Who does not enjoy good hospitality! Great lengths taken to set the table, your favourite food immaculately prepared and a host that ensures your glass is never empty. Our series on Psalm 23 concludes by considering what it means that God prepares a table before us
In the presence of our enemies.
Call to Worship: Adapted from Lamentations 3 Your steadfast love, Lord, never ceases, Your mercies never come to an end; They are new every morning; so let us proclaim – Great is Your faithfulness. Great is Your love. Great is Your mercy. And greatly is Your name to be praised!
HYMN 124 Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
God our Father, your Son, our Lord,
has likened your kingdom to a feast,
and us, your children to everlasting guests.
Through our praise and worship in this place
give us a window into heaven,
that we may fittingly respond
to the grace of your invitation,
and sit with you as friends
who taste the joys of your presence.
whose Son and servant Jesus
is bearer of an eternal message to the guests
around his table: message of hope and forgiveness,
of reconciliation and freedom;
let us now know anew your pardon.
Set us free from ourselves.
Set us free to revel in the festivities of your kingdom.
Forgive us when we have continually stammered our excuses.
When we have abused your gift of time
and lacked a vision of our own eternity.
O God of the banquet,
your gifts are not the mere crumbs from your table,
careless and random in their fall;
but open-handedly and without reserve
your gifts come to us:
the manna of our daily bread,
the fatted calf of welcome,
the wedding wine of renewal.
Nourished, welcomed and renewed
we make our thanks to you,
in words but beyond words,
in deeds but beyond deeds,
through Christ before whom rescued lives
can only wonder, and rejoice.
And now gathered together we pray the words You
taught Your closest followers , saying:
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.
2 Samuel 9:1-12
David asked, ‘Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul to whom I may show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?’ 2 Now there was a servant of the house of Saul whose name was Ziba, and he was summoned to David. The king said to him, ‘Are you Ziba?’ And he said, ‘At your service!’ 3 The king said, ‘Is there anyone remaining of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God?’ Ziba said to the king, ‘There remains a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.’ 4 The king said to him, ‘Where is he?’ Ziba said to the king, ‘He is in the house of Machir son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar.’ 5 Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. 6 Mephibosheth[a] son of Jonathan son of Saul came to David, and fell on his face and did obeisance. David said, ‘Mephibosheth!’[b] He answered, ‘I am your servant.’ 7 David said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan; I will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul, and you yourself shall eat at my table always.’ 8 He did obeisance and said, ‘What is your servant, that you should look upon a dead dog such as I am?’
9 Then the king summoned Saul’s servant Ziba, and said to him, ‘All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson.
Luke 22:7-16; 24-34
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 So Jesus[a] sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.’ 9 They asked him, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for it?’ 10 ‘Listen,’ he said to them, ‘when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house he enters 11 and say to the owner of the house, “The teacher asks you, ‘Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’” 12 He will show you a large room upstairs, already furnished. Make preparations for us there.’ 13 So they went and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it[b] until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’
24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 But he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
28 ‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29 and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 31 ‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded[d] to sift all of you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ 33 And he said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!’ 34 Jesus[e] said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.’
HYMN 462 The King of Love my shepherd is
Over the past few weeks we have been reflecting on Psalm 23 and what it could possibly mean in the twenty-first century. My prayer is that you have been both encouraged and challenged by this profound metaphor. The picture that David paints of God as the Shepherd implies that we are like vulnerable sheep in need of guidance, care and attention. It is difficult to contemplate such dependence in a world that prizes independence. It may be even more difficult to contemplate contentment (No want) in a world driven by more. If you have not heard the last three messages, I want to encourage you to go to the webpage they will be there for a while.
Sometimes when we read the bible, we read it out of context and with rose tinted classes and therefore it becomes irrelevant to our worlds. Remember David was a real person, as a boy he shepherded sheep and as an adult he shepherded Israel as their King. David experienced more heartache and pain than most, more ups and down’s than average. So, a question we could ask is when did David write Psalm 23, in what season or episode in his life; was it perhaps when: as a shepherd boy he defeated Goliath when no one, no trained soldier would step up because they were ruled by fear. Or was it after Samuel anointed him as future leader, oil running from his head down on to his garments. Or was it during the difficult time when God provided and protected him in the face of his enemy King Saul who wanted him dead. Or perhaps was it when David had messed up monumentally and not only committed adultery with Bathsheba but also plotted and had her husband killed and yet he experienced God’s mercy. Or was it when David’s own son, Absalom rose up against him or when his son was killed in battle. David’s life was far from being free from the trials, conflicts and heartaches we experience. On many occasions David found himself in perilous situations fighting battles without and within and yet he is able to write: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely[a] goodness and mercy[b] shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” (Psalm 23:5-6) There are not many who enjoy conflict, being at loggerheads with others. In every context be it with family, colleagues or friends conflict creates huge amounts of stress and disease, it paralyses and hinders progress. If it is not resolved it can easily lead one to become disillusioned and discouraged. Can you imagine sitting at a table and enjoying food in the presence of your enemies. Could you truly relax enough to enjoy a meal if you knew that your enemies were about to knock on your door? I am sure these questions are even more real for many as we watch the horrendous scenes of war playing out in Ukraine. Does the presence of enemies not raise up fear, anger and resentment which in turn robs us of the ability to enjoy the simple things in life?
