by Joe McDonald
Guest preacher from Upper Room
Confirmation. When I was told that I would be preaching on Confirmation Sunday… it got me thinking about my confirmation experience as a 6th grader at St Matthew Catholic School in Philadelphia. I do look pretty good there…but you all [pointing to the confirmands] look better than I did.
This is a marking moment in the life of these students today, but the hope is that it is the beginning stages of a journey in which they will establish a lifelong connection to Jesus Christ. So congratulations…and I encourage you to keep your focus on Christ as you continue to grow up and experience life.
Before starting my sermon I will update you on Upper Room and our partnership with you here at Colonial. It’s been a little over six months since we’ve moved here and we love being here. We love our offices and the space we have to worship here in the meetinghouse. For the first time ever we had just one worship gathering this past summer because we finally had the space to do it… and it was a great way to bring our community together so soon after the move here.
Our ministry collaboration has many touch points between the two communities and these touch points will establish a foundation for our partnership into the future.
We’ve already had some good ones and others are planned…
A few of the highlights…
➢ Six of our junior high students joined in on Camp Pyro 2 this year
• With Shelly, our Junior High coordinator, serving as the teacher for the week
• My 8th grade daughter who has been to many camps, said it was her favorite camp experience
➢ The Sheridan packing event in September ~ over 150 people from both our communities joined together to pack food for children in the Twin Cities
➢ Our Kids ministries are planning a joint fall costume party ~ calling it a GLOW party this coming Friday night here at the church for kids and families
➢ A member of our community is giving a one-night seminar on internet safety for children and teens. He is a high school and college teacher and has been trained in this area ~ and both of our student ministries and kids ministries are promoting it to our families
➢ And next Sunday, Daniel will be whipping up some hummus for our community and bringing some of his passion for food and the Bible to Upper Room as he has for you all over the past several weeks
Once again, thank you for your hospitality and support
Psalm 23…It’s a Psalm so many of us know…at least the first line…
Let’s finish this line together “The Lord is my Shepherd ___[I shall not want]_____”
This past summer I was drawn to preach on Psalm 23 at Upper Room. I wanted the time to sit in these words of God in light of the previous 12 months of my life. I wanted to spend time with this prayer of God’s care and provision and reflect back on what had been a year marked by change and loss and goodness and joy.
The last half of 2014 and first couple months of 2015 had brought sadness and death in my family. My Uncle John (dad’s oldest brother), Aunt Marian (mom’s only sibling) and brother-in-law Mike (Patty’s oldest brother), all passed away between August 14 and January 15.
The last 12 months have brought changes and new challenges as a parent. My family is doing really well but it has been a busy time of life and it seems to get busier as the kids get older! Both our children are in middle school and the new challenges of parenting pre-teens (and now a fully fledged teenager) comes with a bit of a learning curve at times!
And I had just experienced what it is like to make a decision to relocate a church community and then actually make the move, leading our staff and board and community through a process that led to our relocation as a community here to Colonial Church. It had been a long year…and I needed some rest.
So this past summer I spent a several hours reading through the psalm in different versions and paraphrases of the Bible. I just wanted to experience some different ways of hearing the psalm. I read the psalm and prayed the psalm and meditated on the words of the psalm in a way that I never had before, and I feel like I experienced the presence of God with me in a new way
The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.
Usually when I read this first line, I focus on the I shall not want part of the first line and I often wonder, “What do you mean ‘I shall not want’? ”
Because I want… I know I want… and I want alot.
And I’m honestly not sure I don’t want to want.
wanting something more…
wanting something different…
wanting gives me something to think about…
Something to look forward to.
Something that says to me “life will be better if only you get… or have…
or accomplish that thing.”
So I want.
And It’s human nature to want.
In the very beginning of the story of God, Adam and Eve wanted more than living with and hanging out with God. So surely I can’t be blamed for wanting… can I?
I want things for my family…
I want my kids to be safe and protected from the evil in this world…
I want to do everything I can to protect them from any and all
emotional, physical, and spiritual harm…
I want them to be happy and successful…
I want my wife Patty to experience the professional and personal dreams that she has for her life…
I want things for our churches…
I want everybody in our church communities ~ and every human being ~
to experience the life changing love of Jesus Christ and surrender their life to Him.
I want all of us to live on mission with Jesus every day of our lives, loving the people that we live and work and go to school with and meet and interact with along the way.
