Easter 4, Year C-2022                               May 8, 2022 at Holy Spirit, Vashon


By the Reverend Martin Yabroff


Opening prayer – Lord, open our ears that we may hear the words you have for us.  And open our hearts that we may receive the grace by which you have brought us together for reasons we may not yet fully understand . . . .


Introducing me:  retired last Fall from St. Andrew’s, Tacoma, where I served as Rector for 14 years.  I have been blessed to know Sarah Colvin as a colleague and friend, and I miss her with you.  You are in transition – liminal time, between ending and beginning anew – as am I in retiring from full-time parish ministry and seeking what this next chapter will be like.

Today is a special day in both our American cultural calendar and in the Church calendar.  In our American cultural calendar today is Mother’s Day, a good occasion to reflect on the ministry of mothering, and to remember our mothers, and to celebrate the mothers around us – not only those with biological and adopted children but also those – men and women – who nurture and care for others.

In remembering our own mothers, we acknowledge that they were not perfect.  They had their flaws, as do we all, as parents and as persons and nurturers.  And some flaws are greater than others.  Some memories we cherish, and some memories feel  tragic.  Nevertheless, the ministry and function of mothering, whether it begins in biology or by adoption or by vocation – as with teachers and nurses and coaches and mentors, as I said – male as well as female – mothering is a key part of being human and becoming human.

Mothering is hard.  It takes faith – reliance on a power beyond ourselves.  A larger perspective, beyond our individual anxieties and fears.

The Fourth Sunday of the Easter season in our Church calendar is known as Good Shepherd Sunday.  Today we hear in our Collect (or opening prayer), our Gospel, and our psalm that we have a shepherd to guide us and care for us – Jesus is our Good Shepherd.  And that is good news for us today, for too often we find ourselves feeling alone and afraid and vulnerable or in need.  But we are not, ultimately, though it may feel like it, because we have a shepherd who is with us and loves each of us.

I think that the 23rd Psalm is one of the most fundamental expressions of our faith.  More fundamental than the Ten Commandments.  And it is radical in what it says – radically different than the attitudes and expectations of our world, our society, than what we are taught and programmed to believe about life.

So let us this morning carefully consider the 23rd psalm, phrase by phrase, and see how it can guide and help us in such transitional times in our lives and in the Church, and as we seek to nurture and care for one another and for this troubled and messed up world.

The psalm begins: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  Another way of saying this is: ‘With the Lord as my shepherd, I have everything I need.’  I may not have everything I desire, everything that advertisers or society or our own expectations say that I should have.  But I have all that I need.  I may be stuck in traffic or waiting for a ferry, but I can accept what I cannot change, be thankful for being alive today, and pray for those I am on my way to see and for those also waiting around me.

I don’t have to be anxious about not having enough.  I may not have the person next to me, or the money or situation that I want or that I have come to rely on, But with the Lord as my shepherd – as we remember the grace and abundance of the shepherd, we can look up from our wants and expectations to see the daily bread that we do have, the people, the work, the life that are at hand.

He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.”  The very first thing that God guides me and makes me to do is the last thing our culture wants us to do – to be still.  To lie down and rest in green pastures; to pay attention to the still waters and the beauty beside us.  We need time to be still and rest, for “in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in trust shall be our strength, says the Lord, in the Book of Isaiah (30:15).  Also in Isaiah, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength… “ (Isaiah 40:31).  God wishes us to be still because stillness is the very quality and gift that restores our souls.

Now a little more about lying down in green pastures.  A hungry sheep, perhaps having traveled far to get to the green pasture, doesn’t lie down in it.  The hungry sheep stands and eats, mowing down the grass.  It is the satisfied sheep, no longer hungry, that lies down.  It also lies down only if it trusts the shepherd to fend off coyotes or wolves.  We can lie down in peace, and at night fall asleep, because we have a Good Shepherd who watches over us.

Similarly, “He leads me beside still water.”  (not dangerously rushing, crashing rapids.)  Knowing and trusting the shepherd, our souls are satisfied, no longer dry, but restored.

The psalm continues:  “(he) guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.”  We are not lost or adrift, because God is with us, though we need to pay attention and to listen to God where we are.

The second half of our psalm begins: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”.  Having a good shepherd does not mean that life is always easy or fun.  The original Hebrew does not actually refer to death but does refer to all dark and bitter experiences.  And they are very real.  Christian faith is down to earth and realistic.  Fear is real – there is so much fear around and within us.  Not only fear of not having enough, which the first part of the psalm spoke to, but fear of very real dangers and threats.

But fear is not the final word.  Did you know that the most frequent command in the Bible is not ‘be good’ or ‘be holy’ or ‘don’t do bad things’.  The most frequent command in the Bible is ‘Don’t be afraid’, ‘Fear not’.  God says it to Abraham, Moses and Joshua.  An angel said it to Mary, Joseph and Zechariah.  Jesus continually said it to the disciples and others.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I shall fear no evil” – not because it isn’t dark, but because I am not alone, because you are with me, your rod and your staff – your power, your strength and presence – they comfort me.

You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me”  God will not destroy or make disappear all our enemies, any more than God will promise that there will be no more valleys or darkness or hard times.  We have enemies and challenges and crises to face.  But in the presence of such troubles God sets a table before us – God will provide the resources, the sustenance, and even a banquet for us so that we need not feel hungry or without resources.  There will be enough for us, and enough even to share.  Imagine facing your enemies and crises not as a weakling but as an anointed and beloved child of God, hosting your enemies at the banquet that God provides.

Thou annointest my head with oil’ – oil is for healing and for consecrating, to affirm a vocation, as with kings and those who are baptized.  God offers healing for our souls.  God blesses our souls as we turn and remember the love our shepherd has for us.  (cf. Psalm 103)

My cup runneth over” – we need not worry about scarcity, about having enough, of becoming too thirsty.  Remember when Jesus fed the multitude, some 5,000?  They shared what they had – 5 loaves and 2 fish – and there were 12 buckets of leftovers.  Remember when Jesus said, ‘Give and it will be given to you, good measure, overflowing, will be poured into your lap.’  Our cup running over invites us to be generous, as God is generous.

The Psalm ends with two beautiful and complementary images for our lives.  “Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” – the Lord goes with us on our journeys, wherever they shall go, wherever we are led.  And on my journey, I shall have a sense of being always at home in God’s presence – “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”  Two modes of our living – to be on a journey with God, and to be at home wherever we are, in this life and  in the next.  Two modes and stances of faith.

This psalm teaches us to pray.  To pray by remembering that we have a Good Shepherd.  That we can rest and trust and be renewed and healed with this shepherd.  That we have a guide and a hope and shall not be overcome.  This kind of prayer begins with being still, with stopping our running all over and trying to do everything and worrying about too many things.  It begins with resting – lying down – in the grace that God provides.  It is about gratitude.

If that seems too easy, remember that it is counter-cultural, and not easy for us to rest and receive and remember.  But it is what our Psalms, and our Scriptures, and our Lord keep saying to us, again and again.

I want to encourage you to memorize this psalm, in this version or in the King James Version.  We all need it these days.  Then repeat it when you go to bed, or are feeling anxious, or in the midst of something too scary.

This 23rd Psalm is a guide for living well.  Where we are. Such as we are.  And I think it can orient us – the way a sailor sets the sails to catch the wind – remember that we cannot control the wind, but we all can adjust our sails.  The faith expressed in the 23rd Psalm can guide us in the ministries and good work that God prepares for every one of us, regardless of our age or abilities, to walk in.  May it be so.