Beside the still waters
This being Good Shepherd Sunday, we heard today all about sheep and shepherds and either said or sung some version of the 23rd Psalm. As this is an annual thing, Good Shepherd Sunday, those of us who've been part of a (liturgical) church for a long time have heard over the years a lot about shepherds and sheep, about being a flock, about how dim and/or grungy actual sheep (or perhaps shepherds) are. When I was a young girl, there was a farm out in the county somewhere where sheep were raised (very unusual for our neck of the woods in those days) and I particularly remember it to be a smelly operation. My own family had horses and cows. Sheep were distinctly different, aroma-wise, especially a large number of sheep in a small enclosure.
But whatever Jesus was getting at about being the Good Shepherd, and whatever we are meant to think about being a sheep of his fold (not to mention what we are to think about the other sheep who do not belong to this fold whom Jesus also knows by name), what I love most about Good Shepherd Sunday is the 23rd Psalm. I love to say it, and I love to sing it, both the Isaac Watts version (My Shepherd Will Supply My Need sung to the tune Resignation) and the Henry Baker version (The King of Love My Shepherd Is sung to the tune St Columba). I love the imagery of the still waters and the green pastures and the cup overflowing with blessings. I love the part about fearing no evil even while walking through the valley of the shadow of death because God is with me. God is with me beside the still waters, in the green pastures, at the table of abundance, in the presence of enemies, in the shadow of death.
And because the Psalms are to be said and sung together (as a flock, as it were), then we all understand that God is with us all, always, in the places where it is green or blue or shadowy. We are never left alone, in good times and in times of danger and sorrow. God is with us because of God's love for us, all of us, all the time.
And God's love is a love that is by turns tender and fierce. Fierce for us, not against us. The king of love my shepherd is, after all. Fierce like a mama bear fierce.
So, whatever else there is to say about sheep and shepherds and all, don't let's forget about that abiding with-us-through-everything love.