by Matt Allen, March 15, 2020
I have truly enjoyed the process I have gone through to prepare for this sermon. However I will tell you that it definitely has evolved as the week has gone on. The readings for today are so relevant to our current state as a church, nation and world community.
Have you ever done something against your better judgment and then realized that it was absolutely the wrong thing to do? Usually, just at that moment when you realize what a boneheaded thing it was, someone asks you, “Why on earth did you do that?” Your jaw drops, and you do not know what to say. Our psalm reading today delves into the awkward stance we suffer as people of God who have had every reason to follow God’s voice, yet for some inexplicable reason have failed to do so. Why have we gone against God’s voice? We cannot say. It is an uncomfortable place to have to stand.
Psalm 95 has two dispositions, and it speaks from two different vantage points. The first part of the psalm speaks from the perspective of God’s people, who stand in awe and worship before the Lord (vv. 1-7a). The second part of the psalm speaks from the perspective of the Lord, looking in disappointment on people who have had a history of failing to follow as they should (vv. 7b-11).
The psalm begins on a happy note. The opening verses are invitations for us to praise God and to sing joyfully. It evokes a sense of a people who are still connected to the Lord and who, like exuberant children, respond by singing out from their souls without holding back. To praise God in this way is to be utterly happy and satisfied in that place of smallness in front of a parent whom we adore.
The psalmist then goes on to spell out God’s greatness, all the while enticing us to worship and praise. However, the very greatness of God poses a tough question to us. If we have seen the grandeur of the sea and of the mountains, the heights and the depths of all things, and we know that these are in the palm of God’s hand, why do we not sing out with praise at all times? Why do we not listen to God’s voice? Will we listen today, or will we follow in the way of our ancestors?
At the turning point in verse 7, the psalmist remarks, somewhat ominously, “O that today you would listen to his voice!” The addressee changes from “us” to “you.” The speaker does not refer to “the Lord” but instead speaks as the Lord in the first person.
Here is where we begin to squirm a bit. Although the psalm goes on to speak of the ancient Hebrews who did not listen to the Lord, we know full well that we are guilty of the very same shortcomings. Whether or not they are blood ancestors to us, we know that they are our spiritual ancestors. The resemblance is unmistakable.
The first part of the psalm calls for eyes to witness and voices to sing; the second part of the psalm calls for ears to listen and feet to follow. All the while, this psalm points to a people who have failed to follow.
The first part of the psalm makes the second part all the more difficult. If God is so good and worthy of praise, and if we have seen God’s glory and were nodding our heads during the first verses of this psalm, why is it that we have so often failed to listen or to follow?
It is fitting that we read Psalm 95 in Lent. Like Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, this psalm begins with a joyful noise, but then descends into the darkness of our own guilt as we face our failure to follow. Lent is a season of accountability. The practice of holding a Lenten discipline is valuable not only for the results of added prayer (or less sweets) during the forty days of the season. It is also a way for us to assess our own ability to practice our faith against our own impulses. Brian McLaren, an American pastor and author has pointed out that if we cannot resist donuts, for instance, how much harder will it be for us to love our enemies?
On the positive side, if one learns to resist the impulse to reach toward potato chips and pizza during a time of fasting, one may be able to draw on the same practice of resisting bad impulses in the future when it counts for more. If we practice doing relatively small things in our power right now, we will grow as Christians so that one day we will be able to do those things that seem impossible to us today. Lent is a time for us to strive to be better.
Deanna and I, or she may say I……..made the decision to go without alcohol for lent. We are not daily drinkers……..well. Friday nights have been a little tougher after a longer week. But knowing what Jesus sacrificed for ALL of us. Once I have that thought………… it is easy.
Unfortunately, no amount of striving will keep us from stumbling and falling again and again. The paradox is that our sin thrusts us back to the psalm’s beginning: the greatness and goodness of the God we were made to worship, the greatness and goodness of the God who alone can forgive our sins.
In our Lenten disciplines, we take stock of what causes us to stumble and to lapse away from what we know God wishes from us. Hopefully, this is not a season of discouragement, but a chance to learn how to ask God for help so that we can do better.
