Psalm 23 (B)

Psalm 23

I trust in God. When I feel abandoned, I trust in God. When I feel safe, I trust in God. I trust in God.

Click on the link for the Psalm above for the text or listen to Psalm 23:

Reflection:

Psalm 23 is the most familiar psalm; it has provided comfort for God’s people since its first utterance. The writer of Psalm 23 experienced deliverance from something terrible but instead of recalling that event the psalmist conveys their trust in a personal God, “my shepherd”.

Psalm 22 may or may not have been intentionally placed before Psalm 23, but it is interesting that these two Psalms should appear together in our psalter. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) appears contradictory to “the Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want” at first, but both Psalms speak of a personal God that can be trusted when we feel abandoned and when we feel comforted.

Being a person of faith, or a Christian, or a member of Third Church does not mean that you will never see difficult times. But what it does mean is that in good times and in bad times, you are not alone. God is with you, and this intentionally empathetic community of faith is with you. And even when you feel forsaken, there are those who will sit with you in your sorrow without judgement or advice and hold you in their silent prayers, and perhaps that can be enough to get you through.

Psalm 23 is not just for assurance in hard times, or to be read at funerals, but it can be a psalm for every part of the faith journey. It is for times of celebration, baptisms, weddings, graduations, new jobs, and anytime when we rejoice together. It is the psalm my mother taught us at the dinning room table, one verse at a time until we had it memorized, maybe one of your spiritual guides helped you to memorize it too. It is engraved in my heart along with the Lord’s prayer and the communion liturgy from my home church. And like those other prayers, Psalm 23 marks ordinary movements of faith affirming we belong to God and to one another. We are not alone.

Take a moment to think of the person or persons who helped form your faith, and lift those memories up to God with gratitude as we listen to the music of the prelude.

“There are some kinds of pain that cannot be taken away in life. Loss. Hurt. Rejection. Disability. But those who enter into the pain of another know what it is to talk about the love of a God who does not change the circumstances that form us but walks through them with us every step of the way.”

Joan Chittister “songs of The heart: reflections on the psalms” page 49

Prayer:

The Lord’s Prayer is about the amount of time you need for hand scrubbing 😉 

Breath Prayer:  I am including breath prayers because this is the practice that I engage in most often.  Sometimes, I simply manage my breathing as I would when I was singing as a warmup and strengthening exercise.  This practice helps me to feel centered, strong, and connected with myself and the divine.  Sometimes, I add words or intentions for the inhalation and exhalation.  

Nicole Cardoza’s Guided Meditation For Anxiety
Try this short meditation, created by Yoga Foster and Reclamation Ventures founder Nicole Cardoza, the next time you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious.  Read in Yoga Journal.

Mr. Roger’s “Taking a breath”  This one is short, but Mr. Roger’s voice is calming for me (and many Pittsburghers) and even his virtual presence can summon childhood memories of calmness and safety.  

Let us pray:

One way to think about breath prayer is that whatever is exhaled other people will inhale. So, sometimes we might inhale and exhale the same idea with the hope that what we receive from God, we can share with others. For example, you may imagine receiving God’s steadfast love while praying that others are receiving God’s steadfast love.

Another way to think about breath prayer is to pick something you would like to receive for your inhalation and something you would like to release for your exhalation. The idea is to keep it simple, so I encourage you to simply find one word for each inhale and one word for each exhale. That simple prayer could be something like this: God fill me with your Holy spirit. I receive your care and release my stubbornness.

Or you may want to use a short phrase: I am the beloved’s and the beloved is mine.

Ok, everyone take a deep breath. Breath in. Breath out. Breath in. Breath out. Repeat as needed.

