God Is Our Helper - Sermon for Pentecost 7C
This is a weekend filled with celebrations. Tomorrow we will celebrate 240 years of independence. I know this because I graduated from high school in the bicentennial year and my high school is holding its 40-year reunion in a few weeks. There are also several people celebrating birthdays this weekend, with Gloria celebrating her 90th. I told Gloria that if I live to be 90, I want to be as active and healthy as she is! Yes, this is a day of thanksgiving!
We’re worshiping outdoors under the shade of trees and in the shadow of the cross and peace pole, with a large rock standing in the center. People ask why there’s a rock in the middle of the drive way. I’ve heard a number of answers to that question, but here’s a theological one that I’ve come up with. This rock is a symbol of our own confession of faith in Jesus. When Simon gave the good confession – that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God – Jesus called him Peter, which means rock. Then Jesus declared that upon this rock, or confession, he would build his church. In other words, this rock symbolizes the foundation of our community.
A rock like this is also a symbol of strength. One insurance company used the Rock of Gibraltar as its logo. Why? Because a rock, especially that rock, can’t be easily moved. In the same way, the Psalmist declares that God has established us as a strong mountain that can’t be moved.
God is our helper and our rock, who turns our mourning into dancing. We may have dressed ourselves in sackcloth, but God has clothed us with joy. Yes, “weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (vs. 5b).
We tend to celebrate wins. When the Cavaliers won the NBA title, bringing the first sports title to Cleveland since the early 1960s, the people of Cleveland celebrated. Their mourning had turned into dancing. Even if you’re not a Cleveland fan, and I was pulling for the Warriors, you can understand why they danced in the streets.
The Psalmist invites us to celebrate these moments of joy in our lives, but when the Psalmist speaks about weeping in the night and finding joy in the morning, he’s not just talking about giving thanks only when things go well. By tying our joy to the presence of God, the Psalmist wants us to find joy even in the midst of life’s difficulties.
Henri Nouwen learned much about suffering and joy during his ministry with the Daybreak community. He offers this word of insight that draws from this Psalm:
Mourning makes us poor; it powerfully reminds us of our smallness. But it is precisely here, in that pain or poverty or awkwardness, that the Dancer invites us to rise up and take the first steps. For in our suffering, not apart from it, Jesus enters our sadness, takes us by the hand, pulls us gently up to stand, and invites us to dance. We find the way to pray, as the psalmist did, “You have turned my mourning into dancing” (Ps. 30:11), because at the center of our grief we find the grace of God. [Nouwen, Turn My Mourning into Dancing (p. 13). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.]
Finding joy in the morning doesn’t mean that we deny the reality of our suffering. It is instead an outgrowth of placing our lives in the hands of God. As we have learned previously from our reading of the Psalms, this isn’t a passive embrace. It’s an active one. By taking hold of God’s grace, we participate in the ever expanding nature of God’s kingdom. We join in the dance with the one who is faithful and gracious. And as we dance with the God who is revealed in the person of Jesus and present to us through the Holy Spirit, we will give praise and thanks to God our helper forever.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
July 3, 2016