Revd Martin Keenan
Psalm 23 is familiar to so many people, although I’m not sure how many could recite it all from memory. It begins by reminding us that The Lord is my shepherd. And that’s a good beginning: God doesn’t need to self-isolate, so He is always available to us.
But there is another line in that psalm that I think is worth considering. It is a line I have used with people who have been hospitalised, or suddenly find themselves housebound. It is the line that says, ‘He makes me lie down’.
A favourite phrase among many people today is along the lines that we all live ‘such busy lives’. I have people apologise to me before they speak because, ‘I know you’re busy’. It had reached epidemic proportions! But not now!
Now things are different. Now we are being told to stay in, to not go to work, to not visit. So how are you managing?
Churches are looking at ways to get messages across to all our newly house-bound people and that’s good. I haven’t gone down the road of preaching to my i-phone or i-pad because most people I know would not be able to access the results, so I’m sticking to paper/screen.
But there are a number of people for whom this is not new! There are many of you who cannot get out to church under ‘normal’ circumstances, and that makes me wonder what we will do when this is all over. Will we go back to ‘normal’? I really hope we don’t. I hope we remember this sense of isolation and this uncertainty about tomorrow, because in all our ‘busy-ness’ we can so easily forget God.
Let’s take this time, while He has made us lie down, to appreciate the green pastures. Let us take this time to question why we do what we do; who our shepherd is; what our priorities are; and even: why were we so busy, when really none of it was so important after all. Life has gone on.
And if you are finding the isolation difficult, thank God for all that you have – this has come to pass, but for many people this is normal – no one calls, no one phones.
As you are being forced to lie down allow God to restore your soul, as the psalmist describes it. And remember that you are not alone. And if you do call me, don’t apologise – I’m not busy!
The Good Shepherd.
Martin’s topic, the 23rd Psalm, takes me back some 50 years to an address given by Methodist minister, the late Revd. W. Arnold Standing, in east London. (Alan Boyce)
His address was focussed on a young lad on an upland Welsh sheep-farm. A strong blizzard was blowing. There was concern in the farmhouse for the sheep up on the bare hill. The lad volunteered to go out into the blizzard and bring the flock down into some shelter for their safety. The snowfall was heavy, the snow accumulated at a fast rate. The lad struggled through the blizzard; the visibility through the raging snowstorm was atrocious. But he located the main flock of sheep and, seeking some shelter, he gathered them into the lee of a stone-wall, there being no prospect of reaching the farmstead, and the lad at this stage was exhausted. He stayed with his sheep.
There was concern in the farmhouse. The conditions were now so bad – and night-time had fallen – that there was no prospect of sending help. By morning, so much fallen snow had drifted against the farmhouse door that the only way out was through a bedroom window, and after much digging the front door and path to it, buried under feet of snow, were now accessible. The rescuers struggled through massive snow drifts and on reaching the location of the stone wall, there was not an animal to be seen. But it was found, confirmed by probing crooks, there were small holes in the snow – air holes, formed by the breath of each sheep, hidden from view. One by one the sheep were recovered, alive. But where was the young shepherd? His frozen body was found, sheltering against the wall, but under feet of snow. Notably, he was clutching his fourth finger. His would-be rescuers understood what this meant.
As was the case in much of Wales at that time, the lad went to Sunday school. (Much was learned at Welsh Sunday School in those days, by all ages; especially as only the English language was allowed in weekday children’s schools.) And the lad had learned the 23rd Psalm: The Lord is my shepherd. His emphasis was on the fourth word my. The Lord is my shepherd. This, his conviction, was his last thought. And, for him, Jesus the Good Shepherd had laid down his life for his sheep. Yet we know that those who follow their Lord and Master, Jesus, may not be spared misfortunes.
As a postscript, if we look to the Welsh language, bugail means shepherd; Welsh chapel ministers are not infrequently named bugail eglwys meaning pastor (in the sense shepherd) of their church, their flock.