Sermon text: Psalm 23
Driving is all about trust. It’s instant trust that we grant to individuals without ever meeting them face to face. You have your driver’s license, I have mine. You stay on your side of the yellow lines and I will stay on mine. Obey traffic signals and signs. Keep a safe distance from the car in front of you. Stay within a reasonable range of the speed limit. Pass on the left lane, travel in the right. All of these things are built on trust.
However, in this arena of fleeting interaction, this trust is fragile. You better believe that I will have my doubts about you if I see a cell phone in your hand, or if you are drifting back and forth in your lane. The trust is broken if you are tail gaiting me or weaving through traffic like an idiot or rolling through a stop sign. Almost daily my expectations of other drivers are dashed as people park against traffic, facing the wrong direction outside the church on Union Street. Since moving back to Hollidaysburg that has quickly become my biggest pet peeve, and you better believe that I’m judging. Driving requires trust.
Having a dog is all about trust. In training you build that trusting bond. This week, Otto turns seven. Seven! And he’s still a puppy. He trust me to take care of him. He trusts me to be his pack leader. He trusts me that even when he has made a mistake, like eating things he shouldn’t or rolling in the excrement of other animals that he can come to me when called and not suffer harm, only correction. And, if he is feeling guilty, and if I did raise my voice, he will hide in the shower, waiting for his bath, because that’s where we go directly after I yell at you for rolling in animal poop. Why do they do that? Over the years we’ve cultured that trust, and I trust that he will be friendly, that he won’t be aggressive, that he won’t bite, and that he’ll listen to me. Training your dog is built on trust.
Friendship is also built on trust. One of my closest friends and colleagues in ministry was a great confidant with a relationship built on years of trust and collaboration. It was a relationship that I valued, and still do, but that trust took a hit when something I said in confidence was repeated back to me by someone else. My friend broke that trust and now I don’t share in the same way. I was disappointed. I was hurt. The trust suffered and I grieve that loss. Good friendship is built on trust.
When I look around I see lots of places, organizations, and institutions where trust has degraded over time. That’s particularly problematic with government these days, and as a result we all are skeptics and cynics. How much do we really trust Congress or the Supreme Court or the White House or the Center for Disease Control or the IRS? While we may scoff at the people and institutions that have lost our trust, those open wounds don’t foster a great way of life.
As we celebrate the image of the Good Shepherd this weekend we find an idea that people have long trusted through the story of God, the story of faith. This is most certainly seen in Psalm 23, which is a Psalm of utmost trust in God. The psalmist trusts God’s good intentions, and therefore he will follow God like a sheep following the voice of the shepherd.
Just listen to the feeling of security found saturated in these well-worn words:
I shall not want, for I trust that God will provide for me.
I trust that God will give me the gift of rest.
I trust that God will still the turbulence in my life and give me peace beside the still waters.
I trust that God will give me wholeness when I am broken and restore me to a complete life. I trust that I will be led by God in good and just ways, that by following God I will not be lead astray.
I trust that God will show me the ways of life, even though I experience losses and death.
I trust that even though the world is pressing in on me, even though there are things that make me anxious or hurt, even though I have enemies who do not wish me well, even though my body may fail or random acts of disaster may rear their ugly head, even in the midst of all the possible catastrophes of living, God provides.
I trust that the life I live now will not be the final act, that I will live with the Good Shepherd into eternity.
Across the many books of the Bible, one theme is constant: God is always present. We may break our covenant with God, but God never turns his back on us.
With this consistency, with this trust, comes comfort. God’s presence and guidance has sustained us for thousands of years, and those stalwart characteristics are why we praise God for being a shepherd. It’s why we see Jesus as our Good Shepherd. Even the earliest Christians used this imagery. Archaeologists have found ancient artwork of Jesus as the Good Shepherd in worship sites from the second century. This image has always been one of the most popular in the church, even in a time when we rarely ever see sheep or shepherds. A part of me is curious about how many pastor and priests through the ages have been told, “I don’t care what scripture you use at my funeral as long as you use Psalm 23?”
Trust goes a long way in our lives. It is one of our most valuable currencies. And we believe, we confess, that God is the epitome of a trustworthy partner. God does not wrong us, but forgives. God does not misguide us, but leads. God does not abandon, but remains ever present.
I’ll end today by drawing attention to the words of trust found in the first line of my favorite hymn, a hymn that we sang earlier. It is a paraphrase of Psalm 23, and it details trust in God is some of the most beautiful language imaginable:
The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
And he is mine for ever.