Sermon Archives

Sunday, June 5, 2016
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

Dag Hammarskjold was one of the most outstanding and highly respected international leaders of the 20th century.  He spent the latter part of his life devoted to pursuing the principles of the United Nations Charter, which proposed international cooperation and reconciliation for a peaceful world. 

It was known that Hammarskjold saw his work not only as a political role but also as a religious calling.  On his travels around the world, Hammarskjold always took with him three items, found in his briefcase, and recovered after the plane crash that took his life in 1961.  These included a copy of the NT, a copy of the Psalms, and a copy of the United Nations Charter.[1]

Indeed, Hammarskjold must have understood that the book of Psalms

Pronounces God’s claim upon the whole world Conveys God’s will for justice, righteousness and peace among all peoples & nations, and Anticipates Jesus’ bold position that the kingdom of God has come near.

While ancient Israelites used the psalms in their liturgy, these texts are much more than sophisticated poems.  We read them at every Sunday service, Evensong and daily morning & evening prayer – daily in the chapel at 8:30 and 5pm, you are invited!  We read the whole book of psalms in 30 days according to the order provided in the Book of Common Prayer.  Turn in your books of common prayer (BCP) to page 613, looking at the italicized text just above the number 24.  “Fifth day, morning prayer,” which we read for MP until BCP 27, where it says, “Fifth day, evening prayer,” etc.

At their heart, the psalms are not only humanity’s response to God, but also God’s word to humanity.  In this mutual conversation, we remember humanity’s ancient conversation with the Sacred and we remember Eternity’s divine conversation with humanity.

Professor Walter Brueggemann[2] offers a three-part framework to help with the enormous task of re-membering.

First, Psalms of Orientation reflect ours and God’s grounded sense of well-being found in the stories of creation, of the Torah, of wisdom literature.  Psalm 145 is a fine example, affirming God’s providential care.  Secondly, the Psalms of Disorientation offer personal and communal lament as found in that despairing place of unresolve and the very human experience of being felt denied by God and God’s experience of denial by humanity.  Psalm 88, for example, embraces this unresolved disorientation and precious helplessness.  Finally, Psalms of New Orientation offer personal and communal thanksgiving, confidence and praise in remembering the larger arch of creation. 

Today’s Psalm, #30, is a New Orientation psalm of thanksgiving, remembering the eternal story of going into trouble, sure, and of coming out of trouble that invokes a response that cannot be silent: praise and thanksgiving.  Getting into trouble, getting out of trouble, invoking burst of praise to God.

This theme, apparent in the first verses of the psalm, is palpable in the reading from 1st Kings and from the Gospel of Luke.  The psalmist, like anyone who grieves a loss, needs to tell the story – more, to remember, over and over, the details of the death and the rescue that occurs from which the response bursts forth: Lord, you have drawn me up, you have healed me, you have lifted me up and restored me to life.  The imagery of death captures and holds power for both the psalmist then and for us, now.

This psalmist invites us to remember. When were we, too, were brought to the Pit?  What was it like to demand from God an explanation for the depth of suffering? Finally, upon delivery, can we remember how we had to tell someone about that welling up of joy?  Remember how we could not stay silent, but instead give thanks and praise God?

With a veritable economy of words, the psalmist recounts the theme of the widow whose son died and yet lived again, according to the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.  The psalmist anticipates the other widow’s story from Luke, in which Jesus’ encounters her dead son and restores him to life through a compassionate command to “Rise!”  It seems the psalmist knew that from this encounter, people could only respond by glorifying God and sharing their praise.

Through these ancient stories, we remember humanity’s ancient conversation with the Sacred and we remember Eternity’s divine conversation with humanity.  And so God re-members us, re-weaves us into God’s beloved community and re-binds our broken hearts with compassion and with holy Love.  Again, we give thanks.

The last Hebrew word in this psalm is one of confessional thanks.  With that thanks there is a commitment to remember vividly the pre-rescue situation and to keep that memory alive.  With thanks, we confess.  When we give thanks, we admit that we rely upon another. To thank is a commitment to relationship. 

The Psalms hold a response to deep, human yearnings: the cries of our soul, the songs of surrender, the hymns of praise.  At the heart of this Psalm, with any interpretation, is this: God re-members us.

So how do we re-member others into our community?

We see & serve others – we really see them, respecting their dignity in every way.  This week, we can look deeply into the eyes of those we encounter and attend to their needs, putting our needs to the side.
We suffer with or have compassion with others – having compassion as for scripture’s widows and their sons, suffering with others and re-membering them into the community.  This week, we can offer compassion.
We say thank you – We re-member others into our community by giving thanks.  And, in so doing, we admit our relationship with them and with God, the God who re-members us all back into community.

At their heart, the psalms are not only humanity’s response to God, but also God’s word to humanity.  In this mutual conversation, we remember humanity’s conversation with the Sacred and we remember Eternity’s conversation with humanity.

Today’s good news is that God remembers us, our whole selves, our whole humanity, our whole ancient story.  Our silence is impossible! 

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. 

It is right to give God thanks and praise.

[1] Story inspired by New Interpreter Bible Commentary, “The Book of Psalms,” page 641 quoting Dorothy V. Jones, “The Example of Dag Hammarskjold: Style and Effectiveness at the UN,” The Christian Century 111, 32 (Nov. 9, 1994) 1050.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis, Augsburg, 1984)