August 11, 2019 Sermon by Vicar Ethan Bergman

Ninth Sunday After Pentecost August 11, 2019

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and from the Holy Spirit our advocate and who guides us through the boundaries of life.

I usually am drawn to the Gospel when I read the lessons for each Sunday. Yet today’s scriptures Psalm 33 stood out for me.

I recently read a book by Walter Brueggemann about preaching the Old Testament. And another book by Brueggeman about Praying the Psalms.

Brueggemann is ordained in the United Church of Christ and is a retired Seminary Professor of Old Testament.

I was reminded of Brueggeman because I recently returned from a backpacking trip to Holden Village where my family stayed for 3 nights.

When I was a 20 something volunteer at Holden Village in 1975, I heard Brueggemann and Helmut Thielicke speak at a Pastor’s conference held at Holden Village in the wilderness of the North Cascades near the boundary of the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area. 

Brueggemann spoke on the boundaries we all face in our lives. 

His definition of boundaries are any liminal times when we are at some sort of cross roads, some sort of transition. This could be at the time of a big decision that needs to be made or a turning point in our life journeys. 

The initial boundary Bruggemann spoke about was the transition the Israelites faced when they were about to enter the promised land after 40 years of wandering. 

You may remember that Moses wasn’t allowed to enter the promised land. He never got to experience the fullness of this transition while here on earth.

The boundary that Bruggeman speaks of may be the return of an illness that we had hoped was cured. 

It may be the joy we feel when a person gets married or when a new child is born.

This Transition may be the loss of a job and an unknown future.

It may be the excitement of a new job that brings with it a bit of anxiety.

This boundary may be the loss of a loved one.

It may also be finding a new friend to share with.

This transition may be moving to a new place with no friends.

It may be opening the door to a new spiritual practice that is new

I’m sure you all could add to this list.

I recently re-listened to one of Brueggemann’s Holden lectures from 1975. He made several statements that were memorable and humorous.

Helmut Thielicke was a German Lutheran. Brueggemann is a Nebraskan United Church of Christ Professor and Pastor. 

Bruggemann stated that this conference at Holden Village had two speakers. One who doesn’t speak English very well but speaks very good Lutheran referring to the German Thielicke.

The other speaker doesn’t speak Lutheran very well but speaks pretty good English referring to himself.

Brueggemann’s main message was about the radical nature of our Faith and a gift of a new land that the Israelites faced. The reference to a new land is a metaphor for anything new in our life.

We may not be facing a new land, yet we are often at boundaries or transitions in our lives like the Israelites were when they were shown the Promised Land. 

In one of the books I read Brueggemann says there is no need to necessarily make a direct link between preaching the Old Testament and the New Testament. 

This is especially true of the Psalms where people are probing and voice authentic emotional extremes that we can relate to in our own lives.

Yet in today’s scriptures there are connections that unite together. There seems to be a wonderful flow in the messages that we hear in the readings for today especially as I reflect on the boundaries that we are often faced with.

Today’s Psalm 33 addresses the question about what we are called to do in boundary times in verse 20 which states: 

20 Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield. 21 Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. 22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.

What does it look like to have our soul wait for the Lord when we are facing a transition?

What does it feel like to have our hearts glad in Him, trusting His holy and majestic name even though the boundaries we face are daunting, discouraging and maybe even intimidating? When these boundaries may cause fear and trembling?

As we hope and have faith in the Lord, we wait for Him and experience, maybe sometimes in a great amount, maybe sometimes in a lesser amount that God is our help and shield. 

We are glad and experience fulfillment in Him as we face those often frightening and fear-provoking transitions in our walk here on earth.

We probably have all experienced that fulfillment at times that have helped reorient our course in life.

My wife and I faced a boundary 40 years ago. We married and almost immediately moved to Alaska, another huge boundary time. A significant transition. We moved into a large unknown.

I remember when each of our three children were born that I felt unprepared as a parent. We were at another transition with each birth. 

When each child was born I hoped for the set of instructions and there weren’t any. We had to wing it as parents.

Yet I felt a deep hope and faith that God would be there with us in tough times and great times to be our shield and offer Carla and I guidance as we faced the inevitable decisions of life.

We may never fully get to that place, that promised land, while here on earth. We may never get to that place where we at all times and in all places put our total trust in God and Jesus our Lord and Savior.

Yet we can pray to God that His steadfast love be upon us so that we place our hope and faith in Him when we are faced with a boundary, a transition of an unknown future.

How do we put this in practice in our world when waiting for the Lord?

How do we wait patiently for a peaceful, sacred space, and presence when these may seem so difficult to reach?

Abram was at a boundary in Genesis 15. He seemed to realize that he couldn’t take matters into his own hands after he tried to do it himself. 

He had to wait for the Lord to do wonderful things. He had to wait for the Lord to make His offspring as numerous as the stars in the sky.

In Genesis 15 we hear

(God) took (Abram) outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

God is asking Abram to wait and to trust as Abram faced this boundary of the unknown.

But as we all know, it is sometimes very difficult to put this divine request from God into practice.

We don’t tend to be very good at waiting and trusting. 

We want to do it now by ourselves when we face boundaries, when we face transitions.

I think that is one reason many people don’t claim a faith in God. I think many people don’t want to accept that they can’t make it on their own. 

They want to tackle the boundaries in their lives by themselves. They don’t want to be dependent on a higher power.

The fact is we all fall short of God’s glory. We all fail at times.

Yet there is consolation when we fall short of God’s request. 

In Luke 12 we hear Jesus addressing His beloved Disciples:

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 

God has given us the Kingdom. We are promised a life with God. Our God is a giving God. It gives Him great pleasure to give, without anything required on our part.

And Jesus adds a request that we:

33 Sell our possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Because Jesus knows that what we store up on earth is not a true treasure. 

The true fortune is the pearl of great price that God delivered with Jesus’ death on the cross, when our sins were nailed to the cross with Jesus and we were without restrictions given our salvation.

This is wealth that can’t be destroyed or taken away!

So sisters and brothers, I pray today and this week, that as we face boundaries in our lives, that we position as much trust as we are able to place in God’s hands. 

God has promised that His steadfast love will be upon us all the days of our lives, even in the boundary times of change and transformation. 

God has promised to give us the kingdom. What more can we trust in and hope for?