Easter—What Next?

1 Peter 1:3-9 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
3 Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is so good, and by raising Jesus from death, he has given us new life and a hope that lives on.
4 God has something stored up for you in heaven, where it will never decay or be ruined or disappear.
5 You have faith in God, whose power will protect you until the last day.
Then he will save you, just as he has always planned to do.
6 On that day you will be glad, even if you have to go through many hard trials for a while.
7 Your faith will be like gold that has been test ed in a fire.
And these trials will prove that your faith is worth much more than gold that can be destroyed.
They will show that you will be given praise and honor and glory when Jesus Christ returns.
8 You have never seen Jesus, and you don’t see him now.
But still you love him and have faith in him, and no words can tell how glad and happy 9 you are to be saved.
That’s why you have faith.

Easter is the greatest, most important day of the year. We anticipate it, we plan for it, we celebrate it, not just with worship, but with friends, family, food, egg hunts, candy.
Worship is enhanced with lilies and jubilant hymn singing, and, if you’re really in to it, you get a new outfit.
I remember buying Easter clothes for my children—pretty dresses for Laura and Miriam and little suits for Michael. One year I bought him the cutest light blue suit. He had a little shirt and tie to match. After our big Easter dinner, he went outside to play and that light blue suit ended up streaked and striped in green. What was I thinking? It did wash out and he wore it until he outgrew it.
For as long as I could, I forced the girls to wear Easter bonnets. Some battles aren’t worth fighting. And some times I made them matching dresses–which are still packed away. Someday, maybe Laura and Miriam will have a niece who will have to wear the same style of dress two years in a row, because that’s for whom they’re being saved. I should probably warn Greta.
Easter carries a lot of tradition. The lilies and the hymns are traditional. And the story itself could be called a tradition. But it is so much more than a tradition. A tradition is something that is observed on a specific occasion. The Resurrection story does not get tucked away with the good silver and china. The Resurrection is here to stay, always on the table, always on the menu. The Resurrection is a part of our blood and our breathing.
If Easter Sunday is the most important day of the year, I have two questions for you.
What makes it important?
How do we honor that importance?
Answer to Question 1:
1 Peter 1:3 Praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is so good, and by raising Jesus from death, he has given us new life and a hope that lives on.

God has given us new life. God has given us hope that lives on. God has given us eternal life. What could be more important than that? Eternal life, ergo the defeat of death. Let’s argue. Jesus’ resurrection is important because…let’s go at it from this direction: what if Jesus hadn’t risen? What if all that Jesus did was teach us, command us to love God and to love each other? Would we still be talking about him, reading stories about him, studying his words if he had died and stayed dead?
My preaching leans heavily toward the practice of the two great commandments. I am always finding ways to exhort, explain, encourage our practice of loving God and loving neighbor. But what great religious tradition has not taught that?
Buddha
Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
—Udanavarga 5:18
Confucius
Zi gong (a disciple of Confucius) asked: “Is there any one word that could guide a person throughout life?”
The Master replied: “How about ‘shu’ [reciprocity]: never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself?”
–Confucius, Analects XV.24, tr. David Hinton
Jean-Paul Sartre
What we choose is always the better; and nothing can be better for us unless it is better for all.
–Existentialism is a Humanism
Hinduism
One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma. Other behavior is due to selfish desires.
—Brihaspati, Mahabharata (Anusasana Parva, Section CXIII, Verse 8)[57]
The Prophet Muhammad
As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don’t do to them.

Only in our faith does God physically defeat death. It is important to us because that one death, the death of God the Son, signifies the defeat of death for all of us. So, Question 1. is answered. Easter is important because it determines our future; the hope of resurrection is ours to claim and that claim is meaningful not only on the last day of our lives, but everyday. Two reasons: First, hope gives us strength in times of boredom, in times of sorrow, in times of suffering, in times of repentance. Second, hope eases the tearing of hearts when loved ones die, because we believe that resurrection also brings reunion.
How does hope give us strength? Peter puts it this way:
4 God has something stored up for you in heaven, where it will never decay or be ruined or disappear.
5 You have faith in God, whose power will protect you until the last day.
Then he will save you, just as he has always planned to do.
6 On that day you will be glad, even if you have to go through many hard trials for a while.
7 Your faith will be like gold that has been tested in a fire.
And these trials will prove that your faith is worth much more than gold that can be destroyed.
They will show that you will be given praise and honor and glory when Jesus Christ returns.

