When the LORD changed Zion's circumstances for the better, it was like we had been dreaming.
2Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter; our tongues were filled with joyful shouts.
It was even said, at that time, among the nations, "The LORD has done great things for them!"
3Yes, the LORD has done great things for us, and we are overjoyed.
4LORD, change our circumstances for the better, like dry streams in the desert waste!
5Let those who plant with tears reap the harvest with joyful shouts.
6Let those who go out, crying and carrying their seed,
come home with joyful shouts, carrying bales of grain!
Today’s reading in our Advent devotional book, Those Who Dream, invites us to contemplate Psalm 126 in word and in an abstract visual that depicts the ripples of the Negeb river flowing through parched desert land, the tears of the people’s pain sowed in exile and the seeds of new life sown when God restored their dreaming and their fortunes. This week we can see some glimmers of restoration in the midst of our pandemic exiles as the first vaccines are administered here in our country. Thanks Be to God!
Throughout these last nine months we have persevered in dreaming God’s dreams of justice and love and in “Being Church” as we came together:
Thank you!!! Thank you for continuing to “Be the Church!” even in the midst of all the pain and frustration and fear of our world. We may sow in tears, but we also reap in laughter, love and God’s abundance. Sowing the seeds of God’s presence in our world and reaping the reward of relationship is holy work for all seasons. It is particularly poignant during the darkness and waiting and preparation of Advent.
Many blessings as we keep on keeping on “Being the Church” and following Jesus on the Way.
With you on the journey,
P.S. There are many Christmastide events coming up! See them at plymouthucc.org/events.
The Rev. Jane Anne Ferguson, Associate Minister, is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. She is also the writer of sermon-stories.com, a lectionary-based story-commentary series. Read more
Six months is a long time to have a church building closed. I was imagining what it would be like if our physical home had been closed because of a fire or flood or some other disaster. I suspect it would be far more difficult for us to have jumped onto the livestream band wagon if none of the other churches in Fort Collins were having to take similar measures. But we find ourselves still feeling as though we are living in exile from the people and the structural home we love.
I keep thinking about Psalm 137, a lament that speaks of an exiled people who long for their homeland:
By the rivers of Babylon --
there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our harps.
For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked
for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the LORD's song in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
Lament is a perfectly acceptable form of prayer at this time in our common life. I suspect that many of us are growing tired of livestreamed worship, and I can tell you that I am really weary of trying to connect over the internet with the hundreds of people whom I suspect are out there, but whose reactions and responses I cannot see. I am tired of the hollow feeling of singing hymns with only four people singing in the sanctuary. It seems as if we have “hung up our harps” and God only knows when we will be back together and able to sing robustly “one of the songs of Zion” with a choir and a congregation. And like anger, lament is okay...but it’s a lousy place to get stuck.
We have to move forward from that place of feeling crummy about the state of our lives and recenter ourselves. The wisdom of the Psalms again comes to our aid, providing a pivot (ugh...I’m tired of that word!) moving us from imploring God to doing what we can do by being faithful. Psalm 13 is short and to the point:
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my
heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my
enemy will say, "I have prevailed"; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
[pivot] But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Each of us has something to be grateful for...some bounty that God has entrusted to our care. Even if it something as elemental as waking up this morning, we can give thanks. I find it difficult to be grateful and grumpy at the same time, and since we have a choice about our own outlook, I make an attempt to live in gratitude. I’m trying to pivot into the love and goodness of God, rather than to get stuck in the mire of lament and self-pity. Singing helps...even if it’s alone in the shower.
Isaac Watts, a Congregational minister in London in the 18th century, usedPsalm 90 as the basis for his hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” and for those of us who feel as if we are in exile — who miss our home — it contains these lines about our true home, which never closes down: “Still be our God while troubles last, and our eternal home.” Don’t be afraid to call on God directly in these uncertain, stressful times. We all need to allow ourselves and one another a bit of grace to feel our lament, and we also need to acknowledge that this pandemic is not going to last forever, and there will come a day when we can return to our fellow members and our church building.
Keep the faith!
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.
This may surprise you, but I LOVE CHURCH. I love Sundays when we gather as a community to read liturgy, pray, sing familiar songs, connect with each other and learn in our educational programs. As churches around the country close their doors and open up Facebook Live, YouTube, and Zoom to for their worship services, there is a lot of chatter that the church is not a building. And, there is a lot of talk that society will forever be changed by having experienced COVID-19, including the institution of the church. Being adaptable is key and that also brings with it challenges.
Your church is finding new ways to worship, connect and care for you. We have increased our online presence, we are reaching out more by phone and mail, and we have increased our care by providing supplies and financial assistance and so much more. Please let us know if you need anything.
So while the church is not the building, we have enjoyed reaching beyond our walls and our physical boundaries and hearing from folks afar. Yet, I know all of the staff at Plymouth looks forward to us all being together in the building again AND with those online. It’s too early to tell how this pandemic will impact the institution of the church, but I know the Plymouth will adapt to effective ways to be the living faith.
Holy Week is upon us and Maundy Thursday is my favorite worship service of the entire church calendar. I even love Good Friday when there is darkness because we move to silence on Saturday, then finally the celebration of ‘He Is Risen’ on Easter Sunday. I wonder if we are ready for Easter. The pandemic news is dire for some and uncertainty surrounds us. I know I am ready for the Easter message that moves us from death to resurrection to new life.
I wonder what it is like for you to worship via Facebook Live? Let us know.
In December, Carla started her two-year designated term pastorate at Plymouth. She spent the last 5 years consulting with churches on strategic planning, conflict transformation and visioning. Before going to seminary she volunteered at her church through Stephen Ministry, visiting ministries and leading worship services at a memory care unit and a healthcare facility. She served on the Board of Directors for the Iowa conference of the United Church of Christ.