Sunday August 21, 2022
Praying the Psalms – Prayers of Hope
Life and Work of our Church
We are one as we come, as we come, joyful to be here,
In the praise on our lips there’s a sense that God is near.
We are one as we sing, as we seek we are found;
And we come needful of God’s grace as we meet together in this place.
Acknowledging the Territory
As we begin our worship, we take a moment to acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the un-ceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and or those who have cared for it long before our ancestors arrived. We commit ourselves to live with respect upon it, seeking justice and equality for all.
Lighting the Christ Candle
We light this candle as a sign of God’s Light and God’s Spirit at work in the world. May its light brighten our spirits, ignite our passions and shine within and through each one of us to offer light and love to others.
Call to Worship
We gather to worship the One
Who promises to shelter us under the wings of hope and grace.
We gather to worship the One
Who encourages us to remember all the good things we have received.
We gather to worship the One
Who reminds us to trust in Divine promise.
We gather to worship the One
Who is our hope, our grace, our good news and our promise.
We gather to worship God.
God of life, God of hope, God of all. Lift us on your love like eagle’s wings. Sustain us, guide us, protect us, heal us, nurture us and care for us. Lift us up and then send us out into the world so that we may love as you love, sustaining, guiding, protecting, healing, nurturing and caring for other. Amen.
Gift of Music Great Is Thy Faithfulness VU#288
This week is the last in our summer series of looking at the book of Psalms. As we look forward, it seems appropriate that we do so by looking forward through Psalms of hope and of trust.
Psalm 33:1-9, 20-22
All you that are righteous, shout for joy for what the Lord has done; praise him, all you that obey him. Give thanks to the Lord with harps, sing to him with stringed instruments. Sing a new song to him, play the harp with skill, and shout for joy! The words of the Lord are true, and all his works are dependable. The Lord loves what is righteous and just; his constant love fills the earth. The Lord created the heavens by his command, the sun, moon, and stars by his spoken word. He gathered all the seas into one place; he shut up the ocean depths in storerooms. Worship the Lord, all the earth! Honor him, all peoples of the world! When he spoke, the world was created; at his command everything appeared. We put our hope in the Lord; he is our protector and our help. We are glad because of him; we trust in his holy name. May your constant love be with us, Lord, as we put our hope in you.
Psalm 27:1-3, 11-14
The Lord is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The Lord protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid. When evil people attack me and try to kill me, they stumble and fall. Even if a whole army surrounds me, I will not be afraid; even if enemies attack me, I will still trust God. Teach me, Lord, what you want me to do, and lead me along a safe path, because I have many enemies. Don’t abandon me to my enemies, who attack me with lies and threats. I know that I will live to see the Lord’s goodness in this present life. Trust in the Lord. Have faith, do not despair. Trust in the Lord.
Psalm 62 (selected verses)
I depend on God alone; I put my hope in him. He alone protects and saves me; he is my defender, and I shall never be defeated. My salvation and honor depend on God; he is my strong protector; he is my shelter. Trust in God at all times, my people. Tell him all your troubles, for he is our refuge. Human beings are all like a puff of breath; great and small alike are worthless. Put them on the scales, and they weigh nothing; they are lighter than a mere breath. I wait patiently for God to save me; I depend on him alone. He alone protects and saves me; he is my defender, and I shall never be defeated.
Whoever goes to the Lord for safety, whoever remains under the protection of the Almighty, can say to him, “You are my defender and protector. You are my God; in you I trust.” He will keep you safe from all hidden dangers and from all deadly diseases. He will cover you with his wings; you will be safe in his care; his faithfulness will protect and defend you. You need not fear any dangers at night or sudden attacks during the day or the plagues that strike in the dark or the evils that kill in daylight. A thousand may fall dead beside you, ten thousand all around you, but you will not be harmed. God will put his angels in charge of you to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you up with their hands to keep you from hurting your feet on the stones. You will trample down lions and snakes, fierce lions and poisonous snakes. God says, “I will save those who love me and will protect those who acknowledge me as Lord. When they call to me, I will answer them; when they are in trouble, I will be with them. I will rescue them and honor them. I will reward them with long life; I will save them.”
