Faith United Methodist Church
April 17, 2016
4th Sunday of Easter
Rev. Kristabeth Atwood
Scripture: Psalm 23 (King James and The Message)
Prayer of Illumination:
Shepherding God, guide us on this journey of life. Lead us on the paths that lie before us. Strengthen us in times of fear and comfort us in seasons of sorrow. Renew us in moments of exhaustion, that we may lie down to rest in peace. Surely your goodness and grace are flowing through our lives even now, and we rejoice that you dwell with us through the power of the Holy Spirit. In gratitude and joy we pray, Amen.
Sermon: I Don’t Need a Thing
Have you ever confused ‘wants’ and ‘needs’? I do all the time. I need a new pair of pants. I need the latest version of the iPhone. I need a Roomba to keep my new house clean. I don’t think so! While I may want a new pair of pants, I have enough pairs of pants to keep me well clothed for more days than I care to admit. The latest version of iPhone does cool things mine does not, but I don’t use half of the features on my current iPhone. And yes, it is nice to watch Roomba suck up the dog fur on my floor while I write my sermon on a Saturday night, but I don’t need it. I have a perfectly fine push vacuum cleaner. (But I got Roomba for my birthday, so I am going to enjoy it!)
The truth is that most of what we have are ‘wants’, not ‘needs’. Our consumerist culture tries to confuse us about this. Everyday we see advertisements telling us what we ‘need.’ On TV, on the internet, on the side of the bus. We are bombarded with messages telling us what we need to buy to make our lives better. But what really makes our lives better, I wonder, and can it be purchased with a credit card?
This morning we heard two versions of the 23rd Psalm. We heard the King James Version, which is probably most familiar. In Sunday School I was made to memorize the 23rd Psalm King James Version and recite it in front of all the Sunday School children and teachers – one of my first experiences of public speaking. The Message version, though, is likely not as familiar. Eugene Peterson brings us The Message, which is a paraphrase of the Bible put into modern language.
Where the King James Version translates the first verse as, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want,” The Message renders it, “God, my Shepherd, I don’t need a thing.” Of course there are things that we need. We need shelter, food, and clothing. We need companionship, support and love. We need opportunities to share our gifts so we can live out our call as children of God. Sometimes need verses want is just a matter of perception.
The Psalmist, who is believed to be David (the same David who, as a young boy, was anointed by Samuel to be King of Israel), also wrote, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” No matter what version you read it in, David was taking about abundance, about God giving lavishly and unconditionally. The table prepared by God was covered with all the finest food and drink. The Message version of the same verse reads, “You serve me a six course dinner right in front of my enemies.” God provides everything that is needed, and more.
But this Psalm is not all rainbows and lollipops. The Psalmist ~ David ~ did not have a romantic or unrealistic view of the world. The enemies he spoke of were not metaphorical. He knew, from experience, that there were enemies, real enemies, out there. Saul was one. Goliath was another. David encountered enemies his whole life including, at the end of his life, his own son. And David knew that when the enemies on the outside don’t get you the enemies on the inside can. As one preacher put it, “Before us a table is set. Behind us just outside, in pursuit, are regret, fear, grief, illness, anger, guilt, anxiety and death.”
Yet even as we are stalked by those external and internal demons, God pursues us even more. Remember the last verse of the Psalm? “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The Hebrew word we have translated follow would be more accurately translated pursue. God doesn’t just trail along after us like a lost puppy, but actively seeks us out. God wants to be with us, to provide for us, to fill our cup to overflowing, to prepare a table before us full of blessings. The Message renders it, “Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.”
I’ve often wondered why this Psalm touches us so deeply. It is so well know, even by non-church goers, that it is sometimes called the most popular secular Psalm. Almost everybody in our culture is familiar with it and it is, by far, the most popular funeral reading. Almost every funeral I’ve officiated has included it. Something about this Psalm brings us comfort, hope, strength for the future. As Goeff McElroy suggested in this Lectionary Reflections, “It is a reminder that it is ultimately God who provides, nourishes, comforts us in our times of trouble, and that this provision goes beyond just the immediate but pursues us all the days of our life.”
King David knew of what he wrote. The words of Psalm 23 are nothing if not authentic. In them we recognize the human story, our story. We can feel the depths of the valley of the shadow of death. Yet we can see the cup overflowing, the oil pouring out, the table set before us. Even as our enemies surround us, even as temptation beckons, God provides for all our needs. A table is set just for us, prepared by our God who loves us and seeks us and pursues us even when we stray. The words of Psalm 23 are our words, the words of life.
This is the second week of our Stewardship emphasis. Our theme is Unconditional Giving. During these four weeks we celebrate how God gives to us unconditionally….. love, forgiveness, the needs of our daily lives. And we ask ourselves how we can give back to God in a way that honors how God gives to us. In doing so we may be able to share God’s unconditional giving with others – those we encounter here, those we meet in our daily lives, and those we may never meet at all, but whose lives we touch through mission.
As humans we put conditions on things. Will this new pair of jeans make me look thinner, more stylish? Will my Roomba make my life easier? Will my new iPhone impress my friends? But is this what really makes us happy? Is this what will get us through the valley of the shadow of death? David knew that when it came right down to it, only God can save us. And that, when he sought God out, God was always there…..giving, loving, forgiving, blessing.
“God, my Shepherd, I don’t need a thing.” Thanks be to God. Amen.