Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Waiting on the Lord in a Culture of Impatience

Psalm 40:1-10
45 seconds in the scheme of things doesn’t seem like a very long time, does it?  Why, in fact, that is the average length of time that you will spend sitting at a red stop light.  Someone who lives to be 75 years of age has close to 3 billion seconds in their lifetime to fill up, so what’s a mere 45 seconds at a stop light?

But waiting those 45 seconds seems like a lifetime!  Especially if you are in labor and about to give birth, or late for an engagement, a job interview, or have an emergency to attend to.  

Who among us likes to wait?  We are such impatient people that to have to wait for something or somebody is a killer!  Right?  We want it now, we want instantaneous results, we simply can’t wait.

And I guess it’s always been that way  because the Bible has a fair amount to say about waiting as we will see today and in particular with the Psalm we will hear in a second.  You will remember that we are pursuing a series from the Psalter and six different types of Psalms for our inspiration and understanding.  We’ve heard Psalms of praise, of lament, of trust and today’s Psalm is one of thanksgiving.  

We can assume that the Psalmist has just been been rescued from trouble or has come out of some dreadful situation.  It isn’t so much a prayer to God as it is a report on his prayers to God.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.

Happy are those who make
the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after false gods.
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you.

Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
they would be more than can be counted.
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.

Then I said, “Here I am;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.”
I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.

I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.
Do not, O Lord, withhold
your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
keep me safe forever.

 “I waited patiently for the Lord”.  There are those two words again, wait and patient.  They seem to go hand in hand like peaches and cream.  The Bible actually has a lot to say about patience, Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage”, and in Lamentations 3:25, “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.” Patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit that Paul talks about for how we should live.  And probably the most familiar and well known from the prophet Isaiah, “…but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary…”.

All of these verses show us that there is goodness and reasoning in the wait.  That God is not absent or hearing impaired, or impervious to our pain.  Waiting on the Lord is to allow our faith to engage our lives, to strengthen our trust when we are at the lowest point and rest in the knowledge that we are cared for and loved. 

The invitation in Psalm 40 is to make space and simply wait.  But it is not an idle standing still like you do at a stop light, it’s not designed to make you stop doing things and stare at the sky empty minded.  The invitation here is to invest everything we do in the promise that God is renewing everything while you wait.  That God is preparing the ‘next’ for us, the next step, the next call, the next important decision that you will need to make.  It is also to help us frame our living for now and to see God in all things both the good and the bad.
Because God is actively engaged in our wait.  The Psalmist confidently testifies and shares three actions of God while he patiently waited. 

…he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit…
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.

God inclined his ear and heard the Psalmist cry.  God heard his cry implies that God is listening.  Not only is God still speaking, in the words of the UCC slogan but God listens just as well.  In fact God is always listening to our cries, no sound from our lips or from our heart goes unheard. 

God drew the Psalmist up from the pit, the pit of despair, the ditch of anger, the trench of loneliness, the well of grief, whatever it was that the Psalmist was feeling and however low he had fallen God was guiding him and acting on his behalf.  God brought him up and out, God was not dormant but was keeping a watchful eye and helped to release him from the pit when it was time.

And God puts a new song in the Psalmists mouth, which is a song of praise.  God renews, whatever the Psalmist went through he was renewed, refreshed and transformed from the experience.  A new song, bright notes with different words are given so that his life may begin again afresh with gratitude, hope and love.

There is value in the waiting.  Even sitting for 45 seconds can be rejuvenating if you turn that time into intentional breaths or a prayer of thanksgiving to pass the time.  “Be patient towards all that is unresolved in your heart”, Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us. “Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.” I’ve used that quote before and I’ll probably use it again.  Living the questions is to use the fallow time trusting that rejuvenation will come.

And be patient, God is at work writing the next verse of your life song, or perhaps orchestrating the next movement of your symphony.  God’s best work on me seems to be performed when I am living in the unknown. 

A couple of years ago I was in between interims. I went for six months without another prospect or call in sight. Life as an interim minister takes a whole lot of trust and faith that there will be another congregation who will be in need of your ministry. I was getting impatient and wondering even if God was really hearing my cry.  As an interim and as a single person there is NO ONE to fall back on, the rent was due and my insurance premiums were piling up. 

But God did hear my cry.  A trusted friend and colleague gently talked me down from the rafters and reassured me that God just wasn’t quite finished preparing the next church for me to minister in.  To be patient, to be still was to know that God was listening and was acting on my behalf and in that time of waiting I was being renewed.  My friend was right.  Another call finally came and we enjoyed a fruitful ministry together and I was so grateful to God for that time.

In our waiting, and waiting patiently there is blessing.  There is much to be grateful for in anticipation of what will come next.

