Sunday 22nd May 2022

Welcome to our shared time of worship. This week we continue our journey through the twenty-third psalm. As the words take a sharp turn to the experience of terror so we consider what the psalmist may have to say to the world in which we find ourselves.

Call to Worship (from Psalm 100):
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the LORD is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his;
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues through all generations.

HYMN 74 Not to us be glory given (Psalm 115)

(from Dalgety Parish Church)

Prayer c/w Lord’s Prayer

Let us pray

Loving God, we gather here in this place to worship you, to sing your praise and listen to your word.
Open our eyes and ears and hearts and minds so that we can give ourselves fully to your worship and hear you clearly as you speak to us today through words and music and silence.

Creator God, we give thanks for the world around us, for the beauty and joy to be found in it,
both in the infinite variety of nature and the wonder to be found in the everyday,
in the satisfaction of work well done and the refreshment that comes from rest.

We thank you for friends and neighbours and family, for all who touch our lives and whose lives we touch in turn.
We thank you for your sustaining and nurturing love, shown so generously to us through the life, teaching, sacrifice and triumphant resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ

Father God, as we draw near to you, we confess that we have not always walked in your path.
We have done and said things that we should not have done or said.
We have been quick to anger and judgement, and slow to sympathy and understanding.
We have squandered opportunities to serve you.

Forgive us, we ask, for the times we have shown ourselves to be less than we should be and help us strive to do better and to be better in the week to come.

Now we come together and pray in the words that Jesus taught us:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Amen.

Scriptures:

Ezekiel 34:11-16
For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

John 10:7-15
So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.

HYMN 277 Hark the glad sound! the Saviour comes

(from The Metropolitan Tabernacle, London)

Reflection:
Psalm 23 in an Age of Terror

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

As we turn to the third part in our series of reflections upon the twenty-third Psalm its mood turns. From words often associated with peace it turns towards terror. This is one of the best loved and best-known pieces of scripture. It has been quoted or alluded to countless times in popular culture. From seventeenth century literature to rock and rap music it is there. It is with the latter that we often hear the darkness of the fourth verse.

I wonder what causes feeling of terror within us. What is it that causes such alarm that we fear even for life itself? How do we react to acts of terror when we encounter them in news bulletins? How do we feel about the current situation in Northern Ireland and the hints of a return to ‘The Troubles’? How do we react to the reports of conflict in the Ukraine and elsewhere? How do we react to former Prime Minister Medvedev’s hint at the use of nuclear weapons? We have a range of natural responses to such threats. The psalm, however, shows us another way.

We look first at the response to terror of the psalmist. From the outset David clearly leans upon his faith. We see him leaning upon the stories of Scripture, especially those of the first five books. It seems as if the words are engraved upon his soul. We see, too, the influence of his life experiences as both shepherd and king. The psalm is not shaped by abstract notions but by reflection upon real-life experiences. Scripture drawing later generations into its stories should not seem strange to us. In Jewish tradition each believer is encouraged to celebrate the Passover as if he or she had been personally led out of Egypt by God. Likewise, in our faith, we are called to remember the actions of Jesus at the last supper in a way that is more than simple recollection. More readily accessible is the gospel song, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

In one moment terror takes us from feeling safe and secure, carrying on as normal and without a worry, to a powerful of having our sense of safety shattered. Scholars have long argued as to whether David wrote this psalm; they have argued also as to when it was written. Almost any time of crisis over the course of ancient Israel’s history has been suggested as the background. Accurate or not they assist in enabling the psalm to be applied to many different contexts making its words relevant to us all. It lets us make the psalm applicable to our life setting. In so doing it lets us also move beyond the psalm as mere words of comfort to provide something else.

