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:
“He Maketh Me to Lie Down in Green Pastures”
July 16, 2006
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
2 Samuel 6:1-5; 12b-19
The Ark Brought to Jerusalem
1David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim. 3And they carried the ark of God on a new cart and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. And Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart, 4with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark.
5And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the LORD, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals….
12And it was told King David, "The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God." So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing. 13And when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fattened animal. 14And David danced before the LORD with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. 15So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the horn.
16As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, and she despised him in her heart. 17And they brought in the ark of the LORD and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it. And David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. 18And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts 19and distributed among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed, each to his house.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning!
On these summer Sundays, we’re studying together one of the most beloved portions of Scripture in the entire Bible, the Twenty-Third Psalm. These are words that we love deeply. My hope for you is that you would find even more comfort as we study them together, and that you would review them in your mind through the week and let your walk with God be ever closer because of it.
Last week we talked about the opening words of the 23rd psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd.” As we begin, why don’t we read that psalm one more time?
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.
The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need. Those are the words that we started to study last week. I’d like to think about it one more time. I brought along a crown to look at; think of it as the Lord’s crown. Who is your shepherd? The Lord is your shepherd. None other than the God of the universe is your shepherd. Think of it! The same being that created all the leaves of the trees and the blades of grass and the billions of stars in the sky created you. You are made of the stuff of the stars. The same divine intelligence that put the planets in orbit set in orbit the molecules of your body. I think that the doctors and health professionals in our congregation must have special insight into the brilliance of God, as they behold the work of the human body and its magnificence and, indeed, its incontrovertibly intelligent design. What a blessing it must be to study that and honor it and help heal!
Your shepherd is none other than the creator of the universe, the king of all creation. That’s who you’re aligned with. That’s whose team you are on. That’s the one that you are connected to, as a companion, as a friend, but more, as a shepherd, one who leads, one who never lets you down, one who is with you always. When you say “The Lord is my shepherd” you are affirming the invitation that you made to Him to be Lord and Savior of your life. You are saying, “Yes, He is my Lord and my shepherd. I have none other. He is the most important part of life to me. The Lord is my shepherd.”
The psalm goes on to say, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.” Friends, that’s what I invite you think about with me today. Let God comfort you. He is your leader; He is your shepherd; but He is also your comforter and provider. So today I also brought a pillow, the symbol of rest, the symbol of being relaxed, the symbol of being centered. The Lord makes us lie down in green pastures; He brings us comfort. Let the Lord comfort you this week, my friends.
If we were part of a shepherding community, back in the days when King David wrote this psalm, we would understand this imagery very well. It is the same King David we heard about in today’s Old Testament reading. It was he who wrote the psalm. Did you notice the one thing that David did before the Lord, more than anything else in the scripture reading? It scandalized some. What was the one thing that David did to celebrate the Lord? He danced before the Lord! He was so filled with joy that the Lord was his shepherd that he danced before the Lord. I assure you that I will not dance today, but you know the spirit. That’s how David felt about the Lord, and he’s the same one who wrote the psalm.
The Lord is my shepherd. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. You know, if we were part of a shepherding community, we’d understand that well, because we’d know how important it was that the sheep lie down. It’s important that the sheep rest. It’s while lying down that they’re able to digest their food properly and make use of the food for their bodies. It is when we are rested and relaxed and balanced that we’re able to take in the ideas of God and make them valuable to us. So it’s important to be able to rest in the Lord, to be comfortable, to be able to lie down in green pastures.
But people in the shepherding community knew that as much as the sheep needed to lie down, as much as they needed to digest properly, as much as they needed their rest, they would not lie down if any of four things were present. Number one, they would not lie down if they were afraid of something. If they were afraid that an attack animal, a nasty wolf, would attack the flock, especially at night, they would not lie down. The only defense a sheep has is to run. The sheep can’t attack and can’t fight back. They don’t want to be lying down if a galloping wolf comes near. So if there is fear in the air, they won’t lie down.
Second, they would not lie down if there were friction in the flock. If there is competition and rivalry and unsettled feelings, they will not lie down, because they’re afraid they’ll get butted.
