Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost August 20-21, 2022
“Joy” Psalm 84
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I bet that some of you have been to a worship service at church hundreds of times in your life-time. For some of you old-timers I bet the number of times you have been in worship may be thousands of times. Do you remember any of them? Do you remember some of them? Do you remember last week?
I remember some of the services I’ve lead. The ones that stick out for me are the services where something went wrong. One was right here at Ascension about 10 years ago. It was the Children’s Program on Christmas Eve. We had a Christmas pageant that year – shepherds, angels, wise-men, Mary and Joseph and the baby – Jesus. One of the angels was Mason, a cute kid, but he didn’t know if he wanted to be in front for the whole service. He would stay for a while with the other angel’s and then he would leave to sit with Mom. Then he came back. Then he left. He kept the whole congregation guessing where he would end up.
Here’s another service that stands out. It was a wedding and at the time when the bride was ready to put the ring on the groom’s finger, it fell, and it started rolling toward one of the heat vents. I was nimble enough at that stage in life to get it before it went into that big hole. The wedding was saved.
It is what goes wrong in a service that is remembered long after the service is done. That is probably why children’s sermons are remembered more than the pastor’s sermon. Some kid is going to say, or do, something that their parent’s hoped they wouldn’t have said or done.
Have you ever been to a committal service at Fort Logan National Cemetery? If you haven’t, I hope some time you’ll attend a service there. The honors that they give to a veteran are spectacular. It makes you proud that you are an American. Just a few weeks ago I officiated at a service at Fort Logan. Before I spoke my words, the military had their honors to present. There was the 21-gun salute. Then 2 personnel folded the flag, slowly, precisely, and gave it to the two sisters of their brother who had died. After that was the playing of Taps.
Taps has to be the highlight of the honors given to a veteran. The notes, played on a trumpet, tell us that one who was once among the living has died. But we have a problem at military funerals. There are not enough buglers to play at the services. There is always a person with a trumpet, but normally there is a recorded song. It is nicely done. Every note is hit on key, with the right amount of force and right tempo. But it is usually a recorded playing of that song.
On that day, they had a real bugler. How do I know? The notes weren’t perfect. The ending wasn’t like what I had heard a hundred times before. And I liked it. A real person. A real trumpet. One who gave their very best to honor this veteran. We need more of this imperfection. It was real.
Today, in Psalm 84, I speak about worship. The best worship isn’t when everything goes just right, or when the music is just awesome, the lessons were done perfectly, or the sermon was neither too hot, nor too cold, but tasted just right. Worship is best when God does what He wants to do in that service. Worship is when God comes to meet us at our place, in our situations.
The psalmist says of this, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God…Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you…Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked…O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.” (Psalm 84:1-2, 4, 10, 12)
Why would coming here be a most blessed thing? Why would coming to a church be better than going to a Broncos game, a movie, the Art Museum or up to the mountains? How could he say, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”? I bet I’ll get an argument from a few folks about that statement, including a few of you!!
About 10 years ago, or so, a Mega-Church in Aurora put a mega-banner (that is what mega-churches have, right?) at their main entrance telling who could enter and who couldn’t. It read, “Sinners Welcome Here.” It was Jesus, the Holy One, the One who is the First and the Last, the great I Am, who said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick, I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32)
Why is this the best place, ever to be? It is because we have a God who meets us here. We call this worship “Divine Service”. Have you heard of that? Do you know what that means? The Divine is offering His service. That is: God is serving us. That is why the psalmist is so excited about going to God’s house. That is why we should be so excited about coming here.
Think of this – God comes to us when we could mess up our whole life or the lives of others. God comes to us to stop us from hurting ourself or hurting others. Someone may be here today, or watching this message on TV or on their computer, and they have their heart set on doing something that is wrong, or evil. God comes to confront us, that we turn from such an evil heart. That is Divine Service.
Think of this – Someone here did something wrong and is guilt ridden and filled with remorse. God comes with comfort, pointing us to Jesus who has taken such an offense away. The psalmist says, “As they pass through the valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God is Zion.” (Verses 6-7) This is a picture of our God who comforts us in the worst of times. Baca is a place that is arid, dry – a desert. Others describe it as a valley of tears, a place of sorrow. Only by God’s working do we find any of us going from a place of misery to a place of overflowing springs and grace. Worship is where God serves us with real joy and peace and forgiveness and strength.
Think of this – God knows the weariness we face when we try to walk the path of discipleship. There are some who are here, today, who lack the knowledge of what path to go when confronted by a hard decision. There are folks that lack wisdom in knowing what to do in some very important turning points in their life. God comes to us to guide our path, enlighten our steps, give us courage to do what we know we should do. This is Divine Service. This is why we read, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my faith cry out for the living God.”
This psalm is known as the psalm for the home-bound, the shut-in, the hospitalized. It is a word for all those who would love to be at their church but who just can’t get there. How many folks, every Sunday, would love to be in church but they can’t be there? Many people work and Sunday is when they are scheduled. Many people are sick, have become home-bound, or have no way to attend their church. This psalm is for them. It may be for you. “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord.”
A few years B.C. (Before Covid) we had more people in church one Sunday than we expected. I was running low on wafers at Holy Communion. I only had about 8-10 wafers left, and I had at least 20-25 people still in line to receive the sacrament. I started to break the wafers in half, thinking I had done the math correctly. But as the amount of folks still coming was much greater than my number of wafers, I started breaking the halves in half – giving the communicants just a few crumbs. I apologized to those last in line and we got through it.
But when it was done I realized that even a crumb of the Body of Christ was more than enough for us. That is why we come here. That is how God works among us – with the simplest of words, the smallest of gifts, the failings that we have of being unprepared – God is filling our cup to overflowing with joy. He – He – is always prepared to meet us here. He does it very well!! Amen!!