Psalm 23 and Radical Trust

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

That is the first line of Psalm 23, part of our lectionary texts for this morning. Most people seem to be able to either recite Psalm 23 or at least mumble along as it is read in public. It’s a favorite text of many and probably the most often quoted text at funerals and memorial services.

Interestingly enough this text shows up as we are watching the death count go up on the coronavirus outbreak not knowing if it will plateau at some number that we find acceptable or if it will go down in the record books.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

It has a Buddhist ring to it. Don’t build your life on expectations and attachments to outcomes. You will be happier and suffer less that way.

worryBut I don’t know if I am built that way. I want to want. I want to know that people are not going to suffer and die. I want to do what I can to make sure workers are not faced with potential evictions and power shut offs and food deprivation. I want to want. I want to be able to go outside and see a normal flow of pedestrian traffic on my sidewalk. I want to go to the store without wondering if I will be able to get basic staples. I want to see the worry on people’s faces go away. I want the newly ordained grumps to turn back into normal, trusting, kind people. I want to want. And I want what I want.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

I want to want, but there is wisdom in this ancient saying that I know is true, even though I resist it. It is the wisdom of living life with radical trust. It is the wisdom of trusting a spirit, a presence—God. It is a radical trust that even when life seems to be going to hell there is a goodness that permeates our lives and existence. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…anything other than what is.”

trustPsalm 23 is a call to radical trust. We often think of it as the ultimate prayer of comfort. But notice when we usually read it and why it seems so comforting. We read it at memorial services after a loved one has died and it strangely gives us comfort as we memorialize our loved one and learn to accept the reality of death. Read at a memorial service and it helps come to a place of acceptance.

Can we also read it and recite it now with that same trust as we potentially face loss and death? It gives us comfort after a loved one has died. Can it also give us comfort as we face the possibility of loss and death now. If we can learn acceptance after death can learn acceptance even before the possibility of death.

Can we trust God this side of death as much as we trust God on the other side of death?

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to want. And I want what I want. I don’t want to trust.

But that may be all we have left.

Trust, radical Christ-like trust.

It’s sounds Biblical. It also sounds really hard.

Here is the full text for your reflection:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
    he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

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