Sources and notes:

“Behind the confession of faith in psalm 23 are trials that required the psalmist to seek the shepherd’s staff and tent for protection and shelter. All that we have of the psalmist’s experience, however, is the beautiful poetic expression of confidence in the aftermath of threat and danger. That is, surely the psalmist experienced an unspecified threat, survived, and then composed this poem.” Creach p. 34

“There is no reason to think that Israel at the end of Psalm 22 would have promptly recited Psalm 23. Regardless, Psalm 23 provides a full culmination and resolve to Psalm 22. There is a good reason to take the two Psalms tighter. When we take Psalm 23 by itself as the church is won’t to do, it may claim far too quickly that “all is well”. Psalm 22 knows better than that. Psalm 22 knows that the darkness must be fully and deeply engaged The reality of much of life is one of divine abandonment, of being in the valley without the protective staff, of being before enemies without a good table or a full cup. The miracle of it all is that Israel and, after Jesus, the church have found the stamina and the grounding to confess that, in the abandonment, God can yet be trusted. While Psalm 22:1 is a rhetorical shock when we stop and pay attention to it, perhaps the trust voice in Psalm 23 is anticipated even there, because the very one who abandons continues to be “my God”. In the courage of faith that borders on hutzpah, the church dares to confess that “my God” who abandons is still and in any case “the Good Shepherd”. This may lead to reliance on the “goodness and mercy” of God that is given in the risen one who appears at the end of Psalm 22 in praise and in devotion to the well-being of the community.” Brueggemann p. 105

“The psalm’s confession is based on the salvation history of the people and expresses the individual’s participation in God’s ongoing salvific activity. The trust expressed is not just a matter of mood. Strength must be found, a way must be walked, harm and evil threatened. Enemies persist. That is the environment of trust.” Mays p. 118

“The psalm is written consistently from the perspective of the sheep; that is, its expression of trust and confidence presupposes an awareness of helplessness and need on the part of the one who trusts. In a distinctive fashion, the psalmist has set forth the fundamentals of the covenant relationship, not in terms of Lord and servant, but in the more intimate language of shepherd and sheep.” WBC p. 209

“In effect, to make Psalm 23 our words is to affirm that we do not need to worry about our lives (or our deaths). God will provide, and God’s provision is grounded in the reality of God’s reign. The proper response to the simple good news of Psalm 23 and Jesus Christ is to trust God. But this is precisely the rub. In a secular society, we are encouraged to trust first ourselves and to work first to secure our own lives and futures.” NIB pp. 366-367

“Psalm 23, like the Lord’s Supper, becomes finally an invitation to live under God’s rule and in solidarity with all God’s children. Thus to make Psalm 23 our own is a profoundly radical affirmation of faith that transforms our lives and our world. To be sure, Psalm 23 is to be heard in the midst of death and dying, but it is also to be heard amid the ordinary daily activities of living. And it gives these daily activities an extraordinary significance, for it invites us to share daily bread with all of God’s people.” NIB pp. 367-368

Jesus the Good Shepherd “In short, in NT terms, Jesus is shepherd, host, Emmanuel. When Psalm 23 is heard in the context of Psalm 22 and of Jesus Christ, its profoundly radical implications are even clearer: God is with us, but God is not ours to own; the God who shepherds us to life also gives life to the world; the table at which we are hosted is one to which the whole world is invited.” NIB p. 368

“There are some kinds of pain that cannot be taken away in life. Loss. Hurt. Rejection. Disability. But those who enter into the pain of another know what it is to talk about the love of a God who does not change the circumstances that form us but walks through them with us every step of the way.” Chittister p. 49

WBC Allen, Leslie C. 1983. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 101-150. Vol. 21. Waco, TX: Word Books, Publisher.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1974. Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. 8th ed. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Press.

Brueggemann, Walter. 2007. Praying the Psalms: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit. 2nd ed. Eugene, OR: Cascade.

Brueggemann Brueggemann, Walter. 2014. From Whom No Secrets Are Hid: Introducing the Psalms. Edited by Brent A. Strawn. 1st ed. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Chittister Chittister, Joan. (2011). Songs of the heart: reflections on the psalms. John Garratt Publishing. 

WBC Craigie, Peter C. 1983. Psalms 1-50–Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 19. Waco, TX: Word Books.

