Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 10/13/2019

Last week, as I talked about the nature of my faith, I said that part of it was trust in the faithfulness of God, even when, especially when the facts on the ground as we say might lead one to question God’s presence or God’s ability to change anything. This week, the First Lesson and the Psalm address that aspect of faith.

I haven’t talked a lot about the Psalms for awhile except to note that atypically, over the past weeks we’ve had a few of what I call the bad ones, the ones that are not expressions of praise and well being but the opposite; the ones that are about times when life is difficult or seems unfair, times when God seems absent or even when God seems like an adversary.

Today we don’t get one of the real bad ones, but it does have an edge. It starts as great praise, “Be joyful all you lands, be joyful all the earth. Sing the glory of God’s name; sing the glory of God’s praise. Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds.’” It doesn’t get much better than that. However, while the psalmist is presently at a place where praise can be offered, there is also acknowledgment of trouble and God is understood as the source of that trouble. “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid heavy burdens on our backs.” Note the repetition of “you” as the situation is described.

It continues with “You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water,” and then…there’s the little word that gets translated as “but” or “yet” and you always want to pay attention to what comes after that. In this case it’s, “But…you brought us out into a place of refreshment.” The psalm then goes on with additional praise in verses that we didn’t use this morning.

What you get here is a pretty good model of prayer. You start with praise and remembering God’s gifts and blessings which is always good for us to do. From there though, it’s OK to acknowledge that the reality of the present may not be worthy of praise, but with that acknowledgment there is also trust in God’s faithfulness, trust in God’s ability to transform present reality into a place of refreshment. Part of the beauty of the psalms is their honesty. They give us a model of prayer and a model of faith that in some cases does consist of unabashed praise, then there are a few psalms that are pretty much the opposite and reflect absolute despair, but many are like this one today as they describe faith that isn’t afraid to acknowledge the truth and reality of present circumstances and yet…continues to trust God in the midst of that reality.

It’s an important message for our time, probably an important message for any time. We do live in this world so it’s important to acknowledge the reality of this world but as people of faith we can’t end with that. As people of faith, we have to get to the “but” or the “yet” that trusts in God’s faithfulness, that trusts in God’s ability to bring new life out of the brokenness of present reality. That’s what this psalm does.

I told you a few weeks ago that there’s always a connection between the First Reading and the psalm. If that’s true, today’s Jeremiah reading should in some fashion reflect the psalm and…it does. The book of Jeremiah is pretty complicated and difficult to read in large part because there is no neat, orderly sequence to it. Much of it does reflect on the reality of that time, a reality in which Jerusalem was under threat from foreign invaders, Babylon most notably, with Jeremiah proclaiming that this was the work of the Lord because of the failure of the people to walk in the way of the Lord. When Jerusalem was defeated, many of the best and the brightest of the people were deported, taken into exile and forced to live, not so much as slaves but just as strangers in a strange land, separated from their homeland and all that was familiar to them.

Jeremiah wasn’t taken into exile. He remained in Jerusalem and because of that he could no longer speak directly to the people which might have been a source of great relief for them, but he could still write letters, and he did. What he said though, continued to be disturbing, contradicting what other so called prophets were saying. They were telling the people to just hang in there, this will be over in two years and then things will return to normal.

To their credit, it was a message of hope, but it wasn’t true so Jeremiah said, “Not so fast.” He told the people that things weren’t going to change, at least not for a long time. So, he said, get used to it; get used to being outsiders; get used to feeling threatened by the surrounding culture. Basically he told them to settle in for the long haul; build houses, plant gardens, in fact he says, pray for the Babylonians because in time, God is going to do something new that will include you and them; but…it’s not going to happen anytime soon.

So, in the meantime, have faith in God’s faithfulness; remember what God has done in the past. Like the psalmist, remember how the people of Israel were freed from slavery as they crossed the Red Sea on dry land and say to God, “How awesome are your deeds.” Speaking the word of the Lord, Jeremiah told those in exile to be agents of peace even in this new reality, even in a strange land among people they didn’t like very much. If we were to translate that into New Testament words it would be, keep living as disciples of Christ, keep living as children of God.

This too is quite relevant for our time as in one way or another many of us bemoan the reality in which we currently live, particularly as we struggle to find any hope that things are going to change regarding the state of our country’s politics, government and national discourse. With that there can be a sense of helplessness, a feeling that there’s nothing we can do that is going to make any difference.

You know of course that every politician who runs for president or congress says that they are going to change Washington; just vote for me and I’ll turn things around. Maybe though, promising such a quick fix, they’re like the false prophets of Jeremiah’s time. If Jeremiah was around today maybe he would again say, not so fast. Things will change, but not anytime soon. So, for now, whoever you are, wherever you are, do what you can do as agents of peace, as disciples of Christ, as children of God living in a reality you don’t particularly like. Trust in God’s faithfulness, trust in God’s ability in God’s time, to bring new life even into this brokenness.

The psalmist and Jeremiah give us examples of new life out of brokenness, examples that help us remember God’s awesome deeds but of course, for us the central story of our faith, God’s ultimate awesome deed, is Jesus’ cross and resurrection. That is the source of our faith in God’s faithfulness. It’s the reason that we refuse to give in to cynicism and despair regarding the state of the world.

So much of what we hear on the news is about the mess we find ourselves in but when you think about it, the fact that the world is a troubled and messed up place is not really news at all, it’s not at all surprising. What is more newsworthy is the fact that there are still those who gather on Sunday morning to hear stories that they’ve heard before about the ways that God has broken into a broken world and revealed something different, that something different being a world centered on grace and forgiveness, on new life and hope and welcome and well being for all people. We gather to hear and remember the stories of God’s faithfulness.

When we and others gather on a Sunday morning, we don’t do anything that the world would call particularly useful. We’re not productive; we don’t accomplish anything. A royal waste of time, it’s been called. We gather mostly to hear a word of hope spoken in response to a dominant narrative of negativity. We become a smaller and smaller remnant of people who live in this world and yet, pay attention to what come after the yet, and yet ground ourselves in the faithfulness of God and strive to live as children of God. That’s where we find our identity.

For those of us involved in the church, both clergy and lay people, it’s easy to get discouraged by the numbers. We can be made to feel like we’re doing something wrong…but we’re not. We continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we continue to teach justification by grace through faith, that what Jesus has done for us makes us acceptable to God. We continue to administer the sacraments trusting that God is present in the water of baptism and in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. We do this with no particular agenda but only because it’s the right thing to do and because it is the message this world needs to hear. We do it because we trust in God’s faithfulness to this message and…we trust that the future of the church and the future of the world are in God’s hands.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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