Rev. George Miller
May 7, 2017
I recently came back from my vacation to Grand Rapids. It was an experience in which I felt guided; shepherded if you will.
Drove to the Orlando Airport Economy Parking Lot in which I found the most perfect spot under a huge oak tree.
Landed safely in Grand Rapids in which the grass was green, lush, with fields full of dandelions and tulips.
Saw old friends over sandwiches, celebrated a birthday at the Moose Lodge with live music, and caught up with a former organist while sitting for hours alongside the Grand River.
Walked into a business establishment just by chance and was greeted with a long forgotten face who gave a huge hug and said “You just made my entire day!”
Coming home I felt particularly shepherded. My flight was to leave at 3:30 pm, with a connecting flight out of Detroit at 6:30, meaning I would not be back in Sebring until 11 pm.
I arrived at the airport at 1; had lunch, made my way to the gate. There were storms that day, and you could feel the nervous energy in the terminal.
I went to my gate prepared to wait for the next 2 hours. Turns out they were boarding for a 1:30 flight to Detroit.
Nice and polite, I went up the ticket counter and said “Excuse me, I have a question…”
“You’d like to get on this flight, is that correct?”
“Give me your ticket,” the woman said.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yes.” She explained that because of the storms they were trying to get everyone out and I was freeing my seat for someone else later on.
Beep-bop-boop!, I was given a boarding pass, got on the plane, landed in Detroit an hour later.
I felt the inclination to try my luck again, made my way to the next gate. Turns out they have a flight to Orlando leaving in 10 minutes; for $75 extra I can get on.
Beep-bop-boop!, I am on that flight which left Detroit at 3:15; 15 minutes before my original flight out of Grand Rapids.
By 6 pm I am safely in Orlando, relaxed as can be. Get to my car in the Economy Parking Lot…and see that I had left the window on the driver’s side down the entire time!
But I stayed calm. Checked the trunk- nothing missing. Checked my CDs- all of them were there. Checked where I keep my emergency money- nothing was touched.
And even though it had rained in Orlando, my car was dry, thanks to the protective covering of that mighty oak. And since the window was rolled down, the car smelt as fresh as can be.
I made it to my Cozy Cottage by 8:45 pm, decompressing on the couch by 10, and asleep in my own bed by midnight.
I did not want; I was not worried. I was comfortable and filled with the sense of goodness and mercy.
I felt shepherded…
Today’s scripture is a sacred text; one that everyone knows, and no doubt feels some ownership over.
It is a song about the journey, and we are all on a journey, a journey that we try our best to navigate.
There are those here today who are navigating what it means to be towards the end of one’s life.
Those who are navigating what it means to be retired. Those who are navigating what it is like to work. Those who are navigating what it is like to be in school and balancing so many things.
All of us are on a journey and many of us can say “This is not where I ever thought I’d be 10 years ago” or “I have no way to imagine where I will be 10 years from now.”
Knowing that life is a journey, we find solace in the 23rd Psalm, as it states that the Lord is our Shepherd, even if we have not grown up in a pastoral setting.
Though this scripture is familiar, it still finds ways to surprise and talk to us.
For example, the way it is structured. In the first 3 verses, God is referred to indirectly. God is talked about: God shepherds, God leads, God restores.
Then in verse 4 God is directly addressed- You are with me, you prepare, you anoint.
It’s a subtle shift, but it brings us back to what we discussed March 19 in regards to Exodus 17 and how the people tried to turn God into an object.
In other words, verses 1-3 refer to God like a performance based product; verses 4-6 refer to God as a person.
Verses 1-3 refer to God as utilitarian; verses 4-6 refer to God as “You.”
In other words, we experience a personal relationship with God in which relation, care, goodness, living alongside one another, and mercy are key.
It’s not so much “Hey- this is what you can do for me,” but more “Wow God! We are in this together, side by side, and I really like being in your presence.”
And because we have this personal relationship with God, because we experience God more as relational than an object that performs upon our beckoning, we grow, we deepen, we expand.
