11 December 2019, Madrid, Spain
Bp. Elmer's Reflection on Psalm 23; transcribed by Deacon Andrew `Gossage
“Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)
My Shepherd is my Source of comfort. As a sheep in God’s flock, I am comforted because I know that my Shepherd knows how to take care of me. Not only does He love and care for me, but He is also equipped with a rod and a staff.
When I was growing up we played with a tirador [a small sling]. David had a different kind of sling. A shepherd uses equipment to take care of his sheep. Since hyenas and wolves try to attack the sheep, he must be able to defend them. The sheep feel they have comfort, because the shepherd has equipment and knows how to use it. He must practice, so that if a wolf comes he is ready to use the rod in the proper way. He chooses a rod that is a comfortable weight and height.
When God called Moses as a shepherd in Midian, he asked whether Pharaoh and the children of Israel would listen. God told him to use his staff, and when he threw it down it became a snake. The rod is an extension of the shepherd’s arm – if he cannot reach something, he can use the rod.
It is also a symbol of the strength of his power. In the past, Anglican church wardens pointed at the readers with a rod to direct them where to go and when to read – it was a sign of authority. Moses’ staff became a snake through the power and authority of his words: the rod symbolises the authority of God’s Word. Moses’ staff confirmed to Pharaoh and the children of Israel that he was speaking on behalf of God.
When a priest faces the people, he speaks on behalf of God. John the Baptist was a messenger from God: he did not speak what he thought, but what God said. When someone stands in the pulpit, it is not the person but God speaking, especially if they speak about God’s Word. The age of the person doesn’t matter, but if they are appointed by God we must listen, because of the authority of His Word.
Nowadays there is an information explosion. Patients tell doctors what to do, based on what they have seen on YouTube. However the doctor has studied for many years, and you are a unique person and need to be treated accordingly. Not everything on the internet is good for you, even if it sounds good. Not everything we hear is what God is saying. We hear what He is saying when we come to church and worship. We may learn from others, but our spiritual leaders have the responsibility to make sure that what we hear is what God is saying.
There are many scams, such as emails about inheriting a large sum of money from a stranger, or winning a lottery without buying a ticket – but not all that glitters is gold. Not every voice we hear, especially in our heads, is what God is saying. We need to pray, and sometimes go to a spiritual authority and ask what they think. Let us test our ideas.