Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost October 23-24, 2021
“A New Song” Psalm 126
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
All Saint’s Sunday is just two weeks away. I have looked through the names of folks who have
died in this last year and they bring me a smile. Some were ornery, some were kind and one of them
was especially loud.
Les Young was one of God’s loudest saints. Some years ago Les served as the main usher for
the 10:30 worship service. He would greet the folks as they arrived with a loud word and usually a
laugh. Even after I began the service you could hear Les greeting the folks who were a few minutes
late. I didn’t know who was louder – me with my microphone or Les with his gleeful greeting. And
this way of speaking wasn’t just in our Narthex. I witnessed it at Walgreens where he held his
retirement job and at the bowling alley and wherever he would be.
Les Young was a happy person. He was filled with joy. I want to be like Les Young. I bet
you’d like that too.
I don’t preach on the psalm assigned for the day very often. We rarely even use it. Today take
out your pew Bibles, turn to page 638 and read Psalm 126 with me.
When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths
were filled with laughter, and our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The
Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of
joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with
The psalmist seemed to have picked one message and put it in the very middle of the psalm.
Those words are “And we are filled with joy.” Look at how the psalm is arranged. The first three
verses are the remembering of what God has already done. That is why we are filled with joy. And
then the final three verses lay in expectation for what He is still to do. This psalm is first, joy
remembered and then, joy anticipated.
But joy, for many of us is elusive. Some years ago, one of our folks, whose life at that time was
a living hell, following the service asked me, “Do you know how many times you said “joy” today?” I
knew it was a bunch but I didn’t know it would be so painful for someone who was craving it but not
possessing it. Carol Mathers, who helps us coordinate our gatherings for “Connections Through
Memory Loss”, our group which meets every month to help both the folks with memory loss and
those who care for them, mentioned after last months meeting, the first we had had in 20 months,
that she felt a great joy in finally being able to gather together.
Joy, a lasting joy, is something that we look for. But too often we only find substitutes for this
great gift. Sometimes we try to achieve joy by eliminating those things that hurt. We drink too much
and hope that by doing that we can eliminate the nerve ends – we won’t feel our sadness so severely.
When people disappoint us, we unfriend them, “ghost” them, forget them, and just move on. If life
has becoming boring we liven it up with something that steps over the line of God’s will for us. None
of those things will bring a joy that has substance.
Eugene Peterson, in writing about the false joys that we create says, “We try to get it [joy]
through entertainment. We pay someone to make jokes, tell stories, perform dramatic actions, sing
songs. The enormous entertainment industry in our land is a sign of the depletion of joy in our culture.
Society is a bored gluttonous king employing a court jester to divert it after an overindulgent meal. But
that kind of joy never penetrates our lives, never changes our basic constitution. The effects are
extremely temporary – a few minutes, a few hours, a few days at most. When we run out of money, the
joy trickles away. We cannot make ourselves joyful. Joy cannot be commanded, purchased or
arranged.” (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Pages 92-93)
So where can a new song begin? It comes from the bringer of joy – our great God. He gives a
joy that is lasting. He provides a joy in the middle of a life that has little of it. As the psalmist tells
us, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” (Psalm 126:5)
How does it happen? How does a lasting joy, one that becomes part of our character, happen?
It has to be a God thing. Last Sunday we read the account of Jesus telling His disciples that it was
easier for a huge camel to go through the eye of a small needle than for a rich person to be saved.
They were astonished. And they asked the question, “Who then can be saved?” And then the great
answer, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (See
Joy finds God doing His work when every other hope has failed. The people of God sang this
song on their way to Jerusalem. Their history was one of struggles and loses but always with the
amazement of what God did in the worst of moments. This psalm begins, “When the Lord brought
back the captives from Zion, we were like men who dreamed.” The idea that is given is that there
was no way that such things could happen, yet they did. That is – God did them.
It says that, “God has done great things for us.” What are the great things has He done? For
the people heading up to Jerusalem the hand of God that brought them out of slavery in Egypt,
opened up the Red Sea for them, took them through the desert and gave them their own land, was
foremost in their mind. “We were like men who dreamed.” What are the great things He has done
for you and I? His love for us is strong and faithful and constant and forever. Look back. See His
hand. Know His heart. We get to be like one who dreamed. We can say, “Why would He have such
a heart for me?” “Why would He concern Himself with my life?”
But He does. God indeed has done great things for us. Those actions bring us joy that no one
can take away. The account of Jesus, God’s own Son, and also the eternal God, coming to this world
to become the Lamb of God, sacrificing Himself so that we would be His own son or daughter, is a
great thing. For Jesus to invite us to a faith in His victory over the face of death is a great thing. For
us to know that we live with the Spirit of God living inside of us is a great thing. If you can even
conceive of some great thing that God has done for you we can only drop our jaw and stand amazed
at God and His good desires for us. As Jesus tells us, “All things are possible with God.” We sing a
new song and it is pure joy for all that He has already done for us.
But the psalmist is not concerned just with the God of the past, he speaks about the God who
will bring joy in the future. It is sort of like that phrase, “The best is yet to come.” When the
psalmist addresses the future he addresses the difficulties that may upset our joy. “Restore our
fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev.” (Psalm 126:4)
Do you know what the Negev is? It is the southern part of Israel. And it’s dry. A desert. No
moisture. Peterson again, “The water courses in the Negev are baked dry under the sun, but a sudden
rain makes the desert ablaze with blossoms. With such suddenness long years of barren waiting are
interrupted by God’s invasion of grace into our lives.” (Page 95) Those who wrote Psalm 126 were no
strangers to sorrow and loss and disappointment. Sometimes we believe that joy cannot also find its
way into the life of someone who is going through problems and pains. God promises to be present in
the darkness. Another psalm would tell us, “Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will
shine like the day, for darkness is at light to you.” (Psalm 139:12)
Joy can be evasive. We can seek many substitutes that only work as temporary fixes. There
can be many reasons not to exhibit that very fruit of God’s Spirit. But God in truth of what He has
already done for us in Jesus and what He has planned for the days to come says, “The Lord has done
great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” Lord, fill us with Your joy!! Amen!!