He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

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1 Psalm 23 King James Version (KJV) 1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 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. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23 The Message (MSG) 1-3 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. 4 Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd s crook makes me feel secure. 5 You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. 6 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. I wanted us to hear these versions of the 23rd Psalm. The last version is conducted by Bobbie McFerrin and I really like it because it lasts so long. Three minutes. It is not rushed through and it gives us time to focus on each sentence. Listen as his version is played for us. The Lord is my Shepherd, I have all I need, She makes me lie down in green meadows, Beside the still waters, She will lead. She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs, She leads me in a path of good things, And fills my heart with songs.

2 Even though I walk, through a dark & dreary land, There is nothing that can shake me, She has said She won't forsake me, I'm in her hand. She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes, She anoints my head with oil, And my cup overflows. Surely, surely goodness & kindness will follow me, All the days of my life, And I will live in her house, Forever, forever & ever. Glory be to our Mother, & Daughter, And to the Holy of Holies, As it was in the beginning, is now & ever shall be, World, without end. Amen Read more: Bobby McFerrin - The 23rd Psalm Lyrics MetroLyrics E DB98E6E32739E240&rvsmid=A3AB435B22A04B039720A3AB435B22A04B039720&fsscr=0&F ORM=VDFSRV Bobby McFerrin dedicated this to his mother, which illumines the use of female imagery for God. Today I want to reflect on some of the key aspects of this treasured psalm, The Lord is my Shepherd. This psalm is one of those basic resources of faith, even for people who don t know the Bible. When I would gather with people to do a funeral, especially those with no background or grounding in the faith, they would request this psalm. For our culture, this psalm seemed to resonate with our soul so easily. It is a gentle psalm full of compassion, comfort, and caring as well as assurance that we are not alone. Everyone seems to know at least the first line. The Lord is my shepherd. One of the major metaphor sets in this psalm is sheep and shepherds. To call God our shepherd is to call ourselves sheep. That is not always so flattering for us. Sheep are vulnerable creatures, especially when we are on our own. Sheep need a leader that will not just let them wander off or into danger. Sheep need a proactive shepherd. They will start nibbling on grass and just nibble off into trouble if there is no shepherd. They don t really pay attention to where they are going, and like us, just nibble off into trouble. I know we don t like to think of ourselves as sheep, but we do at times have the tendency to wander off.

3 It is also up to the shepherd to protect the sheep from danger and to bring them back home safely as the only defense sheep have against a predator is flocking together. And yet, they instinctively run away as individuals rather than gather as a flock. A lost sheep is very vulnerable to predators and pain and so are we. I imagine we can all name times we have felt like an abandoned or lost sheep. But like that parable where the shepherd has lost one sheep and stops everything to go find it, we to know the experience of being found by God. And Jesus reminds us that this is not a burden to God but brings joy to God when we are found. Today is a good day to reflect on that. Why not spend some time today dwelling on those instances where we have been found? This could prove faith building for us. Being a sheep may be hard, but being a shepherd is even harder. It is hard work. It is essentially caring leadership that refuses to give up on us for sheep; you and I don t always want to go where it is best for us to be. Many of us have gotten ourselves in trouble resisting or even avoiding the leadership of God for us. God tries to lead us in the correct paths, paths of righteousness and yet we wonder off and God has to seek us again. God has given us a way to live in community with compassion and justice, especially for the most vulnerable. And yet we wander off into warring, self-seeking aggrandizement. I think we could learn a lot about living in all the situations we find ourselves in when we follow God s model of leadership. Robin Sharma has written a book The Leader Who Had No Title. Its basic thesis is the way we do what we do is more important than the title we hold. Following God s model of leadership, our lives would be built on compassion and caring. We would not give up. And we would live a life of integrity and call on others to do the same. While I was home with Marlene she watched a lot of MSNBC on politics. I wondered, What if our politicians started practicing more of this type of leadership and stopped resorting to name calling and insults? As I said quite often Psalm 93 is considered a funeral psalm because of the old King James wording of death and dwelling in the Lord s house forever. We have also seen it used as such in countless movies and dramas as part of a graveside or funeral service. But I think as we go through it, we discover that it is a psalm for the living as well. That doesn t mean the one who prays it is without acquaintance with pain and suffering. The person praying this psalm knows pain all too well. But in spite of that pain, we can trust, hope and live in God. It is a text that equips us for the living of our daily life. Essentially, this psalm is one of trust, proclaiming that whatever the calamity that strikes, I will trust God. And this psalm is often spoken by us as an act of faith for whatever our valley of the shadow of death is. One of the greatest confessions of faith I have ever heard is one proclaiming, Come what, may I trust God. But there is more than just trust in times of trial. What is wonderful about this psalm is that it starts with gratitude for a life lived with God as our shepherd. It is a psalm that moves us deeper into our theology and belief to a stance of essential trust. If we declare, I shall not want or I have all I need, think how much our lives change. We have what we need. As politicians wrangle about exporting jobs and profits, the psalmist takes a stance of gratitude, Thank you God; I have what I need. And what is it that we have beyond the basics for existence? We have available to us God s presence. The person praying this psalm, you and I, may have suffered, illness, oppression, abandonment, and attack, but in the face of this suffering, we confess faith in a redeeming God who will not leave us alone. I find it fascinating that it follows the Psalm 22. Obviously it does, but I was referring

