The Psalms Will Always Save You

Sermon in part. This week’s sermon is a dialog with the congregation about psalm 63 and is only partially posted here for obvious reasons.
Lent 3C  Isaiah 55:1-9   Psalm 63:1-8  1 Corinthians 10:1-13   Luke 13:1-9

Oh say, poet, what you do?pc
I praise.
But what about the deadly and monstrous?
How do you keep going, how do you take it all in?
I praise
Rainer Maria Rilke

When things for you are lonesome
And there is no way out of wherever you
Have built your life and you seem abandoned
To struggle through alone
In the dark,
The psalms will always save you.

When you are joyful and thankful
Like tree branches dancing with wind and see
All things as full of surprise and wonder like
A child finding a purple
Easter egg,
The psalms will always save you.

When you are lost and no map has
Ever been crafted for your landscape and you
Cannot see the road in front of your face
Or a space to even grasp for
The next breath,
The psalms will always save you.

When the days are weary and
Long like a dry, snaking riverbed turning
Through a once green landscape full of
Acres and acres of absolutely
Nothing at all,
The psalms will always save you.

It is not often that we take time to really look at the psalms we read for worship. Apart from the 23rd and the psalm I quote each week as a prayer before beginning to preach, the sermon is not often a time spent thinking about the week’s psalm text. As a preacher, it is not often to this little bit of weekly biblical poetry that I turn to inspire what I will speak to the gathered people.

When I began preparing for this week’s worship, I read and re read and re read over and over all three of the major texts. We began with Isaiah’s beautiful song calling out to all to come; come to the water, come to the feast, come even if you have no money, just come. Then Paul writes to the Corinthians about temptation and God’s faithfulness. And, lastly, Jesus talks about suffering Galileans, people crushed by a tower and a fig tree. All of that is, at least on the surface a bit confusing and even after multiple readings and a good deal of studying, I did not find God lifting out anything in particular for me to say about these texts today. I was frustrated.

Then I remembered something that a very experienced pastor once told me: when you are lost, preacher, the psalms will always save you.

He is right and that’s not just for preachers and pastors either. The psalms run the gamut of life experience and emotion. They contain great praise, great lamentation, great anger and great loss. If you have a feeling or experience that seems too big somehow to fit inside your skin, there is likely a psalm that expresses it.

When it comes to worship, however, we often just sort of fly through the psalm for the day. At one time we used to sing the psalm together and at this point we read it by half verse in response to the worship assistant’s words. I love to sing the psalms but there is something about the way we read it now that makes you have to pay a bit closer attention so you know when to come in!

Let’s look again at today’s reading from Psalm 63.

Back in our reading from Isaiah, we hear that prophet calling out to everyone who is thirsty to come to the water. Come, he says, even if you have no money, and get something to eat. The psalmist writes about being desperately thirsty and hungry for God and it is God who responds to our thirst and hunger for him by telling us to come. Isaiah is speaking both about real physical nourishment we may lack and that is available to people as a gift from God and about the kind of spiritual desire the psalmist speaks to as well.

In Isaiah, God speaks about making an everlasting covenant with those who come; God’s unconditional promise of steadfast love. The psalmist writes about God’s loving kindness being better than life itself.

The thing that is difficult about preaching on the psalms is that they sometimes seem like a single scene taken out of a movie or perhaps part of a chapter of a book. They seem to be, somehow, incomplete. Perhaps they are. Perhaps, unlike much of scripture where we must be very careful not to read them exclusively from a 21st century position, the psalms give us a place where we can make them our own.

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