Several things about this morning:
1. Bruce and I got back late last night after two days away at the divisional state wrestling championships on the other side of the state and I was so tired that I tried to say the phrase “charity quilting day” during announcements and it came out “chilting” and when I tried again I said “quarity”.
So I had that going for me.
2. I did something a little different this morning and it was awesome. I actually re-wrote Psalm 27 in a more modern language and at the end of my sermon I had people from the congregation read the psalm from the NRSV and I read my version. There are 14 verses in the psalm, but it is broken up in to 10 sections, basically, so each person had two parts to read. I had everyone open up their bibles so they could follow along; the readers stood up where they were standing and read one stanza, then I would read the translation I wrote. It was really cool! I wasn’t sure if people were going to like it, but I had a lot of people say how powerful not only to hear the psalm again but to hear it spoken in tandem with a more modern translation.
3. The choir had a (well-deserved!) week off so Jordan sang the Mumford & Sons song “I Will Wait” after my sermon and oh myyyyyyy he did a great job. He accompanied himself with an auto harp (honestly, something I had never heard of before) and everyone was just blown away. Honestly – we were planning on having him sing regardless, but the Holy Spirit must have done a little magic, but when you really listen to the words it was a perfect fit.
I’m having a tough time with the recording (libsyn is saying I’ve reached my monthly storage quota which I just don’t understand!) so I will try to get that posted asap. But in the meantime, here’s the text …
Rehoboth Congregational Church
February 21, 2016
A Medley Of Faith
I am starting to realize that the Book of Psalms gets the short end of my preaching stick.
So I have talked about this before, but it is always worth repeating for those of you who are not really sure how I figure out what bible verse I am going to preach on every week: I follow something called the Revised Common Lectionary for preaching. Every week I am given the option of preaching a passage from the Old Testament, the Book of Psalms, the letters of the New Testament or the Gospels. I pick one passage, sometimes two, and then we plan worship from there. I looked at my preaching blog last night and realized that I preached out of the Book of Psalms a grand total of two times in 2015; apparently I just was not feeling it.
But I think this is my issue (or at least my theory, anyway): Psalms are really pretty to read; but I never feel like they give me much to preach on. They kind of “preach” for themselves, really. Every time I preach on one of the psalms, I always get the feeling I should just stand up and say, “Okay, so that gives us a lot to think about, doesn’t it? Now let’s pray.”
Unfortunately for all of you, that is not what I am going to do today.
Because as I read this psalm, Psalm 27, earlier in the week, I was truly captivated; I was captivated by its langue, by its raw honesty and by the ways in which it showed the complexity of what it means to believe in and have faith in God, but at the same time really struggle and have doubts.
Okay, so let’s talk about what psalms are for a minute; the word “psalm” is derived from the Greek term that means “song”. The Book of Psalms is a collection of prayers and songs and poems that were composed throughout Israel’s history. This psalm, in particular, is really two poems woven together into one. There is poem of confidence – we see this when the psalmist says things like, “the Lord is my light and my salvation, the stronghold of my life” – and a poem of supplication (which means humbly asking or begging for something) – we hear this when the psalmist says things like, “Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!”
I was reading a commentary on this psalm this week and the commentator pointed out that the two poems in this psalm – the poem of confidence and the poem of supplication – are so deeply interwoven that it is actually hard to tell where one ends and where the other one begins.
This is slightly off topic, but did anyone see the Grammy’s on Monday? Carrie Underwood and Sam Hunt sang a duet that was actually a compilation of their two songs, “Take Your Time” and “Heartbeat.”
I know that I am a sucker for really good harmony and medleys in general, but this duet was unbelievable. It was so well composed that I literally could not tell when they stopped singing one song and started singing the other one; it just flowed so beautifully and poignantly from one song to the next.
And while I realize that it is probably against my better judgment to compare the bible to country music, I think this is what the psalm is doing here; you cannot tell where the confidence ends and the supplication begins. There is no clear line drawn between the psalmist’s hope and confidence in God and their fear and doubt.