But before you come to the conclusion that I am the most selfless person in the world because I want so much for other people, let me tell you what I want for me ~ just a few things at least.
I want just a little more money… I always have… Ever since I started earning money.
And when I do get a little more, I always want a little more than that.
Something very specific I want…
I want to take down the huge black walnut tree in my backyard
and then build a screened-in porch in my backyard.
But I’ll need that little more money to do that!
I want more time in the day to accomplish everything I want to do…
or feel like I should do.
I want more energy and I want more sleep.
I want to lose some weight because somehow I think that will make me happier.
Then I figure I should just want to be healthier and work out more, because that’s the point, right? and it sounds less self absorbed to say I want to be healthier.
But if I am honest…I just want to lose some weight.
The bottom line is… I want.
I want a lot more than what I just talked about.
Some of things I want are good things… really good things.
Some are a little selfish.
Some might never happen, but I am not sure how to stop wanting.
So how does this guy say, “I shall not want.”
And Wait a minute… pretty much every version of the Bible says that this is a psalm
of David…the King of Israel.
Isn’t this the guy who saw a beautiful woman one day and wanted to be with that woman so much he ended up having her husband put into the front lines of the war so he could be killed?
The Lord is my Shepherd I have all that I need.
That’s how the New Living Translation of the Bible expresses the first line of Psalm 23.
And that way of thinking about line one of Psalm 23 has been a game changer for me.
Because I believe there is a difference between want and need.
Need seems more urgent to me. Things I can’t live or survive without.
And as I think about that first line, “The Lord is my Shepherd I have all that I need.”
Now, not thinking about the things that I want in life, but the things that I need,
I am able to see the first five words of this Psalm as my new focus…
the foundation for this prayer and the foundation for my life.
What I need to believe and experience in order to understand and live within the rest of this psalm
The Lord is my Shepherd
If the Lord is my Shepherd then that means I am one of his sheep.
And sheep are totally dependent on their shepherd.
They have no ability to defend themselves, produce for themselves, care for themselves.
Sheep are incapable of providing for themselves.
WE’RE NOT INCAPABLE.
We love to produce and achieve and earn. And we love to depend on ourselves for our own provision; so we focus so much of our time and energy in our lives on things that we feel like we can accomplish or accumulate or make happen for us. Obviously it will be harder for us to act like sheep than it is for a sheep to act like a sheep!
David is the king Israel. He has the role of protector and provider for the nation of Israel. but in this prayer he is recognizing God as his shepherd–his provider and protector. David was a shepherd himself; and he understands the role of a shepherd intimately. He has firsthand experience of caring for and protecting and providing for the sheep under his care ~ first as an actual shepherd and now as a king. He’s using a metaphor that he knows well to describe his relationship with God.
Think about it. If you have spent years being a teacher and you were writing this psalm you might write… “The Lord is my teacher, I will learn all I need to know…”
OR if you are a nurse… “The Lord is my nurse, I shall be compassionately cared for when I am in need.” OR if you are mother… “The Lord is my mother, I shall be loved unconditionally.” Maybe even if you are an accountant… “The Lord is my accountant,
I know all the details will be taken care of.”
Focusing on the “I shall not want” part distracted me from the focus of this psalm. We have to spend time with the FIRST five words… The Lord is my Shepherd.
That has to become my focus; the foundation for my life.
Shepherds take care of their sheep. They provide for and protect their sheep and chase after them when they get lost or off track. With God as my shepherd, I believe I will receive what I need. Maybe not everything that I want. But what I need.
At least that has become my prayer recently, that I will experience and trust God as my provider and that I will learn to trust that my needs will be taken care of, even when I can’t see how.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
I wish I could make all of you lie down in the grass right now, but I can’t!
But if you want to get out of your pew and lie on the floor go right ahead!
So I will show you what it looks like to lie down in green pastures. I could tell my coworker Stephen felt a little uncomfortable when I told him to come outside with me to take pictures of me lying in the grass! When you lie down like that ~ especially outside without four walls surrounding you ~ there is sense of vulnerability… defenselessness… you can’t see around you… only this if you are lying on your back…
Not sure if sheep lie on their backs or sides, but anyway… that’s what I saw when I was laying down!
Not only is there a sense of vulnerability and defenselessness when you are lying down, but also think about what the green pastures mean to the sheep; green grass and vegetation is their food.
Their shepherd is making them lie down in the very thing that they eat for food! So there is this moment that the shepherd is saying, “enough is enough… that’s enough food for now… take a break… lie down and rest. It’s not just food that you need; you also need rest. There’s only so much of this stuff that you actually need to eat to live.”