Third, if there were pestilence, if there were flies in their faces, they would not lie down. The sheep would want to lean against a tree to flick the flies away; they would need to shake their heads. So they will not lie down if there is pestilence.
And fourth, they would not lie down if they needed food. You know how sheep are; they’ll only graze in one little spot. They need the shepherd to help them find food.
So, four things will keep the sheep from lying down in green pastures – fear, friction, flies, and lack of food. How does that apply to us today? How does that apply to our relationship with our divine shepherd? Let’s face that one head on. There may be some people in the congregation today who have dealt with a situation of fear in their lives. It may be an external situation; it may be in the context of a relationship. It’s very hard to lie down and be peaceful when you’re feeling afraid of something. But I say this, friend: affirm that the Lord is your shepherd. Affirm that you have a relationship with the divine. Wherever you go, God is. Wherever you are, God is. And you can invoke the Holy Presence.
You carry a presence about you. Haven’t you noticed it with folks? You talk with someone, and there’s something special about that person. I can’t quite put my finger on it. When I’m around those people, I feel at ease. I feel blessed. That’s the Holy Spirit, and that’s the spirit you carry around with you. Invoke it. Be aware of it. And remember that wherever you are, God is. You can take a look at your fears, and you can say, “I will face my fears bravely, because God is with me. I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
Second, friction – it will happen in a flock that a young lamb will find a nice little patch of grass. And an older, more aggressive lamb will see that young lamb and will want that lamb to give up the patch. The older, aggressive lamb will look at the young one, drop its head into butting position, dilate its eyes, snort a little bit. The young one has to make a decision, either to stand its ground or to move away. I say to you, friend, that if you are facing friction, you do not face it alone. You know what the cure for friction is among the sheep? It’s the presence of the shepherd. All the shepherd has to do is walk on the scene. All of a sudden, the head-butting will stop, and the sheep will know better. Sometimes the shepherd has to be a bit more of a disciplinarian, but most of the time it’s his presence alone that makes a difference. So if you find yourself in a situation of friction at work, invoke the presence of the Shepherd. Know that God is with you. God is helping you. You do not face the problem alone.
I have a very dear friend who’s a fantastic psychologist, and he says this: When you are in a situation that’s a tug of war, drop the rope. Perhaps you’re in a situation of friction and you need to decide whether it’s time to drop the rope or to stand your ground. The Lord will lead you; the Lord will be with you, in terms of the decision you have to make. Remember, you don’t go through it alone.
Third, a sheep can’t lie down if there are pests flying around its face. A good shepherd takes care of the sheep and makes sure the sheep are soothed and protected. What does that mean for us? It symbolizes the things that are bugging you. Maybe there are little things that consume all your attention. They’re not the big things of life, but the little things – perhaps you get stuck in traffic; perhaps the person ahead of you in the checkout line has two cartloads while you have only two items and that person is trying to pay with a check… you know how it goes. Whatever is bugging you, give it up to the Lord and realize that you have bigger things that are calling you. The Lord cares even about the little irritations.
Fourth, food – we worry about having enough. The Lord leads us to green pastures, the color of prosperity. The Lord wants you to do well; the Lord wants you to prosper. The Lord wants you to be in a place of goodness. Could it be that He is leading you to a place of goodness? Could it be that He is leading you to a place of prosperity? But are we following? Are we listening? Know that God has good plans in store for you. He wants your prosperity.
The Bible talks to us about a land flowing with milk and honey. What does that mean? It means that the land is very green. The sheep need a lot of green grass in order to produce the milk for their young and for the community. The land that flows with milk and honey is a green and verdant land. The green and verdant land produces flowers, and the bees visit the flowers and produce honey. That is the situation that God wants for you.
My dear friends, I hope that you will take this with you and cherish it. Know that God is bringing you comfort in the midst of your tensions. Know that God wants to help you deal with your fears, to wash away the friction, to cure the things that bug you, and to bring you to a place of plenty and prosperity. That’s the kind of shepherd He is. That’s something to celebrate, and that’s worth dancing about. More next week. God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2006 Anthony J. Godlefski