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A Proud, Healthy, and Faithful Journey



"A PROUD, HEALTHY, AND FAITHFUL JOURNEY"

a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens

Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.

June 30, 2024


Psalm 30 NRSV

1 I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.

2 O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.

3 O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,

 restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

4 Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.

5 For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime.

 Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

6 As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”

7 By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain;

 you hid your face; I was dismayed.

8 To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication:

9 “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit?

Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?

10 Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!”

11 You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

12 So that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

 

  We say, “Faith is a journey, not a guilt trip.”  It’s a clever but true way of saying we approach faith differently from a lot of churches.  Of course, it grew out of the fact that so many have been turned off by churches who have made God and Jesus sound like angry deities waiting to smite everyone.  Most of us believe in a more forgiving and loving God looking to embrace us rather than destroy, abandon, or condemn us.

         

If you look back on your life I imagine you can identify with the idea of faith as a journey.  Most of us have experienced both wonderful, blessed times on our journeys.  We may also have experienced terrible, frightening and painful times.  We may have had intense experiences of God’s presence and also agonizing times of feeling God’s absence.  Yet, here we find ourselves, in a place of worship, seeking to express our faith in a God who we claim is with us on the journey, for good and bad and everything in between.

         

I think this Psalm does a wonderful job of describing the ups and downs of life and faith.  As we gather this morning to vote on the budget for the future of our little faith community, this seems a fitting time to explore just what it might have to say to us as we look ahead to our faith journey together as a community of faith, as Coral Isles Church.  What I would like to do this morning is share how I read and listen to the Psalms.  Perhaps you might be able to use the questions I use if you feel it helps in your journey.  I ask several questions of the text whenever I read a Psalm to try to get a bit of a deeper understanding.  I will share these questions with you on the PowerPoint as we go along.

         

One of the first questions I ask is “who is the writer talking to?”  This is helpful because if we pay attention to this we will see that at times the writer addresses God, at other times the congregation – or reader – and sometimes other audiences.  For the first three verses of Psalm 30 the writer addresses God directly.  The writer speaks praises to God for God has healed and lifted the writer up from the Pit.  “You have brought up my soul from Sheol… rescued me to life from … the pit.”  So this Psalm begins as an expression of thanks to God for “salvation,” because the writer’s soul and life have been restored.

         

As we reflect on that we might think back to times we have felt rescued from a bad situation in our lives.  Maybe we were aware of God’s hand at the time, or maybe not.  As we look back at our lives these verses invite me to think about those times and look for how God may have helped rescue me or get me through.  I can say, without bragging, that having my father die when I was 9, my mother die when I was 20, and losing my two brothers when I was in my 40’s all were challenges.  They were difficult times.  I truly do feel my faith is what gave me strength in those situations and made it possible for me to go on in my journey.  I still am very grateful to a colleague of mine who stood with me when my oldest brother died.  I called him when I had to go and meet the police to identify my brother’s body and my colleague and friend was with me through that very difficult time.  I think his presence helped lift my soul from the pit.  He embodied Christ’s love for me in that time. 


The writer then turns to the people.  He invites them – and us – to sing praises and give thanks to God.  The writer affirms confidence that difficult times do not last, saying, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”  He acknowledges two interesting things to note.  One is that he had held a great confidence in his life situation.  He confesses that when everything was going good he was like a “strong mountain” that would “never be moved.”  But then the writer admits it was as if God “hid” God’s face from him and all kinds of suffering fell upon him.  He was “dismayed,” even distraught.  I imagine all of us who have gone through tough times can probably identify with that. 


Notice that the Psalm turns back to speak to God at this point.  He seems to almost shake his fist at God!  This leads me to the second thing that I find interesting.  Maybe you will think it is surprising! The writer seems to bargain with God for relief.  This is a characteristic of Jewish faith that seems to happen at several points in the Scriptures.  When things are going wrong, in times of difficulty, the Hebrew Scriptures tell how their leaders bargain with God in a very specific way.  They say to God, in essence, what are the other nations going to say about you if you let us die here, or if they see us suffering and we haven’t done anything to deserve it?  What profit will it bring you, O God, if you let this terrible thing happen to us?


In this passage the writer asks,

9 “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit?

Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?

10 Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!”


This leads me to the second question I often ask when I am reading the Psalms.  When I come across something that surprises or challenges or confuses me, I ask myself why do I find it surprising?  What does it tell me about my faith, or the writer’s faith?  I’m not sure that I have ever bargained with God like this.  Most pastors would discourage their people from cheap bargains with God like, “God if you will let me win the lottery, I will give half of it to Coral Isles Church!” But this writer is in essence challenging God to be faithful to the covenant God has made with the people:  to be their God and to bless them and not forsake them.  This pattern appears many times in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Moses and Abraham and others bargained with God again and again when God seemed ready to give up on the covenant with the people.  I wonder how many of us have faith to challenge God in this way in times of trouble? 

         

That leads to the third question I find helpful when I read and pray over the Psalms.  What does this Psalm say about who God is, what characteristics does this God seem to have?  After admitting to the problems and difficulties he faced, this writer says this about God:

11 You have turned my mourning into dancing;

      you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

12 So that my soul may praise you and not be silent.


There are a number of ways we could define this description of God.  One way might be to say God is a redeeming God.  God moves to lead us from experiences of death to life, from suffering to recovery and healing.  This God is with us helping us transform difficulties into new blessings.  I find this helpful to remember when I face difficulty.  Sure, there have been times when I wondered if “salvation” or “redemption” would come.  There have been times when it felt more like God had abandoned me rather than to believe that God would “ransom” me, but here I stand.

         

My belief in Christ is this kind of belief.  Christ embodied the way God transforms life.  Christ’s actions and words demonstrated the way God moves us from suffering to new life and new hope.  The stories told of Christ healing, of Christ engaging and welcoming the outsider, the hated, the oppressed person shows that God transforms those realities to new life and new hope.   Even more the resurrection witnesses to God’s power to overcome all things even that which we fear most: suffering and death.  The promise of our faith is that God does not abandon us, even in the face of death itself.

         

I pray you find yourself on a proud, healthy, and faithful journey.  I hope that when you are struggling, even in the shadows of the valley of death, as another Psalm reminds us, that you will fear no evil.  I hope you will know the Living, Loving God is with you.  When we proclaim Christ lives, we are saying that God’s power of love overcomes all things.  We say God rules over the powers of darkness and evil, even when they may have some victory we cannot understand.  We hold on to the faith that God still reigns.  We proclaim God’s victorious reign is here and is to come.  God reigns.  AMEN.

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