This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on March 22, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts.
A Psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
Psalm 23 is a really popular text. I’ve heard it at memorial services, in mission work, in the military, and so on. It belongs in so many different contexts, which speaks to its relevance. Today, we’re going to look at it together, as we ask ourselves how Psalm 23 can speak to us today, where we are now.
Together, we’re going to do an eisegesis of this Psalm. It sounds scary, but what it means is that we’re going to look at what God might be telling us throughout the text. Exegesis means looking at what the text meant, and eisegesis is all about what it means for us now.
Some starting context for us, some of the exegesis component, is that this is a poem written by David to God, like a prayer. David is in need of help from God, and more than just comforting. He needs for God to equip him, prepare him for what is to come in his life.
David is using the shepherd as a way to talk about God. Now, the role of a shepherd is to keep the sheep alive, which is different than magically providing every need for the sheep. The shepherd tends to the needs of the sheep still, but it looks different than simply handing out every single thing the sheep needs.
For us, if we are the sheep and God is the shepherd, God is too, making us alive. God is leading us, as the psalm says, leading us to still waters, leading us on the right path, accompanying us even now, comforting us and reminding us of goodness. God is providing care for us, even now.
My first question for you all, is how can you tell that God is present in your life? What signs can you point to, to know that God is with you, restoring your soul? Go ahead and reflect in the comments.
So what David needs in this psalm, is for God to remind him that God is with David. He’s not asking for food, for water, or even toilet paper or hand sanitizer. David wants to know that God is journeying alongside him, a reflection of goodness and mercy. He’s calling out to God, looking for that affirmation, so that David can feel comfortable continuing on his journey.
In response to David’s prayer, God responds, even as quickly as the words David writes. “You prepare a table for me…anoint my head with oil”, he prays. David has taken time to reflect, and in taking that time, he can see the care that God provides to him.
What kinds of care God is providing to you now? Have you noticed God working in new ways to show you that God is with you? How is this different than God caring for you even two weeks ago?
Let’s take a moment and write your thoughts in the comments. How can you see God caring for you or your community now? How do you know God is with you?
Through your responses, I am reminded that we are given the chance to trust in God, even and especially now, in the midst of a pandemic, a time where our entire world has no idea what is next. It’s a challenging time, which is why it’s even more important that we find ways to notice God. When we notice God, notice God journeying with us, through the good times, the challenging times, and the ones in between, we recognize our part in being the body of Christ.
When we know God is with us, we have a responsibility to respond, to remind others of God’s presence. If we continue on in that shepherd and sheep metaphor, we are surrounded by our fellow sheep. Even virtually, we are connected. We are community.
Being community now means that we get to be restored by God, our shepherd. We can rest in that. And, we get to turn around and be the church for those around us, be a reminder of God for those around us.
I’ve had this song, Pass It On, stuck in my head now for the last week. My mom used to sing it to me actually, and I’ll spare you my lack of musical giftedness, but I will say the lyrics to you. It says this:
“It only takes a spark, to get a fire going, and soon all those around, will warm up in its glowing. That’s how it is with God’s love, once you experience it. You want to sing, it’s fresh like spring. You want to pass it on.”
This theme of passing it on is central to us noticing God’s presence, us needing God’s presence. Because not everyone has the privilege of spending this time being encompassed in scripture, sitting down on Sunday with our cups of coffee or Diet Coke, being reminded of the ways we need God, and the ways that in turn, God is with us.
So if we are to take the call to “pass it on” seriously, what might that look like? In this time of social distancing, of closed stores, of shortages on groceries, what might it look like for us to pass on that reminder that God is with us all?
Another way to ask that question, is what does it look like to be the church now, in such a time as this? Let’s take another few moments to respond to that final question in the comments. What are tangible ways we can be the church, be the body of Christ, today, and in the coming weeks?
Friends, as we go from this place, may we remember the ways God has promised to abide with us, to shepherd us. In the words of the psalmist, David, “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord, my whole life long.”
May this be our prayer as we continue on today, into the unknown spaces of our current reality. Amen.