All week I was wondering what story from scripture would we gather around today. And then on Friday as a number of you were contacting me in response to my video debut(!!)… it seemed my reference to Psalm 23 was a powerful thing. So I thought that’s where we’d go today. And as it turns out, it happens to be Psalm for this 4th Sunday of Lent …which means we’re sharing in this with many people around the world today.
So let us listen for what the Spirit is saying to the Church through Psalm 23 … You might even like to recite it with me …
The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
leads me beside still waters, restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Yeah 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 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.
God’s Word is Life!
I’m guessing for many of us this is the most familiar of all the Psalms. It’s the one some of us learned by heart along the way. Because of its familiarity, the words may roll off our tongues without us feeling their power … and yet it’s a Psalm that may well come alive for us again in a new way in these times.
I’m thinking for example of Pauline who was sharing with me that her sister Marion is in hospital in Pennsylvania … with pneumonia and heart failure … test results for COVID 19 aren’t back yet. But it is clear, Marion is very seriously ill. Family members are not able to visit. And connecting by phone is very difficult. So how to be there for Marion at a time like this?
Amidst Pauline’s own grief, she’s recalling and grateful for the fact that her sister has known the presence of God along the way. I’m guessing the 23rd Psalm is right there in Marion’s repertoire … one of those pieces that has laid down its tracks in her … just as it’s there for Pauline. Powerful words of reassurance …words that express the promise of Love’s abiding presence … companionship even and especially in the valley of the shadow of death.
I’m thinking too of how the Psalm begins with these images, these scenes in the natural world … green pastures, still waters … evoking in us memories of places where we’ve hiked or picnicked, photographed … ponds or lakes so still, the reflection breathtakingly beautiful;green fields and slopes so inviting you can’t resist their call, enticing you even to take off your shoes and go barefoot!
What a way to begin the day these very days when we’re meant to stay home …to being the day giving ourselves time – which is what many of us have in abundance right now – what if we began each day, or stopped at some point in each day and allowed ourselves the time to be led in our mind’s eye to these very places we’ve known and set foot … to linger there … to breathe a while there … to be refreshed there … our souls restored there.
Or in these wakeful nights … ?anyone else awake these nights? What if instead of worrying … what if in response to our restlessness, in our imaginations, we sat down or took a stroll in these places of beauty and peacefulness, drank in their enlivening goodness?
What are those places for you?
And then we hear, “You prepare a table in the presence of my enemies.” This notion of a feast amidst fear, in the face of danger, even attack. Is that not something of our own reality right now? … this table of plenty that is being laid out before us, all around us? A feast of kindness – people looking out for one another, attentive to each other’s needs, concerns. There’s a quality of care in the air, an inclination to enquire of each other, greet each other instead just passing by.
For many there is a feast of time … time to garden, time to read, time to be creative, time to take care of that list of to do’s, time to follow through on some of those best intentions that got way-laid, time to write those notes of thanks, time to pick up the phone and be in touch.
There’s this feast of connection. Right within our own congregation, 100 phone calls are being made several times a week! Gordon was telling me about a phone conversation he had last night with someone out on the street as shelters and food sources are closing down where previously people were welcomed in and fed. There’s this feast of connection … as we make the connection with what’s going on in the world … not just the beauty, but trouble, the suffering, the deprivation.
And there’s this feast of self-giving … all these people who are coming to light who are undertaking essential services … truck drivers crossing the border to bring back food and all manner of goods … cashiers who receive hundreds of people daily in close quarters … cleaning staff in every public building … and of course health care and home care workers … all these front line workers putting themselves on the line.
Something is happening among us. Amidst this daily narrative of death, with the death toll climbing – it’s for real – and yet there is this counterpoint of love, this other narrative of grace, of generosity, of abiding with. The very essence of God’s way in the world that is described in the 23rd Psalm, it’s breaking through … it’s breaking out among us. And it will continue as we allow it … as we make room in our bodies, in our minds, with our hands, our hearts, in our spirit for God’s life giving love to dwell, to grow, to flow.
So what would it be for us, every time we hear the directive to stay home, which we’re hearing a lot these days, what if it became for us also the reminder, the call for us to be that home for God’s love … and to be at home in God’s love.
That’s the encouragement that comes to us through these words of Steve Garnaas Holmes …
In this time of fear and uncertainty
we look with anxiety to the future.
But the Good Shepherd leads you
into the present moment.
Anxiety is an invader from the future.
The Shepherd of our Souls offers us
courage and comfort in this moment.
Follow the path into the present.
The green pastures may be distant
from this shadowed valley,
but they are greater than you know.
You fear the smallness of your vision.
Meanwhile the Shepherd of our Souls is here
with us, leading us, right now.
Behold this moment. Behold the love.
Look till you see beauty. Stay till you know.
It is not protection from the future,
but the presence of the Shepherd,
even in the darkest day, that is our peace.
Trust that peace. Follow that shepherd
into this moment. Be present.
Stop and breathe, and breathe again.
No matter what happens in the future
God is here, with you, now. Be present. 
 Steve Garnaas Holmes, Present Shepherd