Summary: This is a sermon in support of EMMS International (formerly Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society) in support of their Advent 2016 Appeal. It focuses on God's presence with us in the crisis of life and our responsibility to be with others.
“TAKING THE JOURNEY, NO ONE WANTS TO TAKE”
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
Probably all of us have had to make journeys we would have rather avoided at one time or another.
Right in the middle of perhaps the best known and most loved piece of poetry in the world Psalm 23, the Psalmist uses a powerful and vivid metaphor to describe a journey that no one wants to take describing it as “walking through the valley of the shadow of death”
“The valley of the shadow of death” here is a poetic but meaningful way of describing a crisis in life, an experience potentially filled with danger, despair, fear, anxiety and uncertainty. The original Hebrew phrase could be translated “the darkest valley” and so describes any deeply traumatic experience we face. However, down the centuries most often this vivid phrase has been used by people to explain the experience of facing their own death or the grief that accompanies the death of a loved one.
The good news is that Psalmist doesn’t just describe this journey we would rather avoid but tells us some vital truths about the journey that will help us make it.
Specifically, He tells us it is,
An Unavoidable Journey
If you are human - there will be dark valleys in your life, they are unavoidable. No life is care free or trouble free at one time or another we are all going to have to take this journey no one wants to and walk through the dark valley. No one is immune. Jesus echoed what the Psalmist said about the inevitability of hard times, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” John 16:33 Both Jesus and the Psalmist are helping us be realistic about life, that it’s not all plain sailing.
A Survivable Journey
Perhaps the key word for us to grasp when it comes to these dark valley experiences from what the Psalmist says is “through.” He says he is going to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” he’s not going to be trapped in it or be unable to escape from it, it’s an experience, however difficult, that he is going to make it through. Crisis in this life are all ultimately temporary, the Psalmist knows he is going to survive this journey, he will make it through even the darkest valley.
The Psalmist is not claiming that he will make it through this dark valley under his own steam, this is not a case of "when the going gets tough, the tough get going." Instead he claims he will make it through the valley because of who will walk through it with him, the Lord, who is his Shepherd.
"For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 23:4
The promise of this Psalm is that in the darkest of life's valleys we'll find God our closest of companions. Like David and countless others we'll find, if we are open, that in the most difficult of life's experiences that Divine intimacy can counteract human anxiety.
God's care means we don't have to give into despair or be paralyzed by fear, His presence allows us to continue our journey in life.
This Psalm has been so precious to so many people down so many centuries because they have discovered in the midst of life they have experienced what it promises. The Psalm as a whole, promises with the Lord as our Shepherd we will experience, rest, peace, guidance, companionship, comfort, protection, security, provision for our present needs and hope for our future. None of this happens automatically it is translated into our experience when we learn to rely on the Lord as our Shepherd, relying on His presence with us, His protection of us and His provision for us, even in the valley of the shadow of death.
Jesus speaks of Himself as the "Good Shepherd" and those appointed to be leaders of His Church are described as Shepherds. Peter tells the first generation of church leaders "Be shepherds of God's flock which is under your care" 1 Peter 5:2 One of the primary roles of leaders in the Church is to create a caring community. We could say then, that the Church is to be a Psalm 23 community, a community where God's presence, protection and provision is experienced through the care of God's people.
END OF LIFE CARE & PSALM 23
Taking these words seriously from Psalm 23 many Christians have been at the forefront of developing what has been called palliative care, care for those literally "walking through the valley of the shadow of death." Palliative care has been described succinctly as ‘the active total care of those who have advanced, incurable life-limiting illness" In other words being with people and caring for them so they can journey "through the valley of the shadow of death" without being overcome by fear or pain and experiencing care and comfort in life.