"Getting Back in Tune with Life"

“Getting Back in Tune with Life”

(a sermon based on Psalm 103:1-18, citing “Love Warrior” by Glennon Doyle Melton, 2016)

by

Rev. Dr. Paul A. Lance, Minister

First Congregational United Church of Christ

201 South Second Ave., Alpena, Michigan 49707

August 16, 2020

It’s been twenty-two weeks since we last held a public worship service in our sanctuary. If you are like me, you’re a bit “stir crazy” – ready to get back out and about, among friends and extended family, eating out and just hanging out with other people. The Governor’s limitation on social gatherings to ten-people or less, keeps us in “virtual” worship over the Internet. (Technology to the rescue! I love it, and I hate it!) I can’t wait to shake hands again; to smile without a face-mask covering; to sing as a choir, to pray together in this church.

When our lives seem to have fallen out of tune with the way things were -- when our days are “off-kilter” from the norm, when we’re feeling isolated and a bit confused about what’s coming next, I like to take a “pause”… and remember that God is with us. (!) It’s important to me that we have a healthy relationship with God, our Creator, as we wilder & wander our days through these shadows of disease, rancorous politics, divisive social protests, and confusion.

I’m going to take these next 20 minutes of sermon time to help us get back “in tune” with life, by reconnecting with a healthy image of God (who loves us) and by sharing the example of one woman’s life. First, the Bible…

In today’s reading, the 103rd Psalm reminds us that God forgives all your iniquity, and heals all your diseases. (That’s Good News in this time of continuing pandemic!) God redeems your life from the Pit, and crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.

The Psalmist says: God satisfies you with good, as long as you live. (That is Good News too, don’t you think? (!) Do you believe it? Do you act on it? If not, why not?) The God we know in this Church, as described in Psalm 103, is (and I quote again): one who forgives all your iniquity, and heals all your diseases. God redeems your life from the Pit, and crowns you with steadfast love and mercy. God satisfies you with good, as long as you live. (Wow!)

And that’s not all! The 103rd Psalm goes on to say that it’s not just about you: “The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed!(!) The Lord is merciful, and gracious; slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love!” (Right now, I want you to feel the deep love and strong security of those words. I want you to own that description of God, the one we call “our Lord & Father”. Got it?)

Let me say it again from the top: God forgives all your iniquity (So, don’t let guilt, or shame, or blame hold you down. (!) It’s been taken care of! You are forgiven!)...And God heals all your diseases (Yes, I know that people are frightened by the escalating numbers of CoronaVirus deaths all across our country… and all over the world! But our God is bigger than that!) God redeems your life from the Pit (says the Psalmist)… and crowns you with steadfast love and mercy. God satisfies you with good, as long as you live. (Please, please… Can you feel that? Can you believe it?)

To know that kind of a God, with that kind of confidence, will take you far. (!) Trusting God can make you bold! Even fearless! The first step in getting our lives “back in tune” is to hold an accurate picture of God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior - God.

“The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who know & respect God; and God’s righteousness is passed on to our children’s children… to those who keep God’s covenant and remember to do God’s commandments.”

You may notice that I avoid using the old-word “fear” when speaking of God, because today’s connotation means to be “afraid”. The original meaning of the phrase “the fear of the Lord” was not intended to frighten, but to show high respect, to hold in awe, to know and to trust God completely with one’s very life. “The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who know & respect God … and God’s righteousness is passed on to our children’s children.” That should give us confidence, not fear.

The 103rd Psalm is a bulwark against fear, a strong foundation of faith in the face of everything that the world uses to frighten us.(!) I say: relax! God knows you, & loves you, and intends only good for you. God’s steadfast love is everlasting, and all will be well with you.

Having grown up in this church (first, under Rev. Barksdale and Mrs. B, & then Jack Fitzgerald & many of you who are still members) that’s the image and character of God that I learned about. A God who forgives our iniquity, and heals our diseases. A God who redeems our lives when they are in jeopardy, and crowns us with steadfast love and mercy. A God who satisfies us with good, as long as we live. It’s the same kind of God that we meet in the 23rd Psalm, represented in the Good Shepherd window up front here.

Here at First Congregational (United Church of Christ) we teach the Jesus Gospel, which is the Way of Christ, the Man of Nazareth, whose love relationship with God being put into practice day-by-day is the model we do our best to follow. As a denomination, we were asking “What Would Jesus Do?” long before any of the hell-fire and damnation crowd thought to do so.

We believe in a God who creates the world and loves it! We believe that God intends and empowers humankind to be God’s very own image and likeness, in all our diversity and colorful variety of tribes and ethnic groups and languages.

Our God, as known through Jesus Christ, can walk with us and talk with us and point us in the right direction. God never abandons us. “Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me!” That’s who God is – the same yesterday, today, and in all our tomorrows. Our God is love & justice.

I think it is a shame that many young Christians do not have the opportunity to meet a God like that -- a God such as is described in the 103rd Psalm, or like Jesus’ loving Father “Abba” -- because their preachers and teachers have a “finger-pointing, finger-shaking judging God who is as apt to curse as to bless; as quick to send souls to Hell as to welcome them in mercy and love for all eternity.

A few years ago, I had a chance to listen to a woman who had been raised with that other kind of theology, in a church that held her down. Her name is Glennon Doyle Melton, whose on-line blog is read by millions. It took her decades to get away from that judg-mental, fearful God and find a church with a “Jesus-like” God. In place of a condemning God, she “tuned” her life to the frequency of love as known through Jesus… and her life finally made sense.

I am going to cite three passages from her book “Love Warrior”. It’s a memoir, actually -- a true telling of her childhood and young adulthood -- which is rough reading, at first. As a child, with very low-self esteem, Glennon became bulimic. She thought people would not like the “real” person that she was, so she put on a mask – a “presentation” she thought was more acceptable to her family, and her school… She called it her “representative”, because her “real self” was something else… a mess -- not lovable! (In church we call living behind a mask “hypocrisy” – presenting a false face to the public.)

As a teenager, Glennon put on a public presentation of “sexy” – promiscuous acting out – a party-girl who loved “doing it” with guys – except that she didn’t love it. (!)

Like her bulimia/anorexia, being “sexy” was a mask to hide behind. The real woman (inside) was hidden. Glennon became a raging alcoholic. I warn you, her description of that chaos and crisis is very difficult to read. But on her blog (and in her book) she is ruthlessly honest! Eventually she married, had three daughters, and then found out that her husband was having affairs.