Sunday, 15 May 2011

Breathing Space Sermon: "I shall not be in want"

Easter 4 11 Breathing Space
Psalm 23, John 10.1-10

Our Old Testament reading today is probably one of the most famous in the Bible. That famous song of the Shepherd, Psalm 23. I can’t begin to count how many times I have said it and sung it and read it. And yet it never seems to wear out because all human experiences is here in this description of a journey through life that is as true today as ever it was. We may not be shepherds, but we know these landscapes too.

The green pastures and still waters; places where we are refreshed, where we can rest and be at ease. The paths of righteousness; the times when we have to agonise over the right route, the right course of action, when we have to keep going, hoping that we aren’t heading into a dead end. The dark valleys, where we know death threatens us, not just physically, but the death of hopes or dreams. And of course the place where the table is spread, the feast prepared, the house of the Lord, the place where we come home to God.
But It isn’t just a description of life. What the Psalmist is trying to tell us is that he has realised that in all these times and places God is with him, and because of that, he has what he needs to face whatever comes. The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not be in want.
We can’t dictate what happens to us in life. The journey takes us where it takes us, through whatever landscapes happen to be along the way. We have to face the challenges and seize the joys, as we come to them. Life can be a frightening business; how can we be sure we’ll cope? We can’t. Do we really have the wisdom, the strength, the skills to handle life? Of course we don’t. Most of us, much of the time probably feel we are making it up as we go along. Our plans are no more than guesswork. No matter how clever we are, we can’t do it all or know it all and we often feel out of our depth. It is tempting just to stay at home and hide, never set out on the journey at all, or look for a shortcut when the going gets tough, even though there isn’t one actually.
This Psalmist is no different from the rest of us. He faces the same challenges, and yet, he tells us he has everything he needs. He will not be in want. And the reason for that is that God is with him, and that is all that matters.
Sometimes he experiences God’s presence in a very active way – God leads, makes him lie down, revives, guides. At other times that presence is less obvious. In the valley of the shadow of death God doesn’t seem to be DOING anything, but he is still there, “you are with me” says the Psalmist, “your rod and your staff comfort me.” (Notice how he starts to slip into “you” language here, speaking to God directly for the first time in the Psalm, as if to emphasize his closeness.) God is there, and that is enough. We all know that sometimes the most powerful thing we can do for someone is simply to be there, not trying to fix what is wrong, but just sticking around in the darkness with those we love. That’s what God does at that point.
And the fourth landscape, the welcome home, the table that is spread? Although we can think of that as the final destination of our journey, in a sense it describes something that is true of all of it – it sums up the message of this Psalm. We dwell in God’s presence, it says, all the days of our lives. His goodness and mercy follow us on the journey. He spreads a table in the presence of those who trouble us, gives us the food we need in the midst of our difficulties, not necessarily taking us out of them.
So, what landscape are you in right now? Perhaps it is one of green pastures and still waters; perhaps you are struggling to find the right pathway, perhaps you are in a place of real fear and darkness. What do you need in order to live there? Do you feel you have what you need, or do you feel “in want” tonight? God’s promise to us is the same as his promise to the Psalmist, that he is with us wherever we are. Because of that we lack nothing. That doesn’t mean there are easy answers or magic wands, but by his presence we have the strength and courage we need.

In the silence tonight I invite you to ponder where you are right now, to turn to God and let him help you to live abundantly, as Jesus puts it, in whatever place you are right now.


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