Many say the analogy in Psalm 23, changes in verses five and six to that of a host preparing a table and anointing the head of a guest. In Near East Culture, not only would an esteemed guest’s head be anointed with perfumed oil but a filled cup meant you were welcome to stay, the cup was symbolic of joy and blessings. A further Bedouin cultural hospitality rule and tradition is if a traveller was received into a Shepherds tent and his host had spread food before him, he was guaranteed immunity from enemies who might be against him. Hospitality is more than food and shelter in that culture it was security and protection. Even if you were the enemy, you were safe at the table. In the movie “Lone Survivor”, about Marine Seals caught behind enemy lines, a few against many in Afghanistan. I don’t recommend the movie because it is extremely violent rather read the book, based on a true story. At the end, an Afghanistan tribal chief takes the last surviving American soldier in and they protect Him and it costs them dearly. It does not make sense but it is their custom to defend a guest not just to provide food and shelter. Could the analogy change? Is God the host and so as his guest we can have peace and joy even in the presence of our enemies; those who would seek to harm us?
Some say the analogy does not change but rather the shepherd who leads through the valley of the shadow of death is the same shepherd who would have gone ahead of the sheep up onto the Tableland. The Tableland would be that grassy area up on the mountain that would be lush because of the winter rains. In the context of Judea during early Spring the shepherd would explore the region, not only to find a suitable path and place but to prepare the way. The shepherd would remove as many dangers as possible, he would destroy snake’s nests, remove poisonous plants and even set-up rough barriers of protection from potential dangers. The Shepherd would lead the sheep through the valley of dangers in the early summer months up on to the Tablelands but he would have gone ahead to prepare the table. I am sure you can identify times in your life that you have noticed a going before, a preparation. Our faith grows when we can see a going before, a preparing of the table. Our faith grows even more when in the tough times we can see that God has gone ahead. The Shepherd prepares the table. As the disciples sit around the Passover table which was in a deep sense prepared by Jesus as recorded in Luke 22, Jesus prepares Simon Peter. “‘Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded[a] to sift all of you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ (Luke 22:31-32) Peter says he is willing to die for Jesus not knowing that Jesus had to go before to prepare the way. The good shepherd goes before and he is concerned about our faith, that our faith should grow so that it surpasses our fear. Then we can face what we need to and grow through the tough times, knowing the presence of God is enough in every situation. ““You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:5) Shepherds anoint their sheep with oil. Max Lucado notes that “In ancient Israel shepherds used oil for three purposes: to repel insects, to prevent conflicts, and to heal wounds.” This oil was a mixture of oil with herbs and sulphur. It did not smell good but it worked. One of the worst nuisances to sheep were “nose flies”. These flies were known to lay their eggs in the soft, moist membrane of the sheep’s noses. You know what happens when they hatch. Larva creep up into the nasal passages and burrow in! This would be extremely painful; some sheep would even kill themselves trying to get rid of the irritation. It is sometimes an accumulation of little things that get us down and despondent to the point where we question our faith and lose hope.
This oil would also help with skin disease and the healing of wounds. It could also help with conflicts, when males during mating season would butt heads, it would slip off causing less damage. Our good shepherd does not want today’s conflict, irritations or wounds to become tomorrow’s infections, divisions or downfall. Some of our deepest hurts come from butting heads with others, unresolved conflicts. Jesus came to bring healing through reconciliation. Jesus came to bring unity through his uniting presence.
Ultimately one of the primary contributors to our rest is a sense of reconciliation. It could be that you may need to humble yourself, bow your head and allow Jesus to anoint your head. So, you may have the grace to forgive those you need to forgive and the wisdom to deal with irritations that are wearing you down. Our cup overflows because our shepherd has not only dealt with the big dangers and threats but also with the little things that may trip us up! God lays a table before us; he anoints our heads with oil and the cup overflows. At the table he has prepared: Your irritations should not lead to distress and doubt; Your conflicts should not lead to mistrust and division; and Your hurts and wounds should not fester and develop.
David concludes this Psalm: “Surely[a] goodness and mercy[b] shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” (Psalm 23:6) If we at the Lord’s table we are in the presence of Goodness and mercy (love) because they are God’s primary characteristics. When my two boys were younger, I tried to instil a in them a simple faith through questions and answers. I would ask and they would answer. It went something like this:
What did God make? – Everything
Who does God love? – Everybody
Who must we love? – Everybody
Where is God? – Everywhere
Where else? – In my heart
God is good? – All the time
All the time? – God is good
Then I would often say: Daniel you going to have a good day? He would always respond yes. I was waiting for that day; I did not want it to come when he would respond no or maybe or not sure. Sadly, that day came, Daniel responded: “maybe” and I quickly responded: yes, you are because God is good and Daniel responded: “All the time”. It does not matter in what season we find ourselves if God is our shepherd, he is with us and he goes before us and prepares a table of mercy and grace.
