“The God Who Prepares” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on the weekend of August 30, 2020 as part of a sermon series on Psalm 23. The particular focus text was Psalm 23:5 — “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
“The God Who Prepares”
Pentecost 13 (NL2) John B. Valentine
Psalm 23 – Week #3 August 30, 2020
“THE GOD WHO PREPARES”
Welcome back to what is now the third week of our four-week walk through the 23rd Psalm.
I trust that ... by now ... you’re getting some sense of the “why” this psalm ... this ancient poem and hymn ... has been SO beloved by the People of God for oh so many years.
For it offers us some concrete images of:
• who God is to us ... and
• what God offers to us ... and
• why it is that God ought be important to us ...
For the Lord our God IS our Good Shepherd.
But ... all that being said ... today is our day to look at the portion of song that is probably the most head-scratching part of it.
For whereas the first stanza was about how the Lord is our providing shepherd and thus we shall not want ... who it is that God leads us to green pastures and still waters and right paths ....
And whereas the second stanza was all about how the Lord is our protecting shepherd... who guides us through life’s perilous places ... even places like the Valley of the Shadow of Death ...
Today’s stanza is a whole different can of worms!
For it really doesn’t have to do with a shepherd and the shepherd’s sheep at all!
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
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What do we make of those words? How do they sound in YOUR ear?
After all ...
• sheep don’t sit at tables .... and
• sheep don’t drink from cups ... and
• I’m not sure why any sheep would want olive oil slathered over the top of their head!
And so I think the first thing we need to recognize here is that the imagery in this song ... this psalm ... has changed.
But what has it changed to???
• who does sit at tables ... and
• who does drink from cups ... and
• who does dab really expensive oils on their head???
Think “PARTY” .... people! “Party people.”
I know ... it may have been a while since you actually got to GO to a party ...
I mean ... to get dressed up and all to go to a serious party ...
But I trust that somewhere in your pre-COVID memory banks you can think of a time when you got seriously dressed up to go to some soiree’.
THAT’S the image that the Psalmist is playing with in these verses ....
THAT’S the image that you need rattling around in your head here ...
THAT’S the image that we’re called to consider here today ...
YOU ..... going off to a party.
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Now ... at least as I read it ... there are three key things that the Psalmist wants to get us to see here.
The first of them has to do with WHEN the party is.
The answer ... “Whenever and wherever you’d like!”
Seriously ... our party-planning God is ready and willing to prepare a feast for us whenever and wherever.
You see ... that line about “in the presence of my enemies” doesn’t declare that this is a spite-feast and a spite-fest ...
A snarky stick-out-you-tongue sort of “I got mine” in the face with those who would do you wrong.
But it DOES declare that it is a ‘despite-feast’ and a ‘despite-fest ...
• despite the worst that the world can throw at us ...
• despite our fears and our frustrations ...
• despite our broken hearts and broken dreams and broken relationships ...
• despite COVID and cancer ...
• despite what Luther once labeled “ sin, death and the power of the devil” ...
• despite anything at all ...
That any day and every day ... we can feast with God!
For the psalmist’s amazing declaration that “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” is intended as an affirmation our God can set a feast for us in the most unlikely of places.
Now the second key thing that the psalmist wants us to see has to do with the phrase “You anoint my head with oil.”
And in order to wrap you head around that we need to think about the context in which it is written ... and what passes for standards of beauty the world over.
You see ... for the most part ... social historians have revealed that most any given society’s “standard of beauty” is directly related to what young wealthy people look like!
• If food-security is an issue ... societies tend to ideal ‘Rubenesque’ bodies.
• If outdoor labor puts tans on the peasants ... then pale skin tends to be the rage.
• But if healthiness is prized ... then face-whitening cream sales tend to plummet.
So imagine you’re a peasant-shepherd ... and you’ve been out tending to the sheep all day in the heat and the dust of the Palestinian countryside.
• Your skin is hot ...
• Your throat is parched ...
• Your face is caked with dust ...
• Your hair is wind-blown ...