In other words, Easter has implications for the long haul.
Easter Sunday is a big deal for us Christians. If Easter Sunday has one dominant motif, it is praise. We are really good at celebrating Easter. But after Easter Sunday comes…..Monday. Then Tuesday. Then Wednesday… Thursday….Friday…Saturday….and the lilies have fewer blooms and the eggs are all found and eaten or buried in the refrigerator. The dresses have wrinkles, the bonnets are in the bottom of the toy box, and even the leftovers are pretty much used up. I have one dried-out Hot Cross Bun waiting for someone hungry enough to eat it.
And Monday is Monday is Monday. Another day. There were no Easter Monday sales were there? Not many of us had an Easter Monday vacation or bonus. Monday is back to usual. The same businesses and schools and stores are open. The same shifts are filled at the hospitals and the factories. The same traffic clogs the same roads and the same songs are played on the radio. “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” is once again buried in the hymnal, put on ice with the Christmas carols.
My second question is How do we honor Resurrection? If resurrection is so important, one day is not enough. If resurrection is so important, such an integral part of our belief system, how do we keep it in the forefront of our lives, our practices?
I want to explore this question in the next few week via the teachings of 1 Peter. The original audience of this book, the churches of Asia Minor, found it challenging, if not awkward, to be Christian. The audience is presumed to be mostly slaves and women, who, in that time, were comparatively powerless people. Christians were also a minority in the first century, when the book was presumably written.
What can we learn from slaves and subjugated women in our time, when slavery is abolished and women have equal rights? Peter often refers to the audience as being in exile. How can the concept of exile be meaningful to us? We leave in the land of the free.


I am enjoying studying 1 Peter and I am looking forward to sharing my insights with you. In the meantime, read through it a couple times. If you have trouble understanding any of it, reach for your trusty Internet. I especially encourage you to try different translations via Bible Gateway or Blue Letter Bible.
So, how do we get from this Sunday to next Sunday? In other words, how do we keep the Easter “high?”
What does our benediction say? We are Resurrection people with Easter in our hearts! We repeat that five times during our benediction…we say it to ourselves just as we’re about to go out the door, into the world.
Easter Sunday is not the end of the story. Because we are resurrection people, we wear that designation on our hearts tomorrow, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday—and before you know it–it’s Sunday again and once again we’ll gather to renew our resurrection batteries. The Energizer Bunny has nothing on us…our resurrection energy carries us from this life to the next. Amen.
God, we are your resurrection people, the people that you created in your image, the people you created to love. We bless you and praise you and thank you for your Easter gift. Amen.

All Over But the Shouting!

