Weekly Words of Wisdom 11-4-20

Sermon 10-25-20; The Rev. Jen Van Zandt 

Psalm 34: 1-10

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;  let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.
O fear the Lord, you his holy ones, for those who fear him have no want.
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

This Psalm, which Spencer and I enjoyed sharing together, is always helpful, but especially today; one of those Sundays when we love and appreciate being together as we remember those we’ve lost in the past year…. and those we’ve lost and still miss terribly, even if they’ve been gone for many years. Additionally, we remember those saints who have gone before us, who are on the Memorial crosses who are the great cloud of witnesses to this faith community. 

It’s also another Sunday when it’s hard to be apart, as again, we break bread separately together. It’s another Sunday where it would be so niceto gather after worship, head into the library for a hot cup of coffee or tea, connect with new faces and old and compare…”how many trick or treaters did you have last night?” 

It could have been a Sunday where some of you might share more deeply one-to-one of your struggles; worries about your own health or someone else’s in your family or circle and just maybe even share how you saw God’s activity in your life, in the last week. Or maybe, (as the Psalmist says) you might share relief and praise for deliverance from trouble. That’s actually what the Psalm subtext is.  

I’ve heard you so often share these stories with me and one another in coffee hour, in the pews before and after worship, in the hallways, before and after committee meetings, (certainly in the parking lot), and the rich devotions given by officers at Session and Deacon meetings. 

But because of the many troubles we are facing into, and have been enduring, those stories, those “sharings”, have dried up a bit.  Our worries, our fears, our complaints, (genuine and otherwise), have dwarfed the hopefulness, trust, calm and peace, that are the marks of people of faith. Further, we have likely fallen out of the habit of praising God because of our struggles. As the voice in verse 10 poetically says: “ the young lions suffer want and hunger”. I don’t want that to be me, but am afraid I do ‘resemble that remark’. I’m not by any means dismissing the amount of struggle, grief and concern about the future because all of that is real. But as Psalms scholar Pat Miller, who also went to the heavenly banquet this year, says, “the righteous, (meaning believers), while not exempt from trouble, know God’s nearness and God’s salvation.” He doesn’t say the righteous wonderabout God’s nearness and salvation, or forgetabout God’s nearness and salvation, or even not really trustGod’s nearness and salvation. NO-the righteous KNOW God’s nearness and salvation. Just let that sink in.

Perhaps it can sink in enough to just to dwarf our fears and concerns, even for a moment. But maybe on some days, that’s just too high a bar. So, I want to go back to verses 1 & 2 of the psalm: I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.
Here again, Pat Miller says that these two verses tell of “the Psalmist practice of praising God.” WOW! The practice of praising God!  You know that old adage, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, Practice, Practice”. 

Many of us may have learned in Sunday School along the way, the form of prayer called the ACTS prayer.  A stands for Adoration, C for Confession, T for Thanksgiving, S for Supplication. Of all four of those, the easiest ones are the confession, the thanksgiving and the supplication, (which means “God, please supply this for me”). But most everyone in every age category has a really hard timewith the adoration part. But here it is again, because we need practice:  I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lordlet the humble hear and be glad. 

Recently I was with some very dear friends who have a 17-month-old grandson. And they thought it was time to get him a bike. He might be a little young for that, but I thought Okay, I’ll go along. 

Many of you who are grandparents may already know this, they don’t make entry level bikes with pedals. It’s just the seat, the handlebars with two wheels. They’re called striders.  The idea is the kids learn how to balance on a bike first and then incorporate pedaling.  (That probably would have saved a lot of skinned knees in our generation had we had the strider back then). So, we bring out the strider and put him on and it fits perfectly. His hands were on the handle bars and his bum was on the seat and he was trying to figure out how to do it, but once I let go of him, he got off the seat, and moved forward so his hands could be on the handlebars and still drive/push the bike. I tried to move back to the seat/handlebar position. No luck. I said to his grandfather “why is this not working?”, He said, you know when he sits on the seat, he ‘can’t quite reach the handlebars’.

Friends, sometimes, praising God, using these verses may feel like too much of a reach for us, but the only way this little boy is going to learn how to use the strider is both practice and growth and trust. And so it is for us as well.

This text could not be more truly important (and it is the lectionary text for all saints day), but we are also about to face into the election, and the results, which will likely be more contentious and ugly than the campaigns leading up to it. If we go back to verse 10, and I didn’t read the whole verse initially, there’s an important reminder10 The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord, lack no good thing.

May it be so. Amen


Dear Saints,

Here we are at yet another extremely difficult moment in the country and in our own lives. We all deal with stress and anxiety differently but many of us are nearing a tipping point with all that we are handling, over and above Covid’s past, present and dastardly future.

Sometimes sharing our concerns and fears with others is helpful. Sometimes we don’t get the support or listening ear that we need and/or we get even more triggered by other’s comments and responses.

As we await both election results and wonder what violence may erupt as a result while also worrying about the next Covid wave, it is hard to know what to do.

There are many articles swirling about on-line and in print of “to dos” to reduce anxiety over Covid and the election (among other agitators). Certainly self-care, getting enough rest, exercise and eating right are mentioned in most every article as well as limiting our time on the internet, news outlets and the like. But suggested activities for our hearts and souls are less prevalent.

As believers the first thing to do is pray. Not only pithy prayers of thanksgiving and supplication but intentional, active prayers that have the power to reshape our thoughts and emotions.

The Psalms are always a wonderful place to go and they are timeless and speak to every human emotion. There are also fresh, modern prayers written by gifted people who can speak to this very time and place. As we wait and wonder what to do, how to fill our time and our hearts I hope this prayer by Sarah Are, a young Presbyterian Minister and Founding Creative Partner of “A Sanctified Art “will be a help.

May we pray this often in the hours and days to come:

Holy God, We come to you today in prayer, full of emotions. Election seasons always seem to bring that out in us— Worry and hope, fear and frustration. The list could go on. So today we bow our heads and ask for guidance. Open our ears to hear the groans of creation.

Open our eyes to see the needs of others. Open our hearts to make room for empathy. Give us the wisdom to navigate challenging conversations. Give us the compassion to make decisions for the greater good.

And when all else fails, bring us back to love. Bring our hearts and our hands, Our dreams and our hopes, Our anger and our frustration, Our hurt and our fear, All back to love.

 With hope we pray, With hope we are sustained. Amen.

Praying with you,

Rev Jen