Three people accepted the challenge to preach on March 17 focusing on the 23rd Psalm. Following are sermons by Carol Buschick an Paul Cook.
Unfortunately, due to a winter/spring bug, Erica McDowell was unable to join us. Don’t worry – there will be a next time.
Top o’ the Mornin’ to Ye Carol Buschick
And May Many Irish Blessings Fill your Day
“The Lord is my shepherd,” the 23rd Psalm, is the best known and most loved of all passages of scripture. Why?
To me, it is so personal, so intimate. It tells me the Lord is MY shepherd so I will not want. He helps ME to lie down in green pastures where I can feel the warmth of the earth and rest safely. He leads ME to quiet waters where I can quench my thrust. He restores My soul.
David was a shepherd and understood the responsibilities of leading his flock. Sheep were a very important commodity providing food, clothing and tools. It’s clear, also, that a number of characteristics are shared by sheep and humans. They stray, get lost, are vulnerable to attacks by men and beasts and lack awareness of dangers ahead.
While hiking in the Rockies, I’ve come upon a highland meadow, finding a shepherd, his wagon and flock of sheep. It’s not always quiet, bleating baa, baa, baa! I think of God trying to lead his flock of children and the noise it can make. the stress it can create.
A couple years ago, I found myself being overwhelmed by the direction our country seemed to be taking regarding social justice and numerous problems I was having to face. I was becoming angry, depressed with the feeling I couldn’t do enough to stem the tide. There were things happening I couldn’t control.
At one point, I was camped near Denver for the GALA International Course Festival. I walked over to a trail that followed a lake shore. There were a couple of boys fishing on the other side, a family walked their baby, a jogger ran by. It was so peaceful. I sat on a bench, very still. I prayed, asked God, “What should I do?”
I heard Him tell me to “let go.” Do what I could do best, needed most. He had led me to quiet waters where I could hear him.
God has given us shepherds throughout life. He gave us Moses, He gave us the prophets, He gave us Jesus, our most beloved shepherd of all!
St, Patrick was a shepherd. Kidnapped before age 16 from Britain, by Irish raiders, he was forced into slavery, where tending the sheep was one of his chores. This experience led him to religion. He escaped back to Britain where he dreamed God was calling him back to Christianize Ireland. Patrick became a priest, returned to Ireland leading many to the Faith. Perhaps the metaphor of chasing snakes off the island,was the Druid persecutors of Patrick’s flocks?!!
We have God’s appointed shepherds among us today. Once, Rev. Donna found me sitting alone in the sanctuary. She pulled up a chair to face me and asked “So, what’s going on?” My turmoil was evident. With Rev. Donna’s insight and encouragement, I’ve been able to respond less to the political rantings, alarming announcements and egregious begging for money on e-mails.
I escape more often to the wilderness where I’m ready for God to restore my soul.
We are so blessed to have such shepherds among us. We have only to follow.
Thoughts on Psalm 23 Paul Cook
My bible has notes about the 23rd Psalm, drawing parallels to the Exodus in the old testament. It refers to this Psalm as, “A psalm of trust in the divine shepherd, who leads his people in a new Exodus.” It talks about leading them “through danger to security”. It mentions the word shepherd being a metaphor for royalty. “God provides the people with food and drink”, God provides “for the preparation of a table in the wilderness for the first Exodus generation”. It describes how “goodness and mercy, covenant blessings, rather than curses, pursue the psalmist”. “Exiled Israel is led back into the house of the Lord”. One interpretation of the house of the Lord, is the Land of Israel.
In Exodus God leads the children of Israel out of Egypt. He leads them with Moses and his staff. He leads them through the wilderness, but finds them water and food. Exodus 17:6, God had Moses strike the rock at Horeb so that water came out and his people could drink. Exodus 16, God provided them with manna to eat. The children of Israel had to trust God to provide these things. They were not capable of completing this journey on their own.
God led the children of Israel out of Egypt to free them from their slavery. What Exodus are we on? What slavery is God leading us out of? The children of Israel had to trust God to lead them and watch over them just as a flock of sheep trust their shepherd to lead them and watch over them. Do we have that trust in God? There are many people in the world today in an Exodus, refugees from other countries, homeless people, victims of violence, wars, disasters, storms, fires, floods. The list goes on.
