Meditation on Psalm 23
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, Ohio
Pastor Karen Crawford
May 3, 2020
Jim bought me a lawnmower last week because I wanted to mow grass. I actually missed mowing grass! I haven’t mowed grass since I accepted my first call to ministry in Minnesota in 2011. We lived in a manse right next to the church, back then. We didn’t bring our lawnmower because the church, which had a large piece of property that included a cemetery on a big hill, paid someone to maintain the grounds, including the yard of the manse. That was great! Especially when I read in the old Session minute books that some of the pastors before me were required to mow the grass, not just around the manse, but also around the church and cemetery on the hill. It was in their job description! I figured I got off pretty easy not having to mow grass OR shovel snow. This was Minnesota, after all. Then we moved to Florida in 2015 and bought a house with a postage-stamp sized yard. WE didn’t have any snow to shovel and didn’t have a lawnmower. Since it didn’t cost much to pay someone to tend our tiny lawn, we decided not to mow the grass ourselves.
Now, being home these 6 or 7 weeks, I have had plenty of time to watch the grass, dandelions, and clover grow—and my neighbors mowing their lawns. So I decided, I should do it, too. No excuses.
Before I was allowed to begin mowing, Jim brought me the manual and put it in my hands. He did the same thing when he bought me a hedge trimmer a couple of years ago. I expected a test on the manual, so I studied accordingly. But when the time came to mow the grass in between the raindrops this week, I asked Jim for a tutorial, a demonstration, before I began, just to make sure I knew what I was doing. He showed me how to adjust the blade height and the speed of the wheels. How to take out the battery and plug it in for charging, how to remove the grass catcher and empty it when it got full. How to turn it on with the safety switch and, just as importantly, how to turn it off by letting go of the handle. I was ready.
Then I started mowing, with Jim watching, until he was sure I wasn’t going to get into too much trouble.
As I mowed, I hummed joyfully to myself. With the birds singing all around me in the trees, I thought of the Great Cloud of Witnesses in Hebrews who have already run the race before me and are cheering me on. I took to heart what I had read in the manual—how you shouldn’t mow up and down hills and how you should plan out your mowing around obstacles. And how you shouldn’t back up with this self-propelled mower, lest you injure yourself.
Nowhere in the manual does it tell you how to mow without backing up or how to turn the mower around when you get to an end of a sweep. That took some practice! And it sounds great to not mow up and down a hill, but if you have ever seen our yard, you can imagine how hard it is to avoid mowing up and down a hill, no matter what direction you go. The thing is, you have to keep adjusting the speed of the mower or you end up running behind the machine while it lunges down a hill, without you. And nothing told me how to mow under low hanging tree branches without poking my eye out. I had to figure that one out on my own. I was just glad that I was wearing my glasses that day.
Throughout my adventure, I only had a few minor mishaps, including mowing over a large decorative rock near our driveway that had no business being there, anyway! Well, it didn’t!
Afterward, I was tired and sweaty, but the yard looked a whole lot better. I felt like I had accomplished something. Best of all, for that hour or two, I didn’t think about any problems or worry about anything. I just concentrated on mowing the lawn, doing the one job I had to do that day, with some help from Jim and the Good Shepherd and His angels that were surely with me.
Later on, as I looked out at the fruits of my labor and felt peace and contentment, I thought of how the Lord provides for all our needs—not just food, water, clothing and shelter, but encouragement, worthy work and opportunities for service. We need these to feed the heart, mind and soul.
With the Lord, my Shepherd, I lack nothing. I am free from want, including that destructive desire that keeps us dissatisfied and accumulating more and more. Aren’t we finding out through this pandemic that we really don’t need as much as we thought we needed to be happy?
My cup runneth over with blessings. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all of my days, dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23, attributed to David, is often read at funerals, but don’t mistake it for being about death. It is about the abundant life that God has given us, the Shepherd who is always with us. This beautiful song of ancient Israel is in stark contrast to the psalm that immediately precedes it—22, which begins with the lament, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This is the rhythm of the life of believers—sometimes lament, crying out to our Shepherd for help, comfort and protection during trials and pain. But then lament turns to praise in Psalm 22 and 23 for God’s faithfulness, because God is always faithful. He hears our cries and responds with steadfast love.
