The Rev. Paul J Cain
Wednesday of Trinity 17, 21 September 2016
For an Elder to read
In the Name of Jesus. Amen
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Psalm 23 introduces an unordinary shepherd. His name is the Lord–Yahweh. David uses the Lord’s self-revealed name here. This Lord did not come to be served, but to serve. A Good shepherd cares for His flock so that they will not be in want. The Lord, our shepherd, gives us everything that we need to support this body and life, including daily bread. But man does not live on bread alone.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. Green pastures mean abundance. We’re not talking sagebrush, but lush, plentiful, nourishing grass. Other scripture speaks of such abundance as a land of milk and honey, rich wine, a place of plenty. Your shepherd supplies your need.
He leads me beside still waters. It is easier to drink from a cup than from a garden hose or water fountain. Why? In a cup, the water stays still! Still waters are important so that we may get the hydration we need. Sheep are a thirsty lot. And so are Christians. Jesus gives us living water from the Holy Spirit, welling up within us to eternal life.
He restores my soul. If we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He restores our souls. Daily confession of sin. Daily repentance. Daily remembrance of being baptized into Christ by His action. Daily forgiveness of sins–regular as daily bread.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Jesus is more than an example. He is true God, true man, our only Savior, the Christ, and our Good Shepherd. Yet, He is also an example. He leads us in paths of righteousness. He sets us on the straight and narrow way with His Word.
But what happens? We fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way...” And our Lord calls us back to Himself. He calls to you, too. He was born to die for you. He washed many of you in the regenerating waters of Holy Baptism according to His promise. Baptism now saves you, the Scripture says, because Jesus is the one doing the saving.
Your Lord calls you to walk again in the paths of righteousness. We all have gone astray through sin. And your Lord has left the ninety-nine for a time to come looking for you and carry you home on His shoulders. Does it make any sense to run away from green pastures, still waters, and the restoration of your very soul?
He leads you in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He doesn’t do it because of any merit or righteousness within us. He does it by grace, through faith, not by works so that anyone could boast. He holds the burning coal to your lips. Your guilt is gone. Your sin is atoned for.
An interesting transition takes place at this point in David’s psalm. From the first line David has used the term “He” to refer to the Lord, His shepherd. From this point, David addresses the Lord directly with the word, “You.”
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; No valley, no shadow, not even the threat of death should cause us to fear when the Lord is with us. If God is for us, who can be against us? Even though we may fear dying, we need not fear death. For the Christian, and only the Christian, it is only a portal to life with Christ in the first heaven.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. The rod is used to beat away wolves and other predators. The staff’s hook is used to lift a sheep out of danger. Today, Christian pastors–the word itself means shepherd–warn members of their flock against false teachers and doctrines contrary to the Bible and lift them out of spiritual danger so that they may again walk on the path of righteousness.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; It’s hard not to think about the Lord’s Supper with this verse. Faithful Christians will always be in the minority on this earth. We are often surrounded by those who oppose Biblical, historic, apostolic Christianity. Some bear the name of Christ only to make money for their media ministry. Others claim Christ only to build up a kingdom for themselves. The Lord prepares His table, a foretaste of the marriage feast of the Lamb described in Revelation. The verse about the valley of the shadow previously reminded us about the dangers we face in this world.
You anoint my head with oil; David was anointed King. Jesus was anointed for His purpose of dying for our sins to reconcile us to the Father and the rest of the sheepfold. That’s why He was called Messiah and Christ. Both of those words mean anointed. You have been anointed to follow Christ, to receive His gift of forgiveness through His Spirit and the means the Spirit uses to deliver those gifts. We dare not forget that oil is an ancient symbol for the Holy Spirit that every Christian is given at Holy Baptism. You are a temple of the Holy Spirit! And you have been called to tell the good news about Jesus to those you know and those you meet, including your family. We are called to raise our children in the one, holy faith.
My cup overflows. Again we are reminded of the Lord’s Supper. In the big picture, we see Scripture overflow with Gospel promises–good news. The Lord gives His gifts and somehow, there are still more! Our sins are washed away in Holy Baptism, the New Testament says, and yet, we hear our sins forgiven by His proclamation through His servants, and we taste and see that the Lord is Good at His altar.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. In life, there is hardship, trial, tribulation, and heartache. Even so, the Lord abides with us. He gives us His Word and Spirit to strengthen us when the path of righteousness goes right through the valley of shadow. And His goodness and His mercy follow His Christians.
The Lord calls all members of the body of Christ to stay connected first to Christ and then to each other in the strengthening love and forgiveness that Jesus shares. God provides this strength to us through the church family as we join together in His Word and Sacrament. Hear the powerful message of hope because God strengthens what remains.
The Lord Himself leads you, yes, you, in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake so that you may dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The Twenty-third Psalm emphasizes the Lord’s action for His sheep, His Christians. That’s you. He loves you. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.