A New Trust
SCRIPTURE READING: PSALM 23
NRSV – A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
SERMON: A NEW TRUST
Brothers and sisters,
So, I read this little anecdote titled “The fearless little lion tamer”.
A 1st grader stood in front of his classroom to make a speech about “What I want to be when I grow up.” He said, “I’m going to be a lion tamer and have lots of fierce lions. I’ll walk into the cage and they will roar.” He paused for a moment, thinking through what he had just said and then added, “But of course, I’ll have my mommy with me.”
This little lion tamer’s confession is such a perfect image for the feeling which Psalm 23 stirs up for many – a feeling of confidence to be able to face even mortal danger… as long as there’s a loving Parent that provides comfort and protection.
Maybe this is why Psalm 23 is so well-known and popular – even non-Christians are able cite phrases from it, and it gets quoted in movies quite frequently. When one reads it you’re filled with a sense of ‘everything is going to be ok’… even when things really doesn’t seem ok.
So much has been said about this Psalm; so many sermons preached, books written, Bible studies done… it’s a regular feature in ‘Daily devotionals’, broadcasts and even podcasts.
[Heck, I’ve even preached on it a few times… it’s probably the psalm that gets requested for funerals the most.] Which lead me to wonder:
“What is there to say to you today, which you haven’t heard already?”
But maybe that’s just “it”… maybe the reason for its popularity through all the ages is because of its familiarity .
Maybe it’s not necessarily trying to dig even deeper and dissect it to pieces in order to say something profoundly “new”, but more so to echo what has been said and thought and felt and experienced over millennia by millions of believers.
Maybe it’s more about confessing (/affirming) and celebrating with others this knowledge that God has strengthened all his children through their toughest experiences in life.
Something that is quite apparent from the get-go is the fact that this Psalm is actually quite simplistic:
– not very long (6 verses),
– there are only 2 images that are referred to [shepherd and a banquet],
– the wording is not specific to the extent that we know exactly what was happening in his life.
And it is exactly this simplicity which makes it so powerful and relatable, and leaves you with the feeling that it has made an impression on you, even if you’ve heard it multiple times before.
That said, [without spending too much time on the imagery or specific choices of words] there is something about the STRUCTURE of Psalm 23 that I’d like to share with you today, which I hope will enhance our understanding and experience of this wonderful piece of literature.
[Quick ‘heads-up’: This is the ‘boring’ / ‘academic’ part of the sermon; so pay close attention because there will be a quiz after the service!]
The very clever OT academics have some difficulty in classifying Psalm 23, because if you were to classify it on its content, it is universally considered as a classical ‘todah’ psalm – a psalm of Trust / confidence.
At the same time, the structural flow of the psalm resembles that of a psalm of Thanksgiving. Which leaves it somewhere between Trust & Thanksgiving.
On a very basic level, we can divide the psalm into 3 parts (if you were to structure it as a psalm of Thanksgiving):
Verses 1-3, David makes a confession of trust,
then Verses 4-5, He then recalls in an indirect way the crisis and deliverance of the past that became the basis for that present confession,
and lastly Verse 6, then moves to an affirmation about the future.
Interestingly enough, with this structuring we see TWO things happen simultaneously:
There is a movement in/through TIME:
à He starts in the first part with the PAST – looking back at his life (as well as the history of his people), David is able to make the confession that God was and always has been there. Therefore, within his relationship with God, he is able to trust God because of past experience.
à Then he finds himself in PRESENT circumstances… and although things might be looking dark and dangerous, he’s still able to make the same confession of confidence and trust, and face whatever challenge life brings across his path.
à He finishes by looking to the FUTURE. He is able to affirm that his future is something worth looking forward to; his trust and confidence in God’s presence makes it possible to exclaim that ‘the best is yet to some!’
A movement in the CONVERSATION:
à In the first part, as he’s looking back at his PAST experiences, the confession – conversation – is ABOUT God (i.e. God is mentioned in the 3rd person).
It’s almost as if we’re wandering into a conversation which was already taking place and we’re invited into the conversation circle to share in the good news of everything God has done for the writer. And the confidence with which it is said, I can almost see in my minds’ eye how the listeners are all nodding their head in agreement.
à Then, during the second part of the psalm – his life in the PRESENT, the conversation shifts… things become intimate and personal. David isn’t talking about God anymore, but with God (from 3rd to 2nd person perspective).
During his darkest moment – right as he is passing through the valley of the shadow of death – the conversation is directly focused on God as the one who is guiding, protecting and in the end; abundantly providing.
