Brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus, who is the Christ. Amen.
In his sermon a few weeks ago, Ben referenced the talented and wildly successful singer and songwriter, Beyonce, an amazing artist and entertainer, to be sure. But this morning, I’m going to begin by taking us back in time to my all-time favorite female pop and country music singer: Anne Murray.
I realize that some of you may not be familiar with her, but back in the 70’s and 80’s when she was at the height of her career, the deep, smooth, sometimes sultry voice of Anne Murray graced the airwaves, and Americans claimed this Canadian singer as our own.
In September 1983 Anne Murray released a song called, “A Little Good News” which won numerous awards including the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance and the Country Music Association’s Single of the Year. The song struck a chord with its listeners, and for good reason. In part, the lyrics go like this:
I rolled out this mornin’ – kids had the morning news show on
Bryant Gumbel was talking about the fighting in Lebanon.
Some senator was squawking about the bad economy
It’s gonna get worse you see, we need a change in policy.
There’s a local paper rolled up in a rubber band
One more sad story’s one more than I can stand.
Just once, how I’d like to see the headline say
Not much to print today – can’t find nothing bad to say
Because nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town
Nobody OD’d, nobody burned a single building down
Nobody fired a shot in anger … nobody had to die in vain,
We sure could use a little good news today.
It’s been almost 33 years since Anne Murray released this song and sadly, with the exception of a few dated references, it’s as relevant today as it was back then.
There’s rarely a day that I don’t read various online news sources and listen to the news during my morning and evening commute – not only because I’m interested in what’s going on in the world but because I believe it’s my responsibility to be an informed citizen. I don’t think it’s at all productive to bury our heads in the sand.
Having said that, I will admit that on occasion, I find myself needing to close my laptop or turn off the radio because (in the words of the song) “one more sad story is one more than I can stand.” And I doubt there is anyone among us who doesn’t agree: we sure could use a little good news today.
We just wrapped up a sermon series last Sunday entitled, “How Quickly We Forget.” Over several weeks we took a look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians in which he reminds the fledgling congregations that acceptance by God is not something that can be earned (no matter how diligent they are in keeping the law). God’s love is a gift, freely given, made known to them – and to us – in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They needed to be reminded of this. Sometimes we do, too.
And so our reading for today serves as yet another wonderful reminder of God’s boundless love and faithfulness! In studying this psalm, I came across an article by Hans Wiersma, professor of Religion at Augsburg College here in Minneapolis. He writes:
“Indeed, it doesn’t matter if you are in the End Times or just plain ol’ Tough Times, Psalm 16 amounts to a confession of faith that God will bring about a good outcome no matter what. Although Psalm 16:1 begins with a request (“Protect me, O God”), the remaining 10 ½ verses declare supreme confidence in the fact that the Lord will not only protect but also give counsel, instruction, support, rest secure, the path of life, fullness of joy, and “pleasures forevermore.”
What more could anyone hope for? The challenge, of course, is that we lose sight of God’s promises; we sometimes forget that we are people of hope! The sad, disturbing stories and images that surround us day after day make it difficult to see God in the midst of it all. And if you’re the one who is suffering – for whatever reason – it can seem nearly impossible.
In his book, “Praying the Psalms,” Old Testament scholar and theologian Walter Brueggemann discusses two different images that are often seen in the Hebrew Scriptures: one is the Pit (which the psalmist refers to in our reading today) and the other is what Brueggemann calls Under Safe Wings.
“In the pit,” he says, “people are effectively removed from life. Historically, this is the device used for Joseph by his brothers and for the prophet Jeremiah by his enemies. In the pit, one is denied all the resources necessary for life. The pit reduces one to a state of powerlessness.”
But a starkly contrasting image is that of being safe under the protective wings of God. Psalm 57 is one of many places we can find this image: Be merciful to me, O God, the psalmist writes, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge.
Whereas pit speaks of danger and threat, wings speak of safety, tenderness, and nurture. None of us, of course, can escape our inevitable experiences in the Pit – it’s part of being human, after all. But even in the pit God does not abandon us! As Brueggemann says, “Our lives always move between the pit and the wing, between the shattering of disorientation and the gift of life. This is what our baptism is about – to die and to rise with Christ to newness of life.”
It’s no wonder that in Acts 2, where we find Peter preaching to the crowd gathered on the first Pentecost, he quotes the last several verses of Psalm 16 as he proclaims the resurrection of Jesus:
Jesus of Nazareth – this man, handed over to you…you crucified and killed… But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti’s capital city, Port-Au-Prince and much of the surrounding area, claiming over 150,000 lives. One of the images that has remained with me from the aftermath of the earthquake is that of a 21 year old man, trapped under the rubble of a five-story school building. Nearly four days after the building collapsed, he was still lying on his side, pinned under a large slab of cement.
A crowd is gathered around as family members and rescue workers go about the painstakingly slow and difficult task of digging him out, using chisels and a blowtorch. The man is conscious and seems to be saying something but they can’t quite make it out. So someone passes a reporter’s microphone to the man and asks, “What are you saying to yourself?”
The man calmly responds: “As I’m a Christian, I say: Jesus, you know my life is in your hands.” I remember how struck I was by his response. It wasn’t an impassioned cry for help or a plea for mercy which is what I was expecting. Instead, it was a statement of belief; a confession of faith. “Jesus, you know my life is in your hands.”
The earthquake had thrown this man into the pit and rendered him completely powerless. But his words were like those of the psalmist: “I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”
Sometimes we are so consumed by all the bad news in the world that we fail to remember the Good News that has been ours all along. In spite of the danger, pain, and uncertainty in our lives, we can find refuge and hope in God. Even in the face of death itself, we can rest securely in the loving arms of the God who claims us in the waters of our baptism and promises to never let us go. For as the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans: There is absolutely nothing that can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!
When my sons were very young, we moved from a northwest suburb of Minneapolis down to Bloomington. The house was a former parsonage and sat just across the parking lot from the church. On the roof of the church building stood a tall, white cross, easily visible for blocks around.
One day soon after moving into the house, I took the boys for a walk. It was a beautiful, early spring day and it was time to get out and explore the neighborhood. Besides, with three boys under the age of five, I needed to get out of the house! So I put Matthew in the stroller, took Peter by the hand, and we followed Tim’s lead. We were enjoying our walk and had gotten quite a ways from home when suddenly Peter looked up at me with a worried look on his face. “Mommy, how are we going to find our back home?”
Before I had a chance to respond, Tim confidently pointed to the cross on top of the church in the distance and said: “Don’t worry, Peter! Just look for the cross! It will lead us home!” Words of hope, and a reminder of God’s promise.
“You show me the path of life,” the psalmist said. “In your presence there is fullness of joy.”
In Jesus, God has shown us the path of life. We live in the very presence of God now – and we will live in God’s presence forever! Surely there can be no greater joy – and no better news – than this. Thanks be to God!