Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost September 3-4, 2022
“Everything I Need” Psalm 23
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
It was 10 years ago, this summer, when Carol Shepherd’s father, Roscoe Barringer, died. We had the service for Roscoe here at Ascension. In preparations for the service, I met with Carol and asked her what Scripture she would like at the service. She said, as so many people do, “I want Psalm 23 read at his service.” But quite quickly she continued, “But I don’t want the one you normally read. I don’t want the version which reads, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (That is the King’s James Version) She said, “That sounds like we aren’t to be asking for what we need. Don’t use that version!”
So, for that July 21, 2012, service we used the Living Bible paraphrase, “Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need.” I like that. “Everything I need”. My translation, the New International Version, sounds alike like that. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” Our deepest needs are met by our Shepherd – Jesus.
Today is the conclusion of my summer sermon series on selected psalms. Today I speak about the most treasured psalm of many people – Psalm 23. The first 4 verses are quiet and tranquil – green pastures, still waters, paths filled with all the right things – God is present in our life, leading us. The Shepherd takes care of His sheep.
Sheep are dependent on their shepherd. Sheep have trouble offering any defense against those who would harm them, they get lost too easily and they are not self-sufficient. But the Shepherd is present and that changes everything. Everyone needs a Shepherd. We confess the greatest word when we declare, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
Our Shepherd not only gives us what we need, He gives it in the best possible way, at the best possible time. You can’t take sheep to get their water in a fast-moving river, they would get swept away. No, they need quiet pools. That is where He takes us.
Our Good Shepherd revives our soul. He brings it back alive, fresh, renewed. He brings hope to hearts and souls that have lost their vigor. Green grass, calm waters, resting places, restoring our life in the best possible way is the work of a Good Shepherd. When David penned these words I have a feeling he was remembering the words of Moses and what Moses said about God caring for the people of Israel when they were in the desert for 40 years, “The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast desert. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have lacked nothing.” (Deuteronomy 2:7) That is sort of like Roscoe’s service, “Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need.”
This psalm is the favorite for many people because it was read at the funeral for one of their friends or relatives. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Who is stronger, God or death? God is. On the path to our end we must know that God is stronger than what we will face. And it is not just death that our God can handle. The Hebrew word for death comes from the root “to be dark”. It carries with it the thought of gloom. What experiences in your life carry with it the thought of darkness and gloom? Sickness? Trouble? Disaster? Though we travel those roads the Good Shepherd tells us that He is with us.
The shepherd had a few necessary tools of the trade. A rod. A staff. “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” A rod. 2 feet long. It was a club – a weapon. Anything or anyone who came to endanger his sheep found that rod against their body. The staff? A long stick that would direct the sheep to where they should go.
Every good thing you need, your Shepherd, your Lord, will provide. In life and in death you will be taken care of. “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
But be wary of shepherds who are not Thee Shepherd. God warns us against those who care nothing for the sheep and are more like wolves among God’s flock. In Jeremiah 23 we read, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!’ declares the Lord. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says to the shepherds who tend my people: ‘Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care of them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:1-2)
Psalm 23 tells us that we will not be in want because we have a generous shepherd. It tells us that we will not need to be in fear. Did you notice that the scene in the psalm changes in the final 2 verses? The setting for the first 4 verses is on outside, in the pasture. Green pastures. Still waters. But in verses 5 and 6 we are no longer outdoors but have come indoors. We are no longer sheep in a flock; we have become guests at a banquet. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies: thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”
One of the great moments of our Vacation Bible School this past summer was the message that Stephanie Roettjer, our Director of Christian Education, had with the kids in one of the closing devotions. In Psalm 23 language her talk with the kids was about the “cup that runneth over”. But how do you get across to 4 year-olds that our God is very generous with His mercy and forgiveness and constant love? Stephanie knew her audience and she conveyed the extravagance of our God with ice cream and toppings – lots of it. This is her recipe: You take 2 half gallon tubs of ice cream, put them in a huge bowl, then you add full bottles of chocolate syrup, caramel syrup, strawberry syrup and a jar of marshmallow cream. Then you add a bag of M&M’s and another of chocolate chips. You need to add slices of banana, and of course, a ton of sprinkles. And the last ingredient is a full can of whipped topping and a cherry that is right on top!
When she did this the kids were having such fun. None of them ever got to make such a mess at home – that only happens at church – with Stephanie. “My cup runneth over.” Our God is not miserly or cheap. He fills our cup to overflowing. He pours His many blessings into our lives even when our cup is already full. “Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Peace, forgiveness, Holy Spirit leading and Holy Spirit power. Eternal life with unending joy. These are all gifts from a Shepherd who loves His sheep.
Jesus knew all about Psalm 23. He knew about the God who told His people that He would stand with them as they went through the valley of the shadow of death. He knew about the God who said He would make our cup overflow. He knew about the God who said His people would live in the house of the Lord forever.
And knowing what He knew, Jesus said, “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. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen, I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:11, 14-16)
Everything you need, truly need, the Good Shepherd – Jesus Christ, provides to you, to us. He laid down His life for us, paying for our sin, eliminating the devil’s claim on our life, and giving us the assurance of strong, enduring love. Later in chapter, the Good Shepherd – Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
Either we are going to run our life or God is. Either we insist on control, or we give our life over to God. That is quite a word that we get to speak: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need.” How true!! Amen!!