Reflections for the 5th Sunday in Lent, March 29, 2020
Good morning church family and new Facebook friends. Another week of “safer-at-home” my prayer for you is that you are safe and healthy. These next few sentences are a San Pedro infomercial. “Remember if you need help with anything like groceries we have a team of folks willing to help. Perhaps you would like to share in a prayer over the phone or you would like to add someone to the prayer list. You can send me an e-mail at email@example.com or call the church office at 310-540-1001. You can also call my cell phone. The church office continues to operate just on reduced hours, so please continue to mail your donations to the church office at 580 W. 6th Street, San Pedro, CA 90731. Your loving and generous donations make a difference in helping us care for God’s children.”
Throughout the week it did not to matter what I was doing. I could be on a community outreach call, talking with parishioners, neighbors or friends there seemed to be these three words spoken over and over again. “I don’t know.” As a faith leader, mom and someone who is a helper by nature those three words have been painful to say and painful to hear. “I don’t know.” Too much uncertainty!
I ran across an article the other day from Diana Butler Bass she is an author of “Grateful The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks,” and she has a e-newsletter called “The Cottage” where she wrote about the uncertainty. I want to share with you her thoughts today as a way to help ground us and name some of our anxieties and fears that we might be feeling.
Diana writes “I know that I’m feeling a huge mix of emotions right now: afraid, worried, angry, out of control, stressed and sad.”
Here is her advice: That’s okay. Feel whatever you are feeling, don’t deny those feelings. Know that millions of people around the world are feeling the same. If your feelings become overwhelming, reach out to someone who can listen. Call, text, go on line to a safe space. And I would add, call your pastor or someone in your church family. This is an isolating time and its okay reach out.
Second, Diana writes “I know that life-giving practices like gratitude and compassion provide ballast to negative emotions and open mental space to make better choices, and give balance perspective. This isn’t a magic pill; rather, it can give you some balance.”
Her advice to the above is “Add a daily moment of gratefulness. What gifts are present in your life right now? Maybe your grateful that you are safe at home? That no one in your family is ill? The sun is shining? Your cat is curled on your lap?” And I would add, “Your doggies greet you with pure joy each time you move from room to room.”
She continues to say “as you reflect on whatever simple gifts are present, remember those whose lives are on the line right now – people who may be sick, workers doing jobs so that lights stay on and water flows, nurses and doctors who are risking their own heath for us. Pray for them. Gratitude can take the form of compassion, and now is a time to express your care and appreciation for others.”
Let’s start a San Pedro United Methodist Church campaign. Let’s see how many thank you notes or hand drawn pictures we can create and deliver to nurses, doctors, service providers and first responders to say thank you for all you are doing to keep us safe. This is a small way we can be a part of bringing people together and an opportunity for us to practice being grateful. I am going to give us a challenge. Let’s create 500 thank you cards and/or pictures by Easter. That is collectively only 34 cards a day. I think our church on the corner of 6th and Grand is up for this challenge. On Easter Sunday those who are able will deliver the cards throughout our community.
Diana’s third point is “I know that when I think too much about the past, I get sad about what we might be losing; and when I think too much about the future, I am worried. Living in the present moment is a skill and a grace. There is much wisdom in Jesus’ words: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:34) Can I get an AMEN and maybe even an Hallelujah. Today’s trouble is indeed enough for today.
Here is Diana Butler Bass’ final bit of advice: Don’t do more than you need to do. Address only what need to be addressed today. The best thing most of us can do is to stop the spread by distancing, advocate for those who may be most endangered, and provide what help can be given to neighbors. Otherwise, a virus pandemic is not something we can control or fix. We can manage one day at a time, one step at a time. One Breath at a time. As our beloved Harry Hall would sing “Breathe in, breathe out and do with a smile.”
Before we hear what our scripture has to say, let us be in moment of prayer: Gracious and merciful God, we gather again in a new setting. One that is foreign to many of us. Yet, we gather anyway to hear your words of comfort. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Growing up my parents had a special whistle, it didn’t matter if we were inside the church a mall or outside, wherever there was a large gathering if we got separated they would whistle a specific sequence as a way of finding each other. Unfortunately, I cannot share the whistle with you today. There are two reasons why, first, the whistle has been in our family for hundreds years and all family members who know the whistle are sworn to secrecy and the second reason is cannot whistle. When I was young I liked the whistle it made me feel safe, as I got older and became a teenager I was mortified by the whistle. But today I find great comfort in replaying that whistle in my mind and picturing the reunion with my parents.
Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord. Lord hear my voice! How many of us are crying out or whistling waiting for a response? Our scripture today is Psalm 130.
Waiting for Divine Redemption
A Song of Ascents.
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
8 It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.
This Psalm falls in a category called A song of Ascents it begins with Psalm 120 and goes to Psalm 134. Within theseSongs of Ascents: there are individual and community laments, which is what we just heard (Psalms 120, 123, 126, 130); individual hymns of thanksgiving (Psalms 121, 122, 131); community hymns (Psalms 124, 125,129, 134); wisdom psalms (Psalms 127,128, 133); and a royal psalm (Psalm 132). This diversity may feel a bit cluttered. But, if we consider the mingled voices of the pilgrims, who were ancient Israelites who were making their way to Jerusalem for religious festivals, we can begin to relate. They, like each of us, come from all kinds of situations in life. Some travel with burdens that cry out for lamenting; others with stories of deliverance by God; others marveling at God’s goodness, wisdom, and provision. This is why especially during times of heartache the Psalms can be so comforting. You could say A Song of Ascents has something for everybody.
Here’s a little John Wesley trivia, the founder of the Methodism. On May, 24, 1738 he described hearing a choir at Saint Paul’s Cathedral on Aldersgate Street. The choir was singing Psalm 130. This was just hours before he felt his “heart strangely warmed.” Why is that important? Well, Wesley was living in despair, death was staring him in the face. He was fearful and anxious and through all of this he found no comfort in religion until his heart was strangely warmed by Psalm 130.
After chatting with many of you this week, I heard the unsettledness, in some of your voices. In fact, there were days I heard it in my own voice.
The plea for God to hear us is real. At times we do not know what else to do other than cry out in the depths of our sadness and ask for help. The Message is another translation of the Bible says, “Help, God – the bottom has fallen out of my life! Hear my cry for help! Listen hard! Open your ears! Listen to my cries for mercy. During this unsettled time we need God, we need God to listen but we have to also be open to hearing what God says. That is the tricky part.
Verses 3-4 are expressions of hope for God’s forgiveness. The Message says, “If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings, who would stand a chance? As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that’s why you’re worshiped.” When we forget to go to God in prayer maybe because we are numb with the enormity of life circumstances or perhaps we are just being lazy – God forgives us. God’s promise to remain with us continues during good times and in bad.
I don’t know about you but when I am in line with my prayer life it seems that I am more patient with God, myself and others. “I pray to God – my life a prayer – and wait for what God will say and do. My life’s in the line before God, waiting and watching till morning, waiting and watching until morning. Maybe this is one reason this Psalm is called a Lenten Prayer. We are waiting and watching till morning – until the sun rises on Easter morning and we sing Halleluiah Christ is Risen! And we deliver our 500 cards of thanks to our community servants. But wait there is still much to do before we get to that day…
God is listening to our cries and our whistles we just need to make the first move and ask. Amen.
Diana Butler Bass, The Cottage, (e-newsletter March 24, 2020)
Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Working Preacher commentary, March 29, 2020
The Message, Psalm 130
The Wesley Study Bible