Homily – March 22, 2020
Dear friends: We live in extraordinary times. Never in my lifetime have I witnessed a ban on gatherings larger than 50 people and a mandate to practice ‘social distancing’. The only comparable circumstances in Canada occurred in the 1950’s with the Polio outbreak and in 1918 with the Influenza outbreak. Now, the rapid spread of COVID-19 is causing havoc around the world, upsetting normal routines and forcing people into new ways of thinking and into new habits. Take this WRITTEN Homily, for example. I haven’t written down a Sermon in more than ten years. And having to write it out feels very forced and artificial for me. This week I am going to learn how to set up ZOOM and Livestreaming, and hopefully we can be with one another ‘virtually’ next Sunday. With God there is always Hope; keep in mind that both Polio and Influenza were eventually brought under control with vaccines – something that will eventually happen with COVID-19. My Reflections this Sunday centre around Psalm 23 – perhaps the best known piece of Scripture there is. Unfortunately, in our contemporary setting we know it best as a Psalm recited at Funerals. Let us see if we can hear its words give us Hope in our situation. Psalm 23 is addressed to the LORD (Yahweh; the Creator God) and two main images are used to describe who Yahweh is and what Yahweh does – ‘Shepherd’ (vs. 1-4) and ‘Table’ (vs. 5-6). That is, because Yahweh is a Shepherd “I shall lack nothing” (not even toilet paper). Food (green pastures), drink (still waters), and security (in right paths) is what God provides for all who follow him. In short, ‘God restores my soul’, or, better, ‘God keeps me alive’. The psalmist is professing that life depends solely on God and God provides the necessities of life ‘for his name’s sake’. The giving of life, the leading towards life, and the preserving of life is who God is and what God does. Verse 4 is the centre of Psalm 23. The Shepherd is pitted against death and evil. The threat is real and acute, and cannot be denied or taken lightly. You and I struggle against death and evil on a daily basis. At a time such as this both are unusually present to us. Our senses are heightened, and if we are not careful we become overwhelmed by it. If we are not mindful we can start to live life from fear rather than Hope. But the Hope is in the Psalm – no matter what may happen we do not need to give into fear, ‘for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me’. God’s ‘comfort’ is God’s providing everything for our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. It is a gift from God that even in the midst of death and evil we can experience comfort. In verses 5-6 the metaphor for God shifts to that of a ‘Host’ who ‘lays a Table’. The gracious Host does for the guests what the Shepherd did for the sheep – provide food (you prepare a table), drink (my cup overflows), and security (dwell in your house). Even in the presence of ‘enemies’, who, by definition, want to take away and destroy all you have, God is present in the gifts of mercy (Love) and goodness. Most English translations have mercy and goodness ‘following’ us, but the Hebrew word suggests, rather, that they are ‘pursuing’ us. God is in active pursuit of us, so as to encircle us with his mercy and goodness, protecting us from whatever may harm us. Or what might be even better, pursuing us so God can fill us with mercy and goodness which protects us from our enemies. What a wonderful image that is – God in pursuit of us! The Psalm comes to its conclusion when we are caught/filled by God and we come to ‘dwell in the house of the Lord’. This is a social image that reminds us that each one of us has a place in the House/Body of Christ. God is with us and in us creating, redeeming and sustaining Life; there is nothing we need to fear. With God we can live life from Hope. Thanks be to God. Amen .