Tell God All About It

Psalm 130:1-8 (130:1) – June 27, 2021

            Have you ever felt alone? I don’t mean alone in your house or apartment, where you can putter about, checking on things as you wish, sequestered from the hustle and bustle of daily life. No – I mean really alone. Desperately lonely. Do you feel so sad and abandoned that it seems like no one could ever come alongside of you – or me – ever again?

            I sincerely hope you have rarely felt such raw loneliness deep in your heart. However, many people have. The unknown author of our psalm has. Psalm 130 is a heartbreaking cry of loneliness and desperation. “Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord!”

            Whatever type or category of deep emotion we may be feeling, chances are one of our psalm writers has already documented it. The Psalms talk about emotions and feelings all over the interior human map, and Psalm 130 certainly hits one of those deep, emotional troughs of loneliness and despair. Can you relate? Have you – or one of your family – ever felt this way?

            This past year and a half has been a roller-coaster ride all over the track of emotions. Frequently for many, many people across this country, a great percentage of these emotions have been negative. Loneliness, anxiety, fear, grief, despair. With the isolation the pandemic has brought into so many lives, these are sadly familiar emotions and feelings.           

            Isn’t it ironic that this particular psalm should be a Psalm of Ascent? A special psalm that pilgrims to the big Temple in Jerusalem would sing as they approached that holy place. At first glance, how odd that this special psalm would start off with a heartfelt cry of loneliness and pain! However, this Psalm of Ascent is a true, authentic cry from the depths of the heart!

            Yet, haven’t we experienced people often doing something inauthentic and false, today? I can remember friends and acquaintances from my church-going past who would slap on a “happy face” for show, on Sunday morning. Yet, they wouldn’t breathe a word about how sad or frightened or miserable they were truly feeling. I suspect you remember the same kind of people, who would wallpaper over their deep, internal emotions and simply put on a “happy face.” I sometimes think of that as people’s “church face.” Totally a false face.

            Instead, we could ask God, “Pay attention to my suffering, and for heaven’s sake, have mercy on me!” “Often such a demand issues from a sense of God’s absence in the depths. Pain, whether physical, psychological, spiritual, or some combination, can be so isolating that we feel abandoned to our misery, even by God.” [1]

Except, Psalm 130 is not just about loneliness and abandonment. As the psalm writer continues in this Psalm of Ascent, he moves to forgiveness. Our psalm writer today might say, “Gracious God, please. I’m so tired, and I really need You to listen to me. If You, Lord, kept track of all my sins, all of everyone’s sins – Lord, could anyone stand before You?” (That’s a rhetorical question, you understand.) Thank God, my sins are covered, and so are yours!

I have known a few people who never, ever ask for forgiveness. We might call that kind of emotion arrogance! Imagine, never seeking forgiveness! “The arrogant person thinks he or she is above it all. Seeking forgiveness is the way we step back from the arrogance of our self-centered universe and see ourselves as we truly are.” [2]

            How do we approach God on Sunday morning? Do we wallpaper over our true emotions and put on a nice, happy “church face,” or are we true and authentic? Showing our deep emotions as they are? God knows us better than we know ourselves, even if we might try to fool others at church, in our community, even our home.

            For that matter, how do we approach God the rest of the week? God isn’t just for Sunday mornings. The psalms over and over let us know that instead of hiding deep sadness from God, the psalm writers choose to tell God the truth about their feelings.

            Let’s consider at certain people who feel so rotten and so horrible that they think God could never forgive them. I met a patient years ago, when I was a chaplain. This dear senior was so fearful that she was never going to be good enough for God. She had thought for decades that God was going to consign her to the depths of hell itself. Thank God I was able to reassure her that God did, indeed, love her. And no, a divorce because of an abusive marriage almost 50 years before would not mean the difference between heaven and hell for her.

            The key to this loving understanding about God’s character is found in verses 3 and 4. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.” “Forgiveness, in other words, is who God is. This Psalm is about the very character of God, which remains steadfast even in the abyss. God is revered because “with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem” (v. 7). God’s unchanging love is the essence of who God is, and God’s power is precisely the power to redeem.” [3]

            Psalm 130 is gentle balm for battered and bruised souls. Yes, we can say with the psalm writer, thank You, O God, for forgiveness and mercy! Thank You, O God, for steadfast love and redemption!  

