Let's walk around in this text a bit – we really are called to do just that.
We understand this psalm to be a psalm of trust, trust in God. What exactly are we trusting God to do?
Are we suspicious of such utter trust in God? Lord knows we don’t trust well – we try, but we often find we are lacking deep trust in those around us. Suspicious of government, neighbors, friends, spouses and sneaky teenagers – even the weather forecast on the evening news – our lives are filled with ample opportunity, and often well founded, for lack of trust.
How many times have we taken that step to trust and been let down, disappointed or betrayed? Do you ever, in the secret corners of your heart, feel let down, disappointed or betrayed by God?
In case you have not read the 23rd Psalm in King James English in a while let’s hear it again but lets also consider a running commentary within our own hearts in the reading. In italics are words imagined as on the hearts of any lamb today.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. (yeah, but I do want – jobs are disappearing, my child is hurting – Oh I DO want)
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. (life feels anything but still right now – I am restless and anxious)
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. (paths of righteousness – me? Hardly - I can’t even get through a morning commute without acting ugly)
Yea, 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. (the valley of death is all around me, a deep and long canyon stretching out as far as the eye can see – and I am scared, scared of loss, scared)
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. (seems like it's the enemy with a banquet – eating off the suffering and poverty of others. Seems like the enemy is taking food off my table, peace from my heart while I am left with only the crumbs on the floor)
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
(surely I have felt the dogs of pain and grief nipping at my ankles for what feels like an eternity – and that’s great that the house of the Lord is gonna be so great, but what I need is a center of peace now, here)
If we are honest, this running commentary seeps into our lives and into our reading of even scritpures of trust adn comfort. This too is a good thing for when we are honest with God about our fears and hurts we can lay them at the Good Sherherd's feet and trust that God hears and loves us in our struggle.
Water Brueggemann offers: “It’s God’s companionship that transforms every situation. It does not mean that there are no deathly valleys, no enemies, but they are transformed in the presence of God. Much like a far off bubbling spring is the source of may a cool stream, so too is confidence in God is the source of a life of peace and joy.
This psalm does not lie to us, it is not a simple platitude saying everything is all green pastures and still waters – far from it. The psalmist offers us reality, God does not promise that there will no dark valleys, no enemies – God’s promise is to be our Holy companion in that darkness or on the front lines.
Consider this version found in Eugene Peterson's translation of the Bible called "The Message":
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.
Even when the way goes through Death Valley
I'm not afraid when you walk by my side.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.
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.
And how is God our companion in our valley? Yes, in prayer and the eternal presence that is wrapped all around us. But in concrete ways too. WE, as the hands and feet of God in creation can be the Holy companions to others in their dark valley. In a smile given to a weary neighbor, a hug offered to a angry child, an arm around shaking shoulders, taking that 1 am phone call from a friend suffering through the valley of addiction, by sitting with a friend troubled with the demons of depression. When we work on a Habitat for Humanity house we are walking and working in that dark valley of some family’s need.
Each week I will look around the web to share with you the dot coms and dot orgs that reflect the lectionary.
Just a couple of dots this week – there are so many videos and web sites devoted to this psalm here are but a few.
Idea - make your own iMovie or have a contest with the youth group to make an innovative YouTube video reflecting on Psalm 23.