We are in in between times as far as the religious season is concerned so thought that I would use this time before Advent to think on those things that seem to come to me.
It was a phrase in a someone else’s sermon that has stuck with me and seems appropriate for a place like Banff where you ought not to be, if you do not enjoy the out-of-doors.
What was that phrase? Where in the Bible are you camping?
Now I have no idea if any of you read the Bible or not but we all should be. While it may be full of what some call myth and allegory, it has also the means to guide, strengthen and give us hope.
The first passage that Bill read was a small snippet of the story of the Israelites having left their slavery behind in Egypt and camping out. Now they were not always “happy campers” as we say because they grumbled and complained a lot but still they were camping until they could find their God- given home. The land that we are talking about is the land that is under fire literally these days as Israel defends itself against invasion.
But it is really the second reading….Psalm 23 that I want us to camp with today.
Now before I go further I need to confess something that my family is clear about. We do camp on occasion but mostly we camp because I am too cheap(some would say) I prefer to think too broke- to pay for a motel. So our sons would say that growing we have only camped for one night at a time. I remember travelling from Alberta to Ontario, arriving at Whitefish Shell Provincial Park, arriving so late that there was no-one to take our money and leaving so early that there was still no attendant on duty. There was no self-serve station either.
But the camping I am talking about is where you stay a few days, soak in the environment, hike about and meet fellow campers.
So today I want us to camp with a very few verses of Psalm 23.
Now there is one problem….we may be so familiar with this passage of scripture that we write it off as knowing too much about it.
When we lived in Okotoks, our across the street neighbours, had the most magnificent view of the mountains you could possibly have in the community. The wife was an artist and her studio was a turret on the second level with a 180 view. So my question to her was,do you still enjoy the mountain view? Her response…well my husband does!!
Sometimes it takes a newcomer to get us to appreciate what we have.
The second trouble with this Psalm is that it is used most frequently at funerals and so we tend to think of it as a death poem rather than a life giving psalm. One person said to me….you know I really hate the 23rd Psalm so I hope you never use it.
Despite these objections or hindrances from some I still want to camp with it and with you for a short time and see if we can find meaning and enjoyment together.
The Lord is my shepherd….
To whom do you give authority over your life?
Is there a Higher Power for you?
Having worked with a number of Alcohol or drug dependent people over the years, it is only when people admit their need for someone greater than themselves that they can overcome the shortfall in our life. Many of us take pride in being a self –made, independent woman or man but there are times in our life when that wears thin….when a crisis hits or priorities change or the unexpected happens.
It is not some Lord, not a God …some Higher Power but rather the God of Abraham and Sarah of David and Moses, of Mary and Joseph whom we trust and give power to.
The Lord is my Shepherd.
The word MY is not there by accident. This indicates a personal relationship. Christianity is not so much a religion as it is a relationship. That is how God wants it. That is why Jesus came. For a long time God seemed far away and so remote that people wondered if God was lost. Certainly the followers were. Hence God sent Jesus to say…I am here for you in a personal way so I hope you get it.
Fortunately there is enough of God to go around so each of us can have the knowledge of this personal relationship.
The Lord is my Shepherd
That obviously means that we are sheep. If you know much about sheep that might not seem like such a great title .However David was a shepherd himself. David knew sheep and David knew God. Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd. So like it or not we are sheep in God’s eyes and that is not such a bad thing when we consider the fact that there is a Shepherd who wants to look after us.
Yes sheep as ornery and stubborn and even sometimes stupid but so too is our human nature. God wants to care about us and for us.
David of all people wandered away from God and God’s desire for his life. David fell in love with another woman who was already married and in order to have her, had her husband killed in battle. Some might consider either of these acts unforgivable but David found the Shepherd again and became a willing, yes remorseful follower once again
I shall not want
It was John Piper who said, God’s sheep never lack anything that the Shepherd thinks is good for them.”
That is different from saying we will not desire things.
That is different from getting what we want.
Some people, especially as we get older think that they want for nothing. However think again as Jason Lehman writes:
It was spring. But it was summer I wanted
The warm days, & the great outdoors.
It was summer. But it was fall I wanted
The colorful leaves, & the cool, dry air.
It was fall. But it was winter I wanted
The beautiful snow, & the joy of the holiday season.
It was winter. But it was spring I wanted
The warmth, & the blossoming of nature.
I was a child. But it was adulthood I wanted
The freedom, & the respect.
I was 20. But it was 30 I wanted
To be mature, & sophisticated.
I was middle aged. But it was 20 I wanted
The youth, & the free spirit.
I was retired. But it was middle age I wanted
The presence of mind, without limitations.
Then my life was over, & I never got what I wanted.
I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for our life and when we discover that plan and purpose then our needs and wants diminish. The difficulty is that most people spend their entire life trying to figure out what their purpose in life is. The second part of life is often filled with meaning and purpose .Would that we could find that out early in life for that is what God desires more than anything else.
God desires us to be without want. We need to trust God for that.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures
Do you know what most Christians do? They run around doing. And thank goodness for that. We need people who will be board members, greeters, thrift shop volunteers and so on. But sometimes we lose sight of God in all our doing.
Have you ever been invited out to a meal where the host or hostess was so busy with the meal that you never got a chance to even visit with that person. It was a wonderful meal, perfectly presented and delicious in the taste but absent in real conversation.
Perfect dinner but no host or hostess.
There are times in our lives when we are forced to rest. It might be as slight as a cold or as serious as a disease but some of these are God moments. Few of us recognize them for that, especially if we are in pain or frustrated . Jesus says” come unto me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest”
He makes me to lie down in green pastures.
Phillip Keller, an author and once a shepherd, says this about resting sheep.
Sheep cannot rest unless they are free from fear
Unless they are filled with food..
Unless that are free from friction with other sheep
Unless they are free from outside disturbances…..flies in the case of sheep.
How about you and I?
It says he makes me to lie down. But are we prepared in our hearts to rest…to accept the luxury of being in the presence of God.
He restores my soul.
All of us wear out at one time or another. We need to be renewed. Try as we might we cannot do it ourselves. Many of us attempt it with the escape …. Warmer climate, ski hill, sleep in…whatever your choice and it works for awhile but it wears thin after awhile.
A close friend of ours passed away yesterday. He had a very rare form of cancer and the end was agony for both our friend and all who watched as he slowly died. A mutual friend who will speak at the funeral wrote an article in his church’s newspaper about how his faith in God was severely tested ,watching his friend die. But he went on to write, I am finding myself slowly coming to an understanding with God about life and death. His soul is being restored.
God wants to and can restore our soul so that we can be fully alive and serve God in this life.
And so it is that we have camped with the scriptures for a while. We have not even begun to find all the trails let alone walk them. We have not seen all the hills and valleys. We have not plumbed the depths of this passage but we have camped for awhile and hopefully restored some part of our soul.
May all of us take time with the scriptures to find meaning and renewal and God’s intent and grace for our daily living and for our life.
Rev. Doug Powell is the minister at the Banff United Church, Rundle Memorial United. Learn more about our current activities, our Thrift Shop, and how to get married in Banff.