Praying the Psalms – Prayers of Hope
Throughout the last 3 months we have talked about the book of Psalms as a book of prayer. We have talked about offering prayers of adoration, prayers of longing, prayers of trust, prayers of gratitude, prayers of distress, prayers for forgiveness, and prayers of joy. Today we look at how the Psalms offer us hope going forward in our lives.
Now in many ways hope may seem a lot like trust and there certainly are similarities. It is our trust in the Divine that gives us hope. But hope goes beyond trust. Trust is what allows us to have faith that, no matter what is happening in our own lives or in the world around us, we will be OK. Hope however, calls us to focus outside of ourselves and into the future. Hope gives us a reason to move forward and to take action to build the better tomorrow that we long for.
I believe that, at the very heart of it, this is what the book of Psalms is really all about. By allowing us to express our deepest emotions in praise, in prayer and in lament, the psalms help us to build our trust and our relationship with the Divine and by doing so they help us to build the hope we need to face whatever the future holds.
I frequently talk about the differences between modern times and biblical times. There are many passages of scripture that we find very difficult unless we put them into historical context. But in ways, there are a lot more similarities than there are differences. And it is these similarities that give the psalms the power to touch our lives today even if they were written in a very different time and culture.
The majority of the psalms either beg for or offer thanks for victory in battle. They frequent plead with God to destroy enemies and to punish the “wicked”, in other words, anyone who does not believe what they believe. These very militaristic images tend to make many of us feel rather uncomfortable. We squirm when we hear the psalmist praise God for utterly destroying the wicked, the enemy and the sinner.
Many of us also squirm when we hear the psalmist promise that if we only believe in God, God will protect us from any harm or violence, will cure any illness we might contract and will bless us with riches and prosperity. Most of us don’t believe that life, or faith, is that simple.
But what does resonate for me, and I believe for most people, is the depth of emotion expressed in the psalms. Most of us can think of a time when we were so overwhelmingly happy that we just wanted to shout for joy or sing or dance or just to somehow allow that joy to erupt and flow out from us as an expression of just how happy we are.
But there are also times when most of us can remember feeling so overwhelmed by pain and sorrow, so alone and frightened that, like Jesus dying on the cross, we cry out my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The very deepest emotions we feel, both the good and the bad, are reflected in the emotions expressed in the psalms.
So how does this offer us hope? Well perhaps it is in recognizing that what ever we are feeling, we are not alone in this.This past week I participated in a Zoom meeting regarding mental health among United Church clergy.
The organizer is doing research from their doctoral thesis and originally sent out a survey asking those who responded if they would also be willing to be interviewed. I agree to do this.
As I shared my own struggles with depression and feelings of loneliness and isolation, I heard reflected back the affirmation that I was not alone in this. Over and over again I was told that I was expressing the same feeling that almost everyone else who had been interviewed had expressed.
Did I come out of this with solutions and answers to my struggles? No. Did I come out with guidelines and suggestion? No. But what I came out of that meeting with was hope. Simply knowing that the thing that I sometimes struggle with are the same issues that many others struggle with, gives me the hope that, if they can get through it, so can I. It gives me the hope that I don’t have to go through things alone. And it gives me the hope that others are working through the same issues that I often find myself dealing with and that they are ready and willing to share what they learn along the way.
The psalms offer us hope for the same reason. They assure us that no matter what we are feeling, good or bad others have felt it before us. Even more than this, they assure us that, whatever we are feeling, we can take it to God. Our image of God or the Divine or whatever else we choose to call it, may not be the same as someone else’s and our struggles may not be the same, but the psalms assure us that no matter what we are going through, no matter what we are feeling, we are not alone.
In the midst of illness, war, defeat, uncertainty and fear the psalmist never stops believing that God is there. Even in the psalms of deepest lament and sorrow the psalmist always ends with words of trust, of praise and of hope.
It is this assurance that there is a powerful, loving force that does not desert us when times are difficult, a force that is always there to comfort, to help and to guide us, that gives us ongoing hope. And that hope is with us in both the good and the bad times.
When we struggle hope promises us that not only will we get through things but that there will be better times ahead. When we are celebrating and experiencing great joy and contentment with life that same hope promises us, that if we can experience such overwhelming joy once, we can experience it again.
He will cover you with his wings; you will be safe in his care; his faithfulness will protect and defend you. That feeling of hope, of the promise of safety and care, can help us deal with the most difficult time in our lives, but hope can also make the good times even better. We put our hope in the Lord … We are glad because of him.
