Sunday, April 28, 2024
God’s Playlist
Colossians 2:6-7 & Psalm 40
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

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We are continuing on with our sermon series: “God’s Playlist” based on the Psalms. The Psalms, as we’ve seen so far, give us permission to be brutally honest with God even when our disappointment and anger is directed at God. The Psalms are also God’s words to us. We see in the Psalms that God wants us to be real with him. God desires our honesty. And since God is God, God can handle whatever it is we think is too much for anyone – let alone God – to handle. What God tells us through the Psalms is that God is always with us even when, as we see in Psalm 40, we are in a pit of despair. 

When I was a junior at the University of Washington, one of my sorority sisters, Jill Dumler, who many of you know better as Jill VanderWal, our former interim Associate Pastor, and I went to see my favorite band of all time, U2, in concert. At the end of the concert, the crowd starts chanting “40!” This is referring to U2’s song that’s based on Psalm 40. It was a song that the band hadn’t performed live in decades. U2 heard our chants that night in Seattle and came back out to close out the show with “40.”

If you didn’t know this about Seattle, it’s one of the most unchurched cities in the country. So why would the thousands gathered there that night, most of whom weren’t Christians if we take into account Seattle’s non-religious status, demand that U2 play a song that’s right out of the Bible? 40 consists of only the first 3 verses of Psalm 40, but those words resonated with thousands that night. Verses 1-3 are an honest description of how someone feels when they’re in the pit of despair. It also conveys the hope that God (or if you’re not a Christian, which again many in the crowd that night were not, a higher power) will pull us out of the pit. The need to be real about one’s pain and the need for hope is why I think many of the unchurched in that massive crowd that night wanted U2 to perform it. 

Psalm 40 is unusual in that it’s considered one of the Psalms of Thanksgiving, but there are also elements of lament.

The psalmist begins this Psalm with why they are thankful to God. The psalmist recalls how the Lord heard their cries while they patiently waited for the Lord to rescue them. At our last deacons’ meeting we reflected on this Psalm together for our devotion. A great question came up during our devotion: “Will God only hear us when we wait patiently?” The answer is “no.” Thank goodness because I don’t know about you, but I’m not very patient. The truth is that God’s actions are not dependent on our actions. The Psalmist touches on this in verse 6: “Sacrifice and offering you do not desire…Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.” Simply put, God doesn’t need our sacrifices. God doesn’t need us to do anything to earn God’s love. God has already decided that we belong to him. We are his. Jesus didn’t wait to go to the cross until the disciples asked him to do so. Jesus obediently went to the cross even though he was terrified. But this was God’s will because, through Jesus’s resurrection, we will always have a way back to God even when we stray from God. 

Humanity has always struggled with the concept that we don’t have to earn God’s love. We see this in Israel. Israel would get into trouble when they brought sacrifices to the Temple, not because they were truly thankful for all that God had done for them, but because they were hoping to get something from God or prove themselves worthy of God’s love. It is what we do in response to God’s love that matters. 

In verses 6-7 we see that God isn’t so much interested in what can be sacrificed, but the spirit behind sacrifice. While we no longer offer animal sacrifices, as Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice who was perfectly obedient to God in ways we could never be, God remains more concerned with the motivation behind what we do as followers of Jesus Christ. It’s easy, however, to just go through the motions. Come to worship. Check. Read a short devotion. Check. Attended a Bible Study. Check. Serve someone in need Check. Following Jesus is not a checklist. It’s a way of life. If we are truly motivated by God’s love for us in Jesus Christ all of that is no longer a checklist, but things we want to do because we are acting in response to the God who loves us.

We tend to confuse response with requirement. What I mean by that is that we confuse what we do as a response to God’s love with what we do to prove we’re worthy of God’s love. We don’t earn God’s love, but we do respond to God’s love. There’s a difference.