I have seen posts on Facebook from people longing for the simple life that we had before coronavirus. I agree that I, too, long for the good old days, especially because we were together all the time without worrying about spreading a deadly illness. But I remember that we didn’t think our lives were simple then! We worried all the time, when life was GOOD. We tried to do too much and made it complicated. Then, we fretted about all our commitments and responsibilities.
Do you want a simpler life? It’s not far from our grasp. For an example, we may consider the life of sheep during the time of David, thousands of years before Jesus would say, “I am the Good Shepherd” and “My sheep hear my voice, I call them by name and lead them out and they follow me.” David knew all about tending sheep; before he was king, he was a shepherd in his youth. Young women and girls, such as Rachel in the time of the patriarchs, also worked as shepherds.
So what are the needs of sheep in biblical times? They need food, water and rest, just like we do. The shepherd has to go ahead of them and lead them to green pastures and beside still waters, so that they may eat and drink. The shepherd has to make the sheep lie down to rest, because like us, they don’t always know what’s good for them and that they need sleep.
The sheep also need to know to whom they belong and whom they can trust. The Shepherd gave each one a name and called them by it. Our Shepherd knows us by name, too, and assures us that we will hear his voice and follow him. That’s a promise!
Another need that we share with sheep are the many dangers in our world. Sheep need protection, direction, and tender care when they are hurt, sick or afraid. Shepherds used a slingshot, rod and staff to keep the sheep from falling into pits, getting caught in branches or fences, going over cliffs, wandering off and getting lost, being stolen by thieves or eaten by wild animals. A sheep that was too tired or sick to walk would be carried on the Shepherd’s strong shoulders, like in the poem Footprints, when we are too weary to go on and our Lord carries us.
Finally, the sheep have another important need—they need each other. They need affection and companionship, like we do. They are social creatures. They instinctively flock together. When one begins to walk off, others will follow.
The Lord knows that we need our Shepherd and that we need our fellow sheep, particularly now, while we are separated in our homes. The Spirit continues to draw us together for comfort, help and healing, encouragement and friendship, and for worship. Our Shepherd uses His Word and Spirit to direct, protect, discipline and empower us.
God wants us to flourish, and offers us abundant life through His Son. But abundance doesn’t mean more. It may mean a more simple, less hectic life than we were living before we ever heard of COVID-19. Have you thought about some things you might want to change in your life when things are more “normal” again? This would be a good time to think and pray about it and talk about it with loved ones. I hope I will spend more time at home with my family than I did before. And I hope I will have more time to work in the yard, something I have always enjoyed—planting flowers, spreading mulch, weeding and watering. And yes, mowing grass.
Our Shepherd will continue to provide opportunities for worthy work, loving service, and spiritual growth, if we open ourselves to them. God knows we need work, service and spiritual nourishment for our well-being. I have seen some of your good deeds, so I know you are already loving and serving your neighbors.
We don’t have to wonder what we should be doing right now. I hear people say how bored they are! Well, if you feel bored, it isn’t because there isn’t work we can be doing for others or simply taking time for self-care and rest with God. For there’s so much to do when you are following the lead of the Good Shepherd. The Lord requires the same thing of us every day, whether we are retired or going to a job, school, or church or staying close to home. As Micah 6:8 says, the Lord requires us “to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.”
Our Shepherd will supply all our need-emotional, physical and spiritual. We truly lack nothing. Free from want, our cups runneth over with blessing.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.
Let us pray.
Thank you, Good Shepherd, for your call to us to follow your lead and do your will. Thank you that we are your sheep and you know our names—and more about us than we understand about ourselves. Teach us to trust in you and listen only for your voice. Help us to obey your commands to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you each day, embracing the worthy work and opportunities for spiritual growth and service that you present to us. Give us courage, strength, wisdom, patience, gentleness, endurance, creativity, joy and peace for these times, without longing for the “good old days” when we made things more complicated and stressful than they needed to be and didn’t always recognize your presence with us. Open our eyes to the changes you want us to make so that your goodness and mercy will surely follow us all the day of our lives. Make us to be more like you and dwell in your house, forever. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.