And most of all, as we pray to God about how we feel, honest, authentic prayer can help us remember God’s promises to love us and to be with us always—no matter how much in the depths we are feeling at any moment. For that, we can all say alleluia, amen!

(Thanks to Elizabeth Webb and her commentary from Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014. I took several extended ideas from that article. And thanks to Illustrated Ministries for their lesson for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost from Psalm 130, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] [1][1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-in-lent/commentary-on-psalm-130-4

Commentary, Psalm 130 (Lent 5A), Elizabeth Webb, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

[2][2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Saved by Grace through Faith

“Saved by Grace through Faith”

 

Rom 3-24 justified by grace

Romans 3:23-24 – October 28, 2018

I have been called for jury duty four times. Yes, one of those times I did serve on a jury, and I was one of that jury in a murder trial. I vividly remember the judge and his instructions to us as the jury. This particular judge had quite a presence. I could see everyone in that courtroom sitting up a little straighter, or paying more close attention when he spoke.

Is that your idea of a judge? Someone in black robes, sitting in judgment on a case with fairness and equity? A judge, someone evenhanded, listening to both sides of the legal question at hand before making a final decision on the case?

I am afraid that not all people think of judges in this way. In some parts of the world, judges can be less than fair, not exactly honest, and even mean or hurtful. I wanted to point out that this kind of flawed judge was certainly not what the Apostle Paul was thinking about here. Not here in Romans chapter 3.

We need to consider some background, if we are going to look at the book of Romans. This letter was written by Paul at a time when he was in prison. Paul had never been to Rome, even though he was born a Roman citizen. He knew a number of people who had over the years relocated to Rome. In fact, the small group of believers in Rome had probably written to Paul first, and they asked Paul to answer some theological and religious questions, and give them some of the Godly wisdom that comes from above.

The majority of Christ-followers at this time were Jewish, but not all of them. Paul started this section of the letter with a discussion of the Mosaic Law. I can just hear the responding comments by the Roman Christians who are also Gentiles: “Why are you talking about the Jewish Law Code?” In these beginning chapters of Romans, Paul is setting up an argument. He tells the Roman believers that ALL have sinned. Not just the Jews, under the Jewish or Mosaic Law Code. ALL have fallen short of God’s expectations.

Here in Romans 3 Paul highlighted the Law of Moses, and how difficult it is that anyone could be considered righteous. Another way of saying this is: The Law, in which the Jew boasted and the possession of which the Jew took for righteousness, is not able to make any one righteous but only to show them to be unrighteous. [1]

Sure, there is a whole lot of talk about unrighteousness in Romans. Paul comes right out and says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 is a verse countless Christians have used over the centuries to let people know what a rotten state we are all in. Notice that this verse does not say “For some have sinned,” or even “For most have sinned.” No. we ALL have sinned. We ALL have shown how unrighteous we are. We ALL fall short of the glory of God, that glory that goes so far beyond words.

Just between you and me, I am very glad we do not use the Mosaic Law to be our rulebook now for the believers’ faith. Paul even says so a couple of verses before, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” In other words, ALL have fallen short of God’s expectations.

If that were the case, I do not know how anyone could pass through such strong judgment and find reconciliation with God. That is, without Jesus. He is the whole point of Romans, and Paul returns to Him again and again. Thank God we do not need to stop at Romans 3:23! Paul does not stop there, either, but instead goes on: “ 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

That is good news! I don’t know whether we fully understand it, but that’s good news!

Grace. That word is a simple enough word. However, I don’t want to put anyone on the spot and ask them what exactly “grace” means. I do remember an acrostic definition, from years ago. Grace is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

Notice, please, that these two verses of Romans 3 tell us the whole Gospel. The whole Good News. The first, Romans 3:23, tells us why we are sunk, separated from God for eternity. The second, Romans 3:24, tells us we are justified by grace. We are drawn back into God’s presence, and are redeemed by Christ Jesus our Lord.

