Making Me Lie Down

A Sabbath Sermon from Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho

Psalm 23    (trans. by Robert Alter)
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
In grass meadows He makes me lie down,
by quiet waters guides me.

My life He brings back.
He leads me on pathways of justice
for His name’s sake.

Though I walk in the vale of death’s shadow,
I fear no harm,
for You are with me.

Your rod and Your staff—
it is they that console me.

You set out a table before me
in the face of my foes.
You moisten my head with oil,
my cup overflows.

Let but goodness and kindness pursue me
all the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
for many long days.

I wanted this to be a hypothetical sermon, one that had nothing to do with my life because I’ve got things so well in hand and all figured out .

Yeah. This isn’t that sermon.

I’ve been burning too many candles at too many ends lately.  I don’t want to sound like I am bragging, because I think Americans are known for the sin of busy-ness. Tonight I’m confessing the sin of my busy-ness. Of thinking the world needed me to do every last thing that anyone invited me to do. I’ve been doing too many things and probably none of them as well as I would like.

Most of the things that have taken my time have all been good things. I don’t regret doing any of them. I only regret that after doing it all, I woke up Wednesday morning and I could not do one. more. thing.

He MAKES me LIE DOWN.

I’d prefer to hear that verse from the 23rd Psalm as invitational. “Marci, please come and lie down by these beautiful and quiet waters.”

This week it was an imperative.

“Marci. You WILL lie down. Right now.”

Wednesday, as I was missing appointments and hunkered down at home, I recognized the irony of a sabbath failure such as myself preaching this text this week.

Thanks God. Nice sense of humor.

But some weeks are like that, aren’t they?
We have these great plans for taking time for health and sanity. And then life happens.

Thankfully, after God made me lie down, then God led me beside still waters, renewed and restored,  and reminded me to get back up and journey again down those paths of justice for his name’s sake.  So I’m not going to spend much time regretting the week that was.

Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. There’s another week ahead of me, on the other side of Sabbath rest.

At the end of my sabbath collapse, I’m feeling more like a sheep than I usually do. And for a person who has, how can I say this nicely, control issues, it is not a flattering analogy.

I'm the one on the left.

I’m the one on the left.

The Lord is my shepherd.

Which makes me a sheep.

I don’t like to see myself as a sheep. They aren’t known for being the brightest animals in the barnyard. And I like to further the illusion that I am in control of my own hillside wanderings. But the reality is that sheep need to be led.

The reality is, I need to be led too.

Going full speed until I crash and burn out is not a sustainable way to live and it denies the importance of the rhythm of Sabbath—where we stop what we are doing and trust God can go on without our labor for the next 24 hours.

I have spent no time as an actual shepherd, which is a surprise to exactly none of you, but I hear that if a sheep walks into a dead end, it will just stop. It won’t turn around. It will just wait for someone to come lead it back to a better path.

How often are we like that?

We keep running into walls and don’t stop to turn around. I resemble that trait this week.

The Lord is my shepherd.

And it must be awfully tough work for him to do, trying to lead us where we obstinately do not want to go.  

I’ve been hiking in the foothills lately, and one day, a few weeks ago, there was a giant herd of sheep being led from their winter to their summer homes.

image from Boise Weekly

They had recently passed across the trail I was on, making it smell like the 4H barn at the fair. And I noticed how much work was involved getting the sheep from one place to the next. Dogs, men on horseback. So much herding involved.

The Lord is my Shepherd.

What would my life look like if I stopped fighting God for that job of shepherd?

What would that look like for you?

In my experience, when I actually follow the voice of my Shepherd, things tend to go pretty well. The Lord is pretty good at the job, being the almighty God and all. Why can’t I just let him do it?

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

I’m so grateful this psalm ends with that verse. I’m grateful for the reminder that even in my sabbath collapse, goodness and mercy are walking behind me, ready to pick me up when I fall.

One of my friends wrote a prayer based on the 23rd Psalm. And it ends with this:
Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
And sometimes they will catch me. Amen.

She’s exactly right. Sometimes they will catch me.

I’m grateful for those moments of sacred goodness and mercy that caught up with me in the midst of this busy week. For all of the exhaustion, there were wonderful moments of prayer and laughter and grace. Time with family and time with some of you.

Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
And sometimes they will catch me.  I’m grateful for their gentle hand on my back to steady me when I stumble.

I’m grateful for the way they help me find my way back on the path of justice for God’s sake.

In a few minutes we will come together at the Table. It is not our table. It is the table of the one shepherd and it is for all of his flock. The very act of communion is a way of living into Sabbath with the shepherd. God brings us to the Table, preparing a feast for us. Goodness and Mercy follow us all the days of our lives, to the Table and out into the world, ready to live as sheep of the Shepherd.

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