Thursday, October 27, 2011

Catching up on sermon postings- September's Psalm 40 sermon

Psalm 40
September 4, 2011

You Give Me a New Song
I went through a poetry phase in high school. I wrote quite a few of them. Not just the ones required for English class but I remember really getting into poetry writing and along with a couple of friends, submitting some for publication in our school’s literary magazine. My poems seem silly to me now- they are mostly about how in looooooove I was with my boyfriend. I remember showing my dad the magazine when it came out and having him read a few my friend’s poems and saying something like, “aren’t these the most amazing poems you’ve ever read?” He didn’t say no, but there was a look in his eyes that I understand more now. A look that said, “There is more to life than the emotions of a bunch of suburban teenagers.”

I agree with him. There is so much more to my life than the life of a high school boyfriend, or trying very hard not to care what my peers thought of me but still caring. I couldn’t see that at the time. At that time poetry was a really wonderful outlet for the hormones and angst we were all feeling. The title of our Magazine was, “Mirrors of the Soul.” What an appropriate title. If you want understand what it was like to be a teenager in the early ‘90’s you could read a sociology book. However if you really want to experience the feelings and emotions of kids in a Kansas City suburb, you should dust off my copy of “Mirrors of the Soul,” and give that a read.

When you read and study the Bible you know that there are all different types of writings contained there. Last month we studied the book of Joshua. Joshua is a history book. The book contains the story of Joshua as leader of the Israelites and their entering Jericho. If you read this book you will hear the specifics of territories and battles, you will read numbers of how many fought and you will read about those that were killed. However what you won’t get in a history book like Joshua, is the emotions people felt. We have to wonder how Joshua felt when he took over for Moses. We have to wonder how the people felt about the fact that people were already living in the land promised to them. Most especially I wonder how the people originally living in Jericho felt about the utter slaughter and destruction brought by the Israelites that was ordained by their God.
Turn to the book of Psalms and you will not wonder what people are feeling. In fact I think the book of Psalms could be subtitled: “Mirrors of the Soul.” Of course the souls in question are those of the ancient Israelites and not teenagers in the ‘90’s but the concept is the same. Want to know what a group of people are really thinking and feeling? Read their poetry.

In the Psalms you will find the entire depth of human emotion. You will find mountain-top type joy and you will find the very pit of despair. You will find the Psalmist singing praises to God and you will find terrible things wished upon enemies (like dashing babies heads against rocks). Nothing is held back in the Psalms, they are honest cries out to God. Some things we know about the Psalms are that many of them were used for worship in the life of the church, and still are today of course. They were sung, memorized, repeated as prayers and liturgies.

73 of the Psalms are attributed to King David and give us a chance to see his inner life- things you don’t read about in the history books about him. About 40% of the Psalms are of petition or lament; these are the gut-wrenching ones where the author sometimes wonder aloud if God has abandoned them. The Psalms were meant to be read aloud- whether in worship or in personal prayer time. If you are referring to an individual Psalm- leave off the “S” (like Psalm 23, or Psalm 40)- if you are talking about more than one or the whole book use the plural Psalms.

This month’s homework challenge as we study the Psalms together is to read some Psalms- there are 150 so there are plenty to choose from. Find one you really like and read it aloud, copy it down in your own handwriting, pray it as a prayer. Get to know one Psalm this month.

This morning we are going to get to know Psalm 40. Psalm 40 reminds us of what is like to wait on God. Humans are not good at waiting. We can communicate with people instantly through cell phones, email and text messaging. We can video chat with our loved ones in other parts of the world. We don’t have to wait much anymore on a letter from a far country. David and I are terrible at waiting. Especially when it comes to giving each other gifts. I can’t remember the last time we have opened a gift from each other on the actual birthday, or anniversary or other gift-giving occasion. We do not like to wait.
We don’t much like to wait in our spiritual lives either. We feel like once we’ve prayed about something that God should respond immediately. At least I’m hoping I’m not the only one who feels this way. Sometimes our patience is forced. When we don’t hear from God in just the way we think we should and in the time frame we think we should we are reminded that God’s timing is different than ours. I have to wonder if the Psalmist was really waiting patiently for God or it just seemed to him that he had been waiting patiently.
To wait patiently for God means to remember that God’s timing is different from ours. Waiting patiently means that sometimes unanswered prayers are as big a blessing as answered ones. To wait patiently means to have our ears open for the voice of God. To wait patiently means recognizing that deliverance might come in a way we didn’t expect. To wait patiently is to praise God even when you are in the bottom of the slimy, miry pit. “I waited patiently for the Lord,” the Psalm says, “he turned to me and heard my cry.”

When we wait patiently, God takes notice and responds to our cries. The Psalmist says, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.”

Can anyone identify with being in the slimy pit? Other translations call it the “miry bog”. I am guessing that at one time or another we have all spent time in the pit. It is not easy to wait patiently in the pit. But one thing is certain: when we are in the pit, God knows we are in the pit. And God cares that we are in the pit. And eventually, eventually- God will take us out of the pit and set our feet on firmer, sturdier ground.
When we are in the pit- we are in good company. When Joseph’s brothers were jealous of the attention their father gave him- they threw him in a pit. When Jeremiah’s prophecies displeased the people, he was also thrown into a pit. God’s people are no strangers to pit-dwelling. And in the Psalms we can see that it is ok to cry out from the pit. We also see that God rescues.

Only I notice something else in this psalm. The author doesn’t leave the pit only to live a perfect life with no worries. In fact it seems that soon after his deliverance, the Psalmist cries out again,
“ Do not withhold your mercy from me, LORD;
may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
For troubles without number surround me;
my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails within me.
Be pleased to save me, LORD;
come quickly, LORD, to help me.”

And the good news is- God will deliver us again and again. God will make all things new. God will give us a new song to sing. In fact, I believe God has given us the gift of 150 songs in the book of Psalms. What a blessing this book is. Psalms is the place where we get to see behind the curtain and directly into the lives of ancient Israel. When I read the book of Psalms I feel like others have felt the depth of emotion and love of God that I feel in my life.

This morning I encourage you to fall in love with the Psalms. You won’t love every one of them. Some are violent and strange, but I truly believe that this is some of the most beautiful language in the Bible. Discover what the Psalms have to offer for your devotional life, read one out loud as a prayer- offer it to God. Or write your own Psalm. Praise God and cry out for deliverance. Tell God about the pit you are dwelling in and then wait, patiently for deliverance. Deliverance will come through the boundless love of our God. Amen and Amen.

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