Over the summer we visited the Psalms on several occasions. We heard in poetic fashion the call to pursue a life of faith with vigor and diligence. We heard messages of judgment and hope. This morning, even as we look forward to a busy fall, we return one more time to the Psalms. The word we’ve heard this morning is a most edifying one. It is a call to praise God “for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel . . . Stir up your might and come to save us!” In ages past, the Shepherd of Israel took a vine out of Egypt and planted it in a new land. This vine spread out covering the land from sea to river. It grew strong and powerful. Unfortunately, over time the vine lost its luster. For some reason the Shepherd had failed to properly care for the vine, or at least that’s the view of the Psalmist, who asks God to repent and look down upon God’s people and restore the vine to its former glory. Yes, Lord, make your face to shine upon us once again!
I freely admit it, I do not pray as much as I think that I ought to. And I don’t even count half of my prayers as actually being prayers because somehow, maybe you’ve heard of this before, my prayers undergo this crazy transformation where they turn into to-do lists or replays of the events of that day. They often end up going like this, “God, thank you for all of the ways in which you have blessed me. Thank you for my family and friends… Oh! I forgot to ask my friends what they were bringing to the pot luck. Maybe I’ll make pasta salad? Do I have pasta already? I definitely need a couple more tomatoes. And cucumbers…and I can’t forget cereal this time. ”
In April we officially became an Open and Affirming Congregation. By doing this we committed ourselves to welcoming everyone to the Table, even as God has welcomed us. The Elders wrote an inclusion statement that seeks to answer the question posed to Jesus by a lawyer wanting to know the requirements for gaining eternal life. Jesus answered him with the two great commandments – love God and love your neighbor. The lawyer’s next question is an important one: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered the question with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). We answered it with a list of people who are our neighbors, some of whom might need some reassurance that they’re welcome at the Table.
As we have been moving through the Psalms, we’ve discovered that they invite us to cry out in laments. They give us permission to rage and complain. It’s okay that our souls refuse to be comforted. It’s not a sin to have doubts. Here in Psalm 77 the Psalmist cries out to God demanding to be heard. After issuing a torrent of complaints, the Psalmist then remembers that God has been our help in ages past. Recognizing the prospect that life can be challenging, Martin Luther wrote a hymn that picked up on another Psalm, Psalm 46, where he also affirmed God’s strong presence in the face of difficulty. This hymn is a favorite of many, who sing boldly: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing, our present help amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.”