“The God Who Protects” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with our weekly worship video for the weekend of August 23, 2020. It focuses on the 2nd stanza of the 23rd Psalm: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me.”
“The God Who Protects”
Pentecost 12 (NL2) John B. Valentine
Psalm 23 – Week #2 August 23, 2020
“THE GOD WHO PROTECTS”
Welcome to Week #2 of our walk through the 23rd Psalm.
And welcome to what has had to be one of the hottest ... and now smokiest ... weeks I’ve ever experienced in all my years in Lamorinda!
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Speaking of weather ... have any of you been paying attention to the weather news this past week?
Beyond simply noticing that it’s been:
• way more thunder-stormy than normal ... and
• way hotter than normal .... and
• way muggier than normal ... and now
• way smokier than normal.
You see .... there’s been a whole lot of weather-related news this past week .... but the bit which caught my eye this week was that ... in Death Valley ... the thermometer hit a blistering 132°!
One hundred and thirty two! That’s HOT! That’s a whole one hundred degrees above freezing!
And I pay attention to that sort of thing .... because we used to live not too too far from Death Valley before we moved back to Lamorinda ...
And ... my experience is that ... when it gets that hot in Death Valley ... most everyone gets out.
Except for one group ... that is.
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You see ... living in the High Desert for a decade or so ... I had the chance to make acquaintance of a guy named Mike ... who test-drove cars for a living.
Not racing cars ... but regular cars ... Nissans and Kias and Hyundais and the like.
Prototypes of cars that would be coming out in a year or two as new production models ...
Prototypes wrapped in weird vinyl camouflage so as to keep their competitors from getting too good a look at what body features a given automaker had planned.
And Mike and his co-workers’ jobs were simply to put those prototypes through as much grueling driving as they could over the period of time that they had the vehicle.
So they’d drive:
• the twisty mountain roads of the San Gabriel Mountains ... and
• the traffic-jammed freeways of the LA Basin ... and
• the wide-open freeways between LA and Vegas ... and
• the icy cold roads of the eastern Sierras ... and everything in between.
But Mike and his buddies seemed to get a bit excited when they’d hear that they were going to get to take their vehicles for a tour of Death Valley when the temperature got above 120° ...
Pushing those engines and transmissions and other components to the limits ... just to see if their cars could handle the heat!
In fact ... there was this one day when this caravan of camouflaged cars pulled into our church parking lot ... and Mike got out of his car ... grinning from ear to ear ... because he was headed out for a twelve-hour tour of Death Valley and it was supposed to be the hottest day of the year ... and ... in his mind at least ... it was going to be great fun!
Now I’m not encouraging you to hop into your vehicles and take a road trip to Death Valley any time soon ...
But there’s a reason why the automakers pay people like Mike to do crazy things like that!
They’re trying to overtax those prototypes so as to determine potential problems ... and thus ensure that ... by the time they go into production ... the consumers who end up buying them WON’T have any problems.
They test drive them in the worst of situations ... so that when WE drive them in normal situations ... we won’t have any trouble.
Which means ... for instance ... that Bethany and I could take comfort in knowing that ... when it’s hot out like it has been this past week .....
That our daughter Amy wouldn’t have car trouble driving back to SoCal with the grandsons ... because it had already been tested under far more grueling conditions!
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Anyhow ... my mind always flits toward thoughts of Death Valley when I hear the 23rd Psalm.
You see ... last week ... we looked at the opening words of that psalm ...
How God is our shepherd and we lack nothing and God provides everything we need for life in this world ... food and clothing .... homes and property ... and even guidance on the way
We found ... last week ... in the opening words of Psalm 23 the promise that God is the One who Provides.
But this week ... we’re focusing our attention on the second stanza of that song.
The part that reads:
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me.
For that “darkest valley” thing ... it gets translated a whole bunch of different ways:
• "The Valley of the Shadow of Death" was the way one translation from a previous generation put it ...
• "The Valley of Death" in another ...
• "Death's Valley" another translation puts it ...
• “The darkest of places” in still another.
But ... at the very least ... all the translators agree that it’s a place of darkness and death ... a place that you REALLY don’t want to be.
In fact ... I once had the privilege of touring the Holy Land ... and about half way between Jerusalem and Jericho the tour bus pulled over to the side of the road ...
And we all got out of the bus and were invited to an overlook that peered down into a steep-walled canyon ...
And the tour guide explained that THAT was “the Valley of the Shadow of Death” ... that THAT was THE place that you really don’t want to be.
And we all were a little-bit dumbstruck by his contention that you really really really didn’t want to be at the bottom this beautiful narrow canyon that had this amazing ancient monastery hewn into its walls.
Until the tour guide explained that IF it rains in the vicinity of Jerusalem ... this idyllic canyon is prone to being washed out by a flash flood ... that this place of beauty quickly becomes a place of death.
Now ... honestly ... I don’t know if that tour guide was right ... if in fact this “Valley of the Shadow of Death” was and is a real place ...
But I DO know that the psalmist is pretty clear that it is a place where we don’t want to be.
And that ... if last week we were invited to confess that God is the God who PROVIDES .... then this week we’re invited to confess that God is the God who PROTECTS.
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Speaking of protection ... that IS the shepherd’s “Job #1" ... isn’t it???
To keep the sheep safe ... to keep the sheep alive ... no matter what!
No matter HOW difficult ... HOW troubled .... HOW scary the situation might seem at the moment ... to keep the sheep safe.
Which is why this line ”Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me” rings so true in our ears!
So I thought ... at the beginning of the week ... that what’s I’d do would be to try to compile a list of all the different things that we might rightly be afraid in this world in which we live.
But it didn’t take me long to realize that THAT wasn’t going to happen because there is just SO MUCH that we might justifiably be afraid of these days.
Now I don’t know if YOU watched much of the infomercial that passed for a political convention earlier this week ...
But those folks made hay of a whole lot of things that they thought we should rightly be fearful of in this world in which we live.
Then again ... next week there’s going to be another infomercial that is going to pass for a political convention ...
And I can’t but suspect that those folks will make hay of a whole different set of things that they rightly think we should be fearful of in this world in which we live.
But while we may disagree on just what it is or are that are the biggest threats facing our world right now ... I suspect that we can all agree that there’s PLENTY that we need protection from.
And thus that there is MUCH to be thankful FOR in our confession that the Lord is our Shepherd ...
• not that this, that or the other political party is our shepherd ...
• not that this, that or the other politician is our shepherd ...
• not that this, that or the other physician or health care system is our shepherd ...
• not that this, that or the other preacher or congregation or denomination is our shepherd for that matter.
God is our Shepherd ... God alone. And for THAT we are much to be thankful.
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But let’s go back to that valley ... Death Valley ... for a moment ....
For the psalmist says that the reason for not being overcome by fear while in that valley is because God the Shepherd is with him.
Now ... in part ... the psalmist seems to take comfort that the Shepherd has the right equipment to protect him ... the rod and the staff and all.
But I suspect that the greater portion of that comfort is found not in the tools themselves ... but in the shepherd’s ability to USE those tools in the sheep’s behalf.
Then again ... I suspect that an even greater portion of that comfort is found in the awareness that this Shepherd had been through this valley before ... for only a foolhardy shepherd would take his flock into a dark valley he'd never been in before.
We might even rightly say that the Shepherd is the one who has already taken a "test drive" in that valley ...
That the Shepherd has endured the worst of that valley himself and knows that he can handle it ...
That there comes great comfort in the knowledge that our Shepherd has ‘been there and done that’ ...
For even though we walk through the darkest valleys, we need not fear any evil; for the Shepherd is with us, ... protecting us every step of the way.