Sunday, December 4, 2011 - 2nd Sunday of Advent
I came up to the home. A serious task was before me. We Christ-followers walk along side one another. We don’t bail out when things get messy in someone’s life. We step into the messes. The person who owned the home I was entering was helping someone make it through a difficult time. I was there to help, to represent the church, and to pray.
Upon entering, I almost forgot why I had come. The home was beautiful. Thinking about it now and thinking about the reality that I live in a home where three children are constantly spilling things and getting things out and not putting things back, and I realize I am extremely impressed by cleanliness. I love my own home more than any other, but I can easily be wowed by something as a simple as an uncluttered room.
But this was more than tidiness. This home was clean, neat, and artfully decorated for the season. The reds, the greens, the thematic Christmas tree; it was beautiful and inviting. I was there because the homeowner and I were joining with someone to help her through painful times. I wish I could have gone back because that home just sung come on in, sit down, and relax a while.
Thinking about brought to mind other welcoming spaces. I recalled recently driving by a showroom and seeing through the enormous windows the large leather chairs. I thought, “What a nice room. I want to go in there and lounge.” Of course the people who arranged that room wanted me to do just that. And if I gave into that impulse and entered, what would they discuss with me as I relaxed in there comfortable space? They would try to get me to buy a car. It is a show room.
I’ve also been impressed with the welcoming, warm environment I have experienced in certain banks. Come on in. Sit a while. And let us hold your money. We’ll pay you, a small bit of interest. Or, if you need some money, you can borrow it. You’ll end up paying us a lot of interest.
Of course not all welcome spaces are intended to sell us a product or a service. Sure, the car showroom wants to sell cars and the bank wants to lend money – nothing wrong there. It’s ok and even pleasing if they create an atmosphere as they go about their business. But, the decorative homeowner is not trying to sell or convince. She’s inviting us. With her painstaking attention to detail in her home’s décor, with her bright smile, and with her offer of hot coffee and cookies, she’s saying, “Come in and experience our family and let us experience you.”
On Sunday mornings, we strive to create welcome space. From our greeters at the door to the friendliness people have at the coffee pot to the way our elders and members embrace one another and welcome new comers, we are saying “Welcome.” With our welcome comes something very specific.
We don’t sell anything. At the offering time, you can give money. That’s between you and God. I think a person’s life is blessed when he or she gives because he’s acknowledging that God is master of everything – even the checkbook. But, no one who comes is required to give. We’re happy you are here and not paying attention to what you do at the offering time. We aren’t here to sell.
We are not here to have you experience us. You will experience HillSong, but the glorification of HillSong is not our purpose. Nor is fellowship our purpose. Coming, especially on a day when we take communion and share a meal, you’ll have plenty of wonderful fellowship. But fellowship is not why we are here.
No, we create this welcome space so that people might come together in the name of Jesus Christ and pray to God and worship God. That’s why we are here. So come.
Come and worship. Come and pray. Within this house, come to the very specific welcome spot, the Lord’s Supper table. Come with your sin and leave it here. Come to receive – receive forgiveness and salvation and new life. Come.
This is probably easier said than done. We’re too accustomed to people trying to sell us things or trying to get us do thing or join things or pledge our loyalty or our time. From volunteers to sales persons to the government collecting taxes to political parties seeking votes – for forever and a day people come to us to get something from us. Is it truly possible that we can come to church and there are no strings attached? Nothing is required of us?
Is it really possible for us to believe that when we pray something might actually happen? Life is too bumpy, too full of users who want to use us, and too uncertain. Our age is too empirical, too scientific; no, we can’t trust in prayer or in the God who is the object of prayer. Can we?
Clearly church goers do – at some level. Thousands and millions would not come in each Sunday, would not get baptized, would not take the bread and cup if we didn’t think there was something to it. Somewhere deep inside, we believe or at least give mental assent to the idea that in this welcome place, we can pray, God does hear, and God acts in response to us.
Faith becomes vibrant and God is actually seen and known when that deep, latent, sleeping faith awakens and claws its way out from deep inside. It fights its way to the surface. The faith that believes that God is real and answers prayer becomes a more powerful force the bombardment of materialistic advertising noise the hits with blitzkrieg force throughout the year and intensifies from November to year’s end. Our belief in God rises above the noise, and we dare believe that God is going to do the amazing among us here and now.
