The Sunday Sermon: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 5, 2020
Scripture: Psalm 128
A Time of Joy, Too!
Last Monday our Session met for the third time by way of the Zoom video-conferencing software that no one seems to have heard of before March 13th, or so, but that now is the predominate way we “see” and communicate with each other for any length of time longer than quick text message. I noted this during our meeting and I noted how I’ve moved back and forth in the four months of this separation between despair and hope, anxiety and calm. One of our wise Elders then asked me, “What about joy? You have to be able to find joy and happiness and some degree of comfort in our lives, too, somewhere in-between the despair and hope, or the anxiety and calm, don’t you? Don’t we?” And of course … we do.
So, in my weekly letter to all of you (I hope you’re reading them!), I turned my thoughts and yours to finding the holy and the sacred in the everyday and in everything, hoping that a daily acknowledgment, a focus on some visible and tangible “thing” each day would remind you, in sacramental ways, of the invisible reality of the presence of God, always. The presence of God even, and especially, in these days too easily lived in either despair or hope, but not in the present moment.
I shared a few verses of Psalm 121 in the letter on Wednesday, and this morning we read Psalm 128. It’s not one of the most recognizable psalms, I suppose, but it is a wonderful reminder of the joy, laughter, and “happiness” that must be part of any community called the church in whatever way we are gathering or worshipping, or remembering the sacred in our lives. Listen for the Word of God:
Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in God’s ways. You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Your (spouse) will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Thus shall the One who fear the Lord be blessed.
The Lord bless you from Zion. May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life. May you see your children’s children. Peace be upon (you)!
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God …
What a beautiful, joyful, happy reminder of who we are when we are focused on what is most important in our lives – the mystery we most commonly call “God.” In fact, the Psalm is titled “The Happy Home of the Faithful” in the NRSV bible translations we most often use. I thought a lot about what I might share after its reading and finally decided I’d share a short story with you. It’s a story about me, one many of you may have heard before, and one that a few of you may remember. I share it again because it reminds me of the time just before I began my life as your Pastor, as part of the beautiful community.
Just before getting into conversation and relationship with all of you, when I was in the midst of discerning the call that would lead me here, I preached in several “neutral pulpits” for several Nominating Committees. On one particular Sunday, after I had preached and the worship service had ended, I met briefly with the small group who had asked me to preach for them. Overall they were very nice, very complimentary, and the Committee Chair, himself, mentioned that he had heard I was a very “warm” preacher and he found that to be true on that morning. I confess, I was feeling pretty good about that particular comment as Katie and I talked about it on the way home. Until later that day, just for fun, I looked in my dictionary and read that “warm” means “not so hot!” (What the …?)
So, feeling far less good about myself as I did earlier, I called the Committee Chair who had shared this with me, told him what I’d found, and said that I wasn’t sure if that’s what he meant, could he clarify a bit. The man on the other end of the line told me not to be so sensitive, and assured me that they all thought I was a “model preacher,” which made me feel good again until I looked back in my dictionary and discovered: Model means “a small imitation of the real thing.” (Oh, for crying out loud!)
Now, I can’t hear or see any of you this morning, but I hope you’re laughing – or at least smiling. Those aren’t the only signs of happiness, but they’re an indicator. Anyway, if you weren’t ready for those preacher jokes, let me be more direct and try this one on you …
On another occasion, Katie went with me one Sunday to a church where I had guest preached a year before. She sat down in the sanctuary as I went to the front of the church to find the worship leaders and prepare for the service. A few minutes later, and before the service was to begin, a man came into the same pew as Katie. He nodded to her and smiled, noting that she was a visitor but sat down without saying anything. He settled into his seat, took off his coat and opened his bulletin. When he saw that I was preaching he leaned over to Katie and said to her, “Oh no, not this guy. I heard him when he was here before and he is dry as dust.”
Katie turned a bit to face the man more fully and asked, “Sir, do you know who I am?” When he said “no,” she said to him, “I am ‘that guy’s’ wife.”
Well, the man immediately turned to her and asked, “Well, Miss, do you know who I am?” And when Katie said, “no,” he replied, “Oh, thank the Lord” and got up to change seats quickly.
Hopefully … a bit more laughter. Which is good, very good. There is some risk in “trying to be funny,” trying to make people laugh, so I’m just going to trust that a few of you did at those sad, tired old preacher jokes.
I’m more guilty, I think, than many of my colleagues, but all of us “preacher-types” tend to get so serious when we step into the pulpit. That’s not a bad “demeanor” for the type of challenges that ought to be issued from this spot, but it’s not the only one that we should “employ” either. This space and these moments must be used to share our joy, as well, our happiness and our laughter. Especially in times like these past four and half months. I, we, should remind ourselves of the joy that is ours in our discipleship and the laughter that must be a part of any meaningful and lasting relationship – including our relationship with God and with one another as members of this congregation – in spite of what’s happening in the world.
Psalm 128: “The Happy Home of the Faithful” Does that sound like this place, this community? A happy home?! A community that is happy and joyous, that smiles and laughs, that shares and enjoys one another and all we have received. Our whole psalm, short as it is, focuses on happiness. Verses one and two center on the happiness derived from work, verses three and four on the happiness within the family, and the final two verses make it clear from whence our happiness comes.
It comes from the most common answer given in any Sunday school class or in questions asked in the children’s messages in the sanctuaries of our churches: Who am I talking about? “God” and “Jesus,” our model, our Way. Which reminds me of one of my favorite church stories and I’ll conclude this morning with it.
One Sunday morning the children’s Sunday School teacher was teaching a lesson about being prepared and working diligently. She wanted to use squirrels as an example of “prepared workers” so she started the lesson by saying to the children, “I’m going to describe something, and I want you to raise your hand when you know what it is.” The children were excited to show her what they knew and leaned forward eagerly.
So, she began: “I’m thinking of something that works very hard and prepares itself for what is coming. Something that lives in trees … (pause) … and eats nuts … (pause)…” No hands went up.
“It can be gray or brown …,” she continued, “and it has a long bushy tail (pause)…” All the children looked around the room at each other, confused, but still no one raised a hand.
“It chatters … (pause) … and sometimes it flips its tail when it’s excited (pause)… Anyone know what I’m talking about”
Finally one little boy shyly raised his hand. The teacher breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Okay, Michael. What do you think it is?”
“Well,” said the boy, “it sure sounds like a squirrel, but I know the answer’s supposed to be Jesus.”
From our trust in and fidelity to the Way of God in Jesus comes our happiness. We are a part of a church community so that we may experience the blessing and peace of God in our lives as a community, being grateful with one another and for one another, no matter how far apart we are.
So, whenever we gather together to pass on the love of God that is ours in Christ and to witness to the world a “more excellent way,” let it be a time of joy, too. Welcome home this happy morning, everyone. Let’s get ourselves ready to gather at the table.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / July 5, 2020