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The Lord Is My Shepherd: A Celebration of Psalm 23 Vespers Service (Session 2)

The Lord Is My Shepherd: A Celebration of Psalm 23 was a vesper service at the 2012 Calvin Symposium on Worship, led by hymn-writer Rev. John Bell.

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A vesper service in four movements

Opening Responses

Come, let us worship and bow down.
Let us kneel before our maker.
Know that the Lord alone is God.
God made us, not we ourselves.
We are the people God tends.
We are the flock God shepherds. 

Psalm 23
Paraphrase © 1998 Music © 1991 WGRG, Iona Community

1  -  The Shepherding of God

The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack for nothing; he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me to water where I may rest; He revives my spirit; for his name’s sake he guides me in the right paths.

The image of shepherd has deep biblical pedigree. From Moses onwards those who ruled God’s people were regarded as shepherds in imitation of God. But when earthly shepherds forgot their vocation and abused their privilege, God had no hesitation in calling them to account.

Scripture – Exekiel 34:1-6, 11-16

Psalm 63 – O God, You Are My God Alone                         
Words & arrangement © 1993 WGRG, Iona Community

2  -  The Presence of God

Even were I to walk through a valley of deepest darkness I should fear no harm, for you are with me; your shepherd’s staff and crook give me comfort.

Trouble, illness, depression and helplessness are not experiences from which believers are exempt.
The Psalter rails against this presumptuous, fake piety. God does not make the world or its people perfect but good.
Faith, then, is not an insurance policy against danger, but an assurance of God’s presence whatever happens.

Scripture – Psalm 88
... As we listen to this psalm, let its words of unrelenting misery bring to mind those known to us whose life experience is reflected in this text.


O Lord,
hear our prayer.

Psalm 116 – I Love the Lord                                           
Paraphrase & music © 2006, 2011 WGRG, Iona Community  (GIA, G-8013)

3  - The Providence of God 

You spread a table for me in the presence of my enemies; you have richly anointed my head with oil and my cup brims over.

In Psalm 23, we have two images of God, the second of which is a more female image - that of the host or table setter. This accords well with two parallel parables of  Jesus which offer manly and womanly images of God.

Scripture – Luke 15:1-10

© 2010 WGRG, Iona Community

We sing the following Alleluia during a reading of Psalm 23 which links the text with the passion of our Lord in acknowledgement of Jesus saying that he had come to fulfill what was written of him ... ‘in the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms.’ (Luke 24.44)

4  -  The House of God

Goodness and love unfailing will follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Although Psalm 23 is singular in its voice, it ends in a community setting, for it is in the temple, the synagogue, the church, the mission hall that the truth of God is spoken and shared and where the solidarity of God’s people deepens discipleship.


For this place and every place where the doors are open to all
and worship is freely offered and prayer deeply made,
Thanks be to God.

For those who lead worship, preach the word, play instruments,
and for those who try to find new ways to touch the hearts of all,
Thanks be to God.

For words and music which have stirred, enthused or provoked us
and moved us on in faith, hope and love,
Thanks be to God.

Enable us, Great God, who care for the worship of your house
to work diligently, creatively and humbly
because your business is transformation
and we must enable that rather than thwart your purpose.
Save our churches from being theme parks of an age that is past;
rather let them be oases of welcome, hospitality, renewal and joy.
Ask of us what you will,
do with us what you want,
make of us those in whom you can delight,
to the glory of your name. Amen. 

Song The Splendor of the House of God                                                          
 © 2010 WGRG, Iona Community   (GIA, G-8010)


Go, in the peace of Christ,
to a quiet night, a holy rest,
blessed by the prayers which others make,
held in the open hand of heaven.

Program Notes

John L. Bell, liturgist
Debra J. Buursma and Roy Hopp, cantors
Norma de Waal Malefyt, keyboard
Several Readers

All songs under copyright by John Bell and the Iona Community from GIA Publications, exclusive North American agent.