The Sabbath was over, and it was almost daybreak on Sunday when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
Suddenly a strong earthquake struck, and the Lord’s angel came down from heaven.
He rolled away the stone and sat on it.
The angel looked as bright as lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.
The guards shook from fear and fell down, as though they were dead.
The angel said to the women,
“Don’t be afraid!
I know you are looking for Jesus, who was nailed to a cross.
He isn’t here! God has raised him to life, just as Jesus said he would.
Come, see the place where his body was lying.
Now hurry!
Tell his disciples that he has been raised to life and is on his way to Galilee.
Go there, and you will see him.
That is what I came to tell you.”
The women were frightened and yet very happy, as they hurried from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples.
Suddenly Jesus met them and greeted them.
They went near him, held on to his feet, and worshiped him.
Then Jesus said,
“Don’t be afraid!
Tell my followers to go to Galilee.
They will see me there.” Matthew 27: 62 On the next day, which was a Sabbath, the chief priests and the Pharisees went together to Pilate. 63 They said, “Sir, we remember what that liar said while he was still alive. He claimed that in three days he would come back from death. 64 So please order the tomb to be carefully guarded for three days. If you don’t, his disciples may come and steal his body. They will tell the people that he has been raised to life, and this last lie will be worse than the first one.”
65 Pilate said to them, “All right, take some of your soldiers and guard the tomb as well as you know how.”
As far as the chief priests and the Pharisees and Pilate were concerned, it was all over. The troublesome prophet, the self-proclaimed Messiah, the hill-billy miracle worker, was history. No longer would his presence, his message, his popularity divide or disturb the Jewish population or the Roman authorities. Daily life would return to the normal tensions between government and governed. Everything and everybody was under control. Sure, there would still be trouble from other wanna-be messiahs and from the Jewish Sicarii or Zealots, but the numbers were against them.
The followers of the upstart Galilean preacher would return to their hardscrabble lives. The excitement about a new kingdom would die down. The amazing words that rang out on the plain and on the mountainside would soon slip from campfire fodder into hazy memory and misquotes.
Matthew Chapter 28 starts with the words: “The Sabbath was over.” For the friends and followers of Jesus, life was over. They had spent weeks, months, years following Jesus, caring for him. Now, there was little left to do.Without Jesus, there would be no crowds, no teaching, no reason to gather, except to mourn.
But there was still tradition. The women, those most loyal and fearless of disciples, knew what had to be done. The body had to be prepared for burial. The funny thing is, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea, Pharisees who were closet followers of Jesus, had already prepared the body for burial. Listen to this description from the Gospel of John:
John 19: 38 Joseph from Arimethea was one of Jesus’ disciples. He had kept it secret though, because he was afraid of the Jewish leaders. But now he asked Pilate to let him have Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission, and Joseph took it down from the cross.
39 Nicodemus also came with about seventy-five pounds of spices made from myrrh and aloes. This was the same Nicodemus who had visited Jesus one night. 40 The two men wrapped the body in a linen cloth, together with the spices, which was how the Jewish people buried their dead. 41 In the place where Jesus had been nailed to a cross, there was a garden with a tomb that had never been used. 42 The tomb was nearby, and since it was the time to prepare for the Sabbath, they were in a hurry to put Jesus’ body there.
Why did the women head for the tomb with spices they had bought? They knew that Joseph and Nicodemus had prepared the body, washing it with oil and water, wrapping it in linen and spices. In Mark 15, we read: 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph were watching and saw where the body was placed. So, what was their reasoning?
First of all, let me point out that it was probably imprudent for unaccompanied women to head for the tomb. This was not like heading for the market, where women were expected to be present unescorted. Furthermore, it was early, barely light…not the time of day to be running errands. And they would have to deal with Roman soldiers: there was a recipe for disaster and disgrace. So, after going through this list of practical reasons to stay indoors, what made them head off for an unnecessary and potentially dangerous encounter?
As a woman, I can put myself in their place. How much has changed in two thousand years? I think the women of first-century Palestine and the women of twenty-first century USA have some things in common. So, two reasons. The first: they had watched Joseph and Nicodemus prepare the body and noticed all the things they did wrong. So they had to make sure Jesus was buried properly, in case the men missed something. Isn’t that one of the givens in gender relationships? The men can’t do it right, so the women have to redo it. Or, just as often, the women can’t do it right and the men have to redo it. I’m not going to give any examples; I’m sure you can name your own.
In a more serious vein, why did they take the chance? The second, and more likely reason–again, I’m thinking like a woman–is that they HAD to do something. They couldn’t sleep; they weren’t hungry. They couldn’t sit still. They had lived through the most traumatic day of their lives. In three years, they had witnessed more than the average woman had seen in a lifetime: miracles, amazing preaching, limitless love, limitless patience, and passion on a level that was beyond human experience. Those days of walking with Jesus, listening to Jesus, caring for Jesus, (keeping the disciples in line?) had just been sucked away from them by the curse of violent death. Perhaps they weren’t thinking straight; perhaps they didn’t think about the time of day, the Roman soldiers, the heavy stone, the foolishness of anointing a body already slathered in 75 pounds of ointment. Perhaps all they wanted….and here is my take on why they went to the tomb…all they wanted was to DO SOMETHING. They couldn’t be with the living Messiah, but they could DO SOMETHING. They could maintain a relationship that seemed to have ended, abruptly and without logic.
Again, don’t we have a lot in common with these women, Mary, Mary, Mary, Joanna, Salome, and the mothers of some of the disciples? After all, many of us, at one time or another, have gone to the cemetery, not to mow the grass, not even to take flowers or wash off the headstone, but just to be there because it was as close as we could get. The last time we’d had any physical contact with that person was when they were returned to the earth, in that particular spot. Where else could we go? Where else could the women go? What else could they do, but touch that cold stone that blocked their entry?
At this point, just when they must have thought they had seen it all, lightening strikes. In the form of an angel. Suddenly, their task is turned on its head and the spices are no longer needed.
Imagine their fright, their astonishment at the scene that explodes before them.
Verse 2:
First: Suddenly a strong earthquake struck,
Then: and the Lord’s angel came down from heaven.
Next: He rolled away the stone and sat on it.

