Not Just For Funerals
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” – Psalm 23:1 (NRSV)
Almost every time I plan a funeral, the reading of Psalm 23 is requested. It’s probably the one psalm we all know more than any of the others, and there is something comforting about reading it while we mourn: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”
But that Psalm 23 has been relegated mostly to funerals is a tragedy. Because, to me, this psalm isn’t about death; it’s about living fearlessly and in abundance.
The shepherd of the psalm, God, is described as someone who can lead us through the scariest of places, all the while casting aside our fear. And God fills our cups, not just until there is enough, but until they overflow with so much goodness that we can’t help but share it.
I think churches could learn from this. Because in a time when so many churches are drawing inward, afraid of an unknown future, and clinging to the “hope” of austerity measures, the psalm offers us a radical alternative. Don’t live in fear. Live in faith. And follow the one who can lead you through the darkest valleys and make them seem like they were well-lit sidewalks.
Churches, don’t wait until your funeral to live out this psalm. Live out that kind of faith every day. God has already given you more than you need. Don’t be afraid. Live boldly, and you will indeed live.
God, be our shepherd, and cast out our fear. Help us to follow you into the unknown, and to see the grace that we have already received. Amen.
Emily C. Heath is the Senior Pastor of The Congregational Church in Exeter (New Hampshire) and the author most recently of Courageous Faith: How to Rise and Resist in a Time of Fear.