preaching study blog: psalm 23, pt 1

I’d like to try preaching preparation in community via this blog. I welcome comments, ideas, interaction, etc. I appreciate when folks post their sermons online for me to read, and I may do that when I’ve finished this one, but I’d like first to turn it around and ask for help on this end of the proclamation.

This Sunday, May 7, I’m preaching on Psalm 23. I haven’t preached from the Psalms much. The only one I can think of is Psalm 51. That’s a special situation due to it’s narrative context (David’s sin) in 2 Samuel 11-12. So, I’m branching out a little. I tend to preach the narrative of Scripture and the particular passage I’m working from. In the NT letters, this can be more of a challenge than the Gospels and Acts or the OT histories, but I can usually find the plot line at the place where Paul, Peter, John, etc’s lives and writings intersect with the people to whom they are writing.

The narrative context of many of the psalms, however, can be difficult to place. This can tempt one toward an interpretation and application without reference to the psalm’s place in the bible or the people of Israel. But there’s something to paying attention to the psalm’s place among the people of God today too.

Psalm 23 is a favorite of many. We say it at funerals and most folks, especially older ones, can and do repeat it from memory as I say it. It’s a psalm we should be memorizing today the way older generations did. I memorized this psalm for the first time a year ago during a prayer class I was teaching here at my church. Since then it has become a staple for my prayer life. I think that we could spend a lifetime learning to pray with the 23rd psalm and the Lord’s Prayer as our guides. So, that’s two contemporary contexts: (1) funeral liturgy, and (2) personal prayer.

Here’s the NRSV text for Psalm 23.

Brief thoughts, and I’ll share more thoughts throughout the week:
1. Images and metaphors include: Shepherd, Guide, Host, Hospitality
2. The Lord is referred to in 3rd person (“he”) in verses 1-3, then in 1st person in verses 4-5. Verse 6 does not address the Lord particularly, but refers to “the house of the Lord.”
3. A possible outline for the psalm might be: “He” – vv1-3, “You” – vv4-5, Conclusion – v6. But I wonder if it’s better to read v3b (“He leads me…”) as beginning that section with vv4-5, since it seems to lead into the part about walking through the dark valley, etc.

Observations? Discussion? Ideas? More to come…

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4 thoughts on “preaching study blog: psalm 23, pt 1

  1. This may not be helpful in your sermonizing. However, the challenge of preaching the Psalms seems to be finding the voice of the community and preaching effectively about community.

    I think that Psalms are extremely accessible for our culture which focuses greatly on individual feeling and relationship with God. That is a good thing. We should capitalize on that to compare persons’ individual experiences and feelings with the experiences and feelings of the Psalmist.

    Where I see our challenge in the sermon writing process is translating that to community. Surely David felt alone at times. Surely the Psalms reflect very personal and individual experiences and feelings. However, the culture of the Israelites was more a culture of connectedness. What does it say about Israel that Yahweh is David, the king’s shepherd?

    Preaching the personal and individual truths of Psalm 23 is powerful and effective. How much more powerful and effective could it be if we saw it as a Psalm about community and life together?

    I warned you that it wouldn’t help.

  2. Thanks for the thoughts, Brian. A great example of what you’re talking about, now that you’ve got me thinking in that direction, is Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, in which he discusses discipleship via the psalms of ascent (120-134), which reflect a communal experience of journeying to the temple and repeating, maybe chanting, those psalms together as a way of preparation.

    Yours is a good reminder that the communal life and worship of Israel is an ever-present narrative context for the psalms generally, in addition to the individual writer’s situation. There’s a reason, after all, that they made into the canon, or as Bonhoeffer called the Psalms, the prayer book of the Church. It was first the prayer and worship book of Israel.

  3. My Sunday school class recently did a long study of Psalms, with a focus on how to pray them. If we imagine Psalms as a prayer book, it might be useful to ask how we can pray Psalm 23. Under what conditions might we do it? When we did Psalm 23 we also sought parallels to the life of Jesus – asking how does Jesus fit this implicit narrative (though we didn’t talk about an “implicit narrative” in Sunday school).

  4. Last Sunday I preached it at my church and I am putting the outline here, it might help to some people. I will be very happy to have some feedback from other people too. I preached only on the first part of 23:1a.

    Thanks,
    Rajiv Pathik

    Psalms 23: 1
    – This song was most probably written by David while taking care of his father flocks when he was teenager.
    The Lord is my shepherd:
    The existence of God: Bible does not try to prove the existent of God, but always believes that God does exists. (Genesis 1:1)
    A. Atheists: The one who does not believe in God.
    B. Agonists: The one who believes God can not be known. C. Thesis: One who believes in God.
    – So much your life depends upon what you think about God.
    2. My :
    – If you believe in God then what kind of relation do you have with him?
    – There are so many wonderful things are mentioned in the following verses but they all belong to the one who has a very close and personal relation with God.
    – As a Christian we believe that the God who created the whole universe could be and will be my God. He could be my father, friend, savior, shepherd
    3. Shepherd:
    – One of the things about our God is that we can never confine Him in one small corner. He is much bigger and more deep than all our imaginations.
    – He also have the ability to fulfill our deepest longing and needs.
    – David needed a sheared at that time and God become His sheared.
    – I needed a savior He became my Savior.
    – In the Gospels Jesus needed a Father and God became His Father.
    – Search your hearts and see what you are really looking and longing for your in your life and God will fulfill your deepest needs and longing.

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