It is also hope that is the inspiration for faith. It is hope that uphold and sustains that faith. Without hope, without the possibilities, the excitement and the joy of looking forward, faith cannot grow. It cannot be something alive and active in our lives or in our world. One of my favorite scripture quotes comes from the Letter to the Hebrew. It says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Throughout all of the psalms that we have looked at this summer, regardless of whether they are psalms of adoration, longing, trust, gratitude, distress, forgiveness, or joy, it is the hope and the faith that all these things are shared with the Divine that connects us with the psalmist. But through these psalms we are also connected with those who first heard these psalms, with everyone who has heard them throughout time and with one another a we read and reflect on these psalms today. Even more than this, the psalms connect us with God.
I want to end with a poem that I came across when I was preparing for this service. It was written by Jan L. Richardson
Hope where we had ceased to hope.
Hope amid what threatens hope.
Hope with those who feed our hope.
Hope beyond what we had hoped.
Hope that draws us past our limits.
Hope that defies expectations.
Hope that questions what we have known.
Hope that makes a way where there is none.
Hope that takes us past our fear.
Hope that calls us into life.
Hope that holds us beyond death.
Hope that blesses all that is to come.
Gift of Music On Eagle’s Wings (Psalm 91) VU#808
We Offer Our Gifts
When we feel joy and adoration, those feelings call us to respond. One of the ways we, as a church, respond is through our gifts. In this church we do not pass the offering plates but ask you, if you chose to support the work of this church to place your offering in the offering plates at the back of the church or to make arrangement to give through PAR or through online donations. And so as we sing our offertory response, we bring forward some of those gifts.
Offertory Response #538
For the gift of creation, the gift of your love and the gift of the Spirit
by which we live, we thank you and give you the fruit of our hands.
May your grace be proclaimed by the gifts that we give.
As you have blessed us in all that you have given us, we ask that you will bless the gifts that we bring that they too may become a blessing. Amen.
We Offer Our Prayers
God is always as near as our next breath. God always listen when we pray, whether those prayers are written down and placed in our prayer jar or whether they as said in the silence of our hearts. So let us bring our silent, personal prayers to God with confidence, knowing that they are always heard … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
We thank you, Loving One, that you do not ever leave us without hope. We thank you for those special people in our lives who never cease to care for us. We thank you for those moments when we are touched by the unspoken assurance that we are not alone no matter what the situation.
And in our gratitude for all this, we offer our prayers for others that they too may also find your hope.
Wherever there are those who struggle with confusion, doubts and anxieties we pray for peace and comfort … Wherever people are crippled by guilt, or deeply regret the damage they have done to others we pray for mercy and forgiveness … Wherever there are those overcome by arrogance, deceit, corruption and greed, we pray for new compassion, new understanding and new vision … Wherever there is aggression, terrorism and warfare, both between nations and between individuals, we pray for your peace and goodwill … Wherever people feel alienated from one another, either in homes, at work or in communities because of differing identities, differing lifestyles or conflicting ideas and ideals, we pray for understanding and reconciliation … Wherever the church becomes exclusive, or gets caught up in its own regulations, traditions, or inflexible dogma, we pray for change and renewal … Wherever we lose our passion for the Gospel, for justice and for love, when we become tired, burned out or apathetic, we pray for new life … Wherever there are people who are suffering because of illness, disease, injured, mental health, grief and loss, trauma, fear or any of the cares and concerns known only to you, we pray for healing … Wherever people have given in to despair or have given up on the future, seeing only the bleak, dangerous or hopeless, we pray for hope …
Loving One, hear these and all our prayers and enable us to become part of answering them. Amen.
Gift of Music O God, Our Help in Ages Past VU#806
As you go out from here today, let hope carry you forward into whatever lies ahead. Let hope lift you up when you are down and be the wind beneath your wings when you sail the heights. Go in the assurance that you are not alone and may the promise that God is with us wherever we go, continue to uplift and sustain you, now and always. Go with God.
Go now in peace, never be afraid.
God will go with you each hour of every day.
Go now in faith, steadfast, strong and true.
Know God will guide you in all you do.
Go now in love, and show you believe.
Reach out to others so all the world can see.
God will be there watching from above.
Go now in peace, in faith and in love. Amen, amen, amen.