We are sheep. That’s not an insult, it’s really good news.
The morning radio show I listen to has a recurring segment these days where they ask different people to answer the question, ‘what is keeping you up at night?’ There is a heartbreaking divide among the answers, the only common ground is–everybody has one.
Everybody has something that is keeping them up at night.
Psalm 23 can also be common holy ground in these days. Whatever is breaking your heart, whatever is keeping you awake at night, there is consolation here. The psalm reminds us that the Lord is our shepherd. That means we are sheep, not saviors.
Many of the things keeping us up at night are more than we can handle. But we aren’t left on our own to handle them. We have a shepherd, a good one. That doesn’t mean there are not really dangerous days. It does mean we aren’t facing them alone.
If you answered the question at all, you probably said, “No one.” What else do you say in response to a question from a pastor? We’re not supposed to hate anyone, right? So, therefore, we don’t hate anyone, right?
Psalm 137 is a hauntingly beautiful psalm of lament. The writer has survived horrific trauma. The nation of Babylon has invaded Israel, conquered them in battle, destroyed the holy city, brutally murdered half the civilians, and carried the rest away into slavery. The first verses poignantly express the numbing grief, despair, and excruciating pain of the victims. But, in the last verse, the psalm—which is a prayer—makes a disturbing turn as it begins to talk about the Babylonian invaders:
Happy are they who dash your infants against the rocks.
Pain turns to hate. There is no human who isn’t susceptible to the cancer of hate. Our natural instinct is to hide our hate from God. We know we shouldn’t hate, so we pretend we don’t. But faith isn’t a performance—we can and should bring to God all of ourselves. The beauty, the pain, the brutality. We bring this all to God because where else can we find hope and healing?
I hope you’ll listen as we seek the Lord’s wisdom and grace to flood every corner of our weary hearts.
When I was a kid, I had more trouble falling asleep before the first night of school than I did on Christmas Eve. Even though it’s been many years since I walked into a new classroom, I still love this time of year. This change of season gives all of us a chance for a fresh start.
But nothing is usual this year. It seems like we’ve been living the same day over and over again for months, and when we think about how much longer this pandemic might last, it’s hard not to despair. Instead of hopeful and excited, these days I’m feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, and powerless. We’ve never been more eager for a fresh start and we’re just not getting it. So, where is God in all of this? How do we find the heart to worship and praise God when life feels so hard and hopeless? Are we, Christians, even supposed to feel this way?
Well, I don’t know about “supposed to,” but I do know we aren’t the first people to feel this way. The book of Psalms provides a record that however we are feeling in these days, those who came before felt this way too. As long as people have been in relationship with God, we’ve been pouring the whole truth of our hearts out to him in prayer. Not all of those prayers are pretty or comforting, but they are all holy.
And, sometimes, when we are overwhelmed by our own powerlessness, we can find hope and strength in proclaiming the power of God. We are small. Our God is not.
I hope you’ll listen in. People have turned to God in seasons just as hard as this one. God was faithful then. God is faithful now and, forevermore, will be.
This Sunday, we open our hearts and hands to welcome Rev. Ray McKinnon, a dear brother in Christ who will bring a word on our worship series, Being Human.
A graduate of John Wesley University, Ray resides in Charlotte, NC with his wife, four boys, cat, dog, and pet gecko. He is a member of the Charlotte Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and a member of the Leading on Opportunity Council, among other leadership roles, such as Co-Founder of New South Progressives, President of the South Tryon Community Development Corporation, Board member of LeadNC, and Co-Vice chair of the Justice and Reconciliation Team of the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, to name a few.
We are grateful for Ray whose wise words will speak into Psalm 69:1-16 and the human condition. Fundamental to Ray’s calling is a conviction that faith—true and abiding faith—impacts others and leaves them more whole, more loved, more inspired, and never hurt.
Let us be humbled by the reminder of our humanity, all the while astonished and in awe of the amazing grace that calls us into living out our true and abiding faith with Jesus.
This Sunday, we begin our new worship series, Being Human: A Series on the Book of Psalms. These days, being human is a pretty overwhelming gift. Fear, joy, loneliness, exhaustion, love, hope, suffering, trust, anger—in this strange season of exile from our “normal” lives, everything it is to be human is intensified. Fortunately, there is a witness in scripture that speaks to our humanity. The book of Psalms is a collection of prayers offered to God by people of faith in all of life’s circumstances. When we read the Psalms, we see that it is good and holy to come to God in prayer with the whole truth of our lives—the holy and the unholy, the sacred and the profane. We see that we are not the only ones who struggle with our humanity. We see that our humanness won’t separate us from the God who loves us.
Sometimes, we catch a glimpse of a new and abundant way of being human. That’s the case in Psalm 133, our scripture for this Sunday. It’s a testimony to the innate gift of being human together—with God and with one another. The psalm praises God for the gift of unity with one another and testifies that it is the place of blessing and salvation. And in response, we’re trying something unusual in worship. I’ll be preaching a sermon on spiritual friendship with my great friend and fellow pastor, Eulando Henton. I hope you’ll listen in.
We have nothing to fear in our failures or in our humanity because we serve a God who knows us and delights in us, who meets us in our highs and in our lows and reminds us that we are not gods, but we are fearfully and wonderfully made.