I’ve related this before, I am proud to say that I was raised as a Lutheran on the northwest side of Chicago. I was baptized and confirmed at that Lutheran church. I was fascinated by Martin Luther, the founder of the Lutheran denomination. When I was in high school, I learned as much as I could about Martin and his soul-wrenching journey to better understand this blessed fact—that he was saved by grace through faith.

Martin was a learned theologian, yes. But Martin felt sinful and unlovable, too. What’s more, even after lots and lots of good works and all these years of reading and study, he still felt so inadequate. Martin felt God could not possibly love or forgive him. He knew lots of things about Jesus intellectually, but he still did not grasp this central understanding.

Remember Romans 3:23? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Yes. Yes! That is true. But—that isn’t the whole story! Reading, starting from 3:21: “21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

I can almost see Martin falling off his chair, once he realizes how huge this is. Our sin is taken away through the redeeming that came through Jesus. We are made lovable through God’s grace. Our low self-worth and low self-esteem is now viewed by God through Jesus. God looks at all of us, each one of us, through Jesus-tinted lenses.

            We are all saved by grace, through faith. What tremendous Good News. No, it’s Great News! It’s the most marvelous News of all time!

We will not be tried in a court of law, with all of our sins playing out on a huge screen behind us as God the Judge bangs the gavel in some heavenly courtroom. Jesus took our sins upon Himself, so we do not have to carry them any longer.

That is the best of all possible Good News! Jesus died for our sins. Jesus showed us radical, God-sized grace, and radical, God-sized love.

As I proclaim each week after the Confession of Sin during the Assurance of Pardon, “Believe the Good News of the Gospel: in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven!”

Alleluia, amen!

[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/b-righteousness-it%E2%80%99s-not-what-you-know-or-who-you-are-romans-11-326

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

 

Hear Creation’s Cry

“Hear Creation’s Cry”

Psalm 24-1 creation picture

Psalm 24:1-2 – July 10, 2016

Have you ever had a family member, or a friend, go out of town? Or how about go on vacation? Your friend, your family member, asks you to take care of something of theirs. It may be a dog or cat, sometimes houseplants indoors or a garden outside. Asking you to be a good steward for them. Taking good care, being responsible for your friend’s property. That includes all the stuff in your friend’s house or apartment, all their valuables and beloved possessions.

Let’s go on a tour of Scripture today. Think about the earth God created. Creation is the handiwork of a loving God who saw all that was made and in Genesis pronounced it “very good.” Scripture tells us that God delights in creation and creation delights in praising the creator.  A great example is Psalm 150:6. “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!”

One of the oldest forms of expression of Christianity today is Celtic Christianity. Coming from the British Isles, it carries within it the deeply Celtic understanding that nature itself is a testament to God. One of the Celtic holy men, Saint Columbanus once said, “If you want to know God, first get to know his creation.” [1]

That is exactly the case with the earth, the world, today. The earth belongs to the Lord. God created it—all of it. The dogs, the cats, the other animals, things that swim in the water and fly in the air. All the plants, and trees, and other growing things. All the valuable things on the earth and underground.

God wants us, expects us human beings to be good stewards of the earth, to take excellent care of it, nurturing it, loving it. Exactly how you’d expect someone to take care of your dog or cat while you were away on an extended vacation.

Let’s look at the UCC Statement of Mission. Which sentence are we on this week?

“Empowered by the Holy Spirit … To hear and give voice to creation’s cry for justice and peace.” We are to listen and respond to this wonderful gift God has given to all of us.

Our next stops on our tour of Scripture are the books of Genesis and Numbers.  We have seen that God has given humankind a special responsibility to care for creation. Genesis 2:15 says the Lord God took humanity and put them in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it. A form of the Hebrew verb “shamar,” meaning “to keep,” is also used in Aaron’s blessing from Numbers 6:24. Lacey closes our services playing Lutkin’s arrangement of that blessing each week as Al extinguishes the candles. “The Lord bless you and keep you.”

