Psalm 84, August 26th, 2018
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Sit back, relax and allow these ancient words from the book of Psalms, Psalm eighty-four, to fill your heart and soothe your soul.”
- How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
- My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
- Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
- Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Selah
- Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
- As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.
- They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.
- O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
- Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed.
- For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.
- For the Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.
- O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.
“Having heard this ancient writing allow your mind as well as your heart to stay open to their meaning and implications to each one of us in this current place and time.”
Today is Rally Day, the day we celebrate the restart of all our regular post summer activities – after the summer break. Prayerfully, we can all smile at this, for we live here in Florida. Summer is far from over, yet it is time to gather the children back together and dust off the text books and get back to the task of educating our youth. Schools are either already open or shall soon be. With this fact in mind, it is time for us, as a church, to rally together and consider how we can breathe some new life back into our Christian Education program. We live in a community with lots of children. We know this to be true based on the response we got this past October when we offered a ‘trunk or treat’ open to the public. An hour after we started the event it started to rain and within ten to fifteen minutes the cars had stopped coming and the children had left. I may not have the number correct, exactly, but we had at least eighty children stop by. The year before, without the rain, we saw well over a hundred or so. Now, I am not suggesting they all ought to come to our church; many of them are perhaps enrolled in other churches Christian Education programs. Yet, it does suggest that perhaps we could do more to attract a few more families with children to our church.
So, how do we strengthen our Christian Education program? Currently, we have some very competent volunteers working diligently to organize a schedule for our Sunday School teachers and they have picked out a solid curriculum packet that will be used this season. If you are interested in being part of this important ministry, and have some background in working with children, please let me or a member of our Christian Education Committee know. There are however, some things that everyone here gathered can do for our children’s program starting right now, today. Pray, pray for the children that we now serve, and offer up a prayer for the children that live in this local community and are in need of a good Christian education program. Pray that they and their parents find their way into this sanctuary, that we might be able to offer them a meaningful opportunity to learn more about our faith and how it was passed to us. Most children are exposed to the story of Jesus at Christmas and at Easter. It’s a beginning, yet there is so much more to be learned. Pray with me over the coming weeks and months that we can effectively teach those who come to us, about the many stories of a faithful people as contained in the Bible. Pray we can instill in them how Jesus was a man of compassion and love and strived to reach all within his ministry with the unconditional love of God. Prayer, on this topic, by each and everyone of us here this morning, will change how we think of children and families who live in this community. Prayer will open up our hearts to a new level of acceptance to the children whom are brought to this church.
The Psalmist of old proclaims to the people about opening their hearts to God’s creation and become willing to turn to God, recognizing the beauty of creation! “How lovely is your dwelling place! My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young.” /Psalm 84:1-3/ It is hard to read this Psalm without feeling uplifted and stimulated to see the beauty of Creation through the eyes of this poetic and joyful Psalm. Surely, we need to strive to see the world around us in this way. It is so easy to become jaded and soured as humankind struggles in the midst all the perils of human nature. Yet, we must not forget that God’s creation came first and from within we humans were created and have come to flourish. Therefore, we, like the Psalmist need to keep our hearts in touch with the splendor of nature all around us. When we are able to see God’s love in the midst the hustle and ‘busyness’ of life, we will be able to share God’s ever-present Love with the families whom come to join us in worship on Sunday morning. When we are able to see others connect with and celebrate with us, during our times of worship, we shall feel an overwhelming sense of joy! Joy that once again God’s grace has done for another what we alone are not able to accomplish!