Are we open to the green pastures and the still waters that God leads us beside? Do we recognize when we have been led there? Or are we like the children of Israel? Do we complain about the waters that we’ve been led to? Do we grumble because we’re not satisfied with what’s been provided? Do we follow the paths that God leads us on? Or do we stray as the children of Israel did because we’re stubborn and sometimes ignore what God is trying to tell us? When God calls on us, do we answer “Here I am”, or do we say “Who am I that I should go…”, “But what if they don’t believe me or listen to me?” How often are we plagued with doubt?
Doubt and fear were two of the biggest things that often destroyed the trust the Israelites needed in God. They were so easily distracted from the path that God was trying to lead them in. How easily are we distracted? Do we allow doubt and fear to drive a wedge between us and God? Do we allow doubt and fear to drive us from the path that God tries to lead us on? Do we use doubt and fear as excuses to ignore the suffering and need around us? Do we allow it to cloud our vision so that we can’t see the table God has set before us? Do we allow it to prevent us from walking out of or leading others out of those dark valleys? Do we allow it to prevent us from experiencing God’s comfort, or having our head anointed with oil, or to experience our cup overflowing?
Do goodness and mercy follow us? Do we sow goodness and mercy to others? When someone cuts us off in traffic do we curse them? If someone asks for a handout do we automatically dismiss them? Do we see the homeless, the refugees, and those in need, or do we put blinders on and ignore them? Do we set a table for them in the wilderness and anoint their heads with oil? Or do we pour invisibility on them and wish for them to go away? If we pass someone on the street who looks desperate, do we look them in the eye, or do we quickly look the other way?
There was a news article out recently about a community in California trying to turn around some laws that punished people and made it illegal for them to live in their cars. People who have no other place to go and can’t afford to live anywhere else. The laws were basically making it illegal to be homeless. These people were being fined and having their cars taken away because others didn’t want to see them living in their cars. They didn’t want them visible in their community.
Is our cup overflowing? What does it overflow with, goodness and mercy, or selfishness and intolerance? What house do we live in? Do we live in the house of the Lord, or do we live in the house of clouded vision and oppression? Are we bringing light to the valley of darkness, or are we casting it into further darkness? Do we understand the effects of our words and actions on others? What do we want those effects to be?
Violence seems to spring up everywhere, as the news of the shooting in New Zealand demonstrates. Dark valleys can appear anywhere. When we speak, do our words help guide others through the dark valleys? There is so much suffering in the world today, so many people who need help getting through those valleys. Too often I see or read people’s words spurring others to spread more darkness, to take away the table in the wilderness, rather than set the table. Too often I see or read in the news of people trampling the green grass into parched desert. Too often doubt and fear cause us to cling on to things that cause pain and suffering to others, and drive a wedge between us and God.
Doubt and fear allow darkness to spread. They cause us to shut down communication with others. They dry up the blessings in the cup so that they no longer overflow. They separate us from living in the house of the Lord. And they separate others from the house of the Lord, until many of us are wandering through the wilderness homeless, struggling through those dark valleys. We have to learn to let go of doubt and fear if we want to experience the green pastures and the still waters. We have to let go if we want our souls restored.
Just like a monkey trap where the monkey can’t get it’s hand out of the jar because it won’t let go of the food it’s clinging to, we have trouble getting out of the dark valley until we learn to let go of doubt and fear. They prevent us from building trust, trust with those around us and trust with God. Just like the children of Israel in the old testament, we have a tendency to hang on to things from the past. We hang on to things even when we know they are bad for us, because they give us a false comfort. They won’t help us get through the dark valleys. They won’t help us to live in the house of the Lord, but still we hang on to them. Sometimes it takes a long time wandering through the wilderness for us to understand.
If we hang on too tightly, we might miss the opportunities before us to reach the green pastures and still waters, and wind up in the dark valleys instead. Sometimes we have to learn to let go. It doesn’t always come naturally. I think in our society today, we are encouraged to hang on to doubt and fear. Indeed there are those who seem to want to stir up more doubt and fear, those who use doubt and fear as an excuse for hatred and violence. As you go through life, counter those dark clouds, practice letting go. Practice goodness and mercy, so that it might follow us. Practice letting others in so that we are not locked out. Practice comforting others. Practice giving blessings and not curses, that we might live in the house of the Lord our whole lives long.