As the liturgist read Psalm 23 in worship this morning, the congregation spontaneously began to recite it along with her. It was a powerful moment, and it reminded me of how important it is to know at least a few things by heart. Quite a few of us know Psalm 23 by heart as well as the Lord’s Prayer. Many of us also know the story of Christ’s birth as recorded in Luke 2 (if for no other reason than we’ve watched Linus recite it every year since we were kids on the Charlie Brown Christmas Special.)
After that, I’m embarrassed to say I have only memorized the odd verse here or there. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) “I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence does my help come?” (Psalm 121:1) And of course the ever popular, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) There are others that pop into my head from time to time, so they’re in there somewhere but I’m not necessarily aware of them.
I remember my teachers in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School who valiantly tried to get us to memorize Bible verses. Some of those verses stuck, others did not. I also had a Sunday School teacher who taught us all 66 books of the Bible in a song that I remember to this day, of course I have to sing most of the song to find the book but I do know them in order.
All this to say that there were people in my life who wanted to share the importance of not only reading the Bible but also knowing it – knowing how to look verses up, knowing where the books were located, and remembering key verses. They were convinced that this knowledge would be a help and a comfort to us for the rest of our lives, that it would help us to stay on God’s path and to get back on that path when we inevitably strayed.
Psalm 23:4 tell us “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me.” The comfort in our Shepherd’s rod and staff is that those tools both keep us on the path, or guide and back on the path, and defend us from danger.
I’ve never actually seen God’s rod and staff, but I have been comforted, guided, and corrected by the word of God many times. I expect that to continue for the rest of my life.