I would like to dedicate the sermon series on the 23rd Psalm to Mrs. Kay Metz, a dear friend of our church and mother of Kathy Metz Heckel. Kay was the one who inspired me to preach the series when she gave me the book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, by Phillip Keller.
Thank you and God bless you, Kay.
The Twenty-Third Psalm:
“Beside the Still Waters”
July 23, 2006
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4Yea, 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.
5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Amen.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning!
These summer Sundays we’re talking together about one of the most beloved portions of scripture in the entire Bible, the Twenty-Third Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Now, just as a little recap, the first week we talked about the very first verse, how the Lord of all heaven and earth is the one we follow. That’s whose team we’re on. That’s whom we’re connected to. And as soon as we say those words, “The Lord is my shepherd,” we reaffirm whom we belong to and want to follow. We’ll symbolize that with a crown. It’s the Lord of heaven and earth who is our shepherd, and our faith is firmly in Him. We reaffirm the connection we made to God through Jesus Christ when we asked the Lord Jesus to be our Savior whenever we say “The Lord is my shepherd.” I share with you a picture of the Lord as the Good Shepherd. It hung in our home as I was growing up. I don’t remember a time when this picture was not hanging in our house. My mother loved that image of the Lord very, very much.
So, the Lord is our shepherd. The King is our shepherd.
We’re also remembering that the Lord is our comfort, symbolized by the pillow. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” He lets me relax. Because the Lord is my shepherd, I can remember that, and He helps lift fears away from me. He lifts away the things that bug me. He lifts away the conflicts that are in my life. He centers me and lets me think on His word. He lets me relax. The Lord is my comfort.
And today, we’re going to take a look at the words, “He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.” I would like to share with you this symbol, a pitcher of cool, clear water. The Lord is our refreshment. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.
I love one translation I read of “He restoreth my soul.” It reads, “He gives my life back.” What an interesting image that is! Maybe sometimes, in your heart, you’ve felt like so much has been taken from you, but now it’s coming back. It’s restored. He gives my life back; He restores my soul.
In Vacation Bible Camp, we had a response we did with the children. Anytime someone came up in front of the class and said something about Jesus, the rest of the class would respond, “Viva!” which means “to life!” Let’s try it:
Jesus is our friend. VIVA!
Jesus is our Savior. VIVA!
Jesus is our leader. VIVA!
Today, we’re talking about the 23rd Psalm—Jesus is our shepherd, Jesus is our comfort, and Jesus is our refreshment. He leadeth me beside the still waters. It’s a verse that we love, but have you thought about what the word ‘still’ means? What do we mean when we say ‘still waters’?
Sheep need water. They really do. They need water to quench their thirst. They need water to cleanse the cells of their bodies, as we all do. They need water to stay alive, because sheep are more than 70% water, as we all are. We need that life-giving water to replenish us.
The scripture says, “He leadeth me beside the still waters.” What does that mean? Still water means clear water. It means crystal clear, pure water. Unclear water has stuff floating around in it. Think of a jar of muddy water; I’m sure you can imagine it. If I were to shake it up, there would be particles of clay and other things in there. It would be anything but still.
But the Lord is our shepherd; He leads us beside the still waters, the clear, unpolluted water, water that is good for the sheep, water that is good for us. You see, sheep are not real creative about finding clear water. They need a shepherd to lead them along the path to the crystal-clear pool, so that they can drink and be filled and cleansed and refreshed. That’s what the Lord does for us.
The sheep, as they’re walking along with the shepherd, tend to want to drink out of the potholes. The water there is muddy and cloudy. If a sheep drinks from a pothole, sooner or later they’ll get into trouble. It just isn’t good for them. The shepherd discourages that and takes them to the clear, still water. That’s the image we hold when we affirm the 23rd Psalm. The Lord is my shepherd; He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.
What does that mean for us, for you and for me? The Lord God leads us beside the clear waters of good ideas, of the positive thoughts. That’s what the still water is. That’s what the thoughts of God are. That’s what the cleansing, renewing, restoring power of God does for us. So I’m inviting us this week to think about drinking from the fountain of God. Think about drinking the clear, crisp cold water that is the refreshment of God’s ideas.
