The Lord is my shepherd
Rev Miak Siew
Psalm 23, John 10:1-10
Free Community Church
7 May 2017

Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
I have read this psalm a dozen times to a dozen patients when I was a chaplaincy intern in Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. The patients were all different – African American, Hispanic, White, young, old, some at the last stages of their cancer, some, just coming in for a minor surgery.
Yet this psalm gives them comfort. Some of them, the older generation, have it memorised by heart. One elderly African American lady asked me to read Psalm 23 to her, and as I started, she recited the psalm together with me.
I wondered at that time, why would she want me to read it to her, if she already knew the Psalm by heart. I could see it was really comforting for her to hear me read it to her, even as she struggled with her illness. It soothed her. In her illness, in her walk through the darkest valley, it comforted her.
Earlier this week, one of my close friends sent me this in a whatsapp chat group. It is a decal on a Lamborghini that reads “Lord is my shepherd I shall not lack.”
I hope when you hear Psalm 23, you don’t imagine that somehow God will help you strike lottery, or get whatever – a good job, a partner, material things like a Lamborghini – you want. I wonder about the owner of this car – and why he would need to advertise his faith in such a way that lacks humility. I wonder about what Jesus may say to him – would it be the similar to what he said to the rich young man “sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me?” Could his possessions be an obstacle to following Christ? I don’t know. I know that my understanding and experience with this Psalm – especially the verse “I shall not want” is very different.
https://youtu.be/cn2zKKhhF3I
Bobby McFerrin’s version never fails to calm and comfort me. It may be jarring at first to hear the psalm read with “She” instead of “He,” but like many others, the change in pronoun shifts the effect of the Psalm.
Bobby McFerrin said in an interview:
“The 23rd Psalm is dedicated to my mother. She was the driving force in my religious and spiritual education, and I have so many memories of her singing in church. But I wrote it because I’d been reading the Bible one morning, and I was thinking about God’s unconditional love, about how we crave it but have so much trouble believing we can trust it, and how we can’t fully understand it. And then I left my reading and spent time with my wife and our children. Watching her with them, the way she loved them, I realized one of the ways we’re shown a glimpse of how God loves us is through our mothers. They cherish our spirits, they demand that we become our best selves, and they take care of us.”

Psalm 23 is an intimate psalm of faith and trust in the midst of trial and troubles – I can imagine it being written and sung in the period of calm in the middle of battle – the eye of the storm, or the calm before the storm.
When I reflect on “I shall not want,” I realised it is not about getting what I want. When we are not getting what we want, it is not because God does not love us – (and certainly when we get what we want, it doesn’t mean God loves us more. I don’t think owning and driving a Lamborghini means God loves that person more) That is the prosperity gospel. Rather, faithfulness is about resting in that trust that God loves me regardless of my circumstance, just like faithful Job – and I shall not fear what is ahead of me. It is resting in God that I find the green pastures and the still waters that nourish and sustain me.
Pauline spoke last week of her experience of God creating a gate in the wall of her heart.

John 10:1-10

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Who are the strangers here? Are we sometimes following the voice of strangers instead of the voice of Jesus? Are these strangers fame? Fortune? Our own selfish wants? Having things our way?
Do we prioritise other things above God? Do we listen to the ways of the world – where it is all about ourselves instead of seeking the way of God? Do we chase material things, material comfort above the wellbeing of others, the wellbeing of all creation? Do we judge what is good with the standards of the world instead of the standards of God?
What gate does Jesus want to lead us through? What kind of path is it? Is it not a path of compassion, a path of justice, a path of peace, a path of love?
Do we prioritise seeking justice, peace-making, loving our neighbour? Or is it something we do as extra-curricular activities – that we do it after we have settled the more “important things in life?”
Do we realise that when we see other things as the more “important things,” we have mistaken these “things” as the gate.
Some people think they fill find what they are looking for when they find a partner in their lives. For others, it may be a successful career. For some, it may be popularity. And for many, it is wealth. Yet, all these things do not satisfy. When we find these things, we realise these things don’t make us happy. We still feel empty. Sometimes we think maybe we didn’t get enough – if we had more, then we would be happy. So we dedicate our lives to the endless pursuit of things that fill this emptiness but do not satisfy.
I recall the look in the elderly African Amercian woman’s eyes after I finished reading the Psalm. It was almost as if she was really in the middle of green pasture and lying beside still waters. She was comforted. She was close to the end of her life. She was in pain. Yet she could proclaim “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
She taught me something – she taught me that she found life, and had it abundantly.

Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
S/He makes me lie down in green pastures; S/he leads me beside still waters;
s/he restores my soul. S/He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

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