Rescue Me - Week Three: Renew
It's the Third Sunday of the season of Lent, and we are journeying together after Jesus as he travels to Holy Week and the Cross.
The thing is, when we step into the Lenten journey, it's easy to feel a bit lost. It's one of the most difficult seasons of the year--a long wintry trudge that is sandwiched between the joys of Advent and the transforming moment of Easter.
And let's face it, following in the footsteps of Jesus as he journeys to the Cross isn't exactly the most thrilling of propositions for most of us.
What we need are guides to help us along the way, to inspire us to keep going and to give us direction when we feel lost and alone. That's the focus of the sermon series we're beginning today--a series entitled, "Rescue Me."
We'll be engaging with the lectionary Psalms that are part of our Lenten readings for each of the Sundays in Lent. The Psalms are more than just poetry. They are more than prayers. The Psalms provide us with a connection to our true selves.
We chose as our overriding image for this series the image of a message in a bottle...
Messages that we throw off into the ocean, hoping that they'll be found, that we'll know that we are not alone in the universe... that God is with us, for us and will rescue us from whatever it is that we need rescuing from.
And the messages we search for, the ones we hope will wash up on the shore, providing us with surprising and startling truths about who we are, and the new people we are called to become.
Today we're going to start with a question that almost every one of us has asked at one time or another. Every person sitting here today has asked this question at some point:
"What do I do when my faith is failing?"
Even if--and this is super important--even if you struggle to know what you believe about God, you have asked this question. Maybe asking that question is what led you to start struggling with your belief in God.
So many of us try to figure out how to answer that question doing things that are good things. We look to nature, which is a great way to feed your soul, no doubt. We might even try meditation or books that offer some guidance. We may even go so far as to take some courses to try to figure it all out, or go to a conference, attend a workshop.
And sometimes these kinds of things lead us to a place where we're simply trying to put in more effort, to start paddling faster.
These things all have their place in our lives and our development as human beings, and we should do all of them. Seriously.
But the ultimate answer to that question--"What do I do when my faith in God is failing, or falling apart, or has become non-existent---is actually a lot simpler than all of that.
The message that comes to us today is from Psalm 19--and this is the message, what I want us to remember today: Faith Finds Renewal In Following.
We can muster up all of our own effort that we can in order to find our faith or to rekindle it, but in the end, faith will find renewal in following... specifically following Jesus.
And here's the beautiful thing that we're going to learn in a bit---you don't have to have anything figured out to follow Jesus. You don't have to have the answers. You don't even have to have belief to follow. It's in the following that you find and renew your faith.
We're going to read Psalm 19 together responsively in two sections. First, let's read Psalm 19:1-6:
1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.
This first portion of the Psalm focuses on God's self-disclosure through the "heavens." It's obvious the author is using poetic language--giving voice to the heavens, depicting God as pitching a tent, and the sun personified as a groom ready for his wedding or a champion running a race.
The flow of the Psalm is from General to Specific--here we are dealing with the outer space aspect of the singer's lesson about following. He moves to inner space in a moment, but for now let's stay here in the heavens.
The author is touching on something that every single one of us knows: the universe is vast, mysterious and beyond our comprehension. We have no idea what is going on out there, but it's amazing and we see the results of that amazingness all of the time.
Theologian Richard Rohr often writes about the mysteries of the universe--a universe that is evolving and expanding in ways that are hard for us to imagine. He wrote recently:
When it comes to the universe, as fast as we can discover something, it's already old hat--and there are new mysteries to solve.
There are literally billions of galaxies like our Milky Way galaxy. Billions.
If you planted a tulip for every single day that has passed in the last two thousand years and then planted tulip every day for the next seven years, you would still not even have planted a billion tulips.
And get this...
You are unbelievable.
Let me tell you some facts about you.
[the following is liberally borrowed from Rob Bell's "What We Talk About When We Talk About God"]
Did you know that your body is made up of around 75 trillion cells which each contain hundreds of thousands of molecules that have six feet of DNA in every cell with over three billion letters of coding?
And these atoms that make you-you right this second have been other things before now like... a pigeon, a stalk of celery, a sea bass, Oprah...
You are made of stars.
And here's something else that is guaranteed to blow your mind.
Did you also know that there is a universe between us? It's true. At our most basic level, these trillions of atoms that make us-us are leaving and joining us to the tune of billions of times a second.
