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Psalm 23
The Lord is my Shepherd
~
Surely 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




Psalm 23 



Cuthbert cross

Surely 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


Read : Psalm 23, Deuteronomy 8: 1-10, John 14: 1-3  

Everybody knows the story of the man who had a vision of his past life. He saw the whole of his life as a long journey and for the greater part of it he could see two sets of footprints, his own and the footprints of God accompanying him. But at one point of his life, when he remembered that he went through a very difficult and trying time, he noticed that there was only one set of prints. He reproached the Almighty for having left him at the one time when the going was really hard. The reply came that he had not been abandoned, that God had been true to his promise and at that hard time he had carried him. 

footprints

Since last September we have been studying section by section the 23rd Psalm. Some of you may be thinking, as we do, that it is time for a change of subject. We have however come to the last verse and it seems as if we had covered the whole of life.  

This psalm is one of the best-loved and best known. It was certainly the first that I ever got to know. It is sung at weddings and funerals and most people know which tune they prefer. We have looked at this psalm in many different translations, both ancient and modern, prose and metrical, versions in the vernacular from both Scotland and England and other paraphrases based on the shape of this psalm. We have dwelt in green pastures beside the waters of comfort, we have been guided through difficult paths, sometimes dark and dangerous, we have been defended from trouble and sustained in the presence of hostility, and in this last verse we can assert with confidence: 

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

The psalmist is talking about the future as well as the present, now and always, but it is usually in retrospect that we recognise the goodness and mercy, the blessings we received, the things we can give thanks for, the times we were helped.  

Most of us can do this, but for some people, life has been so truly hard, has always been a struggle, that one hesitates to identify the goodness and mercy with confidence. There must be some mercy in the fact that they have reached this point, they have won through this far, despite everything.  

At the worst of times, it is salutary to count one's blessings but in the good times it is only too easy to forget to be thankful, to take everything for granted as if nothing could change 

Moses reminded the children of Israel of the way that God had led them all those years. In the passage from Deuteronomy, Moses had just given them the commandments, which they were to follow as God's chosen people. They had been tried and tested and disciplined by the forty years in the wilderness to make them become the kind of people who were fit to inherit the promised land. They were to remember to live by this code of conduct when they entered this new land. To this point, they had been followed by goodness and mercy, although they frequently chose to forget it or failed to recognise it. Perhaps we are not so very different. 

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long

For some of us, we are more familiar with the words 'for ever', which seem to look forward to the future. In this translation, we are reminded that this dwelling is something we do today; it is not something we only look forward to at the end of our earthly life. In our second reading, Jesus promised us a dwelling in the house of the Lord which he would go to prepare for us and where we shall be with him for ever.  

John Donne wrote a prayer looking forward to this event 

Bring us, O Lord, at our last awakening, to the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house….  

We shall be at home; a house is a friendly place. It is a wonderful concept, the continuing to dwell in the presence of the Lord, and when that day comes, we may count on the promise. 


Prayer (by Cardinal John Henry Newman)

O Lord, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over and our work done. Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  


Bridget Cameron, 2014

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St Cuthbert's Parish Church. 5 Lothian Road. Edinburgh. UK. EH1 2EP


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