09 Apr Look Back to Look Ahead
Have you ever been so happy, it was like a dream come true?
I’m meeting with lots of couples right now who are putting the finishing touches on their wedding plans. When we meet, I also ask them to tell me their stories. I get to hear about how they first met or when they first said “I Love You” out-loud to each other, or they share the tale of how they got engaged. These young couples beam with joy telling these stories of overflowing happiness.
Have you ever been so happy, it was like a dream come true? You landed the job of your dreams. You took the vacation of a lifetime. You gave birth to your first child. You got your college acceptance letter – and it was to Luther College! 😊
We do have dreams come true in our own lives. We even have them in our life together. There are those rare times when a whole community knows such joy, its like a dream come true. For instance, think about what that day was like, when it was declared that WWII was over – that first VE day. For much of the world, it must have been like a dream come true.
Or I think of another time. This purple stole I wear during Lent is from an African community of Lutheran Christians in the country of Namibia. In 1986, my seminary intern supervisor brought this back for me. He had traveled to Namibia to visit African Christians as part of a small support group of clergy from the ELCA. Apartheid was still in existence and protests for this legal segregation to end – raged throughout the world. When apartheid finally did end, did it feel like the start of a dream come true for our Namibian siblings in Christ whose community made this stole I wear? Probably so.
Shouts of Joy
In our history as people of God, as Christians, we’ve adopted Israel’s faith stories of the times when their community experience became like a dream come true. These are our great faith stories of deliverance or freedom: Moses and the Exodus, or the release from exile in Babylonian captivity to go back to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, or a number of other events where the Israelite’s experienced good fortune -thanks to God’s work on their behalf. God acted in the past to save His people in ways that were so wondrous, that the mouths of God’s people became filled with laughter and their tongues formed shouts of joy.
In today’s psalm, Psalm 126, God’s people have moved on in their lives. They aren’t captive any more. But they also have not recently experienced a great act of God’s deliverance. They are in a new place in their life together. Life has found its rhythm again. Joy and sorrow. Weeping and laughter.
But the hard parts of life are still very hard to bear. In the middle of this little psalm today, there is once again a sense that life is in distress or on the verge of it. God’s people are like the Negev River in the dessert – a river that is dried up and parched and longing for rain. God’s people are longing for God to bring about something wonderful for them again.
Are you living in a parched time right now? Has the river run dry? Has it been far too long since refreshment has come?
These questions are not only asked of us as individuals, but we could ask them of our life together too. Are we living in a parched time right now? Has the river run dry? Has it been far too long since refreshment has come?
We had four beloved church members die this week in our congregation. Even though we are a large church – we rarely see that much loss in just a few days. Many of us are grieving. We know stress and barrenness. We know drought. We grieve our hardships and the hardships of others. We sow tears for all the things that are wrong with us and around us.
In a little daily devotional booklet I’m using this Lent, one scholar wrote of the sorrow spoken of in Psalm 126 this way: “There is grief work to be done in the present — that the future may come.” In the middle of today’s psalm, there are two little words, “tears” and “weeping”, that invite us to shift our focus as a community to grieve over others who live alongside of us. The author of my devotional reading put it this way: There is mourning to be done FOR those who do not know of the death-li-ness of their situation. There is mourning to be done WITH those who know pain and suffering and lack the power or freedom to bring it to speech.” And if we don’t care enough to grieve together – we won’t be able to know joy together either. “For grief isn’t so much a requirement as it is a DOOR and a ROUTE TO JOY. (Walter Brueggemann, THE PROPHETIC IMAGINATION)
When we grieve our condition and our worlds’ condition, we offer it to the Lord.
Another wonderful famous writer, Frederick Buechner, wrote in a quote called “Tears” about God’s work of helping us through a time of hardship this way: “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who YOU are, but more often than not, GOD is speaking TO you, THROUGH them, of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.”
Psalm 126 tells us today, as we live in these times, when things lean more toward tears than joy, we’re to look back and remember the great things God has done for us! Then the psalmist invites us to pray to God, looking to the present and future, and asking God to do great things again! We’re to pray with the assurance that our God who is able, will be willing to once again come to the aid of His people. Today’s psalm is a memory turned into a prayer.
And that’s when our tears become like sowing seeds.
Last week I planted tomato seeds in little starter containers in our basement. Man, tomato seeds are tiny! They are smaller than our tears. I sowed them and buried them, putting these dried, pitiful little nubbins into the soil.
It is a very incomplete image, my little tomato seeds in the basement. But they speak to the rhythm of life. You take what is dried out and seemingly of no use. You offer it to the Lord by burying it – in HOPE. In hope, you remember that God has done great things in the past. And you pray that God will, once again, do great things in the future. It is like seed-time and harvest. Sowing and reaping. While we participate in the rhythms of life, we trust and believe that only God can bring about a new thing.
And the newest thing of all is about to happen through Jesus.
A Sign of What’s to Come
In our gospel today, Mary, Jesus’ friend, sits at his feet pouring precious perfume on Jesus as a sign of what is to come. Without anyone knowing, except those of us who live in the future, we look back to see this anointing of Jesus is a sign of hope.
God is now going to do a whole ‘new thing’. God won’t be sending Moses, or a foreign ruler to set us free. God will send His Only Son. And the ‘new thing’ he will bring — will be new and eternal life for you and for me – for us all. New and eternal life will be gifted to this community and to all who come to know Jesus on into the future, from generation to generation.
Perhaps you already know this, but Psalm 126 is a Psalm of Ascent – a psalm that was read whenever God’s people traveled up to Jerusalem for one of its annual festivals of faith.
In today’s gospel, and at this point in our Lenten season, Jesus is about to ascend to Jerusalem for the final time. Once in Jerusalem, Jesus will come to know the deepest sorrow and pain any human can come to know. Tears and weeping will be sown. God’s Son will personally experience more than most of us will ever bear. He’ll take on suffering and death for us, so that God can do this new thing. Jesus will be raised from the dead to never die again.
Standing in this present day, we remember what Jesus has done for us. By what God accomplishes between the cross and the empty tomb – new life and salvation will not just be Jesus’ present and future – new life and salvation becomes our present and future. Our prayers become answered in a whole new way, like a dream come true. You and I have new and free lives NOW in Jesus Christ. And we are promised eternity in a life to come. May this good news bring laughter to our mouths and shouts of joy to our tongues, now and forever. Thanks be to God. AMEN.