So I challenge and encourage you now, the next time life thrusts a ‘big wait’ upon you to trust that God is actively at work on your behalf seeking only good for you.  Believe that this sacred time will produce for you a life renewing release that will catapult you into a future of certainty.

And then, when the wait is finished and the ‘miry pit’ is no more, sing your own Psalm of praise and thanksgiving to our ever listening God


Monday, June 8, 2015

The Pony and the Racehorse

Psalm 113
Baccalaureate Sunday

Well, we have a Triple Crown Winner!!  First time in 37 years that we have a horse that has finished all three races.  The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes.    And American Pharaoh is the Triple Crown Winner – Woo Hoo !!!!  Congratulations to all.

I’m not a horse person since I fell off of a horse back in ’66 or ’67, I can certainly appreciate a good run and a great race.  I was excited to watch the Belmont last night and to watch the merry making in the win.  But what captured my heart was after American Pharaoh triumphed and he was taking the obligatory laps.  There was another horse that American Pharaoh stayed very close to.  His head was nuzzled right close to this other horse.  It was such a tender and vulnerable site for a Triple Crown winner it seemed.

I didn’t understand this relationship and so I quickly texted my rabbi (other than Jesus) - my real time rabbi who is also an equestrian when not at the synagogue.  She agreed but she also had an explanation for me.  She said, “race horses like American Pharoah are untrained babies, all they know how to do is run, but not to be steered. So these "ponies" as they are called, (the horse who accompanied American Pharaoh, who is actually a horse) is used to guide him around the property.  The “Pony Rider” is holding the race horses head close to keep him focused on the pony and under control. Ponying is a very dangerous job - the racehorse could do a lot of damage to the Pony/Rider with his immaturity and spunk.

Hmmm. Well that got me to thinking about relationship between the novice and the old hand because who could not benefit from that type of relationship?

We began a sermon series last week entitled, “With a Psalm in Your Heart”, and we will continue this for the next five weeks.  If ever there were a ‘book’ to tuck inside your heart it would be the Psalter, or the book of Psalms because there is a Psalm applicable for every occasion of your life.  They are illustrative poetry on what your life can be when rooted in a deep and abiding relationship with God.  And they are so readily available to you by yes, opening your Bible, or your Kindle, or your iPad or phone. 

Last week’s Psalm for reflection was Psalm 1.  The Psalmist shows us two roads that we can take in life - the good and decent road or the road to corruption and perdition.  I hope that you chose the higher ground to walk on this past week.  This week we will engage Psalm 113 which is known as a Psalm of praise or a ‘hallel’ Psalm (as in hallelujah) which is one of six praise Psalms sung during the three Jewish pilgrim festivals: Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot.  Jesus probably recited this Psalm during his Passover’s in Jerusalem with his parents or his disciples.

Let us now take a moment to read this Psalm together as found in your bulletin:

Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord;
praise the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens.

Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust,
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.

Praise the Lord!

What the Psalmist is declaring is that as big as the universe is, God is even bigger!  Stephen Hawking would have had a run for his money with the Psalmist and somehow, I think they both might have found a place of understanding – a believer and an atheist – the universe is vast and there are mysteries yet to be discovered in this still revealing world.    

But the Psalmist is different, he asks, “Who is like God?”  Of course no one is like God!

God can life up the needy and give barren women a home.  While this is a packed and  sensitive statement to us in the here and now, the Psalmist is imagining a God who is really counter-cultural.  Back then the poor were blamed for their poverty and condition and a women’s sole function in life was to provide male offspring, as so if she didn’t she was deemed inadequate for the good of the community. 

But God is saying NO to this, these are not my ways and we say no to this too! For a society that views status through a different lens than us, this is pretty big news for the Psalmist to declare.    

In this Psalm God goes from being impressive, to super impressive, to super-duper-super impressive!

In essence God is infinite in all ways, God has no bounds, and is without limits, God is concerned for all people – the poor, the oppressed, the needy, the rich, the affluent.  No one is like God and all people are cared about and loved, and given that extra measure of grace when needed.  All people are guided by God, like American Pharaoh and his ‘pony’, because we need it, we need God’s guidance, we need to be nuzzled closely to the one who will walk with us around the track in our triumphs and in our defeats.  Because there will be defeats.

So what does this have to do with us on the Baccalaureate Sunday when there is nothing but the future ahead?  Well sometimes the future ahead can be scarry.  You graduate, marking a milestone and then think what’s next?  While you may know what is next tactically, like where you are going to school but do you really know what is next?  Do we know what the path, that we have forged for ourselves, really entail? Nahhhh, we don’t.