We are not only to nurture, sustain and care for creation, but we are to follow God’s example. We can see how God nurtures, sustains and cares for us—each one of us. This interconnected aspect of creation helps all of us remain aware of the joys and concerns encountered in the world around us, and of their impact on all of our lives each day.

However, there is a problem. A huge problem.

Our relationship with God, with each other and with creation are all part of the same multi-colored fabric. Pull any one thread and the whole piece begins to unravel. Human selfishness, ignorance, fear and mistrust have ecological consequences. Add some territorial urges, and feelings of animosity and xenophobia. A basic name for all of this is sin.

The Bible is not hesitant to make connections between human sinfulness and the degradation of creation. Two telling examples come to us from the prophets Isaiah and Hosea.  “The Earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24: 5). “There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. . . . Therefore the land mourns . . . even the fish of the sea are perishing” (Hosea 4: 1-3).

What is to be done? People will not stop being selfish, or territorial, or fearful, or displaying hatred. But it’s also much bigger than that. Going clear back to the fall, to Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden, we learn that broken relationships are costly.  Lord, who will deliver us from this horrible state of sin?

We could throw up our hands, and say that saving the world is a lost cause. The earth is too far gone. The scales have been tipped, and it’s all downhill from here. But—it is not true!

When all else seems totally dark, God steps in.

I have talked about this before. Remember? God the Son became incarnate in Jesus Christ. He was born as a baby in Bethlehem. Jesus became part of the “stuff” of creation to heal and restore the relationships broken by human sinfulness.

The apostle Paul tells us “God was in Christ reconciling the world” (2 Corinthians 5:19). An early hymn praises Jesus Christ, the firstborn of creation, the firstborn from the dead, through whom God was pleased to reconcile all things, whether on Earth or in heaven (Colossians 1:15-20). The resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s great victory over sin and death, is a pledge and sign not only of our resurrection, but also of God’s promised redemption of all creation.

Can I hear an “Amen” for that? Jesus and His resurrection means that we will be redeemed, just like creation. Just like the world will be. We all have had experience with God and how incredibly stunning this creation is, right now.

However, let me remind you. Andy Wade tells us something so important: “God’s creation is not somehow separate from God’s plan of redemption. When we forget that God’s very good creation also gives testimony to God, we can begin to think that it’s ours to trample on, ours to exploit, and ours to use for our own selfish purposes.” [2]

This selfish, self-centered kind of attitude and way of dealing with the wonders of creation and the great gift God has blessed us with? Thank God that God has made a way for creation to be made new, just as much as God has made a way for us to be made new!

The next question is simple: what is the next step? Where do we go after realizing God has plans to make all of creation new?

We as followers of Christ are called to witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In our words and actions we are called to reflect the love of the one whose victory over sin and death was a victory for the whole of creation.

It is all very well to simply talk about being a witness. But, how can we do that, right here and right now? I’m glad you asked.

Some years ago, Solana Beach Presbyterian Church, near San Diego, received one of six “2000 Energy Star for Congregations Awards” from the US EPA. Following an energy audit, the congregation invested in energy-saving measures, including new lighting fixtures and energy-efficient light bulbs. The Solana Beach Church witnesses to Christ’s redeeming power every time they turn on the lights!

Just like this church! We can praise God that Kids Academy got all of the light bulbs in St. Luke’s Church building changed to energy efficient light bulbs. This is a wonderful start! Every time anyone here turns on the lights, we, too, can witness to Christ’s redeeming power.

Let’s not stop here. Let’s continue to keep looking for ways to hear creation’s cry, and to respond in loving ways. Ways to witness to the world around us that we are striving to be good stewards. Ways to celebrate God’s goodness, too. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

My sincere thanks goes to the National Council of Churches’ great resources. I borrowed liberally from the Earth Day 2001 Sermon Notes and Worship Resources.

http://web.archive.org/web/20110706140053/http://www.nccecojustice.org/earthday/PastEarthDayResources.php

 

[1] http://godspace-msa.com/2016/07/07/creations-sacrifice-gives-testimony-to-god/

[2] http://godspace-msa.com/2016/07/07/creations-sacrifice-gives-testimony-to-god/