Everything Happens So Much
Sunday, April 30, 2023 | Psalm 23
In a chaotic and threatening world, the Lord is a shepherd who gives us everything we need.
May your coffee be strong & your Monday be short. Make today so good that yesterday is jealous. Train your mind to be calm in every storm.
These phrases don’t come from the Bible. They don’t originate in an ancient book of wisdom, nor even in a modern self-help book.
No, they come from Twitter, a social networking service with hundreds of millions of users. Twitter is where people go to write down quick thoughts, complain about something, share a humorous insight or offer a word of wisdom.
Twitter is controversial, for sure, and many people complain about it. But author Kaitlyn Tiffany says that “no one can deny that it has brought some amazing phrases into our lives — things we can’t imagine having read in any other place, or at any other time in history.” For example:
I cried, I screamed, I cursed, I jumped up and down, I thought about trying. Everyone says to follow your dreams, so I went back to bed. Who else wants juicy, delicious tomatoes?
Unexpected, funny and absurd phrases. But there is one treasured sentence fragment that Tiffany says is “astounding in its clarity and salience. It described both the internet and our entire human world.” It contains just four words:
Everything happens so much.
It’s true, isn’t it? According to Tiffany, the tweet acknowledges “what feels like ancient wisdom: The absolute best we can say about this moment in time is that everything is happening, as it always has and always will, so much.”
In a world in which “everything happens so much” and we are quickly overwhelmed, we need a God who calms us, restores our souls and leads us in the right paths. Fortunately, Psalm 23 promises us that the Lord “is my shepherd, I shall not be in want” (v. 1). God gives us green pastures, quiet waters, a table of food and an overflowing cup. The promise of Psalm 23 is rest, refreshment, guidance and protection in a chaotic and threatening world.
Yes, everything happens so much. That’s true. But since the Lord is our shepherd, we have everything we need. That’s even more true.
As followers of God, we have been aware of this for thousands of years. Psalm 23 begins with the assurance that God “leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul” (vv. 2-3). The original Hebrew words of the psalm say that God “leads me beside waters of rest; he restores my life.”
In a hyperactive and exhausting world, we need this rest and restoration. Now more than ever. Psalm 23 tells us that God gives us four gifts to counteract the effect of chaos and confusion: Water, food, protection and hospitality.
First, water. Geraldine Perriam is a researcher at the University of Glasgow, and she knows that water does more than keep us hydrated. Water evokes “responses in people that are calming, energizing, and can lead to better health outcomes. Just being beside water has a de-stressing effect,” she says. We need quiet waters, still waters, waters of rest.
Water has “essential qualities,” such as keeping us alive and cleansing our bodies. In the sacrament of baptism, water is a sign of our cleansing from sin, and a sign of the new life that comes from following Jesus.
Everything was happening so much for Martin Luther at the start of the Protestant Reformation. Luther “lived a turbulent life, constantly debating his opponents and in danger from the authorities. He translated the whole Bible into German while holed up in an ally’s castle to avoid being captured or killed. Not surprisingly, he was often plagued with fear and anxiety, and with doubt and discouragement.”
And how did he handle this stress? Luther had a unique strategy: “he would stand up, face down the devil that he believed to be tormenting him, and yell, ‘I am baptized!’” He may have also written the same phrase in chalk on his desk, “to remind himself, as he worked, of his unbreakable connection to Christ and to the communion of saints.” “I am baptized!” When everything happens so much, we need to remember this important truth.
God provides for us not only through water, but through food, protection and hospitality. All these gifts are needed if we are going to be the people that God wants us to be. The promise of Psalm 23 is that God “makes me lie down in green pastures” — that’s the promise of food for the sheep (v. 2). “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” — that’s protection (v. 4). “You prepare a table before me. … You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” — that’s hospitality (v. 5).
Water, food, protection and hospitality. They are everything we need, and they all come from God. The psalm ends with the promise that “goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (v. 6). This is the place to be, especially when everything happens so much. Each of us is given a place in which God offers us goodness and love and eternal shelter.
Because God gives us everything we need, we are invited to put our trust in God, lean on God, rely on God, have faith in God. “The proper response to the good news of Psalm 23 and the good news of Jesus Christ is trust,” writes Bible scholar J. Clinton McCann. When we trust, we discover that “life is not a reward to be earned; it is a gift to be accepted,” he says. Think about this. There’s nothing wrong with showing up for work, doing a good job, earning money, and providing for ourselves and our families. But think about what happens when you look at life as a reward, instead of as a gift. You become worn out and discouraged, like the disciples who followed Jesus through Galilee. At one point, they wondered where in the world they were going to find food to feed the people swarming around Jesus.
One of the greatest of the miracles of Jesus, the feeding of the 5,000, occurred on a grassy hillside like the setting of the 23rd psalm. There, Jesus became a Good Shepherd, one who “had compassion on [the people] and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:14). Then he ordered the people “to sit down on the grass” so they could eat and be filled (Matthew 14:19-20). Jesus was like the shepherd of Psalm 23, who made his sheep “lie down in green pastures” (v. 2).
In that peaceful place, Jesus became the shepherd predicted by the Old Testament prophets. He became the long-awaited Son of David — the shepherd who feeds his people, protects them and saves them. Jesus shows his power in numerous miracles, including the feeding of the 5,000. He continues to give us what we need for life, and to show us that life is a gift to be accepted.
At the same time, Jesus challenges us to extend his compassion to others, especially when everything happens so much. When the first disciples are feeling overwhelmed by the crowd, Jesus says to them, “you give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16). The disciples are mystified by this, of course, since they have only five loaves and two fish. But after Jesus blesses the bread, there is enough for everyone. And the Bible tells us that Jesus doesn’t feed the crowd himself. He gives the loaves to the disciples, and then the disciples feed the people.
That’s exactly what we are challenged to do today: To take what Jesus gives us and share it with others. “You give them something to eat,” he says to us, and then he gives us what we need to feed the world around us. We do this when we cook meals for needy neighbors. We do this when we pledge our money to the mission and ministry of the church. We do this when we welcome visitors to a service of worship. We do this when pick up tools and build with groups such as Habitat for Humanity.
So, where do you go when life becomes chaotic and overwhelming? Go to your shepherd Lord, the one who gives you everything you need. God offers you water, food, protection and hospitality. And then God challenges you to show the compassion of Jesus, feeding others with the resources you have been given.
“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,” promises Psalm 23, “and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever” (v. 6). This is the place to live and share with others, when everything happens so much.
Benediction Come through the gate of joy and hope, moving into the world that needs to hear the words of peace. Go in peace to all God’s people, bringing good news of Christ’s abundant love for them. AMEN.