(A sermon from October 11, 2020)
Today’s sermon is a meditation on Psalm 23.
I invite you to find a comfortable position to sit in. Take a moment to relax. You may want to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths before we begin, keeping your eyes closed and listening from your heart.
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
What does it mean to have a shepherd?
Do I even want a shepherd? Do I want to be compared to sheep?
Do I even want to turn my eyes toward someone–toward my Creator–who continues to guide me, often with whispers and nudgings, twinges, really, in my stomach that caution me and lead me on.
Do I not think that I can do this on my own, that I can exist on my own?
I can make good choices for myself, rely on my own power and cleverness to plot my course through the pressures of this world.
“I’m grown,” as we say. I know what is best.
Yet, if I’m honest, at night many times I struggle to go to sleep.
I lie awake in bed wrestling with my own fears, and this strange awareness–a craving–to lean back and rest in a deeper truth:
That I am being held, that we are all being held together.
Oh how I want to just let go and trust…but I resist it.
I have built so much up already, with this image of “having it all together.”
Do I dare let that go and rest in You, O God?
When I slow down and take a deep breath, even the thought of You,
The reality of You, the truth of You,
Lets my shoulders relax just a bit.
He makes me lie down in green pastures
And leads me beside still waters.
You seem to know what I need to make me calmer, to help me rest.
You know where the thickets are, the thorns, and you lead me to other places of softness where I can rest. If I can only let myself rest.
You know that I am scared of the noises around me–even when I can’t dare acknowledge it to anyone else, or even myself most of the time.
So, you take me to those places of stillness where I can pause, reach down, and bring a handful of cool water to my mouth to quench the thirst that I have had for so long.
It is the still place that helps my soul let down its guard so that I can breathe.
He revives my soul
And guides me along right pathways for his Names’s sake.
My soul needs a revival, if I’m honest. I have carried so much for so long. So much has pressed down on me, both from without and within.
As much as I detest the noise and the ceaseless shouting around me, why do I still turn on the screen and take it in? Let it in my soul that is in need of so much rest?
I struggle to know what path to go down. The paths that the culture claims are important are all lit so brightly with well-painted signs so no one can get lost–although they are lost the minute they begin down them and think that those paths will bring them true peace and meaning.
What paths do you want to guide me on?
What paths have I never noticed, because they don’t yell out for attention, but wait to be discovered by a patient soul that lingers just long enough to notice the smallest entrance…to healing.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
Oh I know this valley too well: the valley of shadows that try to convince me that I am not worthy, that I am not loved.
I know this valley that seems to choke out the light, so that I become confused and disoriented and wander.
How many times have I looked around and realized that I am in this valley? And how did I get here?
I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going. I was following along the well-lit paths of success and accomplishment, of sparkle and the superficial.
And now, I look around and realize where those paths truly lead.
And I am afraid.
Yet, in the middle of all this, if I still myself for just long enough. If I am quiet and face the reality that the distraction and the superficial don’t want me to be happy–but only want me to be preoccupied with them–I can hear your voice.
I can still hear your voice, whispering to me that I am not alone.
For you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You are with me, and you help me realize that I cannot achieve this on my own–whatever “this” is.
Here I have been so focused on holding on to what I can, out of fear, that I lost sight that I am being held, have been held all along.
You stand guard next to me, and your presence there assures me that all will be well, as so many saints have shared through the ages.
But I thought they were just words, until I found myself here. Until the deeper truth of my life broke through the fog and illuminated my heart with your grace.
You spread a table before me in the presence of those
Who trouble me;
While I may find myself standing on my own two feet, it is You who are holding my hands to steady me. I am still learning to trust You, and when I think back to where I came from, it’s easy to be embarrassed.
But You don’t want me to look there. You want me to look here, all around, at the feast that You have prepared.
And I ask myself, “Why troubles me?” If I am honest, I have to admit that many times my troubles come from within, not only from anyone outside who may wish me harm, who may want me to be less than I am–than you want me to be.
And I can never forget that, just as others may be seated in front of the table you have prepared for me, I may be seated in front of the table you have prepared for them.
So, can I bring myself to repent of my shortcomings toward others? Those times I have trespassed against the boundaries of another? In that pace of honesty, I can find healing and wholeness.
You have anointed my head with oil,
And my cup is running over.
That you take the time to anoint me, so that I can feel the healing oil slowly drip down my head and face, taking its time as it reminds me of the way you steadily move through my life, bringing wholeness in your wake.
I never considered myself worthy. Perhaps that is why I grasped for as many things as I could hold: that I have to have something else in order to be loved by You or anyone else.
But now, I can begin to see…
And your grace surrounds me and fills me, overflowing and spilling out around me in abundance.
You just keep pouring out your love, because there is no limit. It will never run out.
Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life,
So I keep walking. I keep moving in my life, with a deeper sense of my own worth–within You. Centered in You. Marked by You.
I can recognize the paths that will lead to pain and the ones that will lead to wholeness. I choose the path not marked by the blazing lights of distraction and greed, but the ones marked by quietness and simplicity. That is the direction I need to go.
And You follow me even as You lead me and walk beside me.
Where can I flee from Your presence?
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
And at some point, at some time, an awareness sneaks up on me and I realize that this will never end. That Your love for me will never end. That I will be with You forever.
I smile in a way I never have before, and my soul is filled with the warmth of Your love. I am at peace.