This week’s worship was video recorded. Find it here: https://youtu.be/BO-J4N445KM
Sermon Text: Psalm 23
There’s a character in the Psalms, who pops up again and again: the enemy. The enemy is a constant presence throughout the Psalter—this nameless foe who threatens everything and everyone. One of my favorite seminary professors taught that in the Psalms there must always be an enemy.
It makes sense that this collection of poems would always talk about the enemy. After all, the Israelites were surrounded by bigger, wealthier, more powerful civilizations throughout their entire history. The Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then the Persians, then the Greeks, then the Romans to the north. To the south, the dreaded Egyptians were a constant threat. The enemy was an ever present reality when these Psalms were written and the writers are reminding the people to put their trust in God rather than in the strength on their walls.
Personally, I’ve always found the enemy language of the Psalter to be intriguing. It’s language that never really resonated with me. Even after the events of September 11th that shaped my youth, even though we’ve been at war for the last 18 and a half years, I’ve never had a strong fear or hatred of the enemy. I feel like I have lived my life without an enemy. And yet, once again the words of my seminary professor ring out. He said, “It is an illusion that Christians don’t have enemies. There are slanders, liars, oppressors, and those viewed as violent.”
Sure, sin, injustice, brokenness, violence—those things are enemies. They’re certainly the enemy of God. But now, in these last weeks, a new enemy has emerged, one that we cannot see except for the various ways it is disrupting our lives. Hundreds of thousands are sick. Thousands are dead. Life as we know it has come to a screeching halt. The coronavirus has become our enemy.
Now I have something to picture as I hear the Psalmist’s words about walking through the valley of the shadow of death, for we are surrounded by this unseen enemy. Every day I watch the Pennsylvania state map as the known cases of COVID-19 creep closer and closer to Blair County.
It is at the end of that well known verse that our hope and salvation takes is declared. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil; for you are with me.” Up until this point the Psalmist spoke of God, the Great Shepherd, in third person. But now there is a switch to the more intimate second person. 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.
That phrase—you are with me/ thou are with me—it occurs in the exact middle of Psalm 23. There are 26 Hebrew words that come before that phrase. There are 26 Hebrew words that follow that phrase. The Psalmist is making sure we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that God is with us. God is at the center of our lives just as God is at the center of this poem. You are with me. God is with me.
As Christians that is what we celebrate most fervently. Emmanuel—God with us. God came to be in the center of our lives in the person of Jesus Christ.
It is with the pledge of God’s presence that we can walk through the valley of the shadow of death and we can do so with confidence. We can live with assurance in the midst of an enemy like the coronavirus because God provides and sets a table before us. Even though we are being asked to practice “social-distancing” we know that we are not alone down here, God is with us.
God is with patients who are sick with this disease as they fight to get well and to live. God is with doctors, nurses, and medical staff and professionals as they work to keep us healthy. God is with researchers as they work to develop a vaccine. God is with parents and children who are going stir crazy at home, and with grocery store clerks and suppliers as they accommodate panicking customers, and with men and women who are worried about finances and job security, and with those who are in the at-risk category who fear what this virus could do to them.
The enemy is very real for all of us. And God is with us.
We may have moments of fear or doubt or anxiety. And God is with us.
We are uncertain about what is happening to our future or how long this will last. And God is with us.
It does not mean that we will brush aside and ignore the hardship of our present situation. It does not mean that God is indifferent to our plight. It means that God walks with us, that God will sustain us, and at the end of this period of sickness, death, disruption, and disappointment we will have new life. Our world will experience a new type of Easter Resurrection.
For God will see to it that we will lack for nothing. We will lack for no good thing. Surely, by faith, by cooperation, by God’s work through the people of this world, we will overcome the enemy. We will fear no evil. We will fear no virus. For God’s goodness, mercy, and presence will follow us all the days of our lives, and God will dwell with us, forever. AMEN