by Rev. Joan Kessler
The 23rd Psalm is one of the most recited sacred texts. Some of you may even have been saying it silently along with Gary as he read it moments ago. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. We heard the stories over the past few weeks of the resurrected Jesus making appearances to his closest friends; in these next few weeks to come, we hear readings reminding us of our close and intimate relationship with the Divine. And maybe these familiar words are finding you in a place where you need some assurance… maybe life is feeling a bit upended and overturned… maybe there is some sadness and letting go of things we used to know and the uncertainty of what may come… trying to find a sacred balance that is longed for but not quite in sight. I hope my message today brings some comfort… but I also hope it brings a word of hope that sees us challenged to not just dismiss words that perhaps seem out of fashion for us.
The appearance of the Good Shepherd Psalm falls very close to Earth Day, which we just observed on Thursday. I looked at the words of this song of David through the lens of Earth Day. The psalm opens with a statement regarding consumption… the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. It is one thing to say I have all that I need and quite another to live it out. I wanted to find out what the average rate of consumption generally speaking was so I Googled it and the answer I received was a complicated chemistry equation, which I cannot begin to explain let alone understand, but the takeaway was that consumption is the burning of energy and a disappearance of something. We know our shopping habits and the clothes we have in our closets, the tanks of gas we pump into our cars. There’s so many things competing for our attention and our dollar. I find myself in a stage of life after moving a few times in recent years that less is more… there is such freedom when we have less of things. I am blessed to have work to buy what I need and have my own home and a car to drive… keep my living simple and endeavor to acquire less.
Next we come to the green pastures… aww, you know these moments… lying down on the grass on a summer’s day and looking up at the sky… what do you see there? Green pastures are like a Sabbath pause, a time of rest and refreshment… simple pleasures like eating asparagus until I can eat no more. Green pasture moments are times when things are good and easy but it’s a time for planning for the future too. It is a time of contentment with what is available and reminding oneself that there is enough, that we are enough just as we are. So it’s good every so often to just skive off for part of the day and maybe do absolutely nothing productive, recognizing that our growth happens in these moments help us to appreciate our work and routines even more when we take time away to rest and reset.
Still waters… not rushing springtime flows that threaten to burst the banks of the creek bed. But rather the quiet waters that reflect sky above, a glassy surface made possible by the balance between the air currents above the water and the shape of the earth below. The still water has nowhere else to be, it just sits and ducks relish in the peace and serenity of it all. We also consider the necessity of fresh, clean water, particularly in the midst of a pandemic. We must work towards protecting this precious resource and promote wise and efficient management and continue to challenge all levels of government to create policy to protect its use... but legislation alone is not enough… as citizens we must steward the gift of water in our daily living.
The valley of shadows… it represents the inevitable time in every life that is a bit darker and less light. It is the paradox place of green pastures. The way though may be uncertain, but fear is not a productive state of being. We muster up our courage and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes we need a rod and a staff or walking sticks to keep going over the rough terrain and someone to go with us… but we keep going with support along the way… strength which we draw on from others and from within ourselves, shaped by a faith.
The Table that is prepared for us is not a place of extravagance. Rather it is a place of humble gratitude, and sometimes, of reconciliation and forgiveness. Host and Guest come together as equals to experience generous compassion; a place where community is formed and nurtured. One of the first things I hope we will do when we come back to the building together is share a meal together, to break bread and commiserate and reconnect with one another.
Contentment is at the heart of this psalm and this week, I was struck by how this experience becomes a spiritual practice. Someone once said contentment is not just a peaceful, easy feeling or a way to rationalize laziness. Rather, it is a deep, easy-breathing wisdom that knows what can and cannot change, and as important, knows when to act and when to wait. The contented person watches the world closely, enjoying things rather than trying to possess and manipulate. And in the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “Live simply so that others may simply live”. Our worldly possessions are not entirely our own, we only have the use of them… the deep needs of others make a claim on us and this psalm invites our response. We practice contentment when we want what we have and practice basic gratitude for the people in our life and our stuff, to not take them for granted. Our stewardship of our planet’s finite resources are part of striking balance between giving and receiving.
Perhaps this is our Good Shepherd Sunday challenge… that we might find contentment that we have all that we need, that our environmental impact with respect to our consumption and choices is considered, and that we see that we have enough, we are enough. Whatever our understanding and words we use, may the Divine, the Life Spirit, be our constant companion on this journey we call Life…
May it be so… Amen.