Psalm 26 “Six Months”
Today we are marking another anniversary in this strange year. This week marks six months since we last gathered together as a worshipping community. Six months of trying to figure out online worship, me struggling with earbuds and the sanctuary Wi-Fi. Six months of Zoom calls, which have gone well but are not quite enough. Six months of some within our community who, without access to or ease with technology, have been deeply missed. Six months without sharing coffee in the kitchen. Six months without passing the peace, which I always hated to interrupt because it was clear to me every Sunday you all would just keep going and going. Six months without being able to welcome visitors to our worshipping life in a way that feels fulfilling. Six months without Card Club and Souper Thursday. Six months since we installed our brand-new sound system, and six months of not really using it. Six months of loosing members of this congregation and not having a chance to gather to remember and celebrate their life.
And it has been six months since we last sang together. This Sunday, the first after Labor Day would normally be when we welcome the choir back into the loft. They would again welcome us into worship, sing while we gather the offering, and send us on our way back into the world; their voices both comforting and a blessing.
Outside of our worshipping life we have seen six months of chaos, fear, and collectively wondering, “What next?” In these last six months we have see numbers of people getting sick steadily climb, and have tried to figure out what is the best way to keep ourselves and our neighbors healthy. We have seen a rebirth of a social and civil rights movement, that started in our state with the murder of George Floyd. We have started asking questions, having hard conversations, and wondering together what our role as people of faith is during this movement. In these last six months we have watched our damaged climate wreak havoc nationally and globally. During these last six months we have seen our country become more politically divided than ever, and are in the midst of a presidential campaign season that seems endless.
These last six months, for us at First Congregational, our nation, and our world, have been over-whelming, exhausting, and difficult. And I am not sure I have given you enough permission to mourn what we have temporarily lost.
You see, I have spent these last six months in awe of you. You embraced, so quickly, our transition to doing all our gatherings online. You figured out Zoom and some of you joined Facebook for the first time to watch our services. You helped me figure out sound issues with our streamed services and put up with my countless emails as I tried to make sure you knew how to connect to things. You have continued to give financially. A core group of you continue to give a great deal of your time to maintain our property. Our Council made a commitment to give from our abundance and make monthly donations to various organizations offering support during the pandemic. More of you than ever are participating in Bible study and a group of you decided you give an hour of your week to dream together about the future of church. You embraced my National Park nerdiness and went on a month-long road trip with me during June. You were kind about watching me lead worship from my basement and over-joyed with me when Sandy and I could be in the sanctuary again and we all could hear some music. You haven’t once complained about all the changes. And you didn’t so much wish me well on my recent vacation, as you kicked me out the door and ordered me to relax.
So, while I have been in awe of you these last six months, celebrating you every chance I got, and bragging about you to my colleagues who have had more struggles with their congregations during the pandemic, again I fear I have not given you enough space to simply mourn all that we have temporarily lost, especially on what would normally be our kick-off Sunday into a new and busy church season.
That is why I have once again turned to the Psalms. Six months ago as we gathered for our final in-person worship service I encouraged you to go to the Psalms when you felt the need to pray but just weren’t sure what to say. I encouraged you to turn to the Psalms when you want to grieve, because there you will find words of powerful lament. I encouraged you to turn to the Psalms when you were angry, because there you will find words of rage, not only directed at another person, but at times directed to God. I encouraged you to turn to the Psalms when you were joyful, because there you will find words of heart-soaring praise.
I want you to hear again verse 3 of the Psalm 26 that I read a few minutes ago, “For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.” This verse sums up the entire Psalm – it is both a plea for God’s constant presence, and a celebration of the fulfillment of that plea. The Psalmist both calls on God to protect and sustain, and also glorifies God because God never wavers in the steadfast love that is promised to all of us. “For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.” I cannot think of a better verse to guide our worshipping and community life together as we continue to journey through this time of life.
We need to grieve and feel the pain of the losses, at times feeling like they are piling up one on another. We need to say this is hard, and that we are sad, angry, and scared. We need to allow ourselves to feel all that we need to feel. And by doing so, by giving ourselves permission to lament, we can also begin to see how God has sustained us. God’s steadfast love has been before our eyes, even when we struggled with where to look. God’s steadfast love has been before our eyes, even when we struggled to pay attention. God’s steadfast love has been before our eyes, even when we have decided not to notice. God’s steadfast love has been before our eyes during every moment, every twist and turn, every high and low, of these last six months, indeed our entire lives. God’s steadfast love is before our eyes, and we continue to walk in faithfulness.
We continue to walk in faithfulness toward God by seeking new ways to be in community. We continue to walk in faithfulness toward God by helping our neighbors. We continue to walk in faithfulness toward God by eliminating bad medical debt across two states. We continue to walk in faithfulness toward God by seeking out the good and great around us. We continue to walk in faithfulness toward God by holding on to the hope and promise of God’s Kingdom, that what is will not always be.
God’s steadfast love is before our eyes, and we continue to walk in faithfulness. When we allow ourselves to mourn, when we allow ourselves to stop and simply feel all that we need to feel, we can then see God’s steadfast love through it all. God’s steadfast love has held us and will continue to hold us in whatever is to come.
I said to you six months ago I did not know what was coming next or how we would continue to be a worshipping community together. But what I knew then I know even better now – we are carried together by the love we share for one another, the love we have for our community, the love we have for God, and the love we have for the promise given to us through the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, that nothing can separate us from the steadfast love of God. I don’t know what the next six months will hold for us, and I am not going to even try to guess. But, I am not worried. In fact, I have never been more hopeful about the future of this church than I am right now because God’s steadfast love is before our eyes and we will walk in faithfulness.
Let us pray:
Accept our thanks, dear God, for you gift of life. For all that you gave us in our birth; for all that you give us in the richness of our journeys, we give you thanks; and all of this we bring to you in prayer.
God, accept our hope and our promises: all of our hopes that life may yet be filled with purpose – and it purposes fulfilled; all of the promises we make to ourselves, to one another, and most certainly and inwardly to you.
We bring to you in prayer all that we have been and done. All that we have achieved, in which we take pride; all that we have failed to do, bringing our uncompleted lessons to you, the Teacher, to learn the answers; all arts by which we have tried and partly succeeded in fashioning sculptures of the eternal beauty.
We bring to you the burdens of our hearts, our anxieties, our worries, and dreams for our loved one, our concern for peace and prosperity, our hopes and dreams for our children.
And we bring to you our worship and our shared life in this community. This church and these caring people, we bring to you and receive your blessings.
From our life to your life, O God, we pray. And we do so in the name of Jesus Christ, our teacher and guide along the way, who taught us to prayer together aloud with this words…Our Father…