Sunday March 22, 2020

4th Sunday in Lent – 2020a

Old Testament – Psalm 23:1-6

"Very Well, Very, Well

INTRODUCTION: Is there any passage from the Bible more familiar and beloved than Psalm 23?


Sure, there are other well-known portions of Scripture, such as Jesus’ famous stories about the Good Samaritan and that rascally Prodigal Son, but Psalm 23 is able to surpass even those passages when it comes to its popularity and frequency of recitation - especially for those of us who are familiar with the KJV of the psalm.


No wonder Walter Brueggemann, one of the premier Old Testament scholars to ever walk the face of the earth, likes to claim that for the preacher to even try and comment on the psalm is a bit pretentious given its deep and abiding influence within our world.


For so potent and powerful is the psalm, rather than us read it, it actually tends to read us. In other words, Psalm 23 has the ability to poignantly and powerfully lift up those emotions and feelings all of us can in one way or another.           


And surely part of the psalm’s great power can be found in its bold frankness about the messiness and trials of life.


After all, far from being uttered by someone who doesn’t have a trouble or care in the world, Psalm 23 originates from the depths of a person caught in the murkiness and uncertainty that is life. And who among us - especially these days - isn’t acutely aware of life’s fragility, transiency, and unpredictability?  


In Clint Eastwood’s critically acclaimed western from the mid 80s called Pale Rider, a small settlement of gold miners is harassed by a villainous business man. Wanting their land for his own, the villain sends his thugs to the small settlement to raid and harass the miners in hopes they’ll abandon camp.


After one raid is over, a young girl is shown burying her dog, which was senselessly killed by one of the thugs. And as the young girl buries the dog, she also recites Psalm 23 out loud. But as she recites the psalm, she also responds to it with her own running dialogue: [1]


The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (“But I do want,” adds the young girl.) He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. (“But they killed my dog!” laments the girl.)


Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil: (“But I am afraid.”) for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (“But we need a miracle.”)


Thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: (“If you exist.”) and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (“But I’d like to get more out of this life first. [God] if you don’t help us we’re all going to die. Please just one miracle. Amen.”)   


So no wonder we find Psalm 23 so powerful. For it’s a psalm born out of the fiery furnaces of strife, lose, and ordeal. It takes an honest and clear look at life, and because of that, it is more than willing to admit things are far from being rosy 100% of the time - a truth we all know too well.      


And yet at the same time Psalm 23, is also a bold statement of faith, right?


For while it frankly acknowledges the trials and troubles that can come with life, the Psalm also boldly asserts that such dark periods, no matter how bad or deep they might be, are never the final word. In the midst of a life gone horribly awry, Psalm 23 asserts that God nonetheless is at work in the world making all things new.


“Psalm 23 knows that evil is present in the world” says one commentator, “but it is not feared.”


So while the psalm surely tells a story of loss and trouble, it also simultaneously tells a story about redemption, hope, and God’s providential care:


“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” declares the psalmist, “I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”


The Presbyterian minister and professor Tom Long has a great line that, I think, can be applied to Psalm 23. Long’s famous line goes like this: “Whatever tomorrow brings, it brings God with it.”


So Psalm 23 does more than take a hard, clear look at the messiness of life. No, it takes a hard, clear look and then dares to boldly declare that amidst the chaos of it all God is still at work bringing his good and sweet promises to completion.


There is a story about a young woman in a small fishing village who became an unwed mother.


And after being berated by her father for days, she revealed the identity of the child’s father as the great spiritual master who lived on the outskirts of the village.


Well, the entire village was furious over the news. Trooping over to the spiritual master’s house in mass, they denounced the master for being a hypocrite, while also demanding that he take full responsibility for his baby.

And all the master said to such rough treatment after taking the baby into his arms was, “Very well, very well.”


And so for several months the master did exactly what the villagers had demanded. At his own expense, he fed and clothed the infant and even made arrangements to have him nursed by a woman from the village.


The spiritual master’s reputation, of course, was quickly ruined by the scandal and all of his students eventually abandoned him in order to find new teachers.


But about a year after the incident, the girl who had given birth to the baby boy unexpectedly came forward to make a shocking confession. The spiritual master wasn’t the real father of her baby after all.


Rather, it was the boy who lived next door to her house. Frightened for the boy’s life because of her father’s anger, the girl had lied in order to protect him. 


Well, the villagers, shocked, immediately set out to make amends with the spiritual master. Showering him with apologies, they also asked for the child back so his real father could now assist with caring for him.


And then the master did something kind of both strange and wonderful. Smiling, he returned the small child to the villagers and all he said was, “Very well, very well.”                


CONCLUSION: Well, we hear the spiritual master’s reply of “very well” to the ordeals of life and it’s easy to think of the Psalm 23 all over again.


For both the Psalm and the spiritual master, it seems, are able to take a long view when it comes to the bumpy road that is life. Peering past the problems and hurts of life, they’re able to see into that quiet place of peace and rest where all is finally and truly well.


For “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou (O God) art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.


Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.


Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”


Now to the Ruler of all worlds, undying, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen.