Monday, October 14, 2019

Trust the Lord

October 13th, 2019                    “Trust the Lord”                     Rev. Heather Jepsen

Psalm 27

         As you might know, this is a busy and difficult season for me.  Being in the midst of a health crises and a constantly changing plan, it can be hard to dig up sermon inspiration.  So following the advice of many, today I am taking care of myself a bit and giving myself a break.  Today’s sermon is something I have dug up from my archives.  Preached nearly 10 years ago in a church far away from here, in a much different time of my life, by the grace of God this sermon, and this Psalm seem to have something to offer us still today.

The book of Psalms is a collection of ancient songs that were sung during Hebrew worship services.  While I think the Psalms have many good things to say to us, we often overlook them.  They can be repetitive and challenging and it is not a book of the Bible that you are likely to simply sit down and read straight through.  Rather, the Psalms do better singled out one at a time, instead of in a large group.  Most of us are very familiar with the 23rd Psalm but other than that we probably spend little time in the book.  Not surprisingly there are many other wonderful Psalms in our Bible and today we are going to talk about Psalm 27.

         Psalm 27 begins with a declaration, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”  The Psalmist is declaring that they trust in God to protect them so there is nothing to be afraid of.  But then, the Psalmist goes right on to say that there is something to be afraid of.  Evildoers surround them, adversaries and foes.  An army is encamped against them and war is rising up.  Sure sounds like something that I would be afraid of!  And yet, the writer declares that they will not fear, they will have a confident heart.

         Why?  Because the Psalmist seeks God as their shelter.  The writer is confident that even though they are in danger, God will protect them.  They write that God will hide them in shelter and concealment, or place them high on a rock, out of the reach of enemies.  So, the Psalmist declares they will praise God. 

         In verse 8 the Psalmist writes, “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”  Isn’t that a beautiful image, that our hearts would call us to seek the face of the Lord?  The writer declares that even if their mother and father abandon them, they know that God will be true.  The writer asks God to teach them the way of the Lord.

         In verse 12 again the Psalmist recalls the danger they are in, false witnesses have arisen against them and are breathing out violence.  And again, they declare that God will bring them out of this peril and into the land of the living.  The Psalmist closes with a word of encouragement to all who listen, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

         I think that sometimes the writings of the Bible can feel very far from our modern experience.  And yet here in this psalm, we find reflections of our own lives.  This psalm is all about maintaining a faithful hope in the Lord.  It is all about keeping our eyes focused on God, when the world around us is trying to drag us down.  We all know good people who have experienced suffering and hardship.  This is about keeping your head up in the midst of trouble, and trusting that God will see you through.  Though we are people of faith, there are no guarantees that our lives will be without suffering.  This Psalm is for those who suffer, and encourages them to look to the Lord for their help and salvation.

         Sometimes the language of the Bible can be a barrier for us, so I want to read this Psalm again, this time from The Message.  Listen again for the word of the Lord to you this day . . .

Light, space, zest— that's God

  So, with God on my side I'm fearless,
      afraid of no one and nothing.

 2 When vandal hordes ride down
      ready to eat me alive,
   Those bullies and toughs
      fall flat on their faces.

 3 When besieged,
      I'm calm as a baby.
   When all hell breaks loose,
      I'm collected and cool.

 4 I'm asking God for one thing,
      only one thing:
   To live with God in God’s house
      my whole life long.
   I'll contemplate God’s beauty;
      I'll study at God’s feet.

 5 That's the only quiet, secure place
      in a noisy world,
   The perfect getaway,
      far from the buzz of traffic.

 6 God holds me head and shoulders
      above all who try to pull me down.
   I'm headed for God’s place to offer anthems
      that will raise the roof!
   Already I'm singing God-songs;
      I'm making music to God.

 7-9 Listen, God, I'm calling at the top of my lungs:
      "Be good to me! Answer me!"
   When my heart whispered, "Seek God,"
      my whole being replied,
   "I'm seeking God!"
      Don't hide from me now!

 9-10 You've always been right there for me;
      don't turn your back on me now.
   Don't throw me out, don't abandon me;
      you've always kept the door open.
   My father and mother walked out and left me,
      but God took me in.

 11-12 Point me down your highway, God;
      direct me along a well-lighted street;
      show my enemies whose side you're on.
   Don't throw me to the dogs,
      those liars who are out to get me,
      filling the air with their threats.

 13-14 I'm sure now I'll see God's goodness
      in the exuberant earth.
   Stay with God!
      Take heart. Don't quit.
   I'll say it again:
      Stay with God.

