everyone? How do stop the bombs from dropping and the bullets from flying? How do we stop the violence we find in our own communities, sometimes within our own families? It’s a daunting task.
For us to act as shepherds in the worlds calls us to act out of love, with a sense of justice and a desire for God’s righteousness to be known be all people. And sometimes that means people need to be humbled.
Throughout the task we are reminded that just as God leads us to still waters, we too can lead others to still waters. We live in tumultuous times. The 24/7 news cycle, the instant access that we have to information is disconcerting. It sends confusing signals to us that we don’t always interpret well. We are an anxious society. It is refreshing to be reminded that God leads us to still waters, that God leads us to peaceful circumstances.
Scott Hoezee writes about the enduring elements of Psalm 23. “And yet Psalm 23 endures. Why? Because in the deep places of our souls, I suspect that we all sense that maybe everybody needs a shepherd. Way down deep in places we don’t talk about when we’re laughing it up at a party, we long for someone bigger, wiser, and stronger to take care of us” (reference).
God leads us to still waters and we can lead others to those waters that God provides. Just as the shepherd led the flock, we can also do this. We find the themes of hope and reassurance are front and centre in Psalm 23. God is with us, God protects us, God provides for us. There is hope for a new tomorrow, we will be alright.
As we act as God’s agents in the world, as God’s shepherds we are thankful that God looks after and cares for us. Scripture is full of wonderful promises. When we look at John’s gospel we find the wonderful promise of eternal life. John references ‘eternal life’ 17 times in his gospel, something that is only repeated a few times in the other gospels. The community that John wrote for was persecuted for their belief in following Jesus. But we know the voice of our Shepherd, we acknowledge the promise of eternity that is ours.
Eternal life, at God’s side. That’s the promise, it’s simple and elegant at the same time. It evokes a sense of mystery and wonder. God’s promises are good, and they are wonderful.
However, God’s promises are not just for the future. They are also for the here and now. Psalm 23 reads, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” Want what? The sentence is beautifully constructed to evoke a sense of wonder. Given God’s presence what is it that we lack? In God we lack nothing.
As we witnessed earlier when little Maeve was baptised, baptism assures us that we belong to God. In life and in death our greatest comfort is that we belong to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
That no matter the circumstances God is with us. Whether we find ourselves at the highest hill or travelling through the darkest valley. God is with us. God does not lead us there, but leads us through. The traditional translation of this passage is “through the valley of the shadow of death” which is why this psalm is so often used during funerals. It has that sense of finality of crossing through the veil. However, translated as ‘the darkest valley’ provides wider use and gives us a greater insight into how God works in our lives. How God leads us through times of trouble that eventually find us led to still waters.
A reminder that the psalm speaks not just of life’s end, but of the day to day burdens that we all experience. That we can lay those down at God’s feet and find respite. Our mind, bodies and souls can be refreshed and renewed in this life. We have a God who offers and promises such things in our daily life.
This is something that the risen Christ promises to us. Renewal in the day to day aspects of our lives.
How do we act as shepherd’s in a hurting world?
We offer peace to all we encounter. Through a kind word, a smile that speaks of life and companionship that transcends the ordinary.
We offer grace to all we encounter. By being honest and open, our vulnerability is an asset not something to hide.
We offer mercy to all we encounter. Through acts of forgiveness and reconciliation, by putting the needs of others and our community before our own.
We do this so that all people might be led to those still waters and find peace. That all might dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.