One way to appropriately respond to God’s love is with a spirit of thankfulness. Thankfulness also helps us to get out of the mentality that we have to do something to earn or to prove we are worthy of God’s love. The more we get to know Jesus Christ, the more thankful we are for the fact that out of God’s grace, God chooses to always love us no matter what we’ve done. It’s humbling to know that even with all of our imperfections, God still loves us, is for us, and will always come to our rescue when we find ourselves stuck in the pit.

In responding to God’s love with thankfulness, the author of Psalm 40 is able to  “patiently wait for God.” This is because they recall how they’ve waited for God in the past and how God did indeed show up to lift them out of the miry clay and the deep pit. In remembering how God pulled them out of the depths of despair the Psalmist is thankful. Remembering how God has worked in our lives leads us to be thankful for God’s gracious presence in our lives and the confidence that God will be there for us when we inevitably find ourselves in difficult situations.

Are we good, however, at remembering how God has worked in our lives? In the PW Bible study this year the theme was “Sacred Encounters” with Jesus. I encouraged each PW circle (which are small group Bible studies) to reflect how they experienced a sacred encounter with Jesus. This was tough for many as we tend to think that a “sacred” encounter with God has to be something big like lightening out of the sky. But as it states in James: “Anything good in our lives is a gift from God,” so there are sacred encounters with God even in the simple and ordinary things of life. Such as seeing a cardinal at your bird feeder as a gift from God reminding us that spring is right around the corner. There might be a few mornings of freeze warnings the first week of May because we live in MI, but God promises the true arrival of spring in that little cardinal. Even in naming how we encountered God in the simple and little things results in a spirit of thankfulness for the presence of Christ in our lives. 

It’s that spirit of thankfulness that helps us remember that when we find ourselves in the pit or on unsteady ground again, God again will lift us up and put us back on solid ground. If we truly believe that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then we can be confident that God will be with us today and forever in the same way God was with us in the past. 

We also see in this Psalm how one can be both thankful for God, while also being honest about our needs. In verse 12 we see that the author has once again found themselves in a dark place where they are overcome by evil and their own iniquities or sin. Whether the Psalmist is in a difficult situation due to outside forces or due to their own actions it is clear they’re back in the pit. The Psalmist boldly asks God to help and deliver them from this terrible place and yet they are still thankful. Thankful because they know God will once again lift them up and bring them back to solid ground. Thankful because God will hear their cries. God heard them before and God will hear them again.

It’s why I’ve titled this sermon: “Thankful Waiting.” Waiting on God includes expecting God to bring us out of the dark places we will inevitably find ourselves in. This doesn’t mean that waiting for God’s help will be easy. But we can still be thankful for who God is while we wait for God to put us back on solid ground. We aren’t thankful for the waiting, but for the reassurance that God will lift us out of the pit time and time again.

Earl Palmer, who was the Senior Pastor at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle where I attended as a student, once described how Jesus works in our lives.

Imagine you’ve fallen into a deep pit and you can’t get out on your own. Luckily you’ve managed to grab hold of a sturdy branch not too far from the edge of the pit.  A wee boy scout scrambles over and reaches out to pull you back upon solid ground.  But you don’t take his hand because you know his 100 pound body won’t be able to lift you out.  If anything, both you and the boy scout will end up plunging to the bottom if you grab his hand.  Another individual comes over and offers his hand.  But you recognize him from the newspaper headlines as the escaped convict who recently broke out of jail.  Again, you don’t take his hand because you question his motives in helping you.  Another person comes over to help you, but before you even have time to size them up or to even think about accepting their help, they grab your hand and pull you back to safety. 

Before we can even ask Jesus for help he has already acted to pull us out of the pit. Through Christ’s resurrection, we know that God will always pull us out of whatever pit we find ourselves in whether it’s due to outside sources or a result of our own sinful actions. We don’t have to earn or prove ourselves worthy of Jesus’s rescuing presence in our lives. Jesus decided to rescue us when he chose to go to the cross. There’s nothing we can do to add or take away from what Jesus has already done for us. If that isn’t something to be thankful for I don’t know what is.