David had experienced God’s Goodness and mercy in every season and circumstance. David then displays these characteristics when he searches out for any descendants of Jonathan and Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandchild is found in Lo debar. You can read this profound story in 2 Samuel 9. David has Mephibosheth brought to the palace and seated at the king’s table. Can you imagine the fear that is going through Mephibosheth as he finds himself in the presence of the enemy? He had been injured, paralysed when as a child his servant had dropped him as they fled David’s men. Imagine the confusion of his life and this situation: He should have been the heir but David is king and he is a fugitive. Then in a moment it all changed at the table. “David restores all Mephibosheth had lost and he enjoyed the food and presence of the king at the table. God in Christ came and prepared a table for you and I that demonstrated his goodness and mercy. As he shares in the Passover with his disciples, a foreshadowing and a foretaste of what is to come he tells them; “‘You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29 and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom…” (Luke 22:28-30a)
Jesus has gone before to prepare a table, death, Hell and sin have been defeated so we can be reconciled to God and not fear any enemy. Internal and external conflicts need not get your attention or disturb your peace. If you continually remind yourself that he has gone before and you are in a privileged position. You can be at rest no matter what season you are facing because not only is God with you guiding and providing but he has gone before to prepare the table. Can you picture yourself at the table? Can you imagine sitting at the table in the presence of your enemies? Perfect peace, no matter what you face because you know that his very nature is “Goodness” and “Mercy”, and you know that he has gone before you to prepare the Tableland.
HYMN 189 Be Still
Father God, thank You that Jesus is our good and faithful Shepherd. Thank You for the times that You bring us to a halt in the hustle and bustle of this frenzied life and cause us to take time to rest. May we have the humility to listen to Your voice and respond to Your gracious leading and lie down in the green pastures into which You have led. May we come to learn that our world will not fall apart if we take time to rest because you are always at work on our behalf.
Father of all grace and mercy, we praise Your name for Your wonderful words of comfort and Your promise that nothing can ever pluck us out of Your hand. Thank You that no matter what we do or where we go, you will seek us out and restore us. Thank you that you still lead today along life’s path, for the honour of Your name. Keep us, we pray, by your rod and staff from wandering far from You and may all we do, from this day forward, be to Your honour and glory. We pray for those who have wandered far from you our family and friends, by your goodness and mercy protect them from the dangers of this world and draw them to yourself.
Heavenly Father, how we praise and thank You for Your presence which brings comfort and strength in each season. Thank You that You are our Shepherd and our Provider. Thank You that You are with us through the darkest days as well as during the sunny times, and thank You that You have provided all that we need, according to Your riches in glory. We pray for those who find themselves facing internal and external conflict. We pray that you would bring peace and reconciliation. May your sheep know your peace even in the face of their enemies. Thank You that You are our God and Saviour. You have, indeed, prepared an overflowing table before us in the presence of our enemies and have anointed our heads with the oil of gladness. Our cup overflows with Your never-ending blessings, for which we praise and thank You. Draw close to those whose cups are nearly empty and those who cannot see the fullness of your provision In Jesus’ name.
Let us pray for the Church, the world, and one another.
For the Church we pray, the bright lamp of faith, her ministers and people, and this parish. May the Great and Good Shepherd protect her, keep her, and save her.
For the world we pray, the creation of God, its land and sea, its peace and prosperity. May the Son of Mary move through all the earth, blessing it.
For those who are ill we pray, and for those who suffer. May the Good Shepherd who knows and loves his sheep make them whole and well, active and content.
For those who work we pray, and for all who weave the patterns of this world’s life. May the King of grace and provision give to their labour growth and multiply their seed.
For those we love, and for ourselves we pray. May the guarding of God be theirs and ours, until together we are all united around that banquet in heaven, in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit Holy. Amen
HYMN The Lord’s My Shepherd (I will trust in you)
Go now with your trust in the good shepherd,
and let us love, not just in words,
but in truth and action.
Believe in the name of Jesus Christ,
and love one another, just as he has commanded us.
And may God be at your side, even in valleys of death.
May Christ Jesus be the cornerstone of your life.
And may the Holy Spirit abide in you
….and tend you with love and mercy all the days of your life.
We go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
…In the name of Christ. Amen.
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
Prayers and final blessing adapted from Church of Scotland Liturgy material Second prayers adapted from: https://prayer.knowing-jesus.com/Psalm/23
Benediction from Copyright © 2003 Nathan Nettleton LaughingBird.net