Freedom from Anxiety: a new perspective of Psalm 23

This is the sermon transcript from Sunday, October 15, 2017 at Monroe Free Methodist Church. If you’re interested in listening to the audio visit: http://www.monroefmc.com/resources/sermon-audio/


This morning I want to invite you to re-imagine Psalm 23 and how life might change if we actually believed its words. What would happen if we allowed Jesus to shepherd us? What if we trusted him to lead us to wide open pastures of safety? What if we released fear, totally and completely? What if we allowed him to serve us as his honored guest? What if we believed that his love is in constant pursuit of us?

It would change everything.

St. Augustine wrote in the 4th century, “When you say, ‘the Lord is my Shepherd’ no proper grounds are left for you to trust in yourself.” The call, then, of Psalm 23 is to set down our right to be afraid and our right to go wherever we want to go, and instead to follow the Shepherd. We will only be protected and cared for if we allow Jesus to lead us.

The past two weeks I have been meditating on the words of this Psalm thanks to the song we sang earlier this morning. (I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am.) The Lord has graciously led me to a new understanding of what the words mean for my life, the ways He is offering me protection and freedom. This line has been particularly meaningful as I face my own fears: “You prepare a table right before me in the presence of my enemies. Though the arrows fly and the terror of night is at my door, I trust you, Lord.” Perhaps some of you can relate to struggles with anxiety, a fear that is nearly paralyzing. Over the past few weeks I have been facing my own anxieties. Nightmares crop up in my dreams and my body reacts with itchy hives reminding me of the stress it’s under. Now, hear me, friends, I am not saying any of this for sympathy but to share my journey toward peace and to invite you to move in that direction with me.

What if you and I were to picture the Lord preparing a great feast in our honor and inviting us to sit at the table? And what if as we sat down and picked up our forks we looked out the window and saw the Enemy – the thing each of us fears most? Maybe your fear is a person or maybe it’s a fear of failure or a fear of being exposed as a fraud or a fear of death. When you see your Fear, the first reaction might be to begin to tremble or to take cover under the table or to run and hide or maybe even to fight that Fear Enemy. But the truth is, friends, you don’t have to engage your arsenal of defense mechanisms when you’re seated at the Lord’s Table. The Lord wants you to sit down and enjoy his hospitality and his presence, to notice the Fear outside the door – yes, but then to release it to his care.

We read of the Lord as Table Host in three separate passages this morning:

  • Isaiah 54:6 “ the Lord prepares a feast for all peoples”
  • Psalm 23:5 “ you prepare a table before me”
  • Matthew 22 “ the parable of the wedding banquet

The Lord is the ultimate example of hospitality. According to the imagery drawn for us today in these passages, we learn that the Lord’s hospitality includes these four elements: an invitation, provision of food, generosity, and safety.

The invitation of the Lord is filled with desire. He pursues his guests, even the undeserving ones ,like the wedding host did in Matthew 22 and as verse 6 of Psalm 23 says. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” The word mercy used in that verse is the Hebrew word “hesed” meaning a “love that never quits.” According to my Life With God Study Bible, “This is a love that doesn’t just follow, but always pursues us. To perceive God’s love as pursuing rather than begrudged deepens our ability to trust.” What if we believed that the Lord’s invitation to his table isn’t out of pity but out of genuine desire to be with us?

Secondly we see the Lord’s hospitality as including a lavish meal. He “prepares a table” (in Psalm 23:5) and makes a feast of rich food and expensive wine (in Isaiah 25:6) and sets out the choicest meats in Matthew 22. Part of hospitality is simply providing for the needs of the guests, but the Lord goes above and beyond with the best spread of food – all of your favorites, because he knows you like a Shepherd knows his sheep.

Thirdly, the Lord anoints our heads with oil, bestowing on us the gift of honor. I learned in the Bible Background commentary that in ancient times, fine diners were sometimes anointed with oil by their hosts. This was a luxurious and generous gift, first of all because the oil itself was expensive. But consider for a moment the dry desert climate of the those living in Old Testament cultures and think of effects it had on their skin. The oil was a way to lavish honor on a guest by offering their complexion a fine sheen. Plus the fragrance present in the oils gave the guests and the room a pleasant aroma. The anointing was a way to say, “You are a valued guest. Let me demonstrate my love for you through this small but meaningful indulgence.”

Finally, when we respond to the Lord’s hospitality to join him at the table, He will provide safety and security for us. When we look out the window and see the enemy ready to attack us or we are faced with our crippling anxiety, we can look into the eyes of our Shepherd-host and know we are safe at his table. As I was pondering my own fears and what freedom would look like for me, I pictured the story of the passover in Exodus 12 where the Israelites are told to stay inside their homes and to paint the blood of the passover lamb around their doorframes. Verse 23 says, “When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.” I imagine my freedom looking this way – me sitting at the Lord’s table, enjoying his delicious meal, and his loving company, and his generous anointing, and noticing out my window the thing I fear most. But instead of being swallowed by the Fear, I acknowledge my emotions and I let it pass by my door. I am safe at the table of the Lord.

Now that we are beginning to understand the Lord’s hospitality and what Psalm 23 invites us to, what’s our response going to be? I think the answers lie in Philippians 4:6-8, some of my favorite verse in Scripture. “4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Friends, the fears or concerns in our life “are to be addressed not by worrying about them, but by developing habits of prayer and rejoicing.” (Life with God Bible)

So our first response to the Lord’s hospitality is to rejoice always – for the Lord, our Shepherd is always worthy of our praise.

Secondly, we have to make our requests known to the Lord. We must tell the Lord about our anxiety and fear. This by itself disarms the stronghold on our lives.

Third, we must be thankful. We must be aware of the Lord’s presence in our lives, pay attention to his hospitality – how he welcomes us, notice his generosity to us, and see his pursuing love. A few weeks ago I was in Meijer and saw milk was on sale for something like $1.29 a gallon. My first response was to say, “The Lord loves me so much sometimes.” Now I know that’s kind of silly, first of all because it’s just milk, but secondly, because the Lord loves me so much all the time. But I’ve taken a liking to saying that phrase more and more, recognizing all the little ways the Lord shows his love for me. It’s like he’s bringing me home flowers, showing me his committed pursuit in the form of small gifts that are my favorite things. We must all be on the look for the little ways the Lord is loving us.

Finally, after we respond to the Lord’s hospitality with rejoicing and requesting and thanksgiving….GET THIS…He gives us the Peace of Christ to guard our hearts and minds. He Loves us so much sometimes. :)

 

Friends, as you go today, let me declare the words of the Message paraphrase of Philippians 4:7-8 as our benediction.

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.