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A Banquet in the Midst of My Enemies

Lent 4, Common Lectionary Year A

Psalm 23

©2014 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Reading followed by Meditation

Audio File Psalm 23 and meditation

Character 1  I am a wife of a loving spouse, mother to three grown children, grandmother to  four, and daughter to  a wise, brilliant father whose mind is now fractured and shadowed by the ravages of dementia.  I am waiting for an appointment to see a doctor about the shadow seen on my last mammogram. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.

Character2 I am in my twenties.  I’m trying to finish up my degree, but lately life’s been hell.  “Depression” is such a feeble word to describe the way my world has fallen apart in recent months.  Why me?  I have all the advantages a white, bilingual honour roll student could have, but it seems,  a curve ball has bowled me over and out. What if the rest of my life is gonna be like this???  I just don’t know….. “ God is my shepherd”? Really? I shall not what?! Who are you kidding?

Character 3 I just celebrated by 90th birthday.   The grandkids came and filled my room with balloons and flowers, so many we started to sneeze. It was exhausting!  But I am not grumbling.  I know I’m so blessed, to have a family around me.  It’s just so tiring for these deaf ears and aching bones. “God is my shepherd……”  and  after that party I wish She’d lead me beside still waters!

Character 4 I won’t tell you my age, not much me at all really, it’s too long a story, but the hell of addiction has filled up too many of my days, and years.  First my dad’s, now my own.  What I don’t know about the darkest valley isn’t worth knowing. God has somehow, in the most indirect of ways, managed to pull me through, so yes, that verse is mine: I learned it in the old fashioned words, and when I need it, that’s how I pray it. Often. Like a mantra: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff comfort me.”

Character 1  Let me tell you about those still waters and green pastures. I took them for granted. Healthy children, a good job, a great life, vacations, friends, a good church to raise our kids in… Did I know at the time these were blessings, gifts? Probably not.  I guess I assumed they were mine by right, or something… They aren’t. They’re wonderful,  and they’re a gift, to be treasured.  Don’t  you take them for granted (looking at congregation).  And now I look into an uncertain future, that has dark shadows for me, and my dad,  I’d do anything to be back beside those still waters, to have my Dad back, whole and in his right mind. To somehow be blessed with benign good health myself…. God, lead me, for your name’s sake, back into those pastures, beside those calm waters…..

Character 2 You know what comes next in this psalm? It says “God prepares a table, a banquet before us in the presence of our enemies.” Until now, I didn’t think I had enemies. But we all do, you know. Sometimes the enemy is within – like a cancer, an illness, and yes, an illness of the mind is like an enemy too. Tell me about it! Sometimes “enemies” are all those people we know who just don’t get it, who can make it all worse by their impatience, or careless indifference.  Or a so-called friend who thinks I’m making it all up! I’ve discovered that enemies are not malicious terrorists,  they’re  whoever and whatever gets in the way of us being able to live well, whatever stops us getting to the banquet. And God?  Well, listen….. “God sets the table before us in the presence of those enemies.”  Imagine that!  A banquet in a battlefield!  If we don’t get green pastures, but  a pile of mess, God comes out into the middle of it! My grandma was like that.  Her answer to every trouble was to set the table, sit us down and bless us with plenty. I keep imagining this,  God my grandma with milk and cookies, and I hang on for another day.

Character 3 I used to be that sort of grandma!  Thought I could take care of the hurts of all my kids and their kids. I was the one who filled the table with goodness.  Now it’s the other way round and it’s really hard for me! I’m still getting used to God setting the table for me, letting others ‘do’ for me. Humbling to remember that all the blessings we get to share are really God’s, God who gives them there for us to give -  and to receive! – I’m learning how to say “thank you” , when I was so used to saying “ you’re welcome!” God sets the table before me, my cup runneth over with blessing.

Character 4 Me?  I used to think this psalm was just about heaven, but listen to this bit: “Surely goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my living.” I never noticed that before, mercy chasing after us…… It sometimes doesn’t feel like it.  It’s been police, social workers, the demon addiction that have pursued me most of my life. Now, I try to imagine a race going on, the bad stuff, and these healing graces of God, rushing madly after me, trying to reach me first!  So when I feel the cold breath on my neck,  I’m learning to reach out and grab a hold of the ‘goodness and mercy’ bit instead. It makes a real difference, you know.  Knowing that goodness, light, healing, mercy, good energy, good choices are actually close enough for me t reach out and hold on to, and especially in the tough times.

Character 1 So here you have it. It’s about so much more than pastures green; it’s about God reaching out into the thick of our lives, our hurts, our sicknesses, our trouble,  chasing after us with goodness, feeding us, healing us, leading us to pathways of healing. We could say so much more, but hear this psalm through our stories, and listen in the silence for it speaking into your own lives….. Let’s stay seated to sing this psalm, using VU 748.  If it’s not familiar to you, read along with the words until you can join in.

Meditation

God is a healer. From our first biblical encounter with the Great Spirit, Creator of the Universe, when God breathes a healing word over chaos, and the beauty of creation is born, to this present moment of our own birthing of beauty and blessing in the face of chaos, God was, and is, and ever shall be, a Healer. …… I’m inviting you now into a momentary meditation where we each approach this table filled of whatever we need to flourish, set down, right in the midst of our “enemies” there to find the healing strength we each need for the living of our days.

Let’s ground ourselves once again, feet on the ground….. hands resting empty and open on your lap….. fill your eyes with light….. take it within, shining into your body and soul, then close your eyes,  or settle your eyes on the screen, or on the candle flame.

Become aware of your breathing, slowing and settling, drawing deeply, filling your lungs with God’s  healing, restoring energy…. settling your heart and soul into attentiveness and openness.

Let your imagination take you first to that healing place of tranquility; a lake at sunset, the last ripples calming to stillness as the light fades. God has led you here, to this place of deep stillness. You rest, soaking in the fading sunlight, …… sinking deep into the tranquility and silence,…. until the first frogs begin their evensong.

The frogsong grows, and the noise reminds you of the world, that even now casts its city light onto the horizon, dimming the stars with its ambivalent glow. It’s time to return. With a deep holding breath, you gather the stillness into your soul as you walk up the meadow.

As you crest the hill, you see it; a table….huge and long, with crisp linens and sparkling stemware set with delicate precision, backlit by the glare of the city, it glows.

You walk around it. You take in everything that is laid out just for you. Food for body, soul and mind, each item has on it your name, scripted in silver filigree. What do you see? Whispers of forgiveness. Salve for your wounds. Benedictions for every one of those enemies that hold you back from being the you God made you to be…. What do you see…….? Wine for rejoicing, oil of blessing, slick with hope and promise? You reach out, touch and taste every conceivable gift of healing that you need to live with health and wholeness, in the face of those enemies called cancer, death, grief, depression, worry, stubbornness, broken relationships, all that hold you back from this banquet of God’s goodness and mercy. They are still there, but none of them can stop you reaching out to taste and touch, eat and gather this banquet of God’s healing blessing, set for you, with your name on it all.

Fill your heart’s eye with this sight, and when you’re ready, feel the stirrings of your muscles, your body as you come back to this place and space, roll your shoulders….centre your feet beneath you, take some cleansing breaths, and when you’re ready to open your eyes, let them bring you back into this company of God’s healed and healing people.

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