Holding Firm

HOLDING FIRM

A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley

Psalm 40:1-11

1 I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him. 4 Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.

5 Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare. 6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire— but my ears you have opened — burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.

7 Then I said, “Here I am, I have come— it is written about me in the scroll. 8 I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.” 9 I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, LORD, as you know. 10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help. I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly. 11 Do not withhold your mercy from me, LORD; may your love and faithfulness always protect me.

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— 6 God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let’s call him Bob, though he easily could be George, or any one of you.

Bob was, well, not connected. Bob’s life, from his point of view, was falling apart. The only thing Bob knew for sure was that it started falling apart all at once, about 8 months ago, when his sister died suddenly.

On that day, Bob felt like the ground had disappeared beneath his feet, and it had never reappeared.

Other ‘things’- catastrophes- had happened since: his girlfriend broke up with him, and to tell the truth, Bob was so messed up he didn’t care. Not much anyway.

One day he wasn’t paying attention and rear ended another car at a traffic light. Nobody was hurt, but he got a big ticket, his insurance went up, and HIS car now sported a tangled fender and a broken grill.

And at work, things were tense. There had been layoffs last year, when the company got sold, and everybody knew (the way people know) that there would be more this year. And Bob KNEW one layoff would be him.

And other things- well, they just got dropped, because Bob didn’t notice, or eh didn’t care. The yard was a mess, the cable bill didn’t get paid and Bob just let it be, and his clothes mostly looked like they needed ironing.

Bob was in a slimy pit of grief, and worry, and loss. Now, maybe your pit is not that deep and not that slimy, but I do know that many of you are experiencing those same emotions.

Grief. Worry. Loss.

I know, because I am, even though I am looking forward to something new. But whatever eagerness I have is colored in by loss, and worry for you, and uncertainty about just what exactly I am going to be experiencing.

Not to mention that I’m anxious about the sale of my house, and my car, and all of that.

Meanwhile, Bob is in that slimy pit, that miry clay, that dark hole. And Bob knows that he is not in a good place.

Bob knows that he needs to do something, but he doesn’t know what.

He would like to wait patiently for what God is going to do, but he can’t.

I read a little bit about that last week. When human beings are threatened, they feel better if they can DO something (even if that thing they do is the wrong thing to do).

And worrying solves that problem, because when you can worry about something, that’s at least SOMETHING.

But Bob couldn’t even worry, except on sunny days, when his disposition is slightly improved.

But the truth is, Bob was doing more than he thought he was doing.

He WASN’T watching television, or surfing the web.

He was walking, mostly out of restlessness. They weren’t peaceful walks, but they WERE walks.

And Bob had a cat, which he didn’t ignore. It was one of those kinds of cats that wouldn’t LET you ignore him.

And when Bob’s friends called- and they did- Bob answered the phone. He even met them places, when they invited. Not that he was the life of the party. But they cared about him, and he knew they did- Which is worth a million bucks, if you were willing to sell it.

You see, really, those dark holes in life- those slimy pits- they are about connection. When you’re in their alone, you really could die.

I’ve a friend, Meredith, he is on our prayer list- he’s been in one of those pits and it very nearly DID kill him last week.

So, one day one of Bob’s friends- Becky, I think- sent Bob an e-mail with a Psalm in it. It wasn’t the Psalm we read, it was another- Psalm 22. It was a sad psalm, graphic and filled with suffering, and Bob was startled.

“Really? This came from the Bible?”

But it did- almost a third of the psalms talk about how hard life is, about how deep the pain goes, about how afraid we are, about how hard it is to hold on.

So Bob started to read. And soon, he started to read aloud, and the psalms that were just poetry in a book. Instead, they became prayers that Bob was saying.

Now, that word patiently that begins Psalm 40- I waited patiently for the Lord- it might trip us up. We might think “patient” means sitting quietly, with our hands folded on our laps.

It DOES mean, waiting. But it doesn’t necessarily mean passive waiting. It’s more like EAGER waiting- I KNEW the Lord was coming, so I waited. I didn’t go off on my own. I prayed for him to HURRY UP, I prayed for God to come straight here and not be distracted, I got up and walked around the room, I told stories about the last time I needed God….you get the point. It was like me, when I was 8, and grandpa and grandma were coming for Christmas…

So, Bob began to look for something else than the life he had.

Bob began to look for a life in which he was reconnected to God’s purposes.

Bib began to look for a life in which he was more fully connected with his colleagues and his neighbors.

But even so, it was hard, and there were some days when Bob really wondered if he’d make it through the day without falling completely back into his old self.

But he did.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth- the squabbling, confused, new Christians who hardly knew what they were doing- his prayer was that WHILE THEY WAITED, THE LORD WOULD HOLD THEM FIRM.

Think about that. It’s not up to us to be strong and confident and patient while we wait, it’s up to the LORD.

While we wait eagerly, excitedly, anxiously, the LORD is doing something in us.

God gives us God’s grace, which is far superior to our own.

Now, sometimes we don’t know what to do with that sort of grace- it’s like having a convertible in Ketchikan.

Or like sitting down to a fancy table setting that has more forks than you know what to do with.

Or, actually, receiving God’s grace is like dying, but rising up again in an entirely new way. Our new clothes fit, but they startle us. The world is still the same, but we see it different- and it wonders what in the world happened to us!

And sometimes, living in God’s grace, we trip on our shoelaces. It’s awkward, like seeing an old boyfriend.

And sometimes it’s scary. But if we’re patient, if God is holding us firm, we’ll always know that one thing will always be there for us to hold on to.

It’s found in verse 11 of the Psalm- “may your love and faithfulness always protect me.”

Let’s say that little prayer together:

MAY YOUR LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS ALWAYS PROTECT ME

It will, and our task- our task NO MATTER what situation of life we find ourselves in- is to remember God’s love and faithfulness.

So last week, when we baptized Vata and James, we were reminded, so we can remember, that WE are also baptized, that God DOES love us, and that our sins HAVE BEEN forgiven, ARE forgiven, and WILL BE forgiven.

And in two weeks, when we share communion, we will be reminded- as we have been reminded countless times- That Jesus is waiting EAGERLY to share that meal with us in the heavenly realm- SO eagerly that he sits down with us HERE, every single time we break the bread and pour the cup.

And today, and every week, we share stories- do you REMEMBER how God held us firm when the world was shaking?

Wasn’t that SOMETHING?

And it was, and it is, and it will be.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

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