Psalm 23 - Thou Art With Me
Psalm 23 Psalm 23 R. Avery Carr / General Psalm 23 Comment on the Gospel Reading I have a great deal I want to say this morning. This will not be like my typical sermon. I am actually going to preach on Psalm 23 this morning, but before I do I want to make a brief comment on the gospel reading this morning. If you were following along in your Bible at home you might have noticed that the translation I read was slightly different. In the NRSV, like most translations it says: John 9:2–3 NRSV 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. In the Greek, it does not say that. In the Greek, it does not say “he was born blind” and certainly doesn’t say that he was born blind so God could be glorified. What it should say is this: 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. (Period) it then continues... So that God’s works might be revealed in him, we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. I bring this up because this verse has been misunderstood for too long to say that God might cause someone to be born disfigured, handicapped, or someone might get sick as a way for God to be glorified in the healing. Let me make this perfectly clear, God does not cause someone to be born handicapped or cause a person to get sick. God does not give someone cancer. God does not give someone the coronavirus as a way to show God’s own glory. This virus and the spreading of it was not caused by God, but by people. If this virus spreads uncontrolled, it will not be because God caused it to spread uncontrolled but because people refused to follow the direction of the CDC. Unless you need to go out, please for the love of God and all those who might be affected, stay at home. Now that my little rant is over… let’s move on. We are living in a time when the world is changing, and will, quite frankly, never be the same again, but even though few if any of us in the United States have ever seen anything like it, there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9–10 NRSV 9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has already been, in the ages before us. In my letter to the congregation regarding the closing of services, I began with a quote from Thomas Paine: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Written in 1776, another year that would also change the face of the world. "These are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph." - Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1776 I was recently asked, and perhaps encouraged to flee back to Kentucky to the isolation of my farm. My response, without even thinking about it was immediately, “I will not abandon my post!” I often think and speak of being Christian in military terms. The Body of Christ is commonly referred to as the host. Host is a military term, similar to an army. Being Christian is not just about receiving some personal reward and finding personal comfort in times of crisis. Don’t get me wrong, we receive comfort in times of crisis, but there is much more to it. It is about serving your fellow man. These are scary days folks. I get it. In the midst of world changing events, the world, more often than not, feels scary and uncertain. In times like these the troops are called up. In times like these it is all hands on deck. There are many who will shrink from the service of others and seek to only serve themselves and watch their own back during this time. Yet, others will rise to the occasion and hold the line. It is easy to say you serve others when the crisis is not on your doorstep, but the true measure of person, of a Christian, is what they choose to do when the crisis is staring them in the face. We as Christians, have a job to do. We must not abandon our posts. We must hold the line. For some, holding this line will mean continuing to go to work. Doctors, nurses, those who work in hospitals, pharmacies, police officers, firefighters, EMS, even those who work in grocery stores...those on the very front lines of the plague of our day… to hold the line means to rise to the occasion and still go to work taking every precaution not to further the spread of this disease. For others, and here is the crazy part. For some, to hold the line and rise to the occasion means to stay at home. It means to not put the lives of others at risk just because you don’t like being told what to do. For many, the greatest way to serve God, country, and fellow human being will be to stay at home and don’t go out unless it is absolutely necessary. It is not easy. It will not be easy. Yet, as Thomas Paine wrote, “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” However, even in staying at home, like those going to work, I encourage you to seek to ease the suffering of others. Reach out to people. Help them ease their sense of isolation. We have technology today to be with people in new and creative ways. Give someone a call. Facetime, Google Hangout, video chat of some kind, Facebook.... I’ve always hated FaceBook, but now is a time when it might actually serve a purpose worthwhile. Ease one another’s suffering. One of my recent favorite reads was a book called The Book of Joy. In this book, two old friends come together for a birthday party of sorts to reminisce and simply spend time with one another. Those two people were the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Two men who have seen suffering greater than most of us can ever imagine. These two men found joy despite the suffering. In suffering they found the greatest source of joy was to focus on easing someone else’s suffering. In easing another’s suffering, they found consolation. You might ask, “How do I do that? How do I ease someone else’s fear and suffering when I myself am terrified, sick, or suffering?” I was asked by Bishop Katherine on the phone a couple days ago, how I was doing? How was I holding up? I told her that I, like others were scared. Fearful for what the future holds for my family, but I’ll get the job done. When I am afraid, just like you, I need consolation. I find that consolation though is not about just allowing me to passively accept a situation, but instead, I find consolation emboldening… True consolation emboldens the Spirit and stirs us from our fearful slumber and gives us the courage to rise to the occasion knowing that even if we should fall… glory awaits in the fullness of the Kingdom of God. This may be why, as one scholar wrote, that perhaps the most comforting words ever written was Psalm 23. Psalm 23 I’m going to read it once more, but this time in the King James Version: Psalm 23 KJV 1900 A Psalm of David. 1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. When I feel as if I cannot bring myself to take one more step, it is as if simply quoting this Psalm I hear the Spirit nudge me onward saying, “you can do this… you are not alone… God is with you...” and in that I find my foot moves. It is interesting, in the Psalm in Hebrew, there are 26 words before the phrase “thou art with me” and 26 words after. At the very core of the Psalm, right dead center is the pulse… the most important words of the entire Psalm… “Thou art with me.” The first part of leading up to that, God is always referred to in the 3rd person. He… he… he… he … In this sense, God is in control, yet in a third person sense it is somewhat disconnected personally. God is an idea. We often get stuck here in the section our understanding of God… We get stuck viewing God as an idea… something disconnected from us and never move from that. Then the Psalm arrives at the best part… “Thou art with me.” The reminder that God is not just some far off figure, but that God is right beside you and with you in the valley of the shadow of death. After that, God is referred to in the 2nd person.... You… you… you… you… In recognizing that God is with you, we stop speaking about God and start talking to God. That’s when we enter into a true relationship with God and then the game changes. “I see now… you are the one that comforts me… you prepare the table before even in the presence that which would seek to take my life. You have anointed me… and it is because of you that I have all that I need. If I stumble and fall, it is You who will pick me up. In You, I can trust that should I die, I will dwell in the house of the LORD, your house, forever. In this consolation… in these greatest words of comfort ever written, is a rallying cry. A cry to lift you up even in the shadow of the valley of death and encourage you to walk the path you are called walk and let not your fear control you, but let God control your fear. Psalm 23:4 KJV 1900 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. For thou art with me... For thou art with me... If you must go out and work for the good of all… when the fear would take you… remember this verse… “I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” If you must for the good of all, remain home and not go out… please do so… and when the fear born from isolation would take you… remember this verse. “I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” For thou art with me... Say it with me… “For thou art with me...” Amen.