         Eugene Peterson’s version has some interesting phrasing.  How wonderful is the idea of calling to God at the top of our lungs!  When we are in moments of real terror, this captures the way our hearts feel.  I also love the language that says “You’ve always been there for me; don’t turn your back on me now.”  I couldn’t tell you how often I have said something just like that.

         What is so wonderful about Psalm 27 is that it really speaks to those of us who live in a culture of anxiety.  All around us the world tells us to worry.  We need to lock our doors at night, in case someone might break in to get us.  We need to carry our purses a certain way, in case someone wants to steal them.  We need to park under a light in the parking lot, so we are not vulnerable to an attacker.  We need to keep our eyes open for someone with a gun, who might get angry and start shooting in a crowd.  We are told to watch out for someone who looks or acts funny, maybe they are a terrorist.  And we take our shoes off and have our bodies scanned at the airport, because maybe somebody there has a bomb.  We live in a world of anxiety and fear, and it is all too easy to get wrapped up in the stress of our culture. 

         In this midst of this world, it is important to be reminded that the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is fear.  More specifically, it is anxiety.  All of us are anxious about two things, our time and our space.  We are afraid that someone else is going to take up our space or take up our time.  Think about how you feel when someone cuts you off on the highway or cuts in front of you in line.  That immediate anger response is rooted in anxiety about the fact that this person did not recognize your time or space.  This person did not recognize you as a person.

         As people of faith, we trust that God will take care of us, and this helps control our anxiety.  But, anxiety frequently leads to unfaith, and we subconsciously worry that perhaps God will not take care of us and we need to take care of ourselves.  When this happens, we begin to tailgate the person who cut us off on the highway or we start an argument with the person who cut in front of us in line.  When this happens, we sin, because we let our anxiety get the best of us.

         Psalm 27 is all about trusting God in the midst of anxiety.  It is about being aware of what threatens us, and instead of responding out of a place of fear, to respond out of a place of trust.  Yes, the psalmist writes, the world is out to get me.  And yet, I will trust in the Lord to take care of me.  When we are in our down and out moments, and it feels as if the whole world is telling lies about us, the psalmist encourages us to trust in God; for trusting in God is the root of faith.  The psalmist reminds us that the goodness of God is greater than life’s trials. 

         As people of faith, we are called to wait for the Lord.  When the world tells us to get anxious, get worried, and to hurry up and grab what’s ours; the Psalmist tells us to be patient, to wait, for God will make sure we have what is ours.  God will make sure to take care of us. 

         It’s good to note that waiting for God is not about being passive; rather it is about activity.  We can’t wait for God by staying at home every week and doing our own thing.  Instead, we wait for God by nurturing our relationship with God, and we nurture that relationship through the discipline of worship.  It is by coming to church every week and singing the hymns and saying the prayers that we foster a sense of God’s presence in our lives.  When we make the commitment to meet God here, than we are better able to see God in the other places of our lives as well.  By gathering regularly at the communion table, we nurture our faith and strengthen our trust in God.  If God provides for us through God’s body and blood, surely God will provide for us in other ways as well.

         And so today, the Psalmist encourages us to trust the Lord in the midst of our real lives; lives that are broken and messy, lives that are full of hardship and trial.  Though even our parents might abandon us, God promises to be with us.  And so, in the midst of suffering, we are encouraged to wait for the Lord, for God alone will lift us up. 

         I want to close by reading the Psalm again, this time from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible.  Again, listen for the word of the Lord to you this day . . .

1You, LORD, are the light

 that keeps me safe.

I am not afraid of anyone.

 You protect me,

   and I have no fears.


2Brutal people may attack

  and try to kill me,

   but they will stumble.

   Fierce enemies may attack,

   but they will fall.


3Armies may surround me,

   but I won't be afraid;

   war may break out,

   but I will trust you.


 4I ask only one thing, LORD:

   Let me live in your house

   every day of my life

   to see how wonderful you are

   and to pray in your temple.


5In times of trouble,

   you will protect me.

   You will hide me in your tent

   and keep me safe

   on top of a mighty rock.

6You will let me defeat

   all of my enemies.

   Then I will celebrate,

   as I enter your tent

   with animal sacrifices

   and songs of praise.


  7Please listen when I pray!

   Have pity. Answer my prayer.

    8My heart tells me to pray.

   I am eager to see your face,

    9so don't hide from me.

  I am your servant,

   and you have helped me.

   Don't turn from me in anger.

   You alone keep me safe.

   Don't reject or desert me.

