March 13, 2022 – 2nd Sunday in Lent
Plymouth Congregational, UCC
Fort Collins, CO
Psalm 27 (NRSV); Triumphant Song of Confidence. Of David.
1 The [the Holy ONE], is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The [the Holy ONE], is the stronghold, the refuge, of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh--
my adversaries and foes--
they shall stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
4 One thing I asked of [God]
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of [God]
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of [God]
and to inquire in [God’s] temple.
5 For [the Holy ONE] will hide me in shelter in the day of trouble;
[God] will conceal me under the cover of [God’s] tent;
[God] will set me high on a rock.
6 Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in [God’s] tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to [the Holy ONE].
7 Hear, O[God], when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek[God’s]face!”
Your face, [God], do I seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
10 If my father and mother forsake me,
[God]will take me up.
11 Teach me your way, O [God],
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.
13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of [the Holy ONE]
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for [God];
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for [God]!
Wait. Wait for God. Some of you may have mastered the art of waiting. However, I think that most of us in the 21st century do not like to wait. We want things now or soon after now! We want communication with our loved ones now! Why don’t they text or call back? We want our fast food now! Deliveries from online orders now! We want news now! We look for the shortest line in the grocery store, the closest parking place to the store entrance. We don’t like to wait. If we have to wait…. well, then we look at what’s on our phone to keep us occupied?
Yet the ancient poet of Psalm 27 says to us, “Wait for God.” Especially when you are stressed and in crisis. When enemies, literal and metaphorical, surround you – enemies who are plotting war and bodily harm, enemies who are seeking to wreck your reputation through false scandal, enemy fears that you hold inside undoing your confidence – when you are set upon by any of these enemies, wait for God! The Hebrew word for “wait” here doesn’t mean just passively stand doing nothing. It means actively hope in God! Look for God! Be gathered in by the Holy ONE who is your light and salvation. Seriously! Of whom should you be afraid? God is with you and on your team.
I know – and the psalmist knew – that this waiting for God is easier said than accomplished. I suspect that is why the psalm was written. I know and the psalmist knew that there are long dark days and nights when it seems that God is not present, when we wonder where in the world is this God of light and salvation?! In our own lives, in the lives of those we love, in the lives of the world. I don’t know about you, but I can barely read the news from Ukraine without asking, where is God? I can barely read the news from Texas and Florida of the opposition against and exclusion of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers and children. Where is God? I barely read the news about the urgency of climate change and destruction. Where is God? I sit with those in our congregation who are going through loss, illness, tragedy and hardship. Where is God? I acknowledge my own grief, fear, challenges within my own heart. Where is God?
This week, I read these ancient words over and over in different translations starting with the King James’s Version I first heard in my childhood, moving through the NRSV, the CEB and finally on to Nan Merrill’s wonderful book of contemporary paraphrase, Psalms for Praying. I was asking, “Where is God?” in these very troubled and frightening times of pandemic, war, climate destruction and personal trouble. After a week of impatiently waiting with this psalm, I was found by God who is always patiently waiting for me, for us, for the world, almost as if hiding in plain sight. God is here. When we think we are waiting for God, God is already waiting for us, with open arms.
The literal encompassing energy of the universe, of all creation, is God, is Love. Love’s energy is always here. In fact, it cannot be destroyed. Our warring ways cannot blot it out of existence. Obscure it from our sight, yes. But not destroy it. So, where do I find God waiting? I find God is waiting, in the care that you, my Plymouth sisters and brothers, extend to one another in times of need. I find God waiting in the joy of our children’s faces, in the thoughtful questions they ask. I find God waiting in the courage of the activists among us who speak out against injustice, who welcome refugees and homeless folks into our community. I find God in the late afternoon light landing golden on the bare winter landscape as I walk the dog. I find God in the prayers you offer as well waiting in my own heart as I feebly pray for peace, as I haltingly write sermons, as I wait with scripture I may first not understand or grasp, may in fact even resist because of my fears that it’s wisdom might not be true. Yet as I surrender, even tentatively, to the wisdom I want to embrace, God shows up.
I read a Facebook post this week from a Plymouth member quoting Eat, Pray, Love author, Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert wrote, “You are afraid of surrender because you don’t want to lose control. But you never had control; all you had was anxiety.” Wow, that hits home! How often do we worry and worry, not just over small things, but also over the big, important things, yet things over which we have little or no control? Does our worry, our anxiety, bring us closer to God?
Where is God when we realize we do not have ultimate control over what is happening to our loved ones, to our beloved creation, to everyday people like us whose lives are literally being bombed into smithereens, to everyday people like us who are told they are not valid people because they are not made in the image of the definition of human being as “white, straight, middle to upper class, male?” Where is God when we are held in the grip of these very legitimate concerns?
God is waiting for us in our very fears and anxieties and worries as we surrender our false sense of control over them to God. Not surrender our agency for action, because God will call us to action that we can accomplish. But when we surrender the enemies of fear and crippling anxiety to Love, God is waiting for us. For God is the Love that animates the universe, weaving in and out of all situations, events and people. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” the poet, Gerard Manly Hopkins, wrote.[i] And I would add the nurture, the compassion, the care of God, especially when we think all is lost and we can’t take anymore.
At those times, we can say with the ancient psalmist, “Hear me, when I cry aloud, and answer me! Do not hide from me. I am waiting for you to gather me in, to give me hope.” And in the rubble of our pain, God is waiting. When we surrender to the yearning for God’s peace and presence, we find God in unexpected ways, through unexpected people and situations.
How I wish I could tell each and every one of you exactly how you will find God waiting! Yet I cannot deprive you of your journey into Love for the wholeness comes in the journeying. How I wish I could banish the pain and suffering of the world! And of course, I don’t have that kind of power or control. None of us do. I can offer you the presence of Psalm 27. As I close today, I offer it to you in words from Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying. Hear and pray and let its yearnings wind through the yearnings of your heart.
Love is my light and my salvation,
Whom shall I fear?
Love is the strength of my life,
Of whom shall I be afraid?
When fears assail me,
rising up to accuse me, each one in turn shall be seen in Love’s light.
Though a multitude of demons
rise up within me,
my heart shall not fear.
Thought doubts and guilt do battle,
Yet shall I remain confident. ….
For I hide in Love’s heart
In the day of trouble, as in a tent in the desert,
away from the noise of my fears. …
Hear, O Beloved, when I cry aloud,
Be gracious and answer me!
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart responds,
“Your face, my Beloved, do I seek;
Hide not your face from me.”
Do not turn from me,
you who have been my refuge.
Enfold me in your strong arms,
O Blessed One. ….
You, My Beloved, know me and love me.
Teach me to be love, as You are Love;
Lead me through each fear;
Hold my hand as I walk through
Valleys of doubt each day,
That I may know your peace.
I believe that I shall know the Realm of
Heaven, of Love, here on Earth!
Wait for the Beloved, be strong with courage … ;
Yes! Wait for the Love of your heart![ii]
May it be so! Amen.
©The Reverend Jane Anne Ferguson, 2022. May be reprinted with permission only.
[ii] Nan C. Merrill, Psalms for Praying, An Invitation to Wholeness, (Continuum Publishing, NY, NY: 1998, 46-48.)
Associate Minister Jane Anne Ferguson is a writer, storyteller, and contributor to Feasting on the Word, a popular biblical commentary. Learn more about Jane Anne here.