Sermon for Sept. 23, 2018 -- Living in Community

“LIVING IN COMMUNITY” -- Sept. 23, 2018

“LIVING IN COMMUNITY”

A sermon preached by Terry McGinley 9-23-2018 Pardeeville

(Psalm 19:1-6a and Psalm 67)

     I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…one of the best things about the Book of Psalms is that it reminds us we live in community.  Think about it…not everyone in any given community is feeling the same thing at the same time.  A community might be defined as a group of people who share something with each other.  Our families are communities who are related to each other but we aren’t always able to be in the same place.  Thank goodness holidays and other special occasions give us the opportunity to share time together.  A congregation is often referred to as a community of faith.  We share a love of God and a desire to worship together and to reach out to others…but each Sunday…each mission project…may have a slightly different assembly of folks.  It’s members and spouses and visitors working together toward a common goal.  The towns we live in are communities too, but the meetings that happen, the festivals that take place, and the opportunities to get together happen in neighborhoods, in different buildings…even outside in places like Chandler Park or next to the library.  Each of us belongs to several groups, large and small, that qualify for the term “community”.

     The people who are a part of the Pardeeville community of faith and those who attend worship here, do community as well as any group of people I know.  It was not easy for me to be away from you the past three weeks.  My thanks to David Butler and Calvin Harfst for their leadership in worship the past three Sundays.  I was over in the western part of our state doing my part to bring the good news of God’s love to the people of First Presbyterian Church of Lacrosse.  Their pastor, Taylor Haley, had contacted me last December about being part of a team (there’s another community!) that would provide worship leadership during his three-month renewal leave.  I’m thankful for that experience which, among other things, exposed me to leading worship for a larger community of faith.  You should have seen the number of people who showed up every Sunday morning! 

     This sabbatical time in Lacrosse was a time for renewal not only for the pastor but also for the congregation.  It was done beautifully!  Pastor Taylor fulfilled a long-time dream of biking across the country and I have never meant it more when I say, “Better him than me!”  At the same time though, the congregation was exposed to events and special things to do each Sunday that would help them understand that their bodies are a gift from God.  A group of people prepared a devotional booklet to lead the congregation each week through scripture and reflection to realize their body as God’s gift and to be grateful.

     In hearing Pastor Taylor speak about some of his experiences over the summer, some expected and many a complete surprise, I heard him describe a community in four ways.  Communities encourage one another.  They do so willingly, knowing that we all need a pat on the back from time to time.  Communities accept one another.  They know that we are not all alike and that’s what makes the group special.  Communities also challenge one another.  Now there are two ways to challenge another person.  One is a direct, in-your-face kind of confrontation.  That’s not the kind of challenge we’re talking about here.   It’s more like the words in our closing hymn this morning:  words of challenge said with care.  And we talk sense to one another.  Sometimes a person is about to do something that’s risky.  That’s when someone else in the community needs to talk them out of it.   Pastor Taylor used these words to describe the congregation in Lacrosse but I think these four things can rightfully take place in any group we call a community…encouragement, acceptance, challenge, and sense.

     In the same way that communities act differently to one another, the psalms remind us that we aren’t always feeling the same thing at the same time.  With that in mind, we are going to highlight the versatility of the psalms this morning.  They express different emotions both from a community point of view and from an individual point of view.  Beginning the worship service with a psalm as our call to worship is certainly nothing new around here.  Our worship service deliberately begins with praise and adoration to God.  There are many psalms which express praise and Psalm 145 is right up there with the best.

     We used parts of Psalm 51 as both a prayer of confession and a declaration of pardon because both ideas are expressed in this psalm.  Psalm 51 was King David’s prayer of confession after making a dreadful series of mistakes.  At its beginning, the psalm expresses David’s feelings of contrition, even going to the point of declaring that he has been sinful all his life.  Yet as the psalm progresses, David expresses his understanding of God’s mercy and forgiveness, God’s declaration of pardon if you will.  The psalm we will use as our affirmation of faith is one of the best known psalms—Psalm 23.  In it we praise God for the way God cares for us and we express our trust that God will continue to be with us throughout our lives.  We’ll begin our prayer time this morning with Psalm 4.  This prayer leads us into the time we bring our joys and concerns before God.  We pray that God will listen.  We pray that God will act.  We know from our past experience that God will do both.  And we will end our prayer time with a community lament as articulated in Psalm 90.  Remember a lament is not a complaint for the sake of complaining.  It is an honest description of the situations we are facing but it ends with an expression of trust in God and in God’s actions.  And we’re just getting started!  There will be a verse from Psalm 24 as an introduction to the offering and even a psalm as a part of this morning’s benediction, a prayer to send us out into the world. 

