Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 23rd Psalm July 18, 2021


The Lord is my shepherd is one of the most favorite phrases in English literature.  Whether you are a Christian, Jewish, or non-believer you know these words.  It is the first scripture I memorized in Sunday School as a child.  When I work with families to prepare the funeral service for a beloved member of their family, I will ask what some of the scripture passages are they would like read at the service. Without question the 23rd Psalm is one of the most chosen passages.

What is so special about this very short passage?  Let’s look closely to see what it tells us about the righteousness of God.

It is believed that King David of Israel wrote this psalm recalling his days as a lad when he was the shepherd of his father’s sheep.

The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.

Each spring the sheep of the Mideast were taken out of the enclosures they stayed during the winter to graze on the hillsides of Israel.  Sheep when they graze will literally eat the grass down to the roots if allowed to stay in one place.  So, the shepherds would lead them from pasture to pasture to keep this from happening.

When David says the Lord is my shepherd he is saying, “I have a God who personally knows me by name, who leads me through life.  God does not allow me to get too comfortable where we are lest we get bored with life and do not go to new vistas and opportunities.  We have a God who provides for us both material and soul food for the journey of life.”

The imagery as God as a shepherd throughout the Old Testament is common.  It emphasizes God’s personal care, guidance, and protection of his people.  We can rest assured in the hands of the Ruler of the Universe.  With God as our shepherd, we will never lack anything.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

Green pastures mean what God gives is not only food for the journey but rest when we are weary.  What is more relaxing than laying on a bed of grass on a warm spring day looking at the clouds going by?  Such times are a great time to meditate on who God is and what is his plan for our life now.

He leads me beside still waters.  Sheep do not like rushing water.  They like drinking out of a quiet pool.  For our special nourishment we need to be led to such places to study the scripture and pray.  Everyone needs a quiet time alone with God every day.

He restores my soul.  All of us face those times in life when we are totally depleted and empty.  We lose a job.  We lose a dear friend, or family member through death or a broken relationship.  We are just drained.  God promises to bring us close to him when such times happen.

Jesus, in the New Testament, uses the image of the shepherd to show us who he is for us.  He even goes so far as to say that he looks for us like lost sheep when we stray.  I love the phrase.  “It Jesus seems distant, guess who moved.”

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

The root word for righteousness in scripture has at least two meanings.  This first is justice.  It means God brings order out of chaos.  There are times when turbulent that we can’t make sense of what is happening.  Look to Jesus to help you weather the current storm and find direction in your life again.   A second word that comes from righteousness is justification.  It is the basis of our relationship with God.  If we believe and trust in God that is all we need to be in right relationship with God.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

Having served as a chaplain at Hospice for a few years I know how important these words of faith are.  Death is a scary subject.  Going through the grief of the death of a job, a relationship, or the depth of grief when you lose a parent, a child, or your own spouse that is devastating.  In addition to the numbness that often comes when we first experience profound loss, there is an emptiness that seems like a deep dark hole that threatens to suck the very life out of your soul.

In addition, the day will come when we die.  Most of us know in advance, even before the doctor says; “Medically we have done all we can do.  You had better get your affairs in order.”  No matter how great your faith the idea of leaving everything and everyone you love is truly awesome grief.  In faith we believe in eternal life with God our Father and Christ our brother only Jesus has come back to tell us he has gone to prepare a place for us. This psalm assures us that we have nothing to fear because our God is with us both in this life and the next.  It will be well with my soul.

Your rod, and your staff, they comfort me.

When life is like a stormy sea, or a scary wilderness we are once again assured God through the scripture, prayer, and caring friends will give us comfort until the storm has passed or we come out of the wilderness into a new chapter of our life.

This is my hope what will happen when this pandemic is over.  Life will never be the same, but it will be a new chapter in our lives led by God, our Good Shepherd.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

When I hear these words, I am drawn to the greatest table of all: the communion table.  In faith we believe that God through Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit gives us life, forgiveness, and salvation.

I have seen the miracle of this happening in the sick room.  The person lying there when they recognize nothing else knows what the bread and wine of Holy Communion are. Even if one receives by intinction alone, experiences resting in the peace of God which passes all understanding.

You anoint my head with oil.  My cup overflows.

Insects can get behind the ears of sheep and eventually kill them.  Shepherds today totally dip sheep in antiseptic to kill these bugs.  In ancient times they would anoint the head of the sheep and it would keep the insects away from their heads.  Later such anointing was done when a person was crowned monarch.  When I can, I anoint the head of a person who has just been baptized or for whom

I have offered a prayer begging God for healing.  This is amazing, overwhelming grace.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

If we are but open to it no matter what we experience in life in faith we know the goodness and mercy of God are with us and in faith we can face anything in death or life, or life beyond the grave.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Nothing, I mean nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Hold on and God will carry you through.

Let’s end this sermon praying together the 23rd Psalm.  Amen.

Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

The LORD makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.

You restore my soul, O LORD, and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall 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, and my cup is running over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.