Dear Readers, I wanted to share my sermon from yesterday, "Journey with the Shepherd: Led by Righteousness" with you all, but technical difficulties won't let me be great. When I arrived home and started preparing to post it, I became aware that the audio recording stopped right before my closing. I was going to post the recording anyhow, but iMovie and YouTube were not cooperating with me last night or this morning. So I decided to take it old school and post the Scripture text and an excerpt from the message. I pray you find it instructive, delightful, and motivating--which is what St. Augustine of Hippo suggested is the aim of our preaching. Hopefully I'll have an audio or video recording of the second part of the series next week which is titled, "Journey with the Shepherd: Followed by Grace and Mercy."
By walking in the paths of righteousness we will experience God’s peace, God’s protection, and God’s provision. But remember I shared that my prayer was to free myself from the familiarity of this text in order to hear God freshly. And there it was. For so long, we have held Psalm 23 close to our hearts for individual comfort. We recite it in times of distress. We read it at funerals. We have it framed and hung on our walls at home or at work. We have it on jewelry. We keep it tucked into our books on bookmarks. We proudly display it on bumper stickers on our cars. We have claimed it as our own.
Can we consider claiming Psalm 23 as our own, but not our own simply for the sake of being our own, but for the greater good? In American Society and Christianity, there is a focus on the individual.
Me. Me. Me.
My. My. My.
I did not realize the weight of this until I traveled to Ghana, West Africa. Big Girl—our oldest—was seven months old at the time. I had not yet met my mother-in-law. We pulled up to the compound house after traveling from the airport. I opened the door to get out of the car and a woman—who I assumed was my mother in law—immediately came up, took Afia in her arms and exclaimed, “Our baby is here.” Our baby is here. I later learned that it was not my mother-in-law, but another relative, who even without knowing us, took claim and care of Big Girl as if she were her own, because she was her own. And this communal connection was not a one time event, nor was it novel. It was a lifestyle based on the principle of Ubuntu—which literally means, I am because you are—an African philosophy grounded in the belief of a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity. As Dr. Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham jail, “In a real sense all of life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
Secularism and individualism has seeped into that which is sacred and moved us from living into God’s ideal for us which has always been relational and communal. Perhaps that existential loneliness I spoke of earlier—which is really feeling the absence of God’s peace, protection, and provision—is a symptom of being outside of the leading of righteousness. Perhaps being led by righteousness is a journey connected to other sheep as we all follow the voice of the Great Shepherd.
What if being led by righteousness not only remedies our personal turmoil, trouble, and distress, but also local turmoil, national trouble, and global distress? What if the assurance of God’s peace, protection, and provision that comes from being led by righteousness calls and beckons us to work on behalf of others for their peace, protection, and provision? What if being led by righteousness is about walking in the way that has the power to transform our homes, our nation, and our world.
And as the Chinese proverb relates:
Where there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character.
When there is beauty in the character, there is harmony in the home.
When there is harmony in the home, there is order in the nation.
When there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world.
He leads me in the paths of righteousness.
Bonus: Instead of the usual sending forth, I played this beautiful and stirring Sweet Honey in the Rock reduction of the Chinese Proverb. Enjoy!