The psalmist accepts the reality of evil and its ability to case terror in our heart. He acknowledges the suffering it may bring. Yet he does not hide nor cower. Instead, he stands defiant of this threat writing “I will fear no evil”. The psalmist does not fear because he has the backing of effective security forces or the deterrent of a strong military. Neither is he defiant because he has the means to wreak vengeance. Rather, he is resolute in his defiance because, as he declares, “You are with me”. Here is the core claim of a Biblical faith; there is but one God, and that all trust belongs to Him. Yet, when we face terror, we tend to seek solace almost everywhere bar in God. Scripture warns us not to put our trust anywhere other than in God, and especially in strength of arms. Like the psalmist, our trust should be firmly placed in the Lord our God.

Your rod and staff, they comfort me”. We often react to terror with an urge to seek vengeance. David does not deny the reality of evil, yet his terror is held subordinate to his confession that God is good. His normal and natural human response is halted by an awareness of grace. It is grace that redirects the energy and power of terror into that of joyful thanksgiving. David’s words offer us an alternative way of responding. Instead of violent reaction to terror we are steered to a process that conforms to our faith tradition. It is not dependent upon, or subservient to, culture or a secular perspective. It allows us to break the chain of terror and violence and seek to create a new way. It is a new way that offers personal and social transformation not only for us but for our enemies too.

Often our response to terror has been a disaster. Acts of “shock and awe” provide only a temporary tonic to society. The use of such force often results in the abridgement of human rights, and shortcuts with the law. Think only or Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria to name but three that our nation has been involved with. Of course, today there is also the imagined terror that the Russian elite feel, and we see the consequences of that. Humanity’s usual responses do not lead to a safer world.

It is essential that we get our responses right. The Church must not remain silent, or become complicit, but needs to offer another way. It needs to lead, even if only its members, in a different path. It begins by living up to the claims of Scripture. It means facing our responsibilities as the faith community, both to God and our enemies. As children of God, as members of the faith community, we have the option of facing up to whatever terrors the world may offer, and to do so with security and peace of mind. We may be defiant in the face of evil, even death; like Saint Paul we may even ask, “O death where is thy sting?” The psalm offers us the true grounds of confidence when, with David, we walk through the valley of the shadow of death knowing that God is with us. We may have the confidence to go on since His rod and staff comfort us, guiding and protecting us along the way. The world may endeavour to envelope us with fear and terror, yet the experience of Scripture shows us that there is another way:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Amen.

HYMN 547 What a friend we have in Jesus

(from The Albert Hall, Nottingham)

Prayers:

Let us pray

Lord, you are the shepherd that tends to your flock and cares for your sheep; we come to you now with our prayers for your world and your people.

Loving God, we pray for those in positions of power or leadership, that you might guide them, giving them the integrity and clear-sightedness to make good decisions.
We pray for those who heal, those who teach, those who minister to others, that you might be with them as they carry out their work.

We pray for those who are grieving, those who mourn the loss of a loved one, those who mourn the end of a relationship or the loss of a friendship.
We pray for those who are suffering, for those who are ill in body, mind or spirit.
We pray for the lonely, the fearful, the anxious and afraid, for those whose days stretch out in emptiness.
We pray for those affected by conflict, those who have had to flee their homes, those who have been forced to fight.
We pray for those who are hungry, those whose food supplies are cut off by famine or war, for those who have no reliable access to clean water.
We pray for those in poverty, for those affected by the cost of living crisis, for those struggling to make ends meet from month to month.

We pray that you would offer comfort and strength and be with all those in pain, all those in despair, all those in need.

But more than that we pray that you would open up our eyes and hearts to understand how we can help those who are suffering and give us the courage and eagerness to do what we can to bring them comfort and support.

In Jesus’ name we ask this.
Amen

HYMN 173 Sing to God new songs of worship

Benediction:

Christ the good shepherd,
Who laid down his life for the sheep,
Draw you and all who hear this voice,
To be one flock within one fold,
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son
and the Holy Spirit
be among you
and remain with you always.
Amen.

Acknowledgements:
Bible Quotations taken from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

English translations of The Lord’s Prayer, © 1998, English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC), and used by permission. www.englishtexts.org