I exalt you, Lord, because you pulled me up; you didn't let my enemies celebrate over me. Lord, my God, I cried out to you for help, and you healed me. Lord, you brought me up from the grave, brought me back to life from among those going down to the pit. You who are faithful to the Lord, sing praises to him; give thanks to his holy name! His anger lasts for only a second, but his favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping may stay all night, but my morning, joy! When I was comfortable, I said, "I will never stumble." Because it pleased you, Lord, you made me a strong mountain. But then you hid your presence. I was terrified. I cried out to you, Lord. I begged my Lord for mercy: "What is to be gained by my spilled blood, by my going down into the pit? Does dust thank you? Does it proclaim your faithfulness? Lord, listen and have mercy on me! Lord, be my helper! You changed my mourning into dancing. You took off my funeral clothes and dressed me up in joy so that my whole being might sing praises to you and never stop. Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever. Psalm 30:1-12 (CEB)
Well, the season of Lent is beginning next with this coming week, next Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent, but next this coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which kicks it off. And we're gonna be going through the Psalms, and if you receive the newsletter or follow the Aldersgate UMC Facebook page, you may have already seen this, we've got printed copies available, but we're gonna be journeying through the Psalms and we've got a schedule that will help you to break those readings down and be able to get through all 150 of them between now and Easter. So, There's a fair amount of reading with these, and we've got catch-up days in there that are scheduled, so Sundays you get to take a break if you've done your reading or play catch-up or if it doesn't work for you, you just skip ahead and pick up where you think you need to. But the point of this is, it's a discipline to be able to practice and engage during the season of Lent, and it's not one that we need to beat ourselves up with or be legalistic about, so we can say there, I read it, I speed read through it and I didn't remember or retain anything that's not the point, the point is, take your time, enjoy them and let's see what we can discover in this...
I think the psalms are a wonderful tool that God has provided us with their prayers, their songs that were sung by the ancient people of Israel, that cover the whole range of human emotions. They're angry with God, they're praising God, they tell God what's on their mind, not always in a nice way, but I think it's helpful for us because in some ways it gives us words and maybe we don't have ourselves, it gives us permission to be honest with God. Because the truth of it is, there are times when people go through things and they're not too happy with who God is in those moments, but the good thing is God's big enough to handle it, and we usually learn and grow and get over it, but we need to be able to tell God how we really feel.
So we're gonna begin this morning by looking at Psalm 30. Psalm 30 is one that I chose to preach on this morning because... One of the things, as we go through the Psalms that I wanna encourage you to do, is to think of what type of Psalm it is. Now, there are a lot of ways that scholars break down and classify the Psalms of Psalms of lament where we're pouring out how we feel in the moment, and life's not good, there are psalms of praise, there are psalms that basically a, go get them. God, our enemies are coming and you need to get them, but scholar and theologian Walter Brogan had three categories that he suggested for the Psalms, and he described them and said that not all Psalms fit neatly into these categories, but in general, he said there are psalms of orientation psalms that orient us toward God and praising God and saying, life is good, and so it's our responsibility to offer praise to God, and then he said there are psalms of disorientation, those are those times in life where the wind gets knocked out of you, the rug gets pulled out from under you. Things just aren't necessarily going the way you want, and life becomes crazy and chaotic and you're struggling to make sense of things... Life has a way of doing this, and some of the Psalms acknowledge that and say, Okay, God, what is going on here? And the third category is there are psalms of re-orientation where something's happened, life has thrown us that curve ball, we've come through it and we've discovered a new possibility, a new way... Well, part of the reason that I've selected the Psalms for this season of Lent, and even this particular Psalm for this morning, is that the last year that we've been through with COVID has been a season of...
Orientation, life was good and suddenly COVID here and life is crazy and turned upside down. Well, as vaccines are becoming available and we began seeing a possibility of life returning to, as people have been saying, our new normal, that's a form of re-orientation, we're not just gonna go back to the way things were before all of this, but hopefully this reorientation will be dialing us in and focusing in a new direction that's better, that's how God works in our lives and through the Psalms, and so we see that play out this morning in Psalm 30. Part of the reason that I chose this short Psalm of 12 verses is that these categories of orientation, of disorientation and reorientation all take place in these 12 verses. The psalmist says, I will extol you God, for you have drawn me up and did not let my foes rejoice over me. Lord, my God, I cried to you for helping you’ve healed me.
Oh Lord, you brought my soul up out of Shoel and restored to me life from among those gone down to the pit. This person is praising God saying, God, I've come through some stuff and you're the one to take all the credit for this, I recognize that, and I'm gonna praise you, but
This person is retelling that story, God, you drew me up. You didn't let my foes rejoice, I cried out and you answered me, and then it moves into verses four and five, where this person is so excited about this, that they're praising God and calling others to join in in that praise, sing Praise to you, the Lord, you His faithful ones. Do you see what God did in my life? Isn't God good? Join me and praising God for all the wonderful things that he has done. Life can be rough sometimes. The psalmist says, but God's angers for a moment, his favors for a lifetime, weeping might linger through the night, but joy comes with the morning. We will get through this. Things will get better. And then the Psalmist says, For me, I said, In my prosperity, I said, when things were good, God, I'm not gonna be moved. And yet, in that middle of verse 7, we have that moment of disorientation, God, you've established me as a strong mountain, but then you hid your face from me, I was dismayed... I couldn't make sense of it as which way was down, why were things happening this way? And so the Psalmist cries out to God in a very honest, very human, very pleading and bargaining way, God, what good is in there in this if I die, if I go to him to the pit, if I go down to Sheol.
