The following is a message that I gave in the Matins (Morning Prayer) worship service at Woodlake Lutheran Church in Richfield, Minnesota on Wednesday June 3, 2015. It is based on Psalm 27:1-6 and Luke 21:1-4.
The Dentist’s Office, a Generous Widow and a Faithful Congregation:
Psalm 27 inspired reflections on trust
The other day I was on my back watching and feeling as my dentist and hygienist were using their usual tools and pointy things to clean my mouth. As I was laying there, the thought hit me, you really have to have a lot of trust to let someone do this to your mouth… I don’t know about you, but I could think of a whole number of things I would rather do than spend an hour at the dentist’s. It’s not like it’s overly painful or terrifying, but it’s not particularly enjoyable either.
I start there, because today I want us to think a little about trust and to help set the stage for our current focus text series in worship on the weekends. Over the next month we will be focusing on the Psalms as we continue through the Narrative Lectionary. It just so happens that I will be preaching on this text again in a few weeks, but today wanted to pair it with this simple yet but profound gospel passage from Luke 21.
So looking at the Psalm- Psalm 27 is a Psalm expressing an idea of trust and reliance in and on God. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
This Psalm does not gradually get to the naming of the identity of God. No, God’s activity and identity at least in terms of our relationship with God are put there right at the beginning of it. It’s similar in this way to Psalm 23 where we remember that “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.” In fact, in all 150 Psalms, only six begin with the declarative, “The Lord,” and only two, Psalms 23 and 27 begin, “The Lord is my…” Of the other four “The Lord’s”, Psalms 93, 97, and 99 all declare that “The Lord is king,” whereas Psalm 110 begins, “The Lord says to my lord.” Maybe this is a small literary thing to notice for you English majors, but I don’t think so.
The trust the Psalmist has here is that of someone who has been around. This is not a naïve person who has never experienced pain. This is someone who has or does experience the “wars of life” and “enemies around them.” This is someone who recognizes the “day of trouble.” In these first six verses of this Psalm we see a deep trust of someone who has experienced both the joys and pains of life, and knows that neither is permanent.
There is a wisdom in this, a wisdom that I think is from experience and trust that in the midst of the good, bad and ugly of life, God is present and for you no matter the experience. Since I like to think in terms of stewardship and leadership, I think both apply here as well.
Now, taking a look at Jesus’ parable in this gospel passage I think helps us consider different manifestations of that trust.
The rich people have trust. They trust enough that they recognize that they can give some of their wealth and abundance away. It’s not clear from the short passage what the connection is between their faith, trust and giving. But I would tend to think they aren’t just giving money over because they have so much. There is probably some motivating reason or expectation at least for them to give, and hence they have some trust that what they are offering in the gifts to the treasury will be used to some end.
The widow on the other hand, has a level of trust that is rarely seen in this world. She gave out of her poverty. I would be lying if I tried to compare myself to her. Yes, what she gave may for our time and place amount to two pennies, but that’s all she had. She gave because she felt compelled to, perhaps. But I suspect she gave because she wanted to, and trusted that her giving mattered. She wanted to give thanks for her gifts in life, perhaps she wanted to do her part to help others, whether she herself had ever been helped or not. She trusted that what she gave would be used by God, and I would argue, she also trusted that in her giving and receiving God was present with her, no matter what. In fact, it may be that presence that made it possible to give in the first place.
Could you imagine giving the majority of what you have over to the church or God, without deeply believing that God was with you in the good times and the bad ones too?
There are so many important reminders about stewardship in this. In the parable, the rich people are giving out of their abundance probably more similar to how you and I give our offerings, based on some amount or percentage of what we have. We might notice it missing in our bank accounts, but we might not. The widow on the other hand “put in all she had to live on.” She is trusting that the Lord will provide, and as a widow in the Biblical context, life was especially not easy. If she had family, they may have cared for her. But if not, and without the ability to work, she probably had to beg or live off the charity of another. In spite of this, she still felt called to give, and to give thanks.
What might this gospel then suggest when we pair it back with the Psalm?
I would argue that it’s an admission that life isn’t always easy, and that giving and trust aren’t always easy. Sometimes the challenges of life may be overwhelming. Sometimes the changes we face may be uncertain and stressful. The transitions from being a teenager to a young adult, from being a working adult to being retired, from living on your own to a retirement home or other setting, these changes aren’t easy and they require a great deal of trust. I see that in you. I was reminded of those life lessons from my grandparents, and often am when sitting around the tables in the Fireside Room with you after Matins receiving your wonderful wisdom. I’m also still thinking of Selma today, and the one thing I keep hearing from her is “We’ve got to have some of the younger people stepping up… We need more eighty year olds to lead.” Now, it’s not often that I, at least hear that 80 year olds are young people. But there’s something extraordinarily awesome in that. If I can be so blessed to live to be 80 or more someday and still feel young, then you bet I will be one of those “young people” Selma was talking about.
In hearing your stories though over the past year, there are two themes for me which I hear constantly. You have a deep sense of trust that God is present, with you, and loves you. You also have a deep appreciation and gratitude for life, and life abundant. You could probably teach through word, story and action all of those “younger people,” who are more around my age, a thing or two about what it means to live abundant life. From what I can tell, in living an abundant life, it doesn’t mean that we are wealthy in material things. It means that we are content with that which is entrusted to our care, and trust that God will guide us and help us discern how to best steward those things entrusted to our care. And to live a life fully and with great trust in the promises.
That’s what I think the widow did in the parable, and I also believe the Psalmist trusts in, despite the challenges in the world around them. That’s a good reminder for those of us in leadership too. When things aren’t certain, when there are more questions than answers, which is probably most of the time, a leader does well to listen, to learn, to imagine, but most importantly to trust- to trust those around them who are part of their team, and to trust the one who brought them together, and brings all together in the community of God’s children that we see as the Body of Christ.
Now, I can’t say that I have ever experienced life feeling like I am circled round by my enemies, though the different tools the dentist uses might count. However, I can say that there are days when doubts, insecurities and fear seem more present than the assurance of God’s peace. This happens a lot in the midst of change. Changes in life, locations, relationships, jobs…
When these changes come, like as Pastor Diane takes her new call to Texas, or some other of life’s uncertainty or unexpected moments face us, I hope that we all hold the trust that the psalmist has in God. That we can give back to God, that which is God’s, and know that God is our light and our salvation.
The next time you are at the dentist’s office, think about this Psalm. When we know and are reminded that “God is our light and our salvation,” the rest always kind of seems to fall into place. When times are tough, God is our light and our salvation. When times are good, God is our light and our salvation. It takes a great trust to remember this at all times, but even when we forget, indeed, God is still our light and our salvation. Thanks be to God for that. Amen.
A Couple Selected Resources:
- A. A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms (I-72), (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1989), 219-227.
- Rolf Jacobson, “Commentary on Drinking Deeply from the Pslams.”