Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the thoughts and words of this reading that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
A Psalm of David.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d]
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.[g]
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
One of the great treasures of our family is a kind of audio archive that my father began to create in the 1940’s. He had a machine called a “Recordeo” that cut records. It used a heated needle to burn the groove into 78 RPM records made of a plastic, waxy kind of material. Later, before they completely deteriorated and after the prevailing technology had changed, those were transferred to tape. In addition to that, in December of 1959 he bought a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and he continued to record audio tapes at special family events. I still have that recorder. It weighs about 700 pounds, is full of vacuum tubes, and the last time I plugged it in and turned it on, it dimmed the lights and I had the notion that you could heat a room with it. A number of years ago, I transferred those old tapes to cassette tapes. Then, a few years later, I converted those tapes to mp3 digital files.
One of the great treasures in our family audio archive was recorded in February of 1960 at my great-grandmother’s 87th birthday party. It is of my great-grandmother reciting the 23rd Psalm. Now, it’s also a great treasure and a great story in our family because after he asked her to recite the 23rd Psalm, she hesitated a moment and she said, “Ah, the 23rd Psalm?” She hesitated some more, searching the memory banks a little bit. And so my dad thought he would prompt her and he said, “Yeah, you know, the 23rd Psalm – Now I lay me down to sleep….” Great Biblical scholar that he was, we never let him forget it as long as he lived and I’m grateful now that he did not erase the tape. I might have edited that out if it had been me, but he left it there for all of posterity to appreciate.
Whenever I read the 23rd Psalm, I think about my great-grandmother. I listened to that recording again not long ago. Once you get past my father trying to prompt her, there are those wonderful words of the 23rd Psalm that—because of my Dad’s recording—I can hear sixty-one years later in her voice with one of those southern accents with the soft “r’s. But, she was a woman who did not live a soft life. She had a hard time. She walked through many valleys of the shadow of death. When she was a young woman and she and her husband had had their children, her husband died in his early 30’s very suddenly and left her alone to raise those children. She walked through a lot of valleys. She remarried after those children had grown up and, unfortunately, she married a man who was physically abusive. In a day and time when society would make it clear that an abused woman pretty much had to stay with her husband, she had to leave to escape that abuse.
This was a woman who knew the dark valleys but hearing her recite those words, there is no question that she knew she didn’t walk alone. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” and I can just hear the wonderful accent of her kind voice, “and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” she said.
Our great hope is that we are not alone in the darkest valleys and our Good Shepherd leads us home.
There is a lot of theology woven into hymns. To enhance today’s reading, I recommend listening to “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”. I hope you will take a few moments to let the words of this message and the emotion that always connects us to music connect with your soul.
The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
And he is mine for ever.
Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul he leadeth,
And where the verdant pastures grow
With food celestial feedeth.
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love he sought me,
And on his shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought me.
In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
With thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.
Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
Thy unction, grace bestoweth:
And O what transport of delight
From thy pure chalice floweth!
And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
Within thy house for ever.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster