“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.” ~ Psalm 23:4
“Yea though I walk through the valley and the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” are the words that begin the fourth verse of Psalm 23 from the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. That entire psalm (scripture) is known as the Shepherd’s Psalm. Most people of faith are familiar with this portion of Scripture, because it is the most recited, remembered, and respected text in all of religious literature.
With all the deaths that have occurred around me over the last few weeks I have been sensitized by the presence of death’s shadow. The matriarch of Sweet Home Baptist Church where I served for over 26 years, Ollie Simmons, died recently. I preached the eulogy of one of the last documented original Tuskegee airmen, Eldridge Williams, last week. My good friend for 26 years, the former director for the Miami-Dade Police Department, Robert Parker, died last week. Every weekend for the last several week I’ve been wearing black.
So I investigated this shadow of death, and discovered that death is constant and seasonal. According to information found on legacy.com there are seasonal fluctuations in deaths that occur in the United States. That one’s chances of dying in the winter months are significantly greater than in the summer. However, from 1985 – 2008 deaths by non-natural causes (violence, accidents, suicides) occur more frequently during the summer months. Yes, it’s summertime and the living is not easy, but harder, it seems.
Death by violence and suicide is the most troubling because the majority of these kinds of deaths are preventable. The Shepherd is also lovingly lingering in every situation even where death seeks to overwhelm, overshadow, and overcome us. Though this strong yet subtle recommendation to trust the Shepherd seems a simplistic solution to life’s most challenging tests, we should be encouraged because in Him, through Him, and by Him there is life and “we fear no evil.”
In the sobering but comforting words of Psalm 23, we notice the power of the Shepherd, and the Promise of the Shepherd. We also blessed to have the provision and preeminent presence of the Shepherd. And even though we walk in the lingering “shadow of death” we have the protection and permanent preservation of the Shepherd, and because the Lord is our Shepherd, we have perpetual peace.
Consider portions of this prayer by Bishop Francis B. Shulte:
God of Goodness, You know that the violence in our community is out of control. It is taking our helpless and innocent ones, it is taking our children. And, we confess that beyond the violence in our streets, is the violence in our own hearts. We contribute to a culture of violence whenever we give in to hatred, fear, indifference, and our own self-satisfaction. It seems that we are growing numb to the suffering, the loss, the indignity done to our sisters and brothers and to our Earth.
But in our hearts, and in the heart of the community, help us to value life and beauty over instant satisfaction, and to value sharing over greed.
Empower us to acknowledge and affirm our children, our spouses, our neighbors and seek respectful solutions to our conflicts. Create through us a world where it will be easier to be good.
Your spirit, given to us is not timid. Therefore, each of us can do something, person by person, family by family, community by community, to realize that we are one – one body, one people, one earth. By Your design, we thrive or we perish together.
Holy One, give us the grace of hope. Give us the dedication to goodness and truth as we seek to restore our community to wholeness and life. Enable us in this way, to take back our city from the violence and crippling fear we find in our midst. Trusting that your desire for us is peace, not disaster, we pray this in Your name. Amen
Dr. Walter T. Richardson is pastor-emeritus of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in South Miami-Dade County and chairman of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board. He may be contacted at wtrichardson@Bellsouth.net. Website: WTRMinistries.com