When I was young (many, many years ago) I almost daily passed an old sheepherder’s wagon (circa early 1900’s prairie life) parked on an empty lot a few blocks from my home. It was the residence of an elderly man who I saw outside occasionally as I went by—keeping my distance. I wondered about his story but in those days little kids didn’t approach old people—especially if they looked just a little scary! MY LOSS!!
In my first congregation in Northern, WI, I met Lawrence– a sheepherder in his late 80’s. His story will be a part of the story I tell this coming Saturday and Sunday. He lived to be 104 years old and I treasure the times I spent with him and his wife Aileen in their humble rural home. If you want to hear the rest of the story (thank you, Paul Harvey) you’ll have to find your way to church this coming weekend.
This is perhaps the most beloved 116 words in the bible— at least in the Old Testament. As such it sometimes resists the preacher’s approach because there are so many personal images for people who hear it again. Most people think they know what it says. That opinion will be tested our consideration.
This weekend we will take a look Psalm 23 from the perspective of an actual shepherd and try to present it in helpful fashion for the person of faith hearing it about 3,000 years after it was written near the end of King David’s life (1015 B.C.)
As you read it again in preparation for this weekend, please consider what the image of God as shepherd brings to your relationship with God. You might also play with the image of the people of God being described as sheep. Although recent research indicates that sheep have relatively advanced learning capabilities, are adaptable, can map out their surroundings mentally and may even be able to plan ahead, by and large, they are widely regarded as some of the most dim-witted creatures in the animal kingdom.
Often used as a part of the funeral service or in hospital calls by the pastor, this weekend Psalm 23 will be approached primarily as a psalm of life.
You may also wish to read the gospel for the this weekend— John 10:1-4, where Jesus seems to self-identify with a shepherd.