Just like that: the angel made himself at home. He not only arrived with an earthquake; he rolled that big stone away, then just sat on it, like he was getting comfortable. Maybe he was, but you can bet the women weren’t. Could they believe their eyes?
Vs. 3: The angel looked as bright as lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.
The guards shook from fear and fell down, as though they were dead.

Notice that the guards passed out; not the women. So they heard the angel say, “No need to be afraid; everything’s copacetic.” The guards missed that part. The women got it.
And a good thing they did keep their wits about them: the angel had more to say.
I know you are looking for Jesus, who was nailed to a cross.
He isn’t here! God has raised him to life, just as Jesus said he would.
Come, see the place where his body was lying.
Now hurry!
Tell his disciples that he has been raised to life and is on his way to Galilee.
Go there, and you will see him.
That is what I came to tell you.”

“That is what I came to tell you,” says the angel. “I’m not here to scare you; I’m here to give you a message.”
So the first Easter message went to these foolhardy women who acted from the center of their hearts. They did not go to the tomb expecting to find it empty. They did not go to the tomb expecting to see an angel. They did not go to the tomb to scare the soldiers. They did not go to the tomb expecting to get orders.
Vs. 7 Now hurry!
Tell his disciples that he has been raised to life and is on his way to Galilee. Go there, and you will see him.

If an angel gave you orders, wouldn’t you follow them? They did–with mixed emotions, but with no pause for reflection, no hesitation.
Vs. 8 The women were frightened and yet very happy, as they hurried from the tomb and ran to tell his disciples.
It gets even better:
Vs. 9a Suddenly Jesus met them and greeted them.
This would have been the logical time to pass out. But they don’t doubt for a minute. Nobody yelled, “Ghost!” Nobody yelled, “Impostor!” Nobody shouted, “I must be crazy!” Again, without hesitation, they act:
Vs. 9b They went near him, held on to his feet, and worshiped him.

Jesus, like the angel, is super cool. He doesn’t act surprised or pleased or even important. He just repeats the angel’s reassurance and request:
Vs. 10 “Don’t be afraid! Tell my followers to go to Galilee. They will see me there.”
He could have said, “Wow, you won’t believe what happened to me!” He didn’t say that; but we do believe what happened to him.
He could have said, “You are now the proud new owner of eternal life.” He didn’t say that, but we believe in that truth.
He could have said, “Where are the guys?” He didn’t, and they all joined up with him eventually.
For Jesus, it was the first day of the rest of his eternal life. Or maybe it was getting back to normal, before God sent him to try this human experiment.
Do you ever wonder if Jesus knew about this day when he was nursing at his mother’s breast or picking up sticks with Joseph? Did 12-year-old Jesus know about this day when he argued with the rabbis in the temple? Did 30-year-old Jesus know about this day when John baptized him? If you think the answers to these questions are important, then you should be able to start a good argument with someone.
The resurrection of Jesus has initiated arguments and creeds and ridicule and hope, century after century. For us Christians, the resurrection is the only thing that really matters. If there were no resurrection, we would not be sitting here.
Even greater than Jesus’ resurrection is the anticipation of our own resurrection.
The greatest thing about our Easter is that we approach it with anticipation and expectation. Our Easter is so dramatically different from that first Easter, which was approached with sorrow and dread and hopelessness.
Even when we approach a certain grave in a certain cemetery, we can approach with anticipation and excitement, because we know it’s not over. We will most likely not be knocked over by an earthquake or visited by an angel, but in the long run, it will not matter. We will all return to the earth, in one form or another, whether it be in a $10,000 casket or as ashes sprinkled on the grass. It’s hard to believe, but it won’t matter where these bones and fifty extra pounds of butter and sugar end up. Because the end is not the end. it is the beginning, the beginning of a life of resurrection, a life of reunion, a life that knows no end.
That sorrowful Sabbath ended—and with it ended for all time and beyond time, the threat of death.
Jesus started something new for us. Jesus beat death and now…we can, too! Amen!