And so we can keep the image of the pony and the racehorse in mind. We can keep the God of love as an image and a reality in our hearts to guide us and lead us to our ends beyond our wildest imaginations.


Two Roads

May 31
Psalm 1

Today we are starting a sermon series entitled, “With a Psalm in Your Heart”.  Over the next few weeks we will have a look at six of the 150 Psalms that are a part of what we call the Psalter.  Why it is fitting for Confirmation Day is that since 2002 I have always included a class session on the Psalms.  One because they are my favorite; and two because there is a Psalm for every human sentiment imaginable.  They can help you get through those peaks and valleys of your life because surely you will encounter every human emotion available to you in your lifetime.  It’s inevitable.

If you need a Psalm to express your anger?  Psalm 109 would be helpful.  How about a Psalm for revenge?  Psalm 137 or 35 can help you with that.  Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me.” Who knew such words are found in the Bible?  But then there are the Psalms, which are gentler and are for comfort, like the beloved 23rd Psalm, or a Psalm of thanksgiving like Psalm 40 or lament, Psalm 69.  There is no emotion that the Psalmist has not had too and then sings about to God.  He is not afraid to show God his feelings of joy and gratitude and also get really angry with God.  The Psalms provide for us a very real and rich look at how our relationship with God can be.

Another reason that I like having a session on the Psalms is that I ask each confirmand to try their hand at writing a Psalm or two.  In the past I’ve received humorous Psalms like:

O Lord, save us from this assignment.  Please do not make it as lame as its coming out. I profess of your trust in me, O Lord save me from school.   OR

O Lordy, Lordy, Lordy. Thanks be to you for rounding up my 79.9 in math.  My parents will not be angered.  My friends shall see the almightily power of GOD!  They shall join me in the praising of your name!  O Lordy, Lordy, Lordy. Amen. Amen. Amen.    OR

O Lord, early mornings plague me.  The school bus beckons.  Deliver me from relentless fatigue.  You alone, O Lord, can deliver me from the evil.  I trust in you and praise your name until college when I’ll probably talk to you again.

Then there are some serious ones like:

O Lord, I come to you in search of reassurance, I have heard that High School is the most difficult time in a child’s life.  Please guide me through the halls and help me keep track of my true self, so that I am not lost with all of these new people and activities.  I will praise you, God, and give you my thanks forever.


O Lord, I have become very lost.  Please help me find the start for I shall love you forever.  To show this I’ll give you my heart.

This year’s class did not disappoint either; they were equally as moving and thoughtful.

The Psalm for today’s reflection is the very first Psalm in the Psalter.  It’s a song for the journey, a preface, a beginning for one’s life.  And it talks of two paths, or two roads that you can take. 

The first road, of course is the way of the good, the decent, the ethical; happy are those who follow it, they are like trees planted by a stream whose leaves prosper and bear fruit.  So if you take the good road your life, and those around you, will be blessed beyond measure.  All will be good.  PS – this is the road you want to be on. PPSS: Confirmand’s this is the road your parents and I want you to be on.

The second road for consideration is the path for the wicked or evildoers and just what does that mean?  Those are the people maybe that lie, cheat, steal for starters or just flat out hurt themselves and others, their relationship with God is hurt and separated, redeemable at all times, of course, but really tarnished.  So we all know what happens if you choose that road.  Not. Good. Stuff. 

So in essence, the choice is up to you.  Which road will you take because surely at some point in time you will need to decide which road it is that you need and want to traverse.  One of the NY Yankee’s all time great catchers and coaches, Yogi Berra, (who by the way was born in St. Louis) once said, “When you come to a fork in the road; take it”.  

Trust me, you will come to a proverbial fork in the road in your life.  In fact, there will be many forks in the road and you’ll have decisions to make about which road you want to take.  The road that is happy and pleasing to God or the one that is not.

Confirmands, all of this, the reading, the writing, the activity, the retreat, the classes leading up to today, was a nine month stretch on the road of your life to this moment in time.  And you have chosen wisely.  By being confirmed today you have chosen to devote yourself to a growing knowledge of God and you are saying that you will try to live into God’s ways that will bring peace and blessing to you and to others.   That is the best road to take, congratulations! 

But this is only today and does this mean that you will always take the ‘good’ road that the Psalmist talks about?  No!  You won’t!  None of us will always be on the good road because sometimes we make some pretty bad choices and it’s really hard.  But that is why today is so very important. 

If you remember nothing else from your Confirmation year, remember this.  That God loves you no matter where find yourself, no matter what you might do in life, and that God loves you for who you are in body, mind, and spirit.  And also remember that this congregation loves you and will always welcome you into their fellowship.

So be at peace now, hold today in your heart, and know that you are right where you are supposed to be.