Sermon from September 8: Joy in the Ordinary Day

Joy in the Ordinary Day
Pentecost XIII (O. T. 23); September 8, 2019
Psalm 4

To the reader: The Worship Design Group of our Church starts a four-week series today, “Here’s My Heart.” Each week we focus on a different idea about the heart: physical, metaphorical, emotional, spiritual. This week is “God mends broken hearts.”

After Nancy Perry’s burial on Wednesday, I was talking to one of her daughters. I observed what a beautiful day it was; she said, “Yes, Mom would have loved it. Mom was the sort who always noticed things: the blue sky, a flower…” In the midst of her grief, she took joy from the simple memory of her mother’s attentiveness to beauty.

Our focus today is on God’s mending broken hearts. I suspect nearly everyone in this room, at least if you’re over fifteen years old, has had your heart broken at least once. Consider what has helped you heal. A lot of it is beyond your control: the passage of time, the attentiveness of friends, the encouragement of Scripture. What you can control is where you place your attention, what you choose to think about.

Some years ago I memorized Psalm 4 in the New Revised Standard Version; I got the idea from a book by Eugene Peterson about the use of the Psalms in your prayer life.[1] I committed the Psalm to memory and I recite it every night. After I’ve turned out the light from my reading, and before I fall asleep, I recite Psalm 4. The last verse (“I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety”) is what makes it a bedtime psalm, but my favorite verse is the next-to-last. In the NRSV it’s, “You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.” It’s a response to the many who ask God for favors; the poet says, essentially, they can have their favors; God has put gladness in my heart.

In The Message (coincidentally, a paraphrase also by Eugene Peterson), those lines are:

Why is everyone hungry for more? “More, more,” they say.
“More, more.”
I have God’s more-than-enough,
More joy in one ordinary day
Than they get in all their shopping sprees.

“I have God’s more-than-enough.” Because you and I have given ourselves to God, and God’s beauty and bounty are key to our lives, joy in an ordinary day surpasses the thrill of stuff from a bout of big spending. “You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.”

God’s work of mending a broken heart is often seen in the subtle ways God works around us: the friend who calls at the right moment, the message that arrives when needed, the sun breaking through clouds. And it is also in teaching us where to put our attention: to notice the blue sky after your mother’s burial, to enjoy a fresh tomato when the sadness piles up, to allow our hearts to receive gladness more than when their grain and wine abound, to take joy in the ordinary day.

The key, I believe, is to trust God. Hearts in our congregation are broken at the many deaths we have had so far this year: Laurie Wilson, Sue Mehaffey, Ruth Cook, Andrea Sherman, Dave Perry, Jan Blimling, Fred Henninger, Barb Oertell, Nancy Pearson Perry, Maureen Lambrecht. People say all sorts of well-meaning things in response to our sadness, and sometimes those things help. The Pastor aims to comfort and encourage us, to help our hearts to heal, from the witness of Scripture. Although people will say all sorts of things about life after death, we really know very little. Here are two things that I think I know, two things that can help mend broken hearts, that I certainly believe.

First: Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. Since Christ is raised, resurrection is real. Christ has gone before us into the tomb and through the tomb and blazed the way to new life. Because Christ lives, we too shall live. And because Christ lives now, every ordinary day is an opportunity to be touched by Christ, to eat and drink with him, or chat with him, or recognize his goodness in a blue sky. Since Christ is alive in your ordinary day, there is joy in your ordinary day.

Second: God is trustworthy. I try not to say much about what resurrection life is like, because the Bible says very little about it and I don’t want to go beyond what the Bible says. So I don’t know what life-after-death is like. But I believe I can trust God, and that God knows what God is doing, and so whatever it means for Laurie, Sue, Ruth, Andrea, Dave, Jan, Fred, Barb, Nancy, and Maureen, God can be trusted to be looking after them.

That’s really all I want to say to you. If you and I can trust God for that, then we can trust God for today and for every ordinary day.

Why is everyone hungry for more? “More, more,” they say.
“More, more.”
I have God’s more-than-enough,
More joy in one ordinary day
Than they get in all their shopping sprees.

“You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound.” Thanks be to God.

Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master
Omaha, Nebraska

 

[1] Eugene Peterson: Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (Harper & Row, 1989)

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