Is today truly Rally Day? Yes, yes, it is! Together, we are called to come together and rally, rally around our common need to see the youth supported and cared for in Christian love; just as Jesus would want. This means we need to be open and tolerant to the struggles of young parents. We need to be willing to see through their eyes what coming to church on Sunday morning’s means to them. Some will feel stretched to have made the commitment to get the children up, dressed and fed before they get here. For some this may be their only day off; perhaps only one parent accompanies the child or the children to church as the other is working. Or possibly, there is only one parent. What ever their situation in life, it is our responsibility as Christians, to welcome them with open arms and open hearts. We need to understand how difficult it may be for them to have found the energy to simply be with us. Honor this and respect them with dignity and grace. Take time to talk with them and to learn their names and the names of their children. It is a big step for them to have come to visit us. Let us be sure we make them feel welcomed here!
This morning I would ask that we ‘stop and listen’ as the word ‘Selah’ may suggest. Listen to your own heartbeat. Pay attention to your own breathing. Allow your mind to rest quietly. If you struggle doing this then reflect on the message which our preacher strived to instill in us last Sunday. Look and examine your own thoughts and see what is hidden there. Uncover them and discard those of no use and work with what is right in the eyes of God. The psalmist, this morning, is raising up for us the joy which can be had by each one of us here today, if we simply follow the teachings of the Loving God which is spoken of. The same loving God whom those who came before us grew to know. And the same God whom worked with our ancestors to be all that they were able to be, passing on to us their understanding of the Holy One as best they could. Just as it is now our turn to pass on this narrative of God to the next generations, so also it was theirs! Let us be grateful for all that has been passed forward to us. And where there was discord or a disconnect in this process let us become willing to forgive those whom failed us and now turn our attention to righting their shortcomings through our renewed efforts to not drop the message of God into the darkness of night. Rather let us put a spotlight on the message of ‘hope and salvation’ that has been made visible and clear to us in our journeys of faith and prayerfully, here in this our place of worship, our place of gathering together in fellowship.
As we extend our prayers for the children let us expand our prayers to include our own wellbeing and our choices which we make every day. Let us choose to fill our lives with the tools of our faith. Let us turn to beautiful prayers that have been written for our use. Take for example the prayer of Saint Francis: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is offense, let me bring pardon. Where there is discord, let me bring union. Where there is error, let me bring truth. Where there is doubt, let me bring faith. Where there is despair, let me bring hope. Where there is darkness, let me bring your light. Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.” The prayer goes on to suggest to us that we need to become less centered on ourselves and more focused on the needs of others. Just imagine if everyone took a minute, an hour or a day to reach out to someone, to do for them rather than to do for ourselves alone. “O Master, let me not seek as much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love, for it is in giving that one receives, it is in self-forgetting that one finds, it is in pardoning that one is pardoned, it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.” The Psalmist was offering up his poetic words, just as modern theologians have offered up wonderfully inspiring prayers, as words of encouragement, hope and with the desire to point us in the right direction as we move through the maze and oftentimes struggles of life!
“Happy are those who live in God’s home, ever singing God’s praise.” Let us ‘stop and listen’ hearing the rallying cry of the Psalmist… to come together… as a faith filled people… to live in the teachings of God, made known to us in the writings of Moses, Elijah, and so many others. “Happy are those whose strength is in God, in whose heart are the highways to the holiest of places.” /Psalm 84:4-5 adapted/ The Psalmist wanted his listeners to know, he wants us to know, it is better to live within the realm of God, for even a moment, then to dwell in the ways of wickedness. Be mindful that mischief behavior, and tomfoolery leads to our failing. A great many of us were brought up in the teachings of the Bible. Because of this many have lived with the fellowship of God’s love along this journey of life. What a blessing! Others of us have had to struggle to learn of God’s love, having stumbled and fallen along the way; yet, by God’s grace we have found our way and have been nourished with the love and the fellowship of those before us. Praise be to God! With the help of God, we can now come together, collectively pulling to do what is right, in the name of righteousness for the sake of those whom follow behind us. Following this teaching, contained in the ancient writing we have examined this day, let us Rally together, to trust in the Living Spirit of God in our efforts to show, lead and teach, the children whom God has sent and shall send to us; thereby, passing to them our understanding of whom God is and what God has promised to us.
Let all here gathered say Amen! Amen!