Today is the third Sunday in Lent, and we are nearly halfway through our journey toward Easter. I hope you’ve enjoyed the Book of Psalms on a journey of discovery – theological, spiritual, personal discovery. If you haven’t yet picked up a copy of Praying the Psalms, please do so after the service. (Also available on the church website.)
In worship we are using the psalms in our Call to Worship, our Opening Prayer of Confession and our Pastoral Prayer after the sermon. The messages during Lent focus on some of the best known psalms in the Bible. This week is Psalm 23: the Lord is my Shepherd.
Part 1 Take a Walk. Last Monday one of Wesley students posted on her facebook page an inspirational graphic that quoted Psalm 23:1 -
“‘It’s Yea though I walk through the valley’ not ‘Yea when I sit down and whine in the valley’ Keep Walking.”
Her point was that the Christian life is a life that is on the move, always walking, progressing forward in the knowledge and love of God. The church can take this walk figuratively or literally.
Figuratively: this congregation is called to serve here at the corner of Harrison and Trowbridge. We have been entrusted with key piece of property that is well positioned to serve East Lansing and Michigan State University. Our figurative walk is one that progresses forward when it comes to aligning and realigning our resources to serve the ongoing mission that God puts before us daily. We should never sit down when it comes to examining this mission.
The Vital Church Initiative is a big part of how we engage in the progressive walk of discernment about the current mission that God has put before us.
For those of us who are guests, the Vital Church Initiative is an intensive multi stage program facilitated by our denominations conference staff and a team of leaders from this congregation to help congregations like ours spend time in intentional reflection, study and discernment regarding our church mission. We engage in this work so that we don't get caught on our journey sitting down and whining, but we continue to walk progressing on our journey to grow and help other to grow in the knowledge and love of God.
The thing is we ought never to presume our service and programing is most fruitfully aligned to this mission. Walking Psalm 23 in the figurative sense means that we are constantly evaluating our service and program offerings for alignment with our mission.
We can take this walk literally as well. We have a great location and we should use it to better serve our members, guests and partners who are on the journey through Death Valley. In this way our church becomes a mission outpost supporting missionaries in the mission field. The notion of church as a mission outpost recognizes that we go to church so that we can be the church in the world.
A few years ago Julie, the kids and took a two day visit to Death Valley National Park. This is an otherworldly place that is both beautiful and extraordinarily hot. The hottest day on earth was recorded there on July 10, 1913, 134 degrees. When we were it got up to 127 degrees so it was practically a cold front.
Our first stop, was the Park Entrance Visitors Centre. This was a rather unassuming building basically a trailer, outfitted with just the basics. Giant Thermometer so that you could verify it was actually hot. Bathrooms, water fountains, a Park Ranger, Maps, and Junior ranger booklets. No Gift shops, no snack bar, no showers no overnight accommodations. It wasn’t much, but it was just the mission outpost we needed on our long drive. We got to stretch our legs, grab a drink, use the restrooms and visit with the Park Ranger about what we should be prepared to do and see to make the most of our time in the park.
The next stop in Death Valley was the Furnace Creek Resort. Where accommodations were far more luxurious. We had a air conditioned cottage, a spring fed olympic size pool, shuffleboard, golf course, mini golf, snack stand, horseback riding, three restaurants, and the kids favorite a gift shop. We stopped unpacked our suitcases settled in, whined and complained about the faulty air conditioner, and otherwise took advantage of the amenities that the resort had to offer.
I think the church can be either a Resort or a Visitor Center. Both offer hospitality but one enables you to sit relax(and possibly whine) while the other inspires you to get out and walk and grow.
Part 2 Overcoming Giants
It is said that King David wrote Psalm 23 and he did so nearly 400 years after Joshua and the Israelites inhabited the promised land.
Some scholars argue that Joshua conducted a rapid conquest that wiped out all the giants and other enemies, the previous inhabitants of the Holy Land.
But the Biblical Narrative including the stories of King David indicate that giants and other enemies coexist in the promised land 400 years after this conquest. Thus David writes.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies; - Psalm 23:5
This is evidence of a more gradual infiltration into the promised land. Israelites migrate into the promised land and coexist with other nations there. As they live faithfully over a long time in the presence of the “enemies” and giants, these begin to find the Hebrew way of life compelling and Israel gradually becomes the dominate culture.
David seems to get that God blesses him in the presence of enemies. For me this is a reminder that Christians are transformed through the relationship that we forge gradually with others even our enemies.
With this in mind I invite us into the prayer practice of journaling. There’s a spot on the back of the Stop Hunger Now initiative for us to do the Write a letter from God prayer practice.
First Reading: What word, phrase or image captures your imagination?
Second reading: What giants or enemies has God invited to the table meant to bless you?
Third Reading: What does God call you to do, be or change through this reading?
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. Psalm 23 CEB