The lord is my computer programmer, he keeps me from power surges and power cuts; he gives me a steady flow of electricity. He has stored my soul, he has written my code perfectly, even though I’m besieged with spam and viruses.  My system shall not crash, for you are with me, your firewall and updates protect me.  You’ve prepared me a gourmet meal; you’ve given me a makeover.  And I shall dwell in the pastures of the land forever.

If we’d have lived in ancient Palestine and heard the 23 Psalm, we would’ve found it easy to understand.  Half of you would have been shepherds, those who aren’t, your brothers and cousin’s husbands would have been shepherds, so you know all about shepherds and sheep.  However we are different in today’s world.  If you ask children where does milk come from they won’t say from a cow, they’ll say from Tesco or Dairy Gold.  We have been far removed from the agricultural world and sheep farming in the 21st century.  Psalm 23 is a beautiful scripture.  The promise is that we shall not fear, we shall not want.  The promise is that we shall not fear and dwell in the house of the Lord our whole life long.

The Psalm begins with ‘the lord is my shepherd, I shall not want’.
The problem here is that we have long moved on since then and where we say 'I shall not want'. We instead say 'I DO want.  I want a big swimming pool, a private jet, a butler and a holiday trip to Florida.'  There is a lot that I want but that’s not what it’s about.  “Want” used to mean something else.  There used to be a charity called WAR ON WANT, I’m not sure if it still exists.  It looks at restoring something you need.  Making war on hunger, poverty, homelessness; people who lack things.  That is the sense in which psalm 23 means “want” – “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not lack anything I need”

“The Lord’s my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul”.
If you think this is about rolling in the countryside you’d be wrong.  This is 3000 years ago in ancient Palestine, where there is brown soil and green pastures are hard to find.  The good shepherd finds this for his sheep.  He promises us that even in difficult times of our lives; he will find the green pastures.

“He leads me beside still waters”.
Now that sounds all lovely and poetic but there is a reason for the still water.  Sheep are thirsty animals but they are scared of water.  This is because sheep have stubby legs and if they fall down they will not be able to get out again and will be washed away.  So they need to drink from still waters.  The good shepherd needs to find this.

“We shall not want. We shall not fear”.
There is a condition in the western world which affects a lot of people.  In the UK 7 million people are affected.  In Canada $6.5 billion is lost through the working economy.  In the USA it causes 380,000 deaths per year.  This is not smoking or obesity or internet abuse or even listening to Father Edmunds’ sermons.  It’s insomnia;  7 million people suffer from insomnia.  Tired people who don’t turn up for work, costing the economy a huge amount of money.  It causes deaths every year through driving accidents.  WHY?  Because people lie awake at night worried.  Anxiety has a huge impact on society, which is why God reassures us we don’t need to fear because I’m here for you.

“I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff- they comfort me”.
The shepherd had two things in his hands- a rod and a staff.  The rod is a big have object used for whacking wolves and foxes so they don’t eat the sheep.  The sheep know that with that rod they are safe.  The staff is used for when the sheep fall down in rivers and the shepherd can use the staff to yank out the sheep.  The sheep see the rod and the staff and they know that they are safe. There is no danger.  The good shepherd can get them out.  “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”.
This is a promise from God in heaven.  Banquets and feats will have been prepared, where our cup never runs out and the food is scrumptious.  This is a beautiful intimate Psalm of God’s promise to us.  There was a party which was attended by a very famous actor.  The actor was being hassled by the guests of the party to recite some Shakespeare or “do a bit of Dickens”.  The actor said ok and recited it beautifully- full of emotion and conviction.  Everyone claps wildly and says well done to him.  There is an elderly vicar seated amongst the guests and he says “what about Psalm 23”.  And the actor says to him ok but only if you do it too.  The vicar agrees.  The actor starts of and recites it expertly, the guests are impressed.  Then it’s the turn of the vicar.  He recites.  It’s not perfect and it’s not polished but somehow the rest of the guests cannot take their eyes of him, there is something in his voice which has left them mesmerized.

A fellow guest enquired  “why is the vicar’s recitation so powerful?”

The actor replied “Ah.  I know the Psalm 23 but he knows the shepherd.

In the name of the father, the son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Father Mund Cargill Thompson
Holy Trinity Church Barkingside