à The third part of the psalm finishes of with an acknowledgement of God’s aid in the form Praise/Thanks for a FUTURE that is secure, and he returns to the 3rd person reference of God, this time in the style of worship, which again invites us in to share in the glory of that moment.
Okay… with all that said, how can focussing on the structure of Psalm be of any value for people living in 2017?!
Well, I think it still speaks to two of the most basic facets of our existence as human beings – even modern human beings of the 21st century, namely TIME and CONVERSATION (/interaction).
I probably don’t have to tell you that we live in a fast paced world where things happen quickly and frequently. More and more it seems like our focus of time is very much in the moment and especially on how much are we able to get done right now.
For many ‘modern folks’ history might seem like nothing more than a murky memory that we’ve moved on from, and the future is too much of an unknown to really spend all that much thought and energy on.
[Ill:] This realisation became very apparent to me the other day as I was browsing through the books at Chapters, and it suddenly occurred to me how many title of books contain this idea of focussing on getting things done quickly: ‘One Year College Degree’, ‘30 Days to a Better Life’, ‘Seven Days to a Brand New Me’, ’60 Minute Marriage Builder’.
And if that that sounds too slow – if your outlook on life is “Ain’t nobody got time that!”, then you’re also covered. How about… ‘One-minute Father’, ‘Sixty-Second Stress Management’, ‘One Minute Therapist’ or even ‘60 Seconds to Serenity’?
If 60 seconds sounds too long, you’ll be able to do things instantly: you can find anything from ‘Instant Yiddish’ to ‘Instant Emotional Healing’ and even more importantly; ‘Instant Time Management’!
Christian literature isn’t immune to all this.
Fret not, my busy brothers and sisters, for now you’ll be able to bypass those unnecessarily lengthy chapters of the Bible and read ‘Sixty Seconds with God’ or ‘Daily Prayers Sixty Seconds Long’. But the one that got me the most excited was ‘Instant Sermons for Busy Pastors’… you just know there’s going to be some quality preaching captured in those pages!!
Our concept of time and the usage of our time have in many ways become fragmented moments as we rush from one end to the other, trying to juggle all the balls life has thrown at us.
This fast paced lifestyle influences the way in which we communicate… with those around us and even God.
[Ill:] During the week a minister friend of mine sent me a video clip of advertisement a church made for social media. A young couple – who were looking for a church to join – contacted them for more information. They mentioned that they’ve been “church shopping” for while and shared some frustrations they’ve had with other churches, one being that the previous week they’d been to the Baptist Church, and the pastor there had a summary of his sermon that were 156 characters, which meant that they were unable to “tweet” about it!
Now I know that probably an extreme example, but we can see this more and more; how conversations can be redacted to soundbytes and a limited number of characters and emojis.
It’s easier to talk about things, than talking with somebody.
Even in the church: it’s easier to talk about God and Church and community and philosophise about what sermons and what certain passages might mean and how we’re supposed to deal with the stresses of life or the challenges for a modern Church…
All this has become easier, than to engage and share with each other and to intimately converse with God.
So, (for me at least,) this Psalm still has plenty to say for our lives… even today.
And I think it might be of special importance during this time of the Church Year when we celebrate Lent.
Lent is a time during which we reflect about our own time on earth; it allows us the opportunity to look back at history… look back at our own lives… and remember the wonderful Presence of God in all circumstances.
It’s a way of becoming aware of where we are right now – “who I am” in this moment and how God has led and kept [ – how He guided and protected – ] through some very trying times and at this very moment – NOW – that He is with me still.
In your personal struggle at this specific point in time… during your very own journey through the darkest valley… you are not alone. You are not left to your own devices.
This knowledge grants you and me an NEW TRUST… a confidence about the future. Not only our own individual futures, but ‘our’ future as a congregation as well: “The best is yet to come!”
The image of our Godly Host having prepared the feast and that you have been invited as a guest of honour, grants us the ability to look forward and see each day anew as a wonderful gift full of abundance and opportunity.
Psalm 23 also reminds us – especially during this time of Lent – that our conversations might need to change as well. Jesus himself modelled this to his disciples, constantly turning the conversations about God into dialogues with God. Time was made for prayer, and even in the darkest moment, an honest cry to God could be heard.
Maybe during this time of Lent, we can allow our own little lion tamer to ‘come out’ a bit. With the knowledge of God’s care and guidance, we’re able to TRUST in a whole new way that current circumstances do not have the last say over my life… that the future is beautiful. Amen