     The Book of Psalms is an all-occasion resource for us.  Whatever we’re feeling, from sadness to thanksgiving to praise…we can find it in the Book of Psalms.  So what’s going on in the world right now?  It’s autumn, the change of seasons, harvest time, a special opportunity for us to express our gratitude to God.  And, you guessed it, the psalms have that covered too!

     The two selections we heard this morning offer us a varied look at the things that are going on around us at this time of year.  The Jewish faith celebrates the harvest every year with a seven-day remembrance called Sukkoth.  Sukkoth happens to begin at sundown tonight and ends at sundown next Sunday night.  It’s described in scripture as seven days at the end of the harvest season…a time of rejoicing and happiness that families spend together.  So, yeah, it’s a celebration of community!

     Psalm 67 is a community psalm of thanksgiving and fits right into the harvest theme.  We hear the phrase “God has blessed us” many times in only a few verses.  But the word “us” in this psalm means a community in the largest sense of the word.  It’s not just that God blesses the Jews but that God blesses everyone…all of us.  The psalm is not about just the blessings that the Jewish people have received but about God’s blessings to the whole world.  Harvest time is one of those special times of the year when we see what God is able to do and we give thanks.  We thank God for the blessings we have received.   Those blessings are especially noticeable at this time of the year…when we’re gathering vegetables and fruits from our gardens and when we see combines taking in the harvest from acres and acres of land. 

     Psalm 19 offers us some different aspects of what the psalms contain.  This psalm is the observation not of a community but of a single person…yet It’s something a lot of us can relate to.  Psalm 19 notes God’s timetables in creation on a grand scale.  As the psalmist beholds what’s happening in the sky, he cannot help but praise God for the way it runs so predictably.  Night after night…day after day…the things we see wherever we look remind us that God has a plan for the order of creation and creation must follow it.  It happens automatically, without any verbal directives from God.  Yet it is on display whenever we look up, everything exactly where it is supposed to be.  The sun rises in the eastern sky every morning and travels a path through the heavens.  The moon and the stars in precise order.  This is but one way that we know that we can count on God.  We see the accuracy that God has placed in the objects that grace the sky and we realize that everything we know about God is just as trustworthy. 

     Near the end of September, we see certain things that indicate the change of seasons.  In summer, everything is green.  As we move toward autumn, different colors appear…the leaves on trees change color and fall off.  One of these days, the grass will have a layer of white in the morning.  Sunrise happens later in the day and sunset earlier.  It’s all before our eyes.  There is no sound heard as it all unfolds.  But if we are too busy, too rushed during our days and nights, these wonders can escape us.  The Book of Psalms invites us to linger over its poetry, to understand its images, and to lead us to expressions of thanksgiving to God for all these wonders.  The very first words that God spoke in the book of Genesis were creative.  Let there be light.  So it’s only right that what we see in the sky and what we see as the seasons change should remind us that God is with us and God is still creating.

     The psalms continue to speak of God’s presence in any situation.  In times of joy and thanksgiving, for an individual or for a community, the palms make it a lot easier to see God at work.  The Book of Psalms is filled with individual and community laments, narratives, creation psalms, and songs of trust.  Each one is quick to point out that, regardless of what sort of emotion an individual or a community is experiencing, God is there in the thick of it all.  Psalm 139 speaks to that very fact.  “Where can I go to avoid your spirit?” the psalmist asks.  “If I climb to the sky you’re there.  If I go underground you’re there too.”

     This is good news, especially as the days get shorter and temperature continues to drop and we go out to cars that have frost on the windshield.  Keep reading the psalms and you’ll soon learn that these signs marking the change of seasons should not upset or disappoint us.  They are today’s signs that God is alive and well and a part of our lives.  Thanks be to God!