We welcome the opportunity to be led in paths of righteousness. But what are right paths?
Are they times in which we follow our instincts and happen to be in the right place at the right time so we can get the best parking spot and hop on an earlier flight?
Perhaps. I think that being open to the Holy Spirit and following our internal instincts is important and something that needs to be better taught.
Is right paths always being nice to people and always putting others first even if it means you may be left in want?
Sometimes??? Sometimes not???
Are righteous paths set-in-stone paths that exist until the end of time and are absolutes for everyone no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey?
What are right paths? Because the longer I live the more I think there are numerous right paths.
For those graduating from high school, what’s the right path- going to college or going to trade school, going into the military or immediately getting a job?
Knowing that 27 is the 3rd deadliest road in the nation, do the right paths demand that the speed limit is lowered or that slower drivers get the heck out of my way and stay out of the left lane?
For Christians is the right path one that is paved primarily on notions of moral sin or paved with acts of justice?
And who defines what justice is?
Psalm 23 sure does make paths of righteousness sound so good. But what are these righteous paths? And how does a right path get us to the best destination?
Because let’s be honest- the Bible doesn’t make it that easy.
In one book we have scripture telling people to never marry a non-believer, then we have the entire book of Ruth that tells how a non-believer became the grandmother of King David and the ancestor of Jesus Christ.
Scripture tells us to keep the Sabbath holy and to do no work, then we are told that Jesus did what he wanted 7 days a week, healing people every day even when religious leaders challenged him for it.
The Gospels tell us of the magnificent ministry women like Mary Magdalene, and Phoebe did, but then the contested letters of Paul tell women to be quiet in church and have no authority over men.
How do we know what is right? How do we know we are on the right path? How do we know that where we are walking is where God wants us to be?
And I don’t really know how to answer that question. I don’t know if there actually is a way to say “This is how you know.”
I think it’s almost more about the way…you feel. That you can just tell. You can sense. You can inhale, exhale…and it is there.
I think that this walk with God, this journey with the Good Shepherd is more about that personal relationship we build together, together meaning between us and our God.
I think because we are all individuals, we all have an individual relationship with God in which the right paths can sometimes be the same as others, but they can also be different from our neighbors and others that we know.
I do think we can find a sliver of an answer in verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
Remember what we talked about 2 weeks ago, when Christ appears to the disciples and says “Peace be with you.” (John 20)
We shared that another way to say “Peace be with you” is “May God give you every good thing.”
Thus “I shall not want” and “May God give you every good thing” almost mean the same thing; spiritual cousins if you will.
“The Lord is my shepherd; God has given me every good thing.”
When you stop and think about it, what is every good thing?
Not much, really.
A place to call your own. Daily bread. Comfort in dark valleys. Rest. Relationships.
A true relationship with our Creator in which we can walk side by side, finding comfort, experiencing mercy.
Those are good things. If you have them, there is not much need for want
In conclusion, there is so much to love about the 23rd Psalm. I like this notion of verses 4-6 speaking to God in a one-to-one, you and I tone.
It feels real. It feels right. It feels personal, and healthy.
It moves us from seeing God as far away and distant, to seeing God as upfront and personal, like a parent in the kitchen, or a travel companion.
It moves us from treating God as an object who is only worth something if something is being done, to God being the one we can turn to when we feel the most alone, the most scared, and the most vulnerable.
It’s about not hiding ourselves or concealing who we are, but being brave before God to show our scabs and our wounds, our cuts and our abrasions, what we hunger after, what we thirst for, what we need protection from, and our desire to rest in green pastures.
It is a song of trust that does not deny there will be dark places. It is a song of eternity that does not deny that we all have enemies.
It is a song of relationality that says what we have with God is real, what we have with God is right, what we have with God is good for our soul.
Psalm 23 is a song that reminds us once again that with God we are worthy of having every good thing, and so is everyone else. Amen and amen.