The Rev'd Robert Warren
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost                                                                              Psalm 23
Proper 11 - Year B

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."

What is it that we keep around for a rainy day? An awful lot of life's activity consists of collecting resources for ourselves and our families. It's always been that way. If your hobby is metal detecting you live in hope of finding one of those coin hordes which some punter, centuries ago, hid from the taxman in the fourth tree to the left of the bend in the old road.

That the teenager with the metal detector even found the coins meant that the original owner was never able to collect them back in the day. That datum, in itself, should tell you something.

As I was sitting in my office this week looking at Sunday's readings I realized two things; that the 23rd Psalm is very popular (I know at least four different ways of singing it) but that most folks would regard the sort of reliance upon God which the psalm prescribes as being a sign of personal
failure on their part.  If you are walking "through the valley of the shadow of death" then you must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque. You could be reproached for that. If you are relying on God to lead you "in green pastures" or "beside still waters" or to place a cup in your hands which "floweth over", then where exactly was your brain when you were planning your life? The psalm may be popular but we take it as a big part of our life's work never to be in a place where its precepts and promises become necessary. We strive for self-reliance. We've been told that there's a science to it. With a bit of self-discipline it can be done. We don't need to rely on God.

The Church (at least in the First World and since the Second War) has often played along with this. More's the pity really. A quick side glance at world history will tell us that civilizations rise and fall. We can count ourselves merely lucky to be living where and when we do. Every second page of the New Testament seems to subvert - in parable and pronouncement - the idea that self-reliance is the normal human condition. Where such self-reliance is even possible due to accidents of history and geography, rarely is it pious. Our "great cloud of witnesses" contains all those saints (not to mention the philosophers, the aid-workers, the poets and the musicians and other sundry heroes) who forswore their place on the upward path towards "their piece of the pie" in order to embrace the beauty and the sense of a life that could only be found when uncertainty is sought out and embraced.

What makes us safe and well-equipped does not necessarily make us deep or useful. It cannot ensure that we are good.

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