Creach Creach, Jerome Frederick Davis. 1998. Psalms: Interpretation Bible Studies. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

DAFLER, J. (2021). PSOBRIETY: A journey of recovery through the psalms. Louisville, KY: WESTMINSTER JOHN KNOX.

W de Claisse-Walford, Nancy L. WISDOM COMMENTARY: Psalms Bks. 4-5. Edited by Barbara E. Reid. Vol. 22. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2020. 

W Hopkins, Denise Dombkowski. WISDOM COMMENTARY: Psalms Bks. 2-3. Edited by Barbara E. Reid. Vol. 21. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2016. 

NIB Keck, Leander E. 2015. The New Interpreters Bible Commentary. Vol. 3. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Mays Mays, James Luther. 1994. Psalms. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press.

McCann, J. C., & Howell, J. C. 2001. Preaching the Psalms. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Merrill, N. C. (2020). Psalms for praying an invitation to wholeness (10th Anniversary Edition ed.). London, England: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Miller Miller, Patrick D. 1986. Interpreting the Psalms. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.

Schlimm Schlimm, Matthew Richard. 2018. 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know.Nashville, TN: Abington Press.

Spong Spong, M. (Ed.). (2020). The words of her mouth: Psalms for the struggle. Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press.

WBC Tate, Marvin E. 1990. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100. Edited by David Allan. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker. Vol. 20. Waco, TX: Word.

OTL Weiser, Artur. 1998. Old Testament Library: Psalms. Translated by Herbert Hartwell. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Manchester University Press.

I began writing Psalm reflections during Lent of 2020 shortly after we decided to close the church building, work from home, and worship via zoom.  Many churches use the revised common lectionary that rotates scripture on a three-year cycle (A, B, and C).  Starting in Advent 2019, Third Church decided to worship with the texts from Year D, which is still not circulated as are years A, B, and C.  Year D was created with the goal of including scriptures that were left out or not used as frequently as others.  Reflections exploring the Psalms in year D.  While we were using Year D, most other lectionary followers were using Year A.  Now that we are rejoining those who use the lectionary, we are on Year B.  This we hope will keep all of us planning and preparing worship on the same page.  

I use the Vanderbilt Divinity Library’s resource for lectionary readings to make text selections when I’m following the Revised Common Lectionary.

Other Year B Psalm blog posts:

Advent – Transfiguration: 1st Sunday in Advent Psalm 80, 2nd Sunday in Advent Psalm 85, 3rdSunday in Advent Psalm 126, 4th Sunday in Advent Psalm 89, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day Psalm 96, Psalm 97, Psalm 98, 1st Sunday after Christmas, Psalm 148, New Year’s Day Psalm 8, 2nd Sunday after Christmas Psalm 147, Epiphany Psalm 72, 1st Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 29, 2nd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 139, 3rd Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 62, 4th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 111, 5th Sunday after Epiphany Psalm 147, Transfiguration Sunday (Sunday before Lent) Psalm 50

Lent: Ash Wednesday Psalm 51, 1st Sunday in Lent Psalm 25, 2nd Sunday in Lent Psalm 22, 3rdSunday in Lent Psalm 19, 4th Sunday in Lent Psalm 107, 5th Sunday in Lent Psalm 51 or Psalm 119:9-16, 6th Sunday in Lent (Palm or Passion Sunday) Psalm 118 or 31

Holy Week: Monday Psalm 36, Tuesday Psalm 71, Wednesday Psalm 70, Maundy Thursday Psalm 116, Good Friday Psalm 22, Holy Saturday Psalm 31

Easter: Easter Psalm 118 or 114, 2nd Sunday of Easter Psalm 133, 3rd Sunday of Easter Psalm 4, 4th Sunday of Easter Psalm 23, 5th Sunday of Easter Psalm 22, 6th Sunday of Easter Psalm 98, Ascension Psalm 47 or Psalm 93, 7th Sunday of Easter Psalm 1, Day of Pentecost Psalm 104

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