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Psalm 23
The Lord is my Shepherd
~
God's Rod And Staff Protect And Comfort Me




Psalm 23 



Cuthbert cross

Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me 
Correcting and Comforting


Psalm 23 (from the Moffat BibleTranslation)  

The Eternal shepherds me, I lack for nothing; he makes me lie in meadows green, he leads me to refreshing streams, he revives life in me. He guides me by true paths, as he himself is true. My road may run through a glen of gloom, but I fear no harm, for thou art beside me; thy club, thy staff - they give me courage. Thou art my host, spreading a feast for me, while my foes have to look on! Thou hast poured oil upon my head, my cup is brimming over; yes, and all through my life Goodness and Kindness wait on me, the Eternal's guest within his household evermore.  

Read : Hebrews 12: 4-13 

Picture the scene . . . a family gathering, a get-together to celebrate the birth of a new baby.  

A happy time as the generations gather to welcome a new little one into their midst on the day of her baptism. The oldest person there is 92 and the youngest a mere ten weeks. The room is cosy, a fire burns brightly in the hearth, champagne is sipped, all manner of tempting food is laid out on the tables and there is a steady murmur of conversation, punctuated by a great deal of laughter as everyone catches up on family news.  

One of the uncles has been given the job of recording the occasion and he moves quietly round the room with his camera capturing images that will soon become memories of this happy day. 

The proud grandfather sitting quietly in a wing chair in a corner, with the tiniest babe sound asleep on his chest. Oblivious to the noise around her, tiny Lily sleeps, comforted by the warmth of a soft, woolly jersey and by the steady beating of his heart. 

The teenager sitting between her mother and her aunt, doing her best to appear cheerful, but clearly struggling following a run-in with her father after she stayed out too late the night before. 

The two grandmothers, discussing their now-grown up children, smiling as they see their own children married, settled with children of their own. They recall the tears, the tantrums, the love and laughter all part of family life. Perhaps they remember the hard work of bringing up their family and know this all lies ahead for the new parents. 

Our passage from Hebrews likens God to a parent. Upon first reading the passage perhaps you are struck by the language the writer uses - punish, discipline, chastises . . . does it seem harsh?  

Does it conjure up for you images of a disapproving and tyrannical God? 

One dictionary definition of the word discipline - used in various forms seven times in that reading - is this: "control that is gained by requiring that rules or orders be obeyed and punishing bad behavior"  

That sounds quite hard, too, but when we are striving to put God in control of our lives we need discipline, we need rules and we need guidelines. And punishment - well, for most of us the guilt that we feel when we stray or err is punishment, it is like the tap of the rod that calls us back into line. 

I truly believe that the pain of guilt and sense of separation from God is the punishment spoken of. God does not punish us physically - we must remember that, Jesus himself stated that quite clearly, remember he was asked if a man was blind because he had sinned or his parents had - and the answer was very clear - his blindness was not caused by sin - that is not how our loving and forgiving God works.  

I suppose, to a large extent how we read that passage and understand will depend on one's own relationship with one's parents - not everyone is able to relate to the thought of a kindly and loving father and anyone brought up by parents who believed wholeheartedly that to spare the rod spoiled the child might shudder reading this passage but I think that the intention was to encourage and not to terrify, to show that with boundaries we feel safe, with rules we know where we are.  

We call God, Abba, Father, and he is a loving and good father who wishes the best for his children and wishes us to be the best we can. He is the good shepherd who wishes the best for his sheep and who drives and herds and protects them. 

When the psalmist writes: 'you are with me; your rod and staff they comfort me' he uses the symbols of the rod and the staff - symbols of discipline and of power and authority, symbols of pastoral care to show the type of relationship he has with God.  

It is a relationship that bring him comfort. He is acknowledging that he feels safe with the Lord, the Shepherd, at his side because he knows that the Lord will be there in times of danger to offer protection, to support him through trials, but he also knows that the Lord will be there to ensure he stays on the right path, to pull him back into line should he stray. 

The flail and the crook are used by a Shepherd to protect his sheep from danger - to scare a prowling wolf but also to haul a wayward sheep back into line. That is the sort of discipline that I think we read about in Hebrews, the discipline that a caring parent uses to keep their child safe and that, in turn, helps them to learn and to grow.  

shepherd

Any parent will tell you that bringing up a child is not an easy task; parents face the challenges of showing their children how to behave towards others, of encouraging them to learn, of keeping them safe. And all the while the child will be testing the boundaries, pushing them as far as possible as they explore and learn about the world around them.  

Think for a moment of our family party - the teenager is sulky because she stayed out too late and is grounded for a week - why did her father do this? Because he cares, he knows that his child's safety is paramount, she might think he is harsh but he knows she needs that discipline, the rules are there to keep her safe and to help her to learn about boundaries. A caring father, like a good shepherd, knows what is best for his children.  

Think for a moment of the two grandmothers, they are happy and relieved to see that their children have come through the difficult teenage years, they have watched them learn and grow and develop and they have actively guided and chided them as they have grown and they are pleased to see how their own children have grown up. 

Think for a moment of the sleeping baby, so tiny, in need of total care. All of life ahead of her. She is comforted by the warmth and the heart beat - she knows that she is not alone. She's too little to know that her grandfather is strong, is a man of authority, she does not know that he will protect her and guide her and comfort her as she grows up.  

The Lord is with us, we are not alone, like a loving parent he speaks with authority and we must listen, he is our protector in times of trouble, he guides us in the right direction and will gently stop us and turn us around when we go wrong.  

Rev Suzie Stark, 2014

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