Matthew 6:30-34, 53-56
How many of you have Psalm 23 memorized?
How many of you think you’ve heard it more than 100 times?
It’s so so familiar—it’s etched into Christian tradition and so common at funerals to provide a word of comfort.
There are two parts in Psalm 23.
There’s sheep with a shepherd (who is a metaphor for God).
There’s a table in the household of God, where God is the host for a tremendous feast.
Both of these parts (and the part about walking in the valley of darkness without fear) show God’s care for God’s people.
The framework of the passage is the framework of God’s relationship with God’s people.
And in that framework there are some themes that emerge.
First—there’s grace—throughout the text we’re reminded that we don’t have to be more than sheep. Sheep are common animals, they’re not fancy. There’s folklore that sheep are not very smart and that that’s why they need a shepherd to take care of them—but they’re actually really smart. They recognize faces and people and come to know the shepherd as the person who keeps them safe… just like the writer of the psalm describes God caring for us as a shepherd. The grace comes in just only having to be sheep—only ourselves—and not anything else. And the grace comes in knowing that God takes care of us.
Second—there’s hope throughout this psalm. It doesn’t sugarcoat life or say it’s easy (remember the valley of darkness and the table before enemies) it just says that those hard parts are not the only parts of life.
That hope is contextualized by God’s abundant hospitality—at the table that God sets for us, there’s a feast (and God sets that feast in God’s house). Not a simple meal… not a meal out together, but in God’s house.
And so, the psalm reminds us that we can have faith no matter what in life—it’s honest about how life isn’t easy but that God’s hope, grace, and abundance welcomes us home. In this psalm, we meet a God who shepherds us, calls the sheep to safety and rest. We meet a God who prepares a banquet in a place where we can linger and rest. In this psalm we meet the goodness of God.
In the gospel reading for today, we see the metaphors of God’s goodness lived out in the compassionate ministry of Jesus.
The disciples are exhausted. Just before this text, they’ve been sent out in twos to do mission—teaching and preaching and healing—and they’ve come back to tell Jesus what they’ve done.
Jesus knows immediately that they’re exhausted and tells them they will go away to rest and eat.
I imagine their exhaustion is like ours—always so much to do, so many responsibilities, always more people and places to serve and love. Yet Jesus tells the disciples to rest—reminding us that we too need to rest—we have work to do and we must get away to rest.
And so, they all get on a boat, ready to rest and renew, and we can imagine, maybe learn from Jesus too—because you know, Jesus was always teaching.
But they land and Jesus’ reputation has preceded them: the crowd is there too (the crowd is always showing up to find Jesus). They are
The people recognize Jesus. They need him.
And Jesus has compassion for them, seeing them like sheep without a shepherd, and sheep need a shepherd.
Jesus’ compassion is key here—he is moved by the people. Jesus, God-with-us, is with the people too.
In bodily, personal ways, Jesus teaches and heals the people, with compassion, like he almost always does in the Gospel.
It is telling here that we don’t meet the disciples in the second part of the Gospel reading. Jesus himself meets the people. Maybe the disciples were in fact resting. We humans need that rest and renewal.
Jesus’ perseverance reminds us that God’s love for us will not grow weary. Jesus presses on as the crowds continue to find him—crowds who are desperate to be welcomed into the household of God. In doing so, Jesus is modeling for us what it means to be compassionate—calling us as the church to set the table in God’s house for all who seek to be fed.
The reading from Ephesians is a reminder of how the church can and should respond to Jesus’ compassion—reminds us of who we used to be, particularly in a world that reminds us of who we would and could be if we were not the dearly beloved children of God in Christ who calls us and loves us. T
The first ten verses of Ephesians 2 (before our text) “describe a world in conflict and heartache, torn between death and life, sin and grace.” It is a text that reminds us that we are indeed sheep who need a shepherd or else we will wander. It is a text that reminds us that we—the church—are now reconciled to be a new thing.
In our broken world, God loves us into a different world.
This is a different world where “we were aliens but now we are now citizens in the commonwealth of God—we are no longer strangers but are members of the household of God”
God’s household—in Greek, that’s OIKOS (and it’s the root of ecology/economy/yogurt) and it’s a word that indicates something particular about a building. It’s a word that translates into a “place where someone resides”…. But also it’s the word to translate into “family.” It’s not just the building but a building that is filled with love. So when we translate OIKOS, we could be tempted to translate it into the word “house.” But it’s really “home.”
I once asked my friend Irma to tell me the difference between the word “hogar” and casa” in Spanish. And she said that they mean similar things—but that a hogar es una casa con un abrazo. A home is a house with a hug.
And that’s what OIKOS is—it’s a place with a hugs, a place filled with love.
And so when the text calls us to dream of a new world, it’s a world in which we are all called into the home of God, a home where God prepares a feast for us. It’s a world where we’re called to make home for other people—to welcome people in and to live with compassion for other people as often as we can. A world where we trust God’s abundant love to take over when we’re exhausted so we can rest and come back to love other people.
Being part of this household unites us—we’re bound together in the places where we’ve been separated…. Crossing political and social boundaries, reaching across divides of class, race, and gender, calling over the abyss of loneliness and discord, illuminating the valleys shrouded in death.
We are no longer strangers but members of the household of God.
We’re not there yet. We live in a world of fear and anxiety, emotions that keep us from each other. A world where we divide ourselves by political lines and social divisions. We need not look far to see how broken we are or to find places of fear.
This week one of my good friends spent time on the US/Mexico border and he heard story after story of migrants who have sought asylum in the US but who must brave ICE. And another friend was arrested for praying in front of the ICE building in Portland, for calling on our immigration system to be built on welcome, not fear.
This week, I’ve been helping to prepare for the Climate March in San Francisco, when thousands of people will come together to call for brave and realistic responses to climate change by world leaders who will gather for the Global Climate Action Summit… instead of living in the anxiety that we can’t do anything that would make people with power and money unhappy.
And this week too we need not look too far to see how racism and classism and homophobia continue to be issues in our country and world.
Fear is a power emotion in and of itself, and yet Psalm 23 reminds us to not be afraid—we can have courage because we do not go alone.
In going together—with each other and with God—the text dreams of another day—a day when the whole church welcomes like God creates welcome into God’s household, God’s family.
We practice this welcome and this active building the family of God whenever we reach out to each other in the Peace of Christ.
Christ reminds us that building the family of God takes compassion.
Ephesians reminds us that creating the family of God isn’t easy but we do it to create a new world where we are no longer strangers—not to each other--- not to God
And in doing so, we remember that OIKOS is more than a building--- whenever we stretch out our arms to our shepherd, whenever we reach for each other, loving in simple or radical ways—we build the family of God.
And so, it is not just the physical building that makes OIKOS, it’s not just the family that makes OIKOS, it is the act of building together.