Editor’s Note: With so many churches in our area having to suspend worship services during the coronavirus pandemic, we are asking local pastors to partner with us in bringing a daily message of hope and comfort to readers during this difficult time.
The best sunset in all East Tennessee can be seen from the overlook at Roan Mountain. The way to the road is typically open in the summer. One leaves the pavement in favor of a gravel loop road to a modest trailhead next to a wide spot in the road. From there it’s only a half mile walk up a gradual incline to a wooden platform that faces “somewhat west.” If you pay attention to the time the sun sets, the general inclinations of the weather, and factor in your transit time, you can see … well, just go. You’ll see what I mean.
Twelve years ago, the wife and our four small children accompanied me. The sunset was totally worth it that day, and in the gathering darkness I began leading the children back down the path to our car. I took the lead with my flashlight knowing there were rocks, roots and bumps in the trail. Behind me in the gloom I heard my daughter. She was reciting something.
I listened in: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23: 4)
To me, the trail was like an old friend. I had walked it so many times before and since that I had forgotten what impression it makes when the evening creeps in. Even though she was small she knew where to turn when things looked threatening, when she could not see the end of the trail, or more than a few feet into the trees.
In the ancient world, the shepherd carried two tools of his trade: A rod and a staff. The staff was used by the shepherd to correct the sheep; keep them on a safe path. A nudge from the staff let the sheep know not to stray into dangerous territory. The rod was often understood to be more like a cudgel. It was there to send any predatory animals with bright ideas to the twilight zone. David writes that both are a source of comfort.
When the gloom of life settles in, it’s important to take comfort in the guidance of God. Worldly protections fail; the things we take comfort in are largely just … things. But God’s living presence is powerful, comforting, and cannot be taken away.
Mike Beverly is pastor at Indian Springs Christian Church in Kingsport.