I am fairly certain that I have read the 23rd Psalm at every funeral I've done since coming to Dulce. I did so again yesterday, but this time I did it a bit differently. My usual practice has been to read that Psalm early in the service and then read and preach from a different scripture text later in the service. Yesterday I read the 46th Psalm early and then later read and preached from Psalm 23.
The reason I made the change was simple, and personal. The funeral yesterday was for a woman I had visited a number of times over our three years in Dulce. She had been quite ill for several months and the last time I visited her was last week, two days before she passed on to Glory. The 23rd Psalm was a favorite of hers. I would take my Bible along as I visited and ask if she would like to hear anything in particular, but it was a kind of dumb question, because as I got to know her I knew what words she wanted to hear. And so as a pastor it was easy to choose a text to preach at her funeral.
I would guess that this Psalm is a very familiar one to most Christians, and that it is also familiar to many non-Christians. It is written by David, who looks toward God as his shepherd. David knows that the Lord, as shepherd, provides for his needs. His shepherd shows him the way and protects him from all dangers, going so far as to show his goodness in the face of grave danger. And David is so confident in the Lord as shepherd that he closes the Psalm knowing that he will dwell with the Lord forever. I tried to bring out something about each of those points during the sermon yesterday but the part I tried to emphasize most strongly, and which I continue to ponder today, are four words in the third verse,
"He restores my soul."
Four words, but they say so much! Let's begin with "soul." According on an online dictionary the primary definition of soul is:
"The principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body, and commonly held to be separable in existence from the body; the spiritual part of humans as distinct from the physical part."
David's words imply that he knows some sort of disconnect between his soul, his "spiritual part," as it should be, and his soul as it is. He also implies that this disconnect is something that needs to be made right, and he can’t do it. The restoration of his soul is something that has to happen through the work of someone else. And in these four words David gives credit to the Lord for restoring his soul.
At the heart of the problem of the human soul, for David, for myself, and for everyone else who has ever lived, is sin. Our sin is the disconnect afflicting our souls, as they are, and our souls as they should be. Our souls are disconnected from God as a consequence of our sin. Deep down there is a longing for restoration. In Psalm 51 we see how David responds when he has been confronted with his sin problem. He could have denied his sin and continued to live in it but instead he confesses his sin to God and places his trust in God's mercy.
We live in a time in history when the way our sin problem has been dealt with has been clearly revealed in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The work of Jesus is the only way a human soul has ever been restored with God. It was the means of restoration for David, and it is the means of restoration for you and for me.
Yesterday it was a privilege to worship God and preach Psalm 23 as we remembered a woman who knew deep in her bones that Jesus was her Lord and Savior. The Lord had restored her soul, beyond a shadow of a doubt, as surely as He restored David's.
May you know the joy of a soul restored to the Lord through faith in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.