Praise you. Hear me God, be gracious to me. And Apparently God does, because the psalmist concludes with this new orientation, this reorientation, by saying, You have turned my morning my grief into dancing, you have taken off my sack cloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord, my God, I'll get thanks to you forever.
So in these 12 verses, we have that sweep of this person who's praising God and the bottom drops out and life becomes crazy and confusing, and suddenly they discover that God is with them and life is good, and they come back re-oriented, refocused and praising God.
Now, there's a lot going on in here. There's a lot more that could be said about it, but the take-aways for me are the fact that this person recognizes God's presence and was praising God, but I think they also recognize that they weren't quite where they needed to be, because looking back, they said, You know what? When life was good, in my prosperity, I said I'll never be moved. But then they discovered that that prosperity, that comfort, that nice even keel of life didn't last. And when the bottom dropped out. They said, Oh, my word, what's going on? God, you've gotta do something again. And God does, but the thing is God doesn't just restore them for the sake of restoring them to prosperity or comfort, or all of those things about life being good, God restores them for the purpose of praising God.
General themes for us to keep in mind with the Psalms are that for the faith of the Hebrews, their purpose, their existence was to praise God, and to not praise God was death. In this Psalm, and others, we'll see references to the pit or Sheol... This Hebrew understanding was the notion of where the dead went, it was a dark place, it was a quiet place, it was a place where people no longer were able to praise God, and so if life was for praising God, Sheol was where that cease to happen.
And for this person, maybe it was a literal death that they feared, but quite possibly in those early verses, when they said, you have raised me up, brought my soul from Sheol, You've restored me to that place in life, God, where I am able to praise You. What’s more, this person shares that story and tells others about it, so that they too can praise God. So what does this all mean for us? It's easy for us to look at the Psalms and say, Oh, well, those were those stories that happen so long ago, those were those stories in specific situations, and some of the Psalms are personal prayers, some of them are communal ones, where the whole of the people would be praying them. Well, the truth of it is, we need to recognize these stories as our stories as well. Now, Walter Bremen, who I mentioned with these categories in an article that he wrote about the Psalms number of years ago, said that we need to re-narratize the Psalms. We need to tell the story of the Psalms differently.
And he says to re-narratize the Psalms is to proteins. Protest against vacuous generalizations. Vacuous generalizations would be mindless, superficial. That's kind of what I was saying. Oh, those Psalms applied to other people a long time ago, they don't really pertain to us, so to re-narratize, to retell the story, the Psalms is to protest against these generalizations and to focus on concrete-ness where in real people living real lives of agony and ecstasy, so we re-tell these stories of the Psalms, not in general terms, but in concrete specific ways, where real people like you and I, live real lives of agony and ecstasy, if you have your Bible out or we're following along at home. In the Psalms, there are these subscriptions at the top, so for instance, in my Bible, it says Psalm 30, and then it has a title for it that says thanksgiving for recovery from grave illness, and then a smaller print under that it says a Psalm... A song at the dedication of the temple of David. Now, what Walter Brogan is suggesting is that we need to take some liberty with those subscriptions and make them personal, we need to change those subscriptions to say things like a song of thanksgiving for healing after heart surgery, of Joe, a song of gratitude for wisdom and guidance of Glenn and Ruth Ann, The Song of being comforted after losing a spouse of Mary, or a song of thanksgiving for recovery from COVID of Steve, no longer are these only David's poems there are...Consider the Joes, the Glen and Mary, and Ruth Ann, the Marys, the Steve. In fact, we could probably open up our bulletins and see that prayer list and put up and insert the name of many of those people on our prayer list, because this psalm is their psalm, and just like the psalmist here, particularly for those who've come through a difficult situation, they tell that story. They witness to their faith.
Since I've been at Aldersgate, we've been praying for Kelly Borne’s brother in law Walt, and his challenges with cancer and the ups and downs that he's been through, we've prayed for Walt. Even if we may not have been able to pray for himself, we knew the situation and we prayed and was received good news recently and is improving, and like the Psalmist, Walt is rejoicing and giving thanks, and Walt story is one that we know about because he's shared it with the people in his life. And in turn, Kelly has shared it with us. We've heard that story and we're invited to not just listen, but as the Psalmist says, sing praises to the Lord. Oh, you His faithful ones.
When we spend time praying for those people on our prayer list and lifting their names and we hear the ways in which God has worked in their lives, we too are called upon to rejoice. The Psalmist points out the fact that sometimes we have setbacks, sometimes we have those moments where we falter and stumble, but the Psalmist points us to the fact that it's not about only living a comfortable, pleasant life... It's about being able to recognize that God is with us at all times. It's about being able to lift our voices in praise, to praise the God who is with us, the God who makes things that seem impossible, possible. And so we think about the many “ofs” that we could ascribe to these Psalms, the times when God has moved in our lives, those songs of thanks and praise that we offer for healing, for new jobs, for restored relationships. And the list goes on and on. Because these stories, these Psalms aren't some distant abstract poems that are being lifted, but they're a way in which God is inviting us to remember that these stories are our story. May we see the God who works to heal, to restore, to strengthen and build up, working and moving in our lives, just as he did in others.