• And your skin tone is probably ashy ....... and dry ....... and ‘lifeless’.
If that’s the case ... then the ‘standard of beauty’ rule says that getting ready for a party would mean doing whatever you can so that your skin doesn’t look ashy and dry and lifeless.
In other words ... your ‘go-to’ makeup compound would probably be olive oil ... for dabbing on all your dry spots ... and making sure that your hair is set in place. (Think “Hawaiian Tropic” and “Brylcreem” all rolled into one.)
But the point of all this is that our party-planning God doesn’t just get the feast ready ... no ..... God gets YOU ready too!
That’s why the parables of Jesus and the Book of the Revelation are forever recounting stories of robes and parties and getting your party-clothes on ... because the grace of Jesus ... “the blood of the Lamb” ... “putting on Christ” ... is the only thing you need to be well-dressed for the feast that is being prepared.
And finally ... that “My cup overflows” line ...
I trust that KidTalk made it clear to you that this feast which our party-planning God prepares is one that overflows in abundance ...
To the extent that it’s just messy ... because there’s no way we can accommodate the richness and abundance and goodness of it all!
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But what’s the point of all this?
Sure ... it begins with the simple acknowledgment that God is the consummate host ....
Who sets an extravagant feast before those who honestly don’t deserve it ...
And that we are on the guest list for that party ... not because of anything we’ve done ... but because of what God has done for us.
But isn’t it also ... an invitation ... to “go and do likewise” .... and be “little Christs to our neighbors”???
+ + + ++
I remember once upon a time going to a national youth convention and hearing keynote speaker Tony Campolo tell a story about this one time he’d traveled to Hawaii.
In seems ... suffering from an acute case of sleeplessness brought on by jet lag ... Campolo ... who harkened from Philadelphia at the time ... had wandered into a Honolulu doughnut shop at three o’clock in the morning.
And ... as he devoured his meal of doughnuts and decaf ... a number of other customers began to enter the place and gather around the counter ... each of them dressed in the tragicomic garb of a working prostitute.
Which got him to wondering ... "What exactly is a Christian sociologist and sometimes Baptist preacher doing in a doughnut shop at three in the morning surrounded by half the hookers in Honolulu?"
But as he half-listened to their conversations ... he heard one of those women remark that tomorrow was her birthday ... her thirty-ninth birthday.
And another of the women retorted, "What do you expect me to do ... throw you a party?”
"No" ... the woman replied ... "It's just that tomorrow is going to be my thirty-ninth birthday. And I've never had a birthday party. And I was thinking about that."
Now ... after the women had left the doughnut shop ... Campolo approached the man behind the counter and asked him about the women.
• Did they come in often? Yes ... every night.
• Did the doughnut man know them by name? Yes ... every one of them.
• Was that one gal serious about her birthday and about being thirty-nine? Yes, I assume she was.
• Could we throw a birthday party for her ... here ... tomorrow night? Gee ... I guess so ... sure!
And in the brief moments that followed ... Campolo and the doughnut man planned a party for that sorrowful gal ... complete with cake and party hats.
Then doughnut man made sure that the word got on the street.
And at three o'clock the next morning ... thirty-five prostitutes, one doughnut man, and one erstwhile Baptist preacher threw a full-blown birthday party for an unsuspecting hooker.
And as the party came to a close ... the doughnut man asked Campolo why he had ever thought to throw a party for this woman ... to which Campolo responded, "Because I believe in the kind of God who throws birthday parties for hookers at three o'clock on a Honolulu morning!"
And as we reflected back on that story ... we came to realize that that's just exactly the way God is.
Our God is in the business of bringing unexpectedly good news to the unaccepted and the unacceptable and even the unaccepting people of this world ... not because they're so good ... but because God is so good.
Our God is in the business of declaring freedom to the captives and love to the unlovable.
Our God is the kind of God who meets us at the lowest places in our lives and lifts us up ... and prepares a feast for us ... and prepares us for the feast.
For our God is the kind of God that throws parties for prostitutes at three o'clock on a Honolulu morning.