March 30, 2011

March 30: Obedient and stubborn sheep

author_portrait

By Jeff Hochstetler, admission counselor
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 23 (NRSV)
Scroll down for complete Scripture.

DEVOTIONAL:
I first remember reading Psalm 23 as a child looking out my Sunday school class window of my country church. The rolling green pastures right by the grove of trees and ravine along the church property provided my imagination the earliest canvas for this psalm. Completing my imagination of this psalm were calm and obedient sheep which populated the hillside.

By the time I was in fourth grade, my brothers and I started showing lambs at the county fair. My images of obedient sheep quickly changed as I struggled to raise my stubborn lamb. Contrary to the nursery rhyme, mine didn’t follow me when I took it out for walks. In one particularly frustrating experience I recall spending the better part of an afternoon trying to round up our sheep after one of us boys forgot to close their gate.

I appreciate how the psalmist compares himself to a sheep. Like sheep, we’re not innocent. We can be stubborn. I am reminded of my own hubris – my own temptation to turn from God. But we have a Good Shepherd who watches over us. Psalm 23 points out that we lack nothing. However, such goodness comes not from our own resourcefulness, but rather from the providence to whom we belong.

During this Lenten season, I am drawn to the middle part of the psalm. We are not given a choice whether we may go around the valley of the shadow of death. Surely, dark valleys will come. The frailty of our human condition promises this. What is clear is that we need not walk it alone – God is with us, and can provide us with protection and comfort. This season of Lent allows us to reflect on God’s own effort to be with us as the righteous lamb of God.

As God walks with us, may we continue to reflect on the one whose path we follow. Prodding us along, the stubborn sheep we are, may God’s sheep dogs, Goodness and Mercy, continue to follow us as we journey closer toward home.

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 23 (NRSV)
1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. 4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

»

«

Comments (12)

  1. Good to hear your perspective from personal experience with sheep. This Psalm has been such a constant in my life. It is rich with imagery and reflects so many aspects of our relationship with God. Thank you for sharing today!

    Ruth March 30, 2011 |
  2. Jeff, friend, I still remember reciting this scripture from memory in front of church when I was younger! Like you, I previously thought this psalm was about how God would make everything better when we experience dark valleys. Now I see it more as a psalm about how valleys — and even really dark valleys — are inevitable, but can provide opportunities for us to draw closer to God, our Shepherd.

    Sheldon March 30, 2011 |
  3. Thanks for taking me beside the still waters. It was good to start my day with my favorite Psalm.

    Mary Mishler March 30, 2011 |
  4. Your comments are a welcome reminder to “think correctly” re. the difficult experiences we encounter in our lives, and relationship with the Shepherd. Thanks.

    Sue March 30, 2011 |
  5. What a wonderful reflection on Ps 23. May God bless you as you encounter dark valleys

    Karen March 30, 2011 |
  6. Beautiful thoughts, Jeff! Thanks for the images, and the reaffirmation that our humanness – sheep-ness – is still a blessing to the Shepherd who loves us.

    Deb B March 30, 2011 |
  7. Thank you Jeff… I love this Psalm as well, and it has truly been a comfort through the dark valleys in my life. I enjoy seeing small children learn this Psalm, and as they grow how the meaning grows as well. Thanks for sharing.

    Mandy March 30, 2011 |
  8. God’s sheep gods Goodness and Mercy, what great names. Thank you Jeff.

    marjorie March 30, 2011 |
  9. What a lovely reflection on a favorite Psalm. I loved the connection to childhood experiences and how our life with God and our understanding of God’s teachings changes and grows. Many blessings to all….

    JoAnn Barbour March 30, 2011 |
  10. Thanks, Jeff! (Fun to see the fair pictures of your lambs! How I remember!) Knowing that you have walked that “valley of darkness” adds depth to your meaning. God, the good shepherd, sees us through.

    Norma March 30, 2011 |
  11. Jeff, fine job. How appropriate that you selected this popular passage as your mom had requested this scripture for the theme of her memorial service. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Dad March 30, 2011 |
  12. I’ve been going through a dark valley myself, and this psalm has been one of my utmost sources of comfort. Thank you for sharing your reflection on God’s providence during those times. It’s encouraging to be reminded of this continually!

    Anna April 4, 2011 |