Promise Me!

How many times have you heard Psalm 23 at a funeral?  Why is that?

‘Several years ago, a group at Luther Seminary researched  biblical literacy in our culture. As part of the research, roughly 1,500 people were surveyed and about 200 people were interviewed in two rounds of interviews in 12 locations around the United States.

‘One question the survey posed was, “Is there a text that is important for you in difficult times?” Not all people answered the question, but of those who did, 15 percent of respondents named Psalm 23 specifically. Another 10 percent named “the psalms” in general. The psalms, and especially Psalm 23, speak powerfully to and for God’s people in troubled times.”

Howard Wallace, an Australian pastor and writer says the combination of the phrases “thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death” and “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” insinuate that there is an intellectual or emotional connection between terminal illness and the hope of resurrection.

 Hence, as death approaches, the psalm takes on added meaning.

Because Psalm 23 is so familiar, it is vulnerable to misunderstanding.  When something is written in your heart the way this psalm is, it’s easy to ignore the individual words and phrases and interpret it only as a psalm of comfort. Perhaps another danger is that because many of us memorized it in older translations, the intricacies of the Psalm are buried beneath sentiment.

So let’s unpack it.

Psalm 23 is a psalm of trust. All of the Psalms can be categorized according to purpose.

Psalm 95–”I lift my eyes to the hills”–is a Psalm of Praise. Psalm 51–”Create in me a clean heart, O God”– is a Psalm of Lament. 

Trust psalms have three qualities. First of all, the psalm alludes to or describes a crisis. Thus, it’s no surprise that we find it comforting during funerals, but it is equally appropriate during other crises in life. 

Second, the psalm of trust assumes that God has made a promise. 

Third, the response to the promise is trust.

God promises God’s love and attention. We have a choice of two responses: either we trust God or we don’t. The Psalmist choses to trust God.  Then the Psalmist expands on why God can be trusted.

 While we traditionally use this prayer in times of grief, Clint McCann sees the psalm as inspiration for daily life. 

Psalm 23 is used when we remember God’s promises to us. If there were no promise from God, what would we have to trust?  The psalm begins with a declaration of trust. “The Lord is my shepherd.”

When the psalm was written, “shepherd” was one of the words that referred to the king.  The king was responsible for his people, just as a shepherd was responsible for the sheep in his flock. A king is expected to provide something for his people, whether it be economic or military security.  A shepherd is expected to provide security, food and water for his flock.  In that little phrase, “The Lord is my shepherd” is a declaration of loyalty, of claiming a promise and of a mindset.

Verses 2 and 3 may sound like a wish for refuge, but in fact, when viewed in the light of the shepherd metaphor, green pastures and quiet waters are not a special place of refuge, but the normal expectation of care from a good shepherd.  If sheep don’t have a quiet grazing place and fresh water, they don’t have much.

Shelter, safety, provisions…whom do we trust, ultimately, to provide those necessities?

Let’s look at that more closely.  If someone is hungry, whom do we blame? If we don’t have a decent place to live, whom do we blame?  It seems to me that blame and trust are opposite sides of the same coin.  We don’t blame someone or something unless we feel that, for instance, the government has let us down.  To be let down by the government means that you, at one time, or still do, have trust in the government.