How can we do it? Three ways – through ideas, through input, and through influence. Let’s take a look at ‘ideas’. The big battlefield is right up here, in our minds. It is the battle for our minds. Friends, let us agree that we’re going to take seriously this idea of the clear still waters of God in the things that we think about. For instance, when you get up in the morning, do you think to yourself, “Oh, God, this is wonderful. I have another day of life. I have an opportunity to do good things for people. I have the opportunity to just enjoy being who I am”? Or do we have the idea that life is hard, that things are not good, that so many things are wrong with our lives? Which one would be the pothole and which would be the clear stream? Let’s drink from the clear stream. Let’s agree that when we seek the ideas of God, what comes to us is clarity and positive thoughts. “My life may not be perfect, but I am blessed in so many ways.” That’s clear stream thinking. To think that if only this or that were different is thinking that’s muddied with negative ideas. Let good positive ideas reign supreme in your mind, because that’s where the Good Shepherd wants to lead you. If you do that, you will be able to find the paths to those good things you need to have happen in your life. Let’s start with the realm of the ideas we think in our heads. Let’s put aside the negative ideas and take on the positive ones; that’s drinking from the clear stream.
Second, input. We have to decide what we’re going to put in our heads – what we’re going to read, what we’re going to watch on TV, who we’re going to talk to, what advice we’re going to take, what influences we choose to bring into our lives. Bring in the clear ones, my friends. Let God lead you to the positive books, to the books that are going to lift you up. Watch positive television programs. You know when a program is going to bring you down. You don’t need that! We don’t need that in our lives, and we don’t have time. Watch positive TV programs; read positive books. Let the input be good. You have the choice. A lot of people complain about the terrible state of television. Maybe it is. But God has given you the almighty power of the “off” button. You don’t have to watch. You can choose.
The strangest things happen to me. I got a call this week from Patmedia, the local cable provider. The caller said, “Hello, sir, how are you today?”
I said, “I’m fine. Thank you very much.”
He said, “We noticed that you’re one of our neighbors that does not subscribe to Patmedia Cable Television.”
I said, “That is correct.”
He said, “You must have a satellite dish, then.”
“No,” I said. “I used to, but I got rid of that, too.”
He said, “Really?”
“Yes,” I said. “Listen, I
have to tell you, my life is so interesting. I’ve got wonderful people to talk
to. I’ve got all kinds of things I can do. I love to read. Do you like to read?”
The caller hesitated. I said, “Never mind. That’s okay. There are so many good things to read. Do you play the piano? Never mind. There are so many good things to do, I just don’t have time to watch television. Thank you for your offer.”
There was silence on the other end. He must have looked at his script. “The news! We have so much to offer you. We’ve got MSNBC, CNN, all these news channels. Surely you want that. How do you get your news?”
I said, “Word of mouth. I’ve got a lot of good friends at church, and if something big were happening, they’d call me. I’ve got an old-fashioned antenna on the roof, and I get good-enough newscasts from that.”
He said, “But we could offer you 750 prime time television programs. We can offer you 250 channels of sports.” (He didn’t know whom he was talking to.)
I said, “You know, my life is so interesting, I just don’t have time for it.”
He said, “You don’t?”
I said, “No. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?”
“Uh, no. You have a real good day, sir.”
I said, “Thank you. You too.”
We have to choose what we’re going to put in our lives, because what we take in becomes part of who we are. So I’m inviting you today to choose your input. Choose it well; choose it wisely.
Third, influence. You can be a partner with the Good Shepherd. You can lead people beside the still waters of positive ideas. There isn’t a lot we can do about what other people say when we’re in conversation. But if you’re with somebody who is always nagging and complaining and finding the things that are wrong and negative, it’s very tempting to join in that vein. You know the old saying about one gossip talking to another, “If you have nothing good to say about anyone…come sit down right next to me, dear.” You don’t want to be like that. If people are negative around you, choose to say the positive word. Choose to say something good.
It even happens with clergy. Clergy get together, and sure enough someone is going to be talking about what’s not right with the conference or the bishop or things in their church. I try to say, “Look, there are good things going on. Let’s find them. Let’s talk about them.” You can do it, too. You can lead people beside the still waters, beside the clear waters of positive ideas. And it feels good! I invite you to do it with me this week.
One little assignment: whenever you see clear water, whenever you see a beautiful fountain that’s bubbling over with clear water, whenever you see a pool that has clear water, whenever you hold a glass of water, I invite you to think about God leading you beside the clear, still waters. I invite you to think about the sources of clear water in your life. Maybe there is a book you’re reading that is about God and that is inspiring you. Hopefully when you come to church you find the clear water of positive ideas. That’s the fondest hope of my heart. Hopefully when you read Visions of Hope it’s a source of positive ideas for you. Maybe you can think of a person that always gives you hope and lifts you up and makes you smile, and that person is like still waters for you. Let the still waters in the outside world remind you of your sources of still water from God and the ways that God is blessing you by leading you beside the still waters and restoring your soul.
More next week. God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2006 Anthony J. Godlefski