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L. R. TarsitanoóSaint Andrew's Church, Savannah
Rogation SundayóMay 28, 2000
"The folds shall be full of sheep; the valleys also shall stand so thick with corn, that they shall laugh and sing" (Psalm 65:14). 

I looked up this verse from the Psalms in one of the so-called "modern translations" of the Bible, where "modern" appears to be a synonym for "awful writing" and "missing the point." There I found "Meadows are filled with sheep and goats; valleys overflow with grain and echo with joyful songs." 

The first translation, found in our Prayer Book Psalter, is older even than the King James Version, and it comes from the early days of the Reformation when translating the Bible into the common tongue was often punished by burning the translator at the stake. It may well be, as Dr. Johnson once observed, that the threat of death "focuses the mind," because this particular translator, Miles Coverdale, got to the heart of King Davidís poetry, while the "modern scholars" missed the point entirely. 

The modernists claim "Meadows are filled with sheep and goats," as if the words of the verse just "hang in the air," without any reference to the other Psalms or to the rest of Scripture. Coverdale, on the other hand, remembered that David had said in Psalm 23 "The LORD is my shepherd." He remembered that our Lord Jesus Christ, building on the Psalms, had called himself "the Good Shepherd" (John 10:11,14), and that he had promised that as the Good Shepherd he would separate the faithful from the unfaithful, the sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:32-33). 

Coverdale also remembered that David was writing poetry, a type of writing in which his words can mean more than one thing at a time. Coverdale understood, therefore, that David was writing of more than mere material prosperity and of meadows filled with sheep and goats. He was writing of the sheep-fold, and of the sheep set aside and kept by their shepherd. He was writing of Israel redeemed by her God, and of the faithful who receive spiritual as well as material blessings from the God who loves them. 

The modern translation has killed the sense of the words, as well as the poetry. Likewise, when the modern translators write "valleys overflow with grain and echo with joyful songs" they miss the subtlety of Davidís words and the simplicity of his method. David had spent more time out of doors and in the fields than he had in a library or faculty lounge. He had stood in a field just before the harvest when the wind, the Biblical image of the life-giving breath of God, swept through the valley and made the ripe grain murmur and dance. He had found the land itself celebrating the abundance of God, even before the farmers had come to claim that bounty, and so he wrote: "the valleys also shall stand so thick with corn, that they shall laugh and sing." 

The new translators donít translate King David very well because they donít understand him very well; but this is one of those cases where the "why" is more important than the "what." These are well educated, well meaning men, and it is easy enough to forgive them for lacking the poetic gifts that God gave to David. It is harder, however, to explain why they were not self-aware enough to recognize this fact. The answer lies in their very modernity. 

Words like "Modernism" and "modern" refer less to time or technology than they do to a particular philosophy. The "modern movement" began, after all, more than three hundred years ago in the late seventeenth century, when the modernist credo that man and his intellect are the measure of all things was first written down by candlelight. The modernist philosophy was a fantasy then, and it remains so today, even if it is being downloaded to a laser printer or broadcast over satellite television. 

Modern man has always dreamed of the power of man to control the complexities of life for himself, and the more that he has dreamed the more complex his dreams have become. Modern man has dreamed of taming and controlling the Word of God, but now there are so many "new translations" of Scripture out there that most people have no idea what the Bible means. Modern man has dreamed of governments and social programs that in their uncountable rules and regulations will guarantee human happiness, even though most human beings are less content today than they have ever been. Modern man has dreamed of controlling life itself, although in our hospitals and laboratories human life is often now treated as less valuable than the life of animals and plants. 

These complicated dreams have rendered modern man almost inarticulate, since it is hard to recount a dream, let alone to interpret it or to put it into action. King David, in contrast, was not a "modern man," and he did not live in the dream world of modern men. He lived in the real world where Godís faithful have always lived. He recognized that the world around him was not, and could never be, in his control. He turned, then, to the Creator of the world, and decided quite rationally that he had to let God be God, since he wasnít up to the job himself. 

The glory of God, David is telling us, is abroad in the world and governing the world, whether we human beings recognize it or not. We can fight against that glorious power or we can worship it, but we cannot do both. We can be the sheep of Godís flock and live in the sheep-fold of his divine care, or we can be lost. We can stand in a field in awe of Godís power and goodness, or we can think that the ordinary bounty of our lives is a matter of chance, good weather, and fertilizer. 

Coverdale could understand David precisely because he was an old-fashioned Christian and so thrilled with the message that God was delivering through David that he was willing to endanger his life to share it with others. He wanted to join David in that laughing field of grain and to worship the Almighty. He wanted his countrymen to understand that the simple pleasures and happiness that God offers to the faithful far outweigh the dubious promises of the very best of mankindís complicated dreams. God gifts are real, but manís dreams are only vapors. 

Consider, then, the Lordís Prayer, taught to the disciples in this morningís lesson from St. Luke. Besides the forgiveness of sins and the coming of Godís kingdom, our Lord teaches us to make a very simple request: "Give us this day our daily bread" (Luke 11:3). Or consider the prophecy we read from Ezekiel: "And the tree of the field shall yield her fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase, and they shall be safe in their land, and shall know that I am the LORD." Or consider St. James definition from todayís Epistle: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27) 

These are the true graces of God for which we should pray every day, and especially on this Rogation Sunday, when we ask God in particular for the necessities of life. And what do God and his Christ tell us that these necessities are? The grace and freedom to worship God. The forgiveness of our sins. Safety for our families and ourselves. Enough to eat, day by day. And the spiritual and physical means to show charity to those who are in need. 

This is a short and simple list because it is a realistic list. We may dream of money, careers, power, fame, position, and possessions. We may dream of ruling the world, or at least our own little part of it. But none of these things is necessary to a good life and a happy life under Godís protection and dominion, and if we build our lives around what is unnecessary, we build them upon a fantasy. The goodness of our lives is not determined by what we possess, but by who or what possesses us. If we are Godís possession, he will take care of the necessary details of life, and our eyes will be opened to the glory all around us, even as King David heard the corn laugh and sing. If, on the other hand, we are owned by our fantasies and possessions, there will be little laughter and song in our lives. The choice is very simple, and very clear, once we remember and understand the Word of God. 

Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Andrewís Church and Dr. Tarsitano.