Lying down in green grass is a picture of contentedness. My needs have been satisfied. It’s a picture of trust… that even though there is more food to eat, I will follow the leading of my Shepherd and lie down because I trust that he has my back… that he will provide for me in the future as he just has provided for me today! Not only will I trust that he will provide food for me, but that he will protect me when I lie down and rest.
It’s also a testament to the importance of rest…that there is a point that we need to stop consuming and looking for more and filling ourselves with more. That it is in our best interest to STOP and rest in the care of our shepherd!
Rest is important. Stopping to lie down. Doing nothing.
Not working. Not consuming. Not producing. Not even playing.
Rest. Stillness. Nothingness.
Taking a break from everything; from the things that drain me and the things that fill me up. Because moments of this kind remove me from the center of my life.
He leads me beside quiet waters
First food in the green pastures, and now drink in the quiet waters.
Sheep tend not to drink from running waters, from streams with too strong a current.
They prefer to drink from still waters.
The Shepherd again bringing the sheep to a quiet, still, peaceful place, this time to drink water… a necessity of life.
And the last line on which I will focus…
He refreshes my soul.
The meaning of the Hebrew word used here for soul is BREATH… LIFE… SELF.
I have never seen a soul and I don’t know exactly where the soul resides in a person, but I believe that the soul is that part of each of us that is of God and from God. That part of me and you that bears the image of God (as we’re told in Genesis). The soul being that part of me that is my truest version of myself as intended by my creator.
The Lord refreshes my soul. Not just my body with food and drink and rest…
but also my soul. All of me. My whole life.
And the literal meaning of the Hebrew word Shoove, the word most commonly translated as refreshes or restores, is actually returns. He returns my soul.
ONLY GOD CAN RETURN MY SOUL
because my soul… my life… my true self… is from God and of God.
When I lose myself…
when I lose touch with the person that God created me to be…
when I lose connection with that part of me, my soul, that is of God and from God…
Only God can return his life within me… his breath within me… back to me
And that happens best and most naturally when I trust him enough
to STOP and SEE HIM and FOLLOW HIM and RECEIVE LIFE from HIM.
ONLY JESUS CAN GIVE ME THE LIFE THAT MAKES ME WHOLE.
I know Psalm 23 doesn’t specifically talk about Jesus, but we should never read the Bible –Old Testament or New Testament– without wondering how what we are reading points to Jesus.
Whenever you read God’s word in the Bible, look for Jesus. How does it point to, lead to, prepare us for Jesus… because Jesus is the Word of God that the words of God in the Bible are ultimately pointing us to and leading us to.
Matthew 9:36 When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
And Jesus is the Shepherd…he used the exact word and the exact metaphor himself… his own words in John’s gospel
John 10:11, 14-18 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me ~ just as the Father knows me and I know the Father ~ and I lay down my life for the sheep.
I have experienced Psalm 23 in a new way since this summer, primarily as a prayer of surrender and trust. I have realized I want to believe and live as if God will give me everything I need. Not that I have to stop wanting things or hoping for things…
And definitely not that I should stop telling God what I want and desire and hope for.
It’s not about trying harder to want less or about feeling guilty when I find myself wanting. It’s not saying “You shouldn’t ever want anything” OR “It is wrong to want something” OR “Don’t ever tell God that there is something that you desire or long for in your life.”
It’s about focusing on, discovering and experiencing the God of all creation.
Experiencing the one who was and always will be as MY shepherd…as OUR shepherd.
The one who provides for us, cares for us, protects us and pursues us when we wander
The one who knows what I need before I do.
The one who will sustain us and comfort us and give us our souls back.
I fully admit and acknowledge that this is a brave prayer for many of us in this room today. For people who want a loved one to beat a terminal illness but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen. For people who want a spouse but don’t have one at this point. For people who want a child but can’t have one or don’t have one yet. For people who want job or financial security but don’t have it in this moment. For people who desperately long for and hope for and want something but haven’t received it yet.
But as I pray these words over you today,
I encourage you to pray the words of Psalm 23 this week and for as long as you need, to be reminded that our God will provide for you, care for you, protect you and pursue you in the midst of all the world puts on your plate.
Close your eyes and receive this prayer…
The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.
The Lord is my Shepherd I have all that I need.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He refreshes and restores my soul.
He renews my strength.
He returns my soul.