Craig Broyles, a professor of religious studies, sees a conversion taking place in Psalm 85.[i] It’s odd to think of it that way because the Psalm comes from the Jews who were the Chosen People. Conversion typically means a radical change, like a democrat becoming a republican, or an Israeli embracing Islam. If someone is already a Jew, what kind of conversion would he undergo? In the first three verses, the singer in the Psalm tells of times past when God restored his favorable people through forgiveness and mercy. God has already shown the willingness to do this. The next four verses though, beg God to do it again. “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us” (v.4).
The conversion is the change from an assumed faith to a chosen, claimed faith. One is chosen because she’s Jewish. Broyles suggests that this Psalm calls for one who is of the chosen people by birth to actually make the life commitment to follow God, worship God, and put all their trust in God. Verse 8, “The Lord God will … speak peace … to those who turn to him in their hearts.”
The same conversion is needed by people who have spoken the language of Christianity and even experienced earlier seasons of life-changing faith, but now only hear the noise; the noise of bad news; the noise of purchase, buy, put on layaway, buy on credit; the noise of instant gratification. We are Christians who need to convert so that we become pray-ers who believe in prayer and rely on it; and Christ-followers who follow wherever He leads.
We’ve talked about welcoming space and said that church is a welcoming space that invites us to pray. This leads to an observation from Dennis Tucker of Truett Theological Seminary.[ii] He sees Psalm 85 create pastoral space for us so we can inhabit the second Sunday of Advent. I see it too. The singer of the Psalm goes through a progression. Following his lead, we go through this progression, and the noise starts to fade and our faith starts to rise. Because of what have believed, however weak our belief might have been at the beginning and weaker still in hard times, and because of who God is, the noise recedes and we come to trust that we can truly pray with great expectations.
Already we’ve seen the Psalmist acknowledge God’s past mercy, and then beg for more mercy. He does what we are here to do. In the midst of worship, he prays. Verse 7 – “Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.” He absolutely, without doubt and without shrinking his faith so it will fit his culture’s dictated worldview, he prays and then expects that he will see God’s salvation. “Show us.”
So, we pray, “God, show us.”
Then, “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak” (v.8a). This is Advent. We read the word together, as a community of faith. We believe it. We pray it. We wait, expecting God to act, and we know He will. Jesus was born in a manger. Jesus did rise from death. The Holy Spirit did come. The prophet Habakkuk, “I will stand at my watchpost. I will keep watch to see what God will say to me” (Hab. 2:1). That’s us. We believe God when he says, “My word [will go out] from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but shall accomplish its purpose” (Isaiah 55:11).
We pray, God show us your steadfast love. We wait saying expectantly, “Lord, let us hear what you, Lord God, will say.”
Finally, in our waiting, we know as the singer of the Psalm, God will respond. Even in Advent, we are Easter morning children, resurrection people. We no that no matter how bleak life might look, the Son has risen. Jesus is alive and in him we have life. We can pray the Psalmist’s words, only we have knowledge the Psalmist did not have.
“O God show us.”
“Let us wait and hear.”
Verse 8, second stanza, “For he will speak peace to his people; to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.”
We come into this welcome space, roughed up by life. Here, prompted by the Psalmist who sung the song of Psalm 85, we are invited to inhabit Advent, the time when we wait believing God will truly come in the person of Jesus. Our waiting is full of great expectations simply because we know who God is and what God has done. There may be wars about in the world and turmoil in the hearts of many who come to church for worship. But together, as we pray together, we experience conversion that leads us to see God as the true bringer of peace who can be trusted. “Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him” (v.85a).
I know there are listeners here who feel a shout of AMEN in their spirits at hearing this. This family of believers includes many who have followed Jesus and prayed with expectation for a long time, most of their lives. Others here, might not be so sure. You know the Christian story and you’ve had good feelings in church before. Still, that conversion hasn’t happened, not to the point that you can hear the Holy Spirit. There’s still too much noise of the world in your hears and you think maybe everything said this morning is just spiritual bluster without foundation or true substance. I commend your hesitancy, your skepticism.
This is a welcome place and you are invited. In a moment, Heather will lead us in the Lord’s Supper. As we worship in song, as we take the bread and cup, enter into prayer, even if you are full of doubt. Even if you think I am full of baloney and just kidding myself. Don’t trust me. Look at Psalm 85. Make verses 7-8 your very own.
In your own heart, straining to hear God above the noise, say, “Show me your Love, O Lord. I will wait. Let me hear what God the Lord will speak.”
[i] C. Broyles (1999), New International Biblical Commentary: Psalms (Vol 11), Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, p.345.
[ii] D. Tucker, commentary on the working preacher website, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=12/4/2011&tab=5