Sermons

Steadfast Love ()

Joan MacPherson, August 13, 2017
Part of the Sunday series, preached at a Sunday Morning service

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Steadfast Love
Psalm 100
Sometimes I rush. More times then I would like to admit. Being in a hurry and rushing, for me, flies in the face of all I yearn to be spiritually. When I am in a hurry and rushing it is usually because I have decided that there are these things that need attention and I must get to all of them and I likely have not been realistic about how long it takes to do any of them and I have denied the ongoing reality and truth that the day contains 24 hours. I seem to think that I can have 28 or 30 hours. In these rushing times I am far from opening myself to being alive and present in this world God created and much more in the world that I am believing I have created and am in charge of and for which I have complete and sole responsibility.
Two months ago, rushing and fragile, I took a look at the selected reading for June 18. The narrative lectionary which we follow had designated Psalm 100 for that day. I opened my Bible and read “Make a joyful noise the the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness” and I closed my Bible and thought ‘ what will use for readings this week? I can’t preach on that. This was going to be my first Sunday in the pulpit since my dad had died on June 4th. That Sunday would be Father’s Day. I could not imagine how I could get my heart and words wrapped around the idea of making a joyful noise and worshipping with gladness. I wasn’t feeling joyful or glad. Ditch the assigned readings was the tack I took. I jumped ahead to the readings/series for August 13 and we spent 4 weeks exploring the sacraments.
But now August 13th is here and we have already used the readings assigned for these next weeks. What to do? How about what we skipped over in June? A little less rushed and a bit less fragile I approached the Psalm. Opening my bible I was remembering that Bruce Turnquist asked for this to be read at the funeral for his 102 year old mother. I immediately envisioned each Sunday morning that Glady came in the sanctuary doing a fist pump in celebration that she had made it here. Remembering her easily encouraged me to make a joyful noise which are the words which begin the Psalm. Glady had made a joyful noise singing in the choir and the words she spoke were always kind. I read on and the hope and healing and awe of God enfolded me. “Know that the Lord is God. It is God that made us and we are God’s people and the sheep of God’s pasture. For God is good, God’s steadfast love endures forever, God’s faithfulness to all generations”…
Ah. There was more beyond make a joyful noise. Not that making a joyful noise isn’t great in and of itself. It would be wonderful to have more joyful noises in the world. But this Psalm isn’t a command to put on a happy face and soldier on. It is much more. More that requires that I/we read past the first line - which gets us to the root and hope and foundation and grounding and strength of our being. The declaration of whose we are - God’s. The declaration of the goodness of God. The statement is about the core of our identity. We are God’s. God made us and we are the sheep of God’s pasture. We are not junk. We are not without value. We are not not good enough. We do not need to let marketers or the media tell us what we are or what we lack. The reality that in all things, all conditions, all uncertainties God’s steadfast love is present. The reality that no matter where we stray or how we falter Gods’ faithfulness and love for us and welcome of us endures. We are created by God, loved and claimed by God. Always. Forever.
It has been the practice in both the Jewish and Cristian traditions to read the Psalms with regularity. Over and over again. Through out the year. Hearing. Praying. Speaking. Singing. Over and over again because it is so easy to forget and there is such power and hope in remembering. The Psalms cover the gamut of human conditions. They don’t sugar coat the world or ask us to ignore that things can be threatening. scary, unsettled. What they do is invite us to turn to the Holy Grace that is present and accessible with all the things that are on our hearts. They encourage us to open to the mystery and awe and let that seep into whatever the current circumstances are.
Sometimes it is to pay attention and name the wonders and gifts of life - life that has camp fires, blueberry muffins, sand castles, lovers, furry companions, graduations, deep conversation, coffee - lest we take them for granted and not notice the abundance and beauty. Give thanks! Make a joyful noise!
Other times it is a resource for when circumstances are not at all joyful. When the nation and world are unsettled. When grief is over whelming. When addiction is screaming in your head. When children are struggling. When a relationship is strained. When the bills are mounting up. When the walls are caving and the foundation shifting and the future threatening. Turn to God. Open to grace. Look for love. Cry out for help to the one who will not let you go. The things of the world are unsure and they don’t define us and we are not alone in the chaos. For God is good, God’s steadfast love endure forever and God’s faithfulness to all generations.
The Psalms were written by a range of poets in a variety of circumstances. “Half are associated with David, who started out as a boy working in the family business but caught the king’s attention as both soldier and musician. He is believed to have written songs through out his life both when he was on the run from a deranged king and when he was king himself, when he was a hero and when he was an adulterer. Other Psalms are attributed to David’s son Solomon and Jewish prisoners of war in Babylon. From the time of David on, when the people of God gathered for worship they sang psalms. The psalms trained them and invited them to talk to God when things were great and when things were dicey and when life was falling completely apart. Some were written when the nation was strong and some after the Temple was destroyed and there was little hope of a future.” (adapted from Eugene Peterson)
The thing about the Psalms is they offer us words and practice for turning to God with the full reality of our lives. They let us know that there is no part of our lives that we need to try to hide from God. They let us know that there is no struggle that we can’t open to God’s healing. They let us know that angry, doubting people called out to God and found a future.They let us know that challenges and issues can be shared with God and in so doing we rub up against the love, the hope, the future, the transformation, the possibility that God offers. Present pain is not forever. Current hurts are not the end. Our living, loving, renewing God is loose in the world creating a tomorrow in the midst of the reality of today, no matter what that is. The Psalms invite us, as we are, complete with our questions, concerns, distrust, to get in conversation with the infinite love and light of God.
Sisters and brothers, I believe turning to God is how we are healed, I believe this is how we live with hope and compassion in a violent, materialistic world. But this approach is a problem for those who rush and think we are in charge of it all (is that only me?). Talking with God is powerful but it takes some time. Listening for God is powerful but it takes some time. I am not always prepared to do that. There are times when I have already decided how it should all go and what needs to happen to make that happen. There are times when I open my Bible and read a line and it doesn’t suit me and I rush off. Like when I read the beginning of Psalm 100 and stopped after the first verse just after my Dad died. Had I gone on I would have dug into the depth of the Psalm, the promise and presence of God. Had I gone on I would have been reminded that steadfast love of God never ceases and it is with us for all generations. We are enfolded in possibility and a future - that is ours to accept and embrace. Likely that would have been healing for me then. I know it is now. My prayer is that it is healing and hope for each of you as well. Amen.

Joan MacPherson
Main Street Congregational UCC
August 13, 2017

Note: This manuscript was prepared for oral delivery only.
It contains excerpted material not properly cited.
Please do not redistribute without permission.

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