This morning, our focus scripture will be the best-known text in all the Bible. We memorize the 23rd Psalm when we are young children and we will remember its words when we are old and grey. These words of comfort and assurance are attributed to King David, someone who lived a life full of upheaval, with both proud moments and shameful moments coloring his life. But, despite his sins and glory, David always trusted God.

            If you know the words of Psalm 23, please say them with me. I will use the familiar King James language:

Proclamation of the Scripture            Psalm 23                  

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Here ends this Reading of the Word of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Let us pray: O God, may the word that is read and spoken become through us a liberating word to all who are in bondage and who long for freedom. Open our hearts to hear your call for justice and to answer it with our prayers and our actions. Amen.

Message                  Blessed Are Those Who Feel Alone  

            Over the course of the next fifty years, or so, sociologists and economists and psychologists will be studying the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.  We are just at the tip of the iceberg of learning how the years of illness and isolation and social distancing have impacted our fellow Americans. We have all made observations – we know baby boomers opted to finally retire in droves, many kids did not learn as much as they would have learned in traditional classrooms, and in-person church attendance declined while online worship attendance increased. One of the other casual observations many of us have made is that we, as a people, seem much lonelier than ever before.

            This trend started before the pandemic. People are more mobile than we once were….many of us don’t live in the same town or part of the country where our relatives live. If I want to see my parents’ in-person, I either spend 14 hours in the car or 2 hours in the air. Many of us don’t have weekly family dinners at grandma’s house or go to school with 8 of our first cousins.

            So, we don’t necessarily live where our families live. And, most adults have to work professionally. When I lived in Chalfont, I would often hear about one of the neighborhoods tightly-knit weekly coffee klatches.  The women of the neighborhood would gather at each other’s homes on Tuesday mornings for coffee and conversation. This worked for the women who lived in the neighborhood for a long time, but, they complained that all the young moms would wave at the gathering older ladies as they drove off to work in the morning. The group dwindled in size as the women of the neighborhood were no longer stay-at-home-moms. The supportive community of women shrank as they numbers decreased.

            In addition to adults needing to work, many of us work remotely. So, we are tied to desks all day long and possibly have Big Brother spying on us to make sure we are constantly productive. There are fewer and fewer conversations around the water cooler, fewer and fewer workplace happy hour outings, and no more co-worker softball teams.  A lot of the social interactions once had by co-workers have dried up as more and more people work remotely.

            We are lonelier than ever before….and the Covid-19 pandemic made it worse.

            The 23rd Psalm creates for us a picture of how our God, the Good Shepherd, seeks and find people who are lonely and isolated and brings them home. Each line of our Psalm reminds us of God’s care and love for us.  And, this Psalm reminds us that we are all part of the family of God, even when we don’t have biological relatives or relatives who live nearby.

            The Lord is my Shephard – I shall not want. God is a protective caregiver watching over us. God knows our names, who we are inside and out, knows everything about us, and loves us anyway.  God seeks us out when we are spiritually lost and separated from God.

            This passage from scripture, this psalm helps us to imagine what being at home in the family of God is like. The household of God, the family of God, is designed to be a safe place for everyone. God creates a world with more than enough for everyone to eat and water to drink.  God the loving uber-parent watching over us and making sure we are taking safe paths.  Even when we face suffering and evil, we don’t walk alone, we don’t suffer alone, because our loving God accompanies us through the darkest moments of our lives and celebrates with us through the joyful moments of our lives. As it says in Romans chapter 8, nothing will separate us from God — as Paul writes: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” No matter what we have done, no matter our history, no matter our family background, nothing about us can separate us from the love of God.

            One of the natural, built-in gifts of the church is that we can come to this place, among these people, and be surrounded by people who care.  Some of us have been a part of this community for a long-time, so this feels like an obvious statement. But, many of us have had times where we felt separate from God, when we did not belong to a Christian community, and we sought to figure out what was missing from our lives – we knew something was wrong, but we weren’t sure how to fix it – we were like a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing, but we couldn’t see where the piece belonged.  The Christian church is a natural place to connect with other people, to find people who can support each other when our lives are tricky, to celebrate each other when our lives are joyous. In our congregation, we welcome the births of babies and the presence of young people with baptisms, we mark maturing young adults as we celebrate their Confirmations, party at each other’s weddings, and we mourn alongside each other at funerals. God has created the church to be “God’s family” and to be the loving and welcoming representatives of God to each other.  We aren’t perfect as we do this – sometimes we have to love each other even when we don’t perfectly like each other – but, in this congregation, we practice our faith hands-on, warts and all. And, we are blessed through our relationships with each other and blessed by our relationship with God.

            The 23rd Psalm, the Good Shepherd Psalm, reminds us that God loves us no matter what. In our relationship with God, we find peace and nurture, support and care. And, we are the people of the 23rd Psalm – we are called to likewise work for peace and provide nurture, support and care to one another.

            May we do so with love in our hearts today and all days.