4 to content. The twenty-second psalm starts with the lament, My god, my god, why have you forsaken me? and moves on through lament to trust. The shepherd psalm simply starts out with trust and thanksgiving as a confession of faith. I have talked with many people who find life too busy, even people in retirement. God gives us that which we so need, a time of rest to get our lives back, our souls restored. This is one thing weekly worship can do for us if we will let it. We are called, led by God to places of quiet refreshment and spiritual nourishment so that we can be equipped for all that life brings. When we take advantage of these we are not wasting time or just passing time, we are following God s lead. It is not hard to hear the Ten Commandments being echoed here, Sabbath rest and an absence of greed or in the old language, coveting. The sense of peace renewed within us helps us live in the presence of real evil. What else can explain the success of peaceful, nonviolent resistance to topple our country s racial divide of the fifties and sixties? It was the marchers depicted in the movie Selma; it was the dignity of the integrators of Little Rock s Central High School. The psalm doesn t ignore the problems of daily life; rather it brings God directly into those areas as gloomy and sinister as death itself. Did you notice that the language shifts hear from third person talking about God to second person talking to God? Even in the face of violence, even when it was anticipated there was a sense of God s presence, never in the Psalms is there a naive overlooking of evil and danger, but trust in the face of it. The exact center of the psalm is, thou art with me, 26 words before and after as one writer notes. Intentional or not, this is the heart of the trust, thou art with me. You are with me. That is faith in a nutshell. One of the greatest damages inflicted on us by the religious wars of our culture was the turning a personal relationship with God from a gift of God to a slogan. It replaced born again as the litmus test of authentic Christianity. Even politicians profess their personal relationship with God as a sign we should vote for them. It is not enough to profess a relationship with God; we need to model ourselves after the caring and compassionate shepherd God. Our behavior models our beliefs. The psalm is the perfect example of the nature of that relationship when redeemed from the field of battle. God is one we relate to in gratitude for life and talk to in trust. God provides for us and leads us. Then we shift from one metaphor to another. This same God, who cares for us and leads us, lavishes goodness on us like a generous host. What a gracious hostess is our God. Not only does God have our back all the time, but also every time we come to the generous table of God we announce it and affirm it for ourselves. And often this confronts those ugly situations in our life that eat away at our identity as children, sheep of God. This goodness that is showered upon us, although a better translation would be God s goodness and mercy pursues us, it will not let us go. God is not just passively waiting for us to come, but actively seeking us out, pursuing us. In one youth group I was associated with, two members decided to run away on their motorcycles. This was based on some decision by one of the parents that one of the kids thought was too strict, so he talked his friend into joining him. It was a great idea at the time, and then the bikes broke down in the middle of Oklahoma. Out of money, out of everything, they called home. Then they discovered their parents had been searching for them relentlessly. They dropped everything and went to pick them up. They did not like admitting that they were wrong, but they did discover their parents were pursuing them with good intent to return them home safely from the moment they left.

5 And isn t that what we long for - home, home with those we love and home with God? And that is what God offers - a home with a living, loving, leading shepherd and a relentless, lavish host. The life we want and need so much is ours when we trust our shepherd.

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