I'm talking today about friends - old friends. You know the kind - those old friends whom you haven't seen or spoken to for some time, but when you do see each other, or talk again, you pick up right where you left off - without skipping a beat.
My best friend from seminary I met nearly 30 years ago. Probably 20 years ago I gave her a mug with two older disheveled women sitting across the table from each other, sipping their tea. Their hair was up in buns, strands falling out; their nylons down around their ankles. The caption read, "Old Friends."
That's what old friends are like. There are no pretenses anymore - they know too much about each other for that. Old friends simply come into each other's presence and trust completely that they are loved - and accepted - just as they are. When in trouble old friends pursue one another, checking in frequently while the trouble abounds, expecting nothing in return. We never tire of hearing from old friends - never tire of hearing their stories - although many we may have heard before!
The Psalm assigned for this coming Sunday, Psalm 23, is one such old friend. It may well be one of the most beloved of all the Psalms. This is a Psalm we never grow tired of hearing, with its confidence in the ability of God to protect, to guide, to feed and to lead. We come to this Psalm in the midst of life's tragedies - just as we are - and receive from it the familiar comfort of an old friend. Like a persistent, pursuing old friend, God's goodness and mercy pursue us throughout our lives.
A little girl volunteered to recite the 23rd Psalm. She stood up and faced the audience, made a quick bow, then said in a loud voice, "The Lord is my shepherd - that's all I want!" She bowed again, and went back to her chair.
Really - the Good Shepherd is what we all want; for it is God's friendship, it is the relationship with our Living Lord that transforms every situation.
Physician Joanna Siebert has written of her experience of this soothing presence that makes all the difference. God's presence came in the grandmother with her 8-year-old granddaughter. Dr. Siebert said, "Today I visited an 8-year-old girl dying of cancer. Her body was disfigured by her disease and its treatment. She was in almost constant pain. As I entered her room, I was overcome almost immediately by her suffering - so unjust, unfair, unreasonable. Even more overpowering was the presence of her grandmother lying in bed beside her with her huge body embracing this precious (child). I stood in awe, for I knew I was on holy ground...I will never forget the great, gentle arms and body of this grandmother. She never spoke while I was there. She was holding and participating in suffering she could not relieve, and somehow, her silent presence was relieving it."
This little girl had no fear of death "for thou are with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me." She knew that Presence in the person of her grandmother as she died. Such is the transforming presence of the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ.