I am preaching this weekend at Woodlake Lutheran Church in Richfield, Minnesota. The following is a draft of sermon I will not be giving, based on the focus text of Psalm 27:1-6 and an accompanying gospel reading of Matthew 6:25-34, the readings assigned for this weekend by the Narrative Lectionary. What follows was going to be the majority of my sermon this weekend as of this past Wednesday afternoon, but the massacre in Charleston has confronted me and called me to change directions. If you were curious about what I was thinking about earlier this week, here you go.
This week in Vacation Bible School, many of you have traveled to Mount Everest. You have imagined and envisioned yourselves climbing up the highest peak in the world, the highest point and closest you can get to touching the stars before taking flight.
Now, I can’t say that I have ever been to Mount Everest before, but I know something about mountains. You see where I grew up no matter which way you looked you could usually see a mountain. To the west, across the bay you could see the beautiful snowcapped peaks of the Olympic Mountains. To the northeast, you could glimpse the peaks of Mt. Baker and due east, that of Glacier Peak, the two most northerly volcanoes in the lower 48. But to the southeast towered the majestic and most beautiful mountain of all, Mt. Rainier. No, Mount Rainier is not Mount Everest. In fact, Mount Everest is almost exactly twice as high as Mount Rainier. But, it’s equally as beautiful to see and witness, or to go and visit.
In thinking about today’s reading, Psalm 27, I am struck by the sense of trust we hear from the psalmist. That’s the sort of trust that is required to climb mountains I imagine, and to be willing to leave the known comfort of solid ground and to ascend to the higher and more challenging heights, peaks and summits that they offer. It’s the kind of trust needed to endure the unknown, change, trials, tears and fears.
Psalm 27 is a Psalm like many others 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?”
The Psalmist doesn’t hide who or what he thinks the Lord is. The Psalmist comes out and directly names the identity of God, saying that “The Lord is my light and my salvation…” It’s similar in this way to Psalm 23 where we join with the psalmist in proclaiming that “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.” This is a rarity in the Psalms, as only 2 of the 150 of them, begin with the words and claim that “The Lord is my…” This is important, and speaks to a sense of trust in the psalmist’s and our relationship with God.
This trust though is not one built off of an easy or always positive life. The trust the Psalmist has here is that of someone who has been around. They have experienced the hard things and pain that life can bring. They have witnessed and lived through the battles of life, and the feeling that problems are all around them. At the same time, this Psalmist has lived long enough to have experienced the great joys of life, and knows that neither the pain nor joys are permanent or final.
There is wisdom in recognizing this. It takes someone who can draw from their experience and trust that in the midst of the good, bad and ugly of life, God is present and for you no matter what is happening, the changes, the challenges, the problems, or fears and anxieties you might be facing.
It’s kind of like the mountain climber, the person hiking, who comes to a major point of challenge, to a decision point, do you trust your fellow hikers, guides and team to keep going or do you turn around while you can? If you keep going, you are going to need to cross the glacier, and take your ice pick and climb up a sheer and steep cliff face. Of course, you will also need to make camp for the night and want to be out of the wind before darkness falls or the storm picks up. These aren’t easy challenges, but if you have been through the experience of the journey up a mountain before, you probably expect them, and know that as stressful as this may be, you are not alone.
The Psalmist acknowledges the challenges, yet boldly claims, “Though an army encamp against me, my heart will not fear. Though war rise up against me, my trust will not be shaken.” It seems to be an acknowledgement that life is not always easy.
Sometimes the changes we face may be uncertain and stressful. Think about yourself for a minute, and how you have aged and experienced different periods of life. The transitions from being a child entering kindergarten to a teenager a few years later 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 require a great deal of trust.
I’m thinking about my grandma today. Here’s a person that her whole life has had one huge servant’s heart, opening up her homes offering a place to stay for those who need it. She’s someone who has read the Bible probably more times than I could ever hope to or imagine. She could probably give a Bible Study or sermon just as well, and perhaps better, than my pastor Grandpa could. But she, like so many, has had to grieve the loss of a son far too young long ago, say goodbye to her precious love of her life before her a few years ago, and is now dealing with the challenges of not just old age, of having her grandkids grow older somewhat far away from her, but also of having to come to terms with the challenges of some dementia. None of these things are easy, and plenty of tears have fallen because of this.
All things considered, Grandma has already lived a long and full life, though a few of you around this church might still call her a relative young one. When she and I last talked, she told of one of the greatest challenges that she has these days. It’s not the occasional falling, or even her relatively occasional short term memory lapses. It’s the fact that for the first time in her life, she feels like she has to repeat the same Bible lessons day after day. One of the things that has always brought her great joy is engaging her neighbors, friends and fellow faithful in conversation and study of the scriptures. She has taken it upon herself to do this with her fellow residents at her assisted living home. But it’s a great challenge, because she wants to be able to move onto other passages, themes and topics in the scriptures, but because of the different memory levels of her neighbors, she keeps having to go back to the same repeated stories about God’s promises that they talked about the day before.
She admitted to me though, she finds comfort in these words of the Psalmist, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom then shall I fear?” She knows that her memory may be going. But it’s important for her to be able to hold on to these promises of God, just as she works hard to make sure she continues to tell those in her life that she loves them dearly.
I’ve heard that “Growing old isn’t for babies.” I think that’s true. There are challenges that life throws our way. There are changes in relationships, life, locations, jobs, passions and dreams. Often, we can feel like our whole world has been shaken, that we are being circled round and swarmed by doubts, insecurities and fear. In the midst of these challenges and changes, our doubts, worries, and fears can seem more present than the assurance of God’s peace.
But just when we think that hope is not to be found, we are reminded of these words, from Jesus, “do not worry about your life” and “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.” The gospel writer seems to remember the claim and promise that “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”
Today may not be easy. Growing old will have its challenges. Climbing a mountain is not a walk in the park. But in the midst of all of this, we still join with the Psalmist in rejoicing and “singing and making music to the Lord.” Just when we might give into the doubts and frustrations, we are reminded that the sun will rise again tomorrow. We see the face of God in our neighbors, the little children, those helping us up when we fall or stumble. We see the face of God in the stranger or neighbor who helps us up, and provides a hug or a shoulder to cry on when we need. It’s in these moments, where we are reminded what it really means that the “Lord is the stronghold of my life.”
When we know and are reminded that “God is our light and our salvation,” we are reminded of this promise, a promise the Psalmist doesn’t just make, but it’s one God makes to you, that is God is for you, (as we will be reminded of again here in a few moments at the table) and God is with you.
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, and the doubts and uncertainties seem to get the better of us, indeed, God is still our light and our salvation. Thanks be to God for that. Amen.
Image Credit: Mount Everest