    10Even if my father and mother

   should desert me,

   you will take care of me.


  11Teach me to follow, LORD,

   and lead me on the right path

   because of my enemies.

    12Don't let them do to me

   what they want.

   People tell lies about me

   and make terrible threats,

    13but I know I will live

   to see how kind you are.

   14Trust the LORD!

   Be brave and strong

   and trust the LORD.


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Re-embracing the 10 commandments

October 6th, 2019        “Re-embracing the 10 Commandments”    Rev. Heather Jepsen

Deuteronomy 5:1-21, 6:4-9

         This morning’s biblical text is probably familiar to most of us here.  This is the 10 commandments, well known by Jews and Christians alike.  What you might not know is that this is the second time Moses gives the commandments to the nation of Israel.  In Exodus chapter 20 Moses comes down from the cloud and fire upon Mount Sinai and brings this covenant to the people of Israel.  These were the same people who Moses led out of Egypt and out of the bondage of slavery.  But, as you may remember, the folks were not ready for such a covenant with God.  They were worshipping a golden calf at the bottom of that mountain, and they would continue to long after other gods and past lives. 

         And so, Moses and the Israelites wander in the desert for 40 years.  And as the wanderers begin to fail a whole generation of people dies off.  Where we find our story today, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is giving the Israelites a set of sermons right before they enter the Promised Land.  And included in this set of sermons is a fresh reading of the Ten Commandments.

         Moses begins by gathering the people together, “Hear O Israel” and then he says, “The Lord made covenant with us at Horeb.”  That makes sense right, God makes covenant with the people of Israel.  But as Moses continues on, things get confusing, “Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.”  Well, that sounds wrong doesn’t it?  God made the covenant with the ancestors and all of them are dead.  The people alive today, the people listening to Moses preach were not there the day the covenant was formed.  That was their parents and not them.  To end any doubt about his point Moses continues, “The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the fire.”  Clearly Moses wants the folks to think they were there that first day, the first time the commandments were read, even though they weren’t. 

         So, what is going on here?  What is happening is that Moses is trying to get the people of Israel to understand that the covenant God is making, the gift of the law, is for them as much as it was for their ancestors.  Even though it was their parents at the bottom of Mount Sinai 40 years ago, God is freshly making this covenant anew with them.  They now are God’s people, and they now are the ones the covenant is given to.  They now are party to this agreement, this set of promises, this law system that is built upon grace and love.

         Moses is clear that it is the job of this people to carry the covenant forward.  When we jump to chapter 6 Moses reminds the people that the following of these commandments comes from love.  The people are called to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and might.  They are told to keep these words, to memorize them, to tell them to each other at home and at work.  This is a way of life that everyone is called to remember.  This is a covenant that will continue for the generations.

         As Christians, we often think of ourselves as belonging to this same family of faith, we certainly worship this same God.  Through our understanding of Jesus Christ and the words he speaks about being grafted into the family, as well as Paul’s theology of adoption, we have come to understand ourselves as included in this tradition.  Even though our ancestors were not literally at the bottom of Mount Sinai, still God has given us this covenant as well.  As Moses says, “Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today.”  This includes all of us here this morning, all of us who are here alive today.  This covenant, this law, is a gift to us, you and me.

         It can be hard to preach about the 10 commandments, and this is one of my least favorite sermon topics.  In so many ways, this beautiful text, this gift of love, has been used as a weapon to crush people.  From signs displaying the commandments in courthouses that continue to thwart justice for the oppressed, to lawn signs declaring that this is a Christian nation as we continue to follow paths of greed and narcissism, these 10 commandments have been adopted by the religious right, the evangelical conservatives as a sign of identity.  They put them everywhere, but it is like they have never read them before.  I honestly hate when this scripture comes up because it turns my stomach to face this topic.  And like a minefield, no matter where I step this morning, I am bound to upset somebody.  So, fair warning, my friends.

         I see a real place for us in the setting of our reading for today.  This isn’t Exodus 20 where the first generation hears the word.  Rather this is Deuteronomy 5.  This is the second generations go at things.  This is a fresh chance to make the world better.  Just like the second generation of Israelites on the edge of the Promised Land, our parents before us were sinners.  The generations before us who have twisted and misused this good and generous law are in the wrong.  They have made God’s gift a weapon and not a freedom. 

         To hear Moses declare that this law is given fresh to us, the very us that are in this room this morning, can be liberating.  God makes this covenant with us, all of us here alive today.  What would it mean for us as modern neighbor-loving Christians to re-embrace these 10 commandments?