Or let’s say your brother or sister has disappointed you. If you had no expectations, if you had not originally trusted them to behave in a certain way, you would have no reason to be disappointed.

God does not disappoint. Romans 5: Christ has also introduced us to God’s undeserved kindness on which we take our stand. So we are happy, as we look forward to sharing in the glory of God. But that’s not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope that will never disappoint us.

God, by feeding and and protecting the Psalmist, has his soul restored –in other words, as McCann puts it,  God keeps the Psalmist alive.

Verse 3 continues: God leads me in right paths–in paths that offer less danger.

This is as true now as it was back in the early days of our Hebrew history.  God gave us road signs and warning signs to show us the right paths. We call those signs the 10 Commandments. Walking in right paths, leading a righteous life, is not a matter of luck.  It’s not a matter of guessing which turn to take at the fork in the road.  

Along many highways’ edges are white stripes and rumble strips.  On the newly laid road between DeWitt and Grand Mound there is even a rumble strip down the middle.  Why are those stripes and strips installed? To remind us of where the road is, of where we are supposed to drive.  Sure, we could drive in the ditch or on the wrong side of the road, but where would we end up?  In the hospital, most likely.

Likewise, we follow the road signs of the Commandments, along safe ways, away from danger.

When we are forced to walk through dark valleys, the One we can count on to be with us is God.  When we are alone, who is the One that listens? Approaching death is not the only dark valley through which we walk.  Illness, loneliness, estrangement, economic uncertainty are all frightening and take away from the happiness God has planned for us.

This is a good time to go back to verse one: “I shall not want.”  

We live in a culture that demands that we “want”–we are told that we want a car that gets better mileage, that we want meat at every meal, that we want locks on our houses, that we want guns, that we want entertainment, that we want the newest, the best, even when we know we’ll never have it, can’t afford it or don’t need it.  The Gospel of the Market tells us everyday that we can do better, with better furniture, better windows, better Big Macs, better insurance, better investments.

The Psalmist doesn’t mean he’ll hit the lottery and shop to his heart’s content. He means “I’ll never lack for the basics.” He means he’ll have some kind of shelter, some kind of food, some kind of, ideally, clean water. I try to imagine myself giving up the guest bedroom, my office, my freezer full of meat, the pictures hanging on the wall, the extra sets of china in the cupboard.  What would I do without a porch, a flower bed?  Sure, it’s easy to say, “I could do without all that.” But I don’t think I’d be very good company. I’d be whining about needing a freezer so I could stock up on meat when it was on sale.  I’d whine about not being able to raise any flowers.  Yet the Psalmist reminds me that I have everything I need.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but neither does the Psalmist.  He is speaking for his own time and place and he expresses it so eloquently, so beautifully, that I want to emulate him.

Vs. 3 “I will fear no evil.”  What is more fearful than evil, that opposite of God, of goodness?  Evil comes in so many guises: illness, estrangement, accident. It comes quickly, unexpectedly, it stalks like an animal.  As humans, we have no defense against evil. Evil ignores the 10 Commandments.  Evil ambushes us, deceives us. When that happens, we Christians have a plan B, a back up: we have God. We are not left blowing in the wind, helpless, defeated.  We do not have to fear evil.  We can fear pain, we can fear economic collapse, we can fear anything, but we are not alone in our fear: every minute, waking, sleeping, struggling, hiding, we have God with us, assuaging our fear, pulling us, pushing us through those dark valleys.

Vs. 5 –a table prepared–a cup overflowing, not prepared by my hands, not poured by me, but by a God who takes care of me. And God is a generous host, offering the finest hospitality. God is not sparing–God doesn’t hand me a plate of food and say, go find a seat somewhere. God doesn’t measure the quantities of food and drink; my cup is running over in generosity.

Vs. 6.  Here is another statement of trust: Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.  Not only goodness, but mercy.  Even though God can be trusted, I cannot be trusted.  Without God’s mercy, I would suffocate under a pile of hopelessness and guilt. Furthermore, it doesn’t say “AFTER I DIE,” but ALL THE DAYS OF MY LIFE.  Every day of my life. God is right there, not just for funerals, not just at my death bed. God is present everyday of my life.

