July 15, 2018 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Psalm 30 (The Voice Translation)
I have been a voracious reader all my life. I consume books. As I entered into my teen years and began to choose more adult books to read, my mother became concerned that my education be well rounded and that I not limit my reading to popular books on the ‘teen scene’ at the time. So, she implemented a rule; for every book I chose to read, I had to choose something from her library. I think I read my mother’s entire library during those teen years. In the midst of reading through her collection, I stumbled upon the poetry section and fell in love. The first poet I encountered was Robert Frost, and to this day I revisit him from time to time to be refreshed by the beauty of his words. Some of his poetry is rather famous, such as “The Road Less Traveled”—“And I chose the road less traveled by and that has made all the differences”—or “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”—“and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.” However, my favorite poem by Frost is one where he addresses loneliness and the search to find one’s way out of loneliness.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
and dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain…
In much of Robert Frost’s work he utilizes the metaphor of travel to convey thought and emotion—the road less taken, stopping on the way home by the woods, walking the city alone. The metaphor of the journey is powerful. Humanity has returned to it again and again and again—the image of traveling a path or road. We use this metaphor in words, in images (painting, sculpture, etc.), in song. As I was working on this sermon, “Life is a highway; I want to ride it all night long…” kept playing in my head. Journey speaks to us as a metaphor for our life—our life’s journey—and for our faith—our spiritual journey. Sometimes life and faith is a highway, smooth and straight, and we can see for a ways ahead and can move along at a good clip. But so many other times the path of life is less highway-like. It can be rough, with hard obstacles. Too many times we cannot see far ahead with the twists and turns. Life’s road can be painful and difficult to traverse. But even with its unpredictability, the concept of traveling a path captures the rhythm of life.
This rhythm is part of our created nature. We see it reflected in all creation around us, of which we are a part. We witness the movement of the seasons; hot and sunny summer giving way to the glorious color of autumn, the cold bite of winter eventually releasing us into the new life and new birth of spring. The sun rises and sets. The moon moves through its cycle. Both of these help us to mark the time of our journey through life and into faith. In creation there are certainly surprises within the rhythm. Storms rise up, temperatures fluctuate. But the rhythm remains, underlying everything. Our journey of life reflects the journey of our planet, and this powerful metaphor speaks to our journey of faith in equal measure.
Within our holy scriptures there is a wondrous collection of songs and poems and prayers written by those who have gone before us on this spiritual journey, speaking to moments they encountered on their travels, moments we find often on our own path. This is the Book of Psalms. These poets and songwriters speak words of deep honesty. They literally pour out their heart and soul to God, and some of their words and language can make us uncomfortable. However, there is a rich beauty is such honesty. With the Book of Psalms we find songs of creation (When I look at the skies, at the works of your hands…), songs of praise (Make a joyful noise unto the Lord…), songs of anguish and pain (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me…), songs of anger, songs of joy, songs of deep and urgent need. And, as we have before us this morning, songs of thanksgiving and dedication
Psalm 30 doesn’t stand out much in the world of Christian worship, study, and devotion. We tend to spend more time with Psalm 23 with God leading us even in the darkest of valleys, or Psalm 121 where we lift our eyes to the hills from whence our help comes. These psalms offer us powerful comfort at the darkest of times, when we have lost someone or something we love and are seeking comfort. Other psalms come to us in the movement of the seasons. Psalm 100 is about more than joyful noises, it is entering God’s gates with thanksgiving, and so we experience this psalm on Thanksgiving. What might be familiar to us in Psalm 30 is a portion from verse five, when encountered in a more popular translation: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” To truly dig deep into this psalm and perceive the rich meaning within it, it is very helpful to sit with our Jewish family of faith and listen to their rich history with Psalm 30.
Psalm 30 has a title, though the accuracy of the title is strongly debated among Hebrew scripture scholars. It is entitled, “A Psalm of David. A song for the dedication of the House—aka the Temple. However, David did not build the temple and was not alive when it was dedicated. It seems the psalm was first written by someone who survived a severe illness, one that had them close to death. However, the psalm was used to dedicate the temple after the victory of Judah Macabees, a dedication that is remember by the Jewish people around the world every year in the Festival of Dedication—Hanukkah. Every Hanukkah, Psalm 30 is read to dedicate the worship of the people for the coming year.
However, Psalm 30 is also a key part of the morning daily prayer practiced by many Jewish people the world over. One branch of Judaism refers to this early morning daily prayer as ‘rise and climb,’ to rise from bed and climb into the presence of God. It may seem odd to use a prayer for the dedication of the House, the Temple, for morning devotions. However, Rabbi Menachem Creditor, from Berkley, California and a frequent blogger on Huffington Post, teaches that our lives are our ‘houses.’ This song of thanksgiving and dedication found in Psalm 30 dedicates our ‘house’ each day. As the psalm is prayed, it establishes a ‘safe place’ for life’s journey that day. It sets the focus of our ‘house’ on God. One of the dangers on the spiritual path is a sense of loneliness, which is the primary emotion/fear behind Psalm 30. The poet’s words combat this fear that rises up on the long path of life, and even on the path with God. The words of the psalmist call us to center our spiritual path intentionally, daily (even hourly if needed) on the presence of God. This psalm focuses us on the One who created us and called us good, the One who loves us beyond limits, the One who journeys with us on all the parts of our journey.
To live into our own goodness, which is our created nature, to embrace the love Jesus calls us to, as we heard last week—to love God, love neighbor and to love self—we need ways to dedicate our ‘house,’ ways to set our spiritual journey on the path that leads toward God. We need ways to rise and climb. Psalm 30 is a lamp to our path. Psalm 30 calls us to praise God for wholeness and restoration even if we haven’t yet experienced it. Psalm 30 calls us to proclaim to ourselves and others that God’s will is life abundant. Psalm 30 reminds us that we are NEVER alone. Psalm 30 calls us to travel our journey reflecting God’s goodness in partnership with one another, with all the ‘others’—our neighbors on this planet—and with the planet herself.
This day we have the wonderful opportunity to dedicate this House—St. Paul’s UMC—and all our ‘houses’ to the glory of God. Let us pray, using the beautiful and poetic words of Rev. Jan Richardson (adapted).
Think of our lives
as a house:
door flung wide
a graced spaciousness
opening and offering itself…
Let it be blessed
in every room.
Let it be hallowed
in every corner.
Let every nook
be a refuge
and every object
set to holy use.
Let it be here
that safety will rest.
Let it be here
that health will make its home.
Let it be here
that peace will show its face.
Let it be here
that love will find its way.
let the wear come
let the aching come
let the lost come
let the sorrowing come.
let them find their rest
and let them find their soothing
and let them find their place
and let them find their delight.
And may it be
in this house of our lives
that the seasons will spin in beauty.
And may it be
in these turning days
that time will spiral with joy.
And may it be
that its rooms will fill
with ordinary grace
and light spill form every window
to welcome the stranger home.