And it's impossible to measure just how much space there really is between you and me, and even the tables and chairs that we have gathered around. On a molecular level, it very well may be light years.
There is just far too much mystery and beauty here for there not to be an artist behind it.
And despite all of this--so many of us struggle in our faith.
It's almost as if the singer gets this. He's saying, "all this ought to be enough for us, but it usually isn't." And so he keeps singing. Let's read Psalm 19:7-15
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is pure,
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.
10 They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
11 By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
First, and this is incredibly important, the name that the singer uses for God changes in this part of the psalm. We can't see this in English, but in Hebrew it's striking. The first six verses use the word El for God, which speaks of majesty, glory, other-ness. The second set of verses refer to God as YHWH, which is a much more personal, intimate, way of referring to God.
Remember what I said about the General to the Specific.
The singer is essentially saying, "God has already done more than enough to renew our faith by what we experience of God all around us, but if that hasn't been enough if you need more--there's more!"
Heaven and earth do disclose God's identity, but----and this is where the singer is heading---when you follow the law of love, that's when it gets personalized. Following the law of Love is what will bring all that you are experiencing home.
And nothing can be hidden or careless here. Following the law of the Love is not for the insolent, the casual, the indifferent. The law of Love is meant to be followed by those who want to live differently, who want to know more of God, who want to experience the fullness of God in their whole life.
The singer instructs us through his song to claim this: Despite all of God's loving self-disclosure, if you still struggle with your faith--just follow. Following will renew your faith. Following may even help you find faith if you've lost it, or if you never had it.
Jesus embodied the law of Love. His teachings, his ministry, his miracles... they all demonstrated what it looks like when the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Love is right here on earth.
So what do we do with this? How do we take this and apply it to our own lives?
Because a sermon without a good application, isn't really a sermon is it?
I heard this joke about a trucker named Ed who was having to go to driving school to work off a speeding ticket. The instructor gave him a scenario. "You are driving in a dense fog down a busy interstate. You suddenly see a huge pile up in front of you, covering all lanes. You have a semi to your left and your right. What do you do?
Ed thought about it, and then said, "I'm going to wake up my driving partner Bob." The instructor was puzzled. "Is Bob more experienced?" Ed shook his head, "No, but he ain't ever seen a wreck like that before, and I want to make sure he doesn't miss it."
We can't be like Ed. We need a good application to prepare us for stuff.
First, and I mentioned this earlier, but I want to unpack it:
Following doesn't require you to have all the answers.
There is too much mystery and wonder in this to think we have it all figured out. Jesus didn't give the disciples a test before he called them. He didn't ask them about their theological leanings. He didn't give a rip whether they could argue effectively about religious stuff.
He just said "Follow me" and they learned on the road.
Listen, there's nothing wrong with thinking that debating theology is fun and awesome. There's nothing wrong with making sure that people have an understanding of Christian doctrines, but far too many churches are churning out people who are full of information and absolutely lack transformation.
You can know all about Jesus, but not really know Jesus. You can even know how to describe what you think it looks like to follow Jesus, but not actually be following Jesus.
You don't have to have Jesus figured out to follow--don't let anyone tell you differently. Just take the step to follow and faith will find you.
Second, you have to make a choice to follow.
This is common sense. There is a way to live that offers wisdom, joy, enlightenment, and abundance. And there's a way that doesn't. You can't be casual about this.
You have a choce to make of whether to follow the law of Love or not.
It's not rocket science. Following the law of Love means that you live differently, and your living differently makes the world around you a better place.
And the people around you want to know what is making the difference in your life.
Because when you love your neighbor as yourself... When you turn the other cheek even when it hurts.... When you forgive because you have been forgiven... When your heart is broken for the broken....
People want to know how you are doing that. They want to know how you are able to live in a way that seems wise, joyful, full of light, life and abundance.
And that's when you can say... "I made a choice to follow Jesus. I made that choice when I didn't have it all figured out, and I still don't. But it changed me. It made me new."
And then sometimes they will ask, "But what do you do when you struggle in your faith--because I'm struggling in my faith." And then you will tell them... "My faith fails sometimes. I mayay even have moments when I feel like I don't have any left at all... BUT I KEEP WALKING!"
Because when your faith starts to fail... keep walking. Keep walking, keep stumbling after Jesus. When all seems lost... keep walking. When it feels like it's all for nothing... when it's too much to handle... keep walking.
Faith finds renewal in following.