January 28, 2024 ~ Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Beckie Sweet
You are doing really well!! Worship of any kind does not come naturally to a lot of people. Worshipping God takes our focus away from our human inclination to put “me first,” and turns our attention outward, with the intention of seeing, hearing, and experiencing God: sometimes in and through one another, sometimes in and through creation, sometimes in and through those labeled as the “least of” these our siblings, and sometimes, when we are humble enough, in and through those who speak with God’s authority. Today, we have been engaged in hospitality, hymns, prayers, readings, standing up and sitting down and all the rest ~ all in the effort to worship God in meaningful and memorable ways.
Let’s be honest, most of the rest of our week, we spend focusing upon ourselves and our needs. We have chores to fulfill, work to be done, loved ones to care for. There are bills to be paid and appointments to be kept. Sometimes we are burdened by anxiety about our friends and family. At other times, our own concerns overwhelm us.
Perhaps our greatest challenge is that we have been taught, in one way or another, that the point of Sunday worship is us. What am I going to get out of it? That attitude has been cultivated in our culture that teaches us, in so many ways, to focus on ourselves. In countless TV shows and podcasts, people enjoy telling others about their problems, because someone will always have a solution to sell to you!!
Here’s the latest no-fail solution to your dieting problems. For only $14.95 a day, you can know the secret to losing weight.
Heartsick over your baldness? You don’t have to suffer any longer. Buy this, and your troubles will be over.
Feeling blue? Buy this unique light to brighten your mood.
In such a world, it’s natural that the church is presented to you as just another means of getting whatever it is that you think you must have. Worship, for some, becomes a means of GETTING the solution to a perceived need, rather than GIVING God the praise that God is due.
Psalm 111 that Linda read for us today, is focused entirely, obsessed completely with God. It is as if, in this psalm, the psalmist says, “You have spent the whole week self-concerned, obsessed with your problems, strategies, and plans. Now, for just a brief time, let’s all get together and refocus ourselves upon something larger than ourselves. Let’s talk about God! Thus, the psalmist says,
The works of the Lord are magnificent: the mountains, the sparrows, the view of Cayuga Lake as the ice sinks beneath the new fallen rain, the individual talents and wisdom of those around us, the enthusiasm of a child.
God’s deeds are majestic and glorious: from a formless void God created a bountiful world, then God showed us how to live in the words and works of sacred text. Amazingly, when we, the human family, failed at the simplest of relationships, God sent One with God’s authority to teach us, to live and die for us.
God is famous for wondrous works: renowned for such a diverse, beautiful world, widely acclaimed for the creation of the world’s peoples, constantly constructing a way through when we thought there was no way out.
God is full of mercy and compassion: that means that time and again when our love failed, when we turned away and arrogantly followed our own ways rather than God’s way, God was merciful, slow to anger, full of steadfast love.
God remembers each covenant forever: God keeps promises to us: I will be your God and you will be my people. I will be with you always, even when you walk away from me.
God proclaimed powerful deeds to all the people: We don’t have to make things up for God. God comes to us, speaks to us, is revealed to us. God showed up among us and showed us the way. When we had misconceived notions about God, Jesus, the Christ was sent to reveal to us the truth about God.
God’s handiwork is honesty and justice ~ all God’s rules are trustworthy: In a world where for some, lying becomes an accepted norm, where we are bombarded with information and don’t know what to believe, where we’re not sure who to believe, God is to be praised as an honest, truth-telling God. There’s a lot of injustice in this world; none of that comes from God. God is always on the side of the oppressed and victims of injustice.
God sent redemption for all people; God commanded that the covenant last forever: We don’t need to go begging to God for forgiveness. God has already come to us in Jesus Christ. God is a redeeming God, who loves to take on our causes for good, to transform sinners into worthy leaders, to even raise the dead.
For all these reasons, the psalmist prods us to sing whole-heartedly: Holy and awesome is God’s name! To know the truth about God, to get a clear picture of God’s character and what God is up to in the world, this is one of the reasons we come together to worship and praise God today. It’s about GOD! In Sunday worship we confess that most of our pressing needs in life are insurmountable by our own efforts. We place our hope in the God we worship.
Now, I honestly know that while we are here, we do hope to receive some helpful guidance that we can put to use in the week ahead. I hope that if you have come here full of anxiety, that you will receive a new song in your heart, a new sense of peace and well-being. But mostly, I hope that we each will meet and be met by God.
I am going to ask you to choose a focal point in the sanctuary that is sacred to you. Perhaps it is the cross, a stained glass window, or an angel. Keep your vision fixed on that focal point while I share with you a paraphrase of Psalm 111, penned by Leslie Brandt.
Psalm 111 by Leslie Brandt
My heart is full today.
I am so grateful for all that God has done for me.
I need but crawl out of my corner of depression and self-pity
and look around me to see how great my God is.
I cannot see God, but I can see the works of God’s hands.
A merciful and loving God, who deals tenderly with those whose hearts are open.
A righteous and faithful God, whose promises and precepts are forever.
A majestic and powerful God, who created me and sustains me day by day.
A forgiving God, who takes me back to God’s loving heart when I go astray.
My God is in this world today.
And those who recognize and accept God’s presence are building on foundations
that are eternally secure.
How grateful I am to my God today!