Summary: Welcome to the fourth Sunday in Easter, a Sunday often referred to as ‘Shepherding Sunday’, as it’s the one on which we read again everyone’s favourite psalm - the 23rd psalm, that begins, “The Lord is My Shepherd; I shall not want”
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 paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
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.
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 forever.
Welcome to the fourth Sunday in Easter, a Sunday often referred to as ‘Shepherding Sunday’, as it’s the one on which we read again everyone’s favourite psalm - the 23rd psalm, that begins, “The Lord is My Shepherd; I shall not want”
This is a such a well-known and well-loved psalm that the church in her wisdom has chosen to schedule this psalm for reading and reflection every year, whereas most bible passages, as most of you know, are read here only once every three years.
I assume that we return to this reading year after year because the church has asked for it to be read year after year, as indeed I find myself am repeatedly asked to read this psalm, particularly in hospitals, when people are dying, and at funerals.
I heard of a couple who asked for it to be read at their wedding. That’s not common. Most people prefer 1 Corinthians 13 read at their wedding: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or rude ...” but apparently this couple preferred realism! They said, “both our parental families are divorced, and with the rate of marital breakdown that’s all around us we don’t want, “Love is patient and kind”. We want, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death!”
Even so, while we may hear this psalm at the occasional wedding, and may indeed hear it taught regularly to Sunday School children, it remains true that this psalm will continue to be most asked for by people nearing the end of their lives, and this is appropriate, for the psalm itself seems to be a reflection from somebody who is nearing the end of their life, and is in a position to look back on their life as a whole.
And maybe that’s why I’ve never personally really taken to the Psalm - because I’m not at that stage yet, where I can look back on my life as a whole, with the benefit of hindsight. I’m afraid I’m still sorta stuck in the middle of it (as most of us here are).
Maybe that’s one reason why I’ve never felt overly comfortable with this Psalm, though after doing some serious reflection on it, in preparation for this sermon, I’ve realised that it may be even more so because of the first impression I get from the Psalmist, that He’s had a peaceful and easy-going life, whereas my experience of discipleship is that it’s been anything but peaceful and easy-going
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters ...
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Things seem to be pretty good for the Psalmist! He finds peace in the green pastures, lying down beside the still waters. His cup overflows. Things couldn’t be better! And he’s going to dwell in the House of the Lord forever, whereas I find myself spending very little time relaxing in the House of the Lord, instead spending most of my time on the front line of a battlefield, jumping from one trench to another!
Now in years past, when the time to prepare a sermon for ‘Shepherding Sunday’ has arrived and when I’ve yet been aware on my sense of alienation from the psalm I’ve dealt with this simply by choosing to preach on one of the other readings. This year though I’ve obviously decided differently, and chiefly because I think I might have got the Psalm wrong! Maybe things weren’t as calm and serene for the psalmist as I had thought? Two things have led me to this conclusion:
Firstly, it’s the association of this Psalm with King David. Of course we don’t know for sure that David wrote this psalm himself, as we don’t know with absolute certainty that he wrote any of the Psalms himself, but there are excellent scholarly reasons for assuming that he did indeed write some of them, and this one, which indeed carries the heading, “A Psalm of David”, is generally thought to be amongst the most likely of all to have come directly from his hand.