And then the final promise that I make to God and God makes to me.  I will dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.  What a coincidence! We are sitting in the house of the Lord right now!  With each other, not alone.  

Psalm 23 deserves to be the most popular Psalm in the Psalter, but not because it is trotted out at funerals.  It deserves our attention because it applies to every single day of our lives. 

This Psalm nurtures our relationship with God by illuminating God’s promise and our response to that promise. God is the center of my life.  I don’t need anything else.

Holy Shepherd, all the days of my life I promise to walk with you.  Amen.

+++

1 Working Preacher   Rolf Jacobson http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2004

2  http://hwallace.unitingchurch.org.au/WebOTcomments/EasterC/Easter4.html

3 Working Preacher   Rolf Jacobson http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2004

4 J. Clinton McCann, New Interpreter’s Bible IV

Hear Me!

1O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
4In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.
5The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
6O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice!
8Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.”
11Therefore in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest.”
Worship. It’s what we do. Every Sunday possible. But what makes this gathering “worship” and not just another meeting?
What if we just came, read from the Bible, said a prayer, and left. What distinguishes worship from other community or social events? What if we just sat around, drank coffee and caught up on the local news?

Psalm 95 spells it out:

Let US worship.
Worship is communal, congregational. It is done in a group. It is not private.
Worship is vocal. It is not silent.
Worship is noisy.
Worship is joyful.

1O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
Every faithful worshipper cringes when someone says he or she worships God on the golf course or with a fishing pole in hand. That is at best an excuse, at worst a denial that God is important.

Why do we ever wish there were more people in church? Is it because we want their money? Is it because we think they need our company? Or is it because we intuitively know that the more, the merrier is as true of worship as it is of any gathering. How much more inspiring it is to sing when you can hear voices besides your own! How moving it is to speak the words of welcome and confession in community. What a blessing to stand together to speak the words of the Psalm. Communal worship gives us power, gives us inspiration, confidence, gives us strength.

The communion of the Holy Spirit is not a silent meditation, but a noisy engagement of music and prayer and conversation with God.
Worship is reverent.
Worship is intimate
6O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
Even though we like loud, noisy worship, we expect another component: reverence. Worship is special because there is nothing in our worship that invites temptation or malice or lust or greed. We expect worship to be a respite from the world of sin and corruption. We expect to find the Kingdom of God here, without the influence of popular culture, without the pressure to be and buy and believe like the commercial world. We are freed to be one-on-one with God without the distractions of money and entertainment and personal conflict. We are intimate with each other and with God in the holiest sense of relationships.
Worship is directed toward God.
Worship is God-centered.

7For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice!

Even though we are in a group, we are not focused on each other or on an agenda, but on God. We are all pulling together, working together, rejoicing together for one purpose: to praise God. We do not praise basketball teams or military victories or new cars or pizza or even carrot cupcakes. We praise God.

Worship is expected.
Worship is not forced by God.

8Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
9when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
10For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.”
11Therefore in my anger I swore, “They shall not enter my rest.”
We are created with certain abilities and requirements. We are created with lungs and stomachs; we are created with the ability to share, to respect, and we are created to worship. Some of these qualities are demanded; we don’t have a choice. If we want to live, we are forced to use our lungs and our stomachs. On the other hand, we don’t have to share, we don’t have to respect anything or anyone, and we don’t have to worship. We are given a choice. What influences our choice? A grateful heart. Not the heart that pumps blood, but the heart that pumps love. We don’t worship God because we would die if we didn’t. We worship God because we love and respect God. We come to worship because we are thankful and hopeful and trusting.

God wants us to worship. We are born with the ability to worship. It is up to us to use that ability.

One other point. God does not need our worship. The need is ours. We need to worship God. Just as we inhale, we need to exhale. Just as we need to eat, so we need to eliminate. Just as we live in God’s creation, so we need to acknowledge the Creator. We are born to worship. Praise God that we have the time, the place, the means, the intelligence to now that WE need to worship, that we NEED to worship.
2Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

God, we thank you for the ability to worship, and we thank you for this opportunity to worship. Amen.