Hope in the Midst of Suffering

Easter Four: April 26th 2015

Reflection on Psalm 23:

By Roland Legge

 

 

How many times have you heard the 23rd Psalm?  I expect many of us have heard this hundreds of times.  But what does it mean?  Fred Craddock says:

Regardless of how one interprets the psalm, the general picture of what is stressed is quite clear.  One who has known trouble or experienced life-threatening situations has also experienced the protection of the Divine.  The psalm exudes confidence that God protects so that whatever life brings to his people, they will not be overwhelmed.

Preaching the New Common Lectionary Year B Lent, Holy Week, Easter by Fred Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay and Gene M. Tucker P.G. 190

 

But, how does this prayer make you feel?  Does it make you feel safe?  Does it help you to feel God’s presence?  Does it help you to remember that God promises to never abandon us? Does it give you comfort?  Does it help to free you of your pain?

For me it does all of what I mentioned except take the pain away.  I like how Craddock shows how the author of Psalm 23 honestly presents the human predicament:

This psalm presents the human predicament without any illusion about persons beings superhumans and above pain, loneliness, and lostness; yet the symbol of God as protector and even corrector affirms the potential of a tranquil life lived amid adversaries and the harsh realities that are the ingredients of every life.

Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary P.G. 190-191

While it does not take our pain away it gives us more confidence to move ahead even though there will be times of pain and difficulty. It helps us to stay more attuned to the spirit present and available to each of us in our own bodies, minds and souls.  Do you have that connection with the Divine, the Holy, the Sacred that the author of Psalm 23 seems to have?

The language of shepherding may not be a useful image for us today, because most of us don’t know shepherds. To give us a sense of Shepherding in Ancient times in the Middle East, Matthew Penny says this on The Worship Place, a United Church on-line community:

In fact Shepherds were often hired hands who were indentured to a rich landowner almost in perpetuity.

They were not popular.  They were looked down upon as being less than whole. Knowing this about shepherd what metaphors would you use today that we are familiar with?

Today this very day many people have written their own interpretations of the 23rd Psalm.   I share two with you today as one of many tools to deepen our understanding of this awesome Psalm.   The first is written by Julia Esquivel who opens his heart to us and showing us what Psalm 23 meant for him on that day he wrote it.

When the hour comes,

you shall change my desert into a waterfall,

you shall anoint my head with fresh oil

and your strength shall overcome my weakness.

 

You shall guide my feet into your footsteps

and I will walk the narrow path

that leads to your house.

 

You shall tell me when and where

I will walk your path totally bathed in joy.

In the meantime,

I ask you, Lord, you who awaken

in the most intimate place in my soul

the Feast of Life!

That of the Empty Tomb!

That of the Victorious Cross!

 

Let your voice mistaken as the Gardener’s

awaken my hearing every morning

with news that’s always fresh:

“Go and tell my brothers and sisters

that I have overcome death,

that there is a new place for everyone

there where the New Nation is built.

 

There, where neither earth, love, or joy

can be bought or sold,

where wine and milk

are shared without money and without price.”

Julia Esquivel, Threatened with Resurrection, The Brethren Press.

 

Then on the lighter note but yet powerful is Jim Taylor’s version:

Blessed relief

God keeps a cool café. What more could I ask?

She provides a comfortable chair to take the weight off my weary feet;

she puts up an umbrella to shade me from the sun;

she serves me iced tea.

Though I have battled with the crowds at the bargain counters,

though I have suffered the scent of too many sweaty bodies,

I don’t care.

I know what’s waiting for me at the end of the day.

An ice cream cone. It drips over the edges, and I lick it up gratefully.

I close my eyes;

the sound system plays the gentle chuckles of waves lapping on a shore.

I am content.

I would love to sit here forever.

In God’s cool café.

James Taylor, Everyday Psalms, © 1994 Wood Lake Books. Used by permission.

 

Which of these two different versions speak to you most today?  For me they both focus on the presence of God through the Holy Spirit.

I hope that our congregation can become more and more the place where we will feel the presence of the Holy Spirit.  I hope that it will become so abundant that it will spill over into the rest of our lives.  But we all need to keep sharing our love, talents and time.  God can not do it alone.

God needs each of us to do our part.  That might mean we need to call someone up to see how they are if we have not seen them recently at church.  It might mean that we need to invite someone to a church service or some other activity.  Probably one of the most profound ways to share God’s love with another person is to simply spend time with them being fully present to them, whether that be sitting quietly next to them, possibly holding their hand, and listening to what ever they need to say. The story I am going to talk later about on the hospitality shown through the two cups of coffee are perfect examples of what I am talking about here.    I can think of many times when people have given me exactly what I needed at the time.  These were people who were following their calling by listening to their hearts, minds and intuition.

In the end God’s promises us is to journey with us and give us the signs we need to know the direction that God calls us to be going.  But what is even more amazing is that when and if we make a mistake God will use that to bless the world and give us countless more opportunities to turn our lives around.

 

 

 mycuprunnethoverwater

2 thoughts on “Hope in the Midst of Suffering

  1. The first part of the last verse of this psalm, which I have translated as: “Surely, Only Goodness and Kindness, Shall follow me, All the days of my life,” had been a Challenge to my Rational brains, and the Answer to my Prayers.

    For LONG years I just held this verse in my mind, without trying to even understand its depths, asking the Lord to Show me Its meaning, Practically. And He did.

    The two translations are simply Superb. Hearty Congratulations to the Authors. Thanks, Roland, for sharing. My Regards to You and the family.

  2. I should have added that I was suffering from Want. At that time, some 40 people were turning up for Breakfast, and many a time I had just rupees 20 (less than 40 cents!). The Lord Showed me that We shall not want. Praise the Lord.

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