Psalm 95 may seem like a deeply unpastoral psalm, as it ends on a very upsetting note. Its final words are a curse against our wayward ancestors: “Therefore in my anger I swore, ‘They shall not enter my rest'” (v. 11). To paraphrase Martin Buber, prayer is not in time, but time is in prayer. So too for Scripture, and especially the psalms, which are prayers after all. We come to the end, and we may want to go back to the beginning. We want to return to that place where we were marveling at God’s wondrous works, where we knew the one worthy of our praise, and where we could not help but sing out to the “rock of our salvation” (v. 1). Indeed we must return to that place over and over again.
In our Second reading today in Romans I have found a sermon by Richard Halverson, Chaplain of the US Senate, that helped me a lot, he said, “Mastered by God, I become the master of myself and of my circumstances. Mastered by anything less than God, I become the victim of myself and of my circumstances.” In this passage from Romans, Paul shows that in Christ, God is offering us a new life that, once received, masters us and gives us an abiding hope that will overcome any and all circumstances.
Christ Offers Us a New Foundation, Paul is describing in these words the difference a life mastered by God’s love in Christ will make. Life is to be lived from the foundational experience and knowledge that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (v. 8).
Our response to the circumstances of life, lived from this foundational truth, provides reason for hope, peace, and rejoicing. In Paul’s way of thinking and living, this is why God’s people become “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37) . The foundation of God’s love in Christ provides any person a strong place to stand against whatever the circumstances may be. In a culture where circumstances seem to overcome more often than not, these are words we all need to hear, heed, and accept as true. We are now in the season of Lent. What better time than in this season of self-examination and confession to proclaim the hope, peace, and rejoicing that must be our response to the reality of God’s redemptive love in our lives—even while we are still sinners!
Christ Offers Us a New Future, God’s redemptive act in Christ leads people to become a new creation. According to Paul, this new creation is rooted and grounded in the realization that God’s redeeming love is not only from something but to something. Paul wants us to realize that hope, peace, and rejoicing are the things to which redemption leads. So many persons today are concerned only with half of what the love of God has done in Christ. The church has so many times clearly proclaimed the something from which we have been saved but has failed to say our salvation is also to something. The movement of the salvation experience is from redemption to creation. To have one without the other is to fail to realize the whole story of what God has done and is doing in Christ. We are never fully mastered by God until we have experienced and been claimed by both.
The hope, peace, and rejoicing we seek to offer a hopeless age are necessary expressions of the redemption experience in our lives. If there are no hope, peace, and rejoicing in our lives, then the redemptive experience is not complete.
A United Press release in a midwestern city told of a hospital where officials discovered that the firefighting equipment had never been connected. For thirty-five years it had been relied upon for the safety of the patients in case of emergency. But it had never been attached to the city’s water main. The pipe that led from the building extended four feet underground—and there it stopped! The medical staff and patients felt complete confidence in the system. They thought that if a blaze broke out, they could depend on a nearby hose to extinguish it. But theirs was a false hope. Although the costly equipment with its polished valves and well-placed outlets was adequate for the building, it lacked the most important thing: water!
Our hope must be rooted in the redemptive experience of God’s love in Christ. Without redemption we cannot have the new creation. Rooted deeply in God’s love as shared in Christ, may we discover the power to witness with hope, peace, and rejoicing the difference God seeks to make in a hopeless age.
Let us Pray.
Heavenly Father. We all know the experience of having plans for our life go astray. We are so confident about what we’re going to do and what needs to happen in order for us to be happy, according to our own standards. And then we find that this never works. Life is a complicated tapestry of relationships – often beautiful, but sometimes tragic and heartbreaking. Simply being in relationships guarantees some painful times.
When depression and disappointment take hold, we do well to remember Jesus and walk with him on his way of suffering. Jesus too, knows and understands these things. He brought them all to the cross. They were nailed there so that we could be raised up. Let us pray for the confidence to let Jesus take control of our lives.
Heavenly Father, I often feel like I am falling. Let me always trust that you are there to pick me up again, again and again.
Be with the sick now. Be with those who are caring for the sick. Be with our government and the governments of the world as they deal with all those in need of their guidance and leadership.
Dear God, when we are overwhelmed with panic, help up us to seek your peace.
We pray now how you have taught use to pray..