I think the same is sometimes true in our own lives. I think very often we cannot see where our faith ends and our uncertainty begins or where our uncertainty ends and our faith begins. We sometimes move so quickly from one to the other that it can be hard to understand what it is that we really believe; and we feel guilty that we have doubts or that our faith is not stronger or that we have not figured out how to be a perfect, non-doubting Christian.
But this psalm reminds us that it is okay to have doubts; it is okay to want to believe in God and to build your life off of that foundation, but to still struggle while you try to do that. Faith is not about perfection, faith is about weaving through the ups and the downs and finding grace along that journey. Strongly believing and trusting God in one moment and then completely falling apart and doubting in the next moment does not make us less Christian, it just makes us more human.
And I think that is one of the reasons I was so captivated by this psalm. Because in a world that is so very often “all or nothing” – we need to be reminded that, when it comes to our faith, there is most certainly room for a beautiful medley to be sung.
Since this psalm does kind of preach itself, I thought that we would do something a little bit different this morning. Before I started writing my sermon this week I took the psalm and re-wrote it in language that is a little bit more modern and easy to understand. And so now – since psalms really were meant to be spoken or to be sung out loud – I would like to read out loud this psalm, both from the New Revised Standard Version of the bible and my own translation.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
God shines light into our lives and redeems us when we stumble;
What is there to be afraid of?
God gives us strength when we are weak;
What is there to be afraid of?
When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
they shall stumble and fall.
When people with bad intentions criticize or attack me
or when the things that I cannot control in this world try to tear me down—
it will not win.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
Even though my world may sometimes feel as though it is falling down around me,
I will not lose hope;
even though sometime I feel like I am fighting a losing battle,
I will be strong.
One thing I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in his temple.
I asked God for one thing,
one thing that I really wanted:
and that was to live in the presence of God
every single day,
to see God working tangibly in my life,
and to grow and to learn in my faith.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
Because I know that God will protect me
even in my darkest moments;
God will meet me in my brokenness;
God will pick up those pieces and make me whole again.
Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
Knowing this I can hold my head high
and be poised in the face of challenges,
and so I will live my life according to God’s will
and will sometimes make the hard, but right choices in confident and joyful hope that they will make me a better person;
I will give thanks to God for all that God has done for me.
Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’
Your face, LORD, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me.
Listen to me, O God, when I talk to you,
show me grace and help me to hear your answers to my prayers!
‘Look for God!’ my heart is telling me.
I am looking for you, O God.
Open my eyes so that I can see you.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will take me up.
Welcome me into your arms,
just as you have always done.
Do not give up on me, even in those moments when I give up on you,
O God, who even in death, never gave up on humanity!
Even when I feel alone and scared and abandoned,
I know that God will pick me up and carry me to safety.
Teach me your way, O LORD,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.
Teach me how to be the best version of my authentic self, O God,
and lead me along my journey through life
because sometimes that journey is hard.
Do not let me believe the people and the things that are trying to tear me down,
because there are stressors in the world that close in on me,
and show me things like evil, violence, hatred, sadness and darkness.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!
I believe that God is good
and I will see that good in the world as it is.
So wait for God to come into your life;
be strong, be courageous, and let your faith fill your heart.
Wait for God to come into your life!
Friends, may the medleys of your faith come together to be the most beautiful music that has ever been composed. May you always remember that doubt is not the opposite of faith, but a strengthening agent, a catalyst that will draw you closer to God when you need it most. May you travel this interwoven journey through life and faith with hope, courage, confidence and heart.
Know that no matter how strong your doubts are, God will never turn away from you. No matter how broken you feel, God will always take those pieces and make you whole again. And no matter how lost you may be, God’s grace can and will always be found in the most unexpected ways and places.
So let us take the pieces of our lives, our faith, our beliefs and our doubts and make something beautiful.
Thanks be to God!