         First off, the Lord our God is a Lord of love.  This is a Lord who brings people out of slavery.  Not just slavery in Egypt but slavery in the United States.  This is a Lord who brings black people out of bondage, who demands reparations, and who declares that the bondage of one person by another is always and forever wrong.  This is a God who demands that we worship no others.  No nation deserves as much adoration as our God, no ideologies or political parties, no sports teams or music groups.  This is the Lord, the God of love, who demands our loyalty above all others.

         We shall not make ourselves an idol.  Be it money or the American flag, be it our guns or our political ideologies, be it our Bibles or our denominations, be it our nationalism or our pride.  We shall not bow down to anything but our God.  We shall not be beholden to anything but out God.

         You shall not use the name of your Lord in vain.  You shall not display the 10 Commandments in public and ignore your neighbor.  You shall not put a Jesus fish on your business card and then engage in false or unfair business practices.  You shall not wear a prominent cross around your neck and then walk by the stranger in need on the street.  You shall not use religion as a cudgel for hate and oppression.  You shall not take this name, this faith, this God and form it in your own image to use for your own ends.

         Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy.  Do not succumb to the glorification of the 24 hour work cycle.  Do not buy into the theory that you are what you do.  Do not let yourselves be tempted by endless work and busyness for busyness sake.  Observe the Sabbath, rest and honor your God.  And not only that, but allow your neighbor to rest as well.  Remember that you used to work for minimum wage and allow those folks to rest as well.  Don’t go out to eat or go to the store, everyone deserves a rest one day a week.

         Honor your father and mother, they brought you into this world and they are the source of this covenant.  Even these folks on the edge of the Promised Land must remember that they are truly no better than the generation that passed away in the wilderness.  We are nothing without those who came before us, but at the same time we are the ones God is making this covenant with today.  We have a chance to live these promises anew, while honoring the faith of generations past.

         Those first five are the hard ones and the ones we like to forget.  The last five are the laws that have lasted through time.  Don’t murder, don’t sleep with someone else’s spouse, don’t take what’s not yours.  Don’t lie about people either in court or via twitter.  Don’t greedily stare at anything anyone has that you do not.  Basically, don’t be a jerk!  These five we are better at remembering, and truly they don’t ask as much of us.  Don’t murder, I got that.  Don’t have an idol, well that’s a lot trickier.  Rest on the Sabbath; don’t even ask me about that!

         This morning I want to invite you to consider what it would mean for us to really honor this covenant God is offering.  I want to invite you to hear these words as if they were spoken directly to you.  To take them back from generations that have misused and mismanaged this good law and to instead realize that God makes this covenant not with our ancestors but with all of us here alive today.

         Moses tells the people not to forget this word they are given.  At this point he has led the people of Israel for a long time.  He knows how stubborn and hard hearted they are, and more than anything he knows how prone they are to forgetfulness.  They will hold a grudge forever, but at the same time they will forget the God who has given them freedom.  Moses tells the people to put these words in their hearts, to recite them to their children and paint them on their doorposts, to make this law of love such an integral part of their day that they can’t help but remember.

         On this World Communion Sunday, we too are called to remember this law.  We are called to remember that it was given to an oppressed people, an enslaved people, a lost and wandering people as a sign of love and freedom.  We are called to remember that this law asks us to love our God and to also love our neighbor.  And we are called to remember that nothing, ever, no matter how important or big or good should become god to us.  Nothing deserves our worship and devotion except the one true God of freedom and love.

         We gather at this table with people from all times and places.  The communion table goes back in time to those ancestors at Mount Sinai and the next generation on the edge of the Promised Land.  It goes forward through time to the days of Jesus in the upper room and the early church breaking boundaries by fellowshipping together.  It includes us now, all of us here alive today, members and participants in this covenant.  And it goes on to our children’s children, into the future and days we cannot even imagine.  All of time meets us as this table.  And all of the world gathers together as the children of God.  This table of love, resurrection, and grace is for everyone, and like the law, this is a gift given to us from a God whose name is love.

         I want to encourage you today to consider re-embracing these 10 commandments.  In some ways we know them so well, and in some ways we really don’t know them at all.  I want to invite you to really consider what it is you worship in our world, what are you tempted to put before the Lord.  Where do you face the weakness of idolatry?  Take a good look at your values.  I also want to invite you to practice Sabbath, I know I need to.  What would it mean for us to live those first five laws and not just the last five?  Let us listen to these familiar laws as a fresh text, a fresh promise made to us here today.

         “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  Amen.