Liturgy Lesson: April 26, 2020
Call to Worship: from Isaiah 45 and Psalms 124, 33
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Adoration: All Praise to God, Who Reigns Above (#4)
Call to Confession: Lamentations 3:25-26, 31-33, 40-41
Song of Confession: Trisagion
Assurance of Salvation: from Titus 2 & 3
Hymn of Praise: Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched
Reading of the Word: Luke 15:1-2
Sermon: “The Church: God’s Lost and Found,” Rev. Shiv Muthukumar
The Lord’s Supper: The King of Love My Shepherd Is
Closing Song: We Will Feast in the House of Zion
Sung Response: This is My Father’s World (last verse)
Virtual Narthex (Video greetings)
When our boys were little, we had a phrase we used often, “be a fixer, not a fusser.” If a favorite toy broke or a sippy cup leaked, if a shoelace snapped or a seatbelt got stuck, we would invoke the family motto. It was intended to discourage complaining and inspire self-control, moving the boys up and out of self-pity and into right action, a creative solution, or just plan B. Sometimes real tragedy occurred, like a marshmallow falling into the campfire, and they were left inconsolable.
Of course, there are always more marshmallows in the bag, but very few deflating struggles are jet-puffed back in life. Some things just can’t be fixed. Life consistently reminds us how powerless we are to change our circumstances. As of this week, 26 million (and counting) Americans have seen their jobs fall into the flames. Some are watching their life’s work and so many dreams go up in smoke. Countless others are facing sickness and death. These are things we can’t fix. We can’t just reach in the bag and grab another job, or body, or life.
I confess that when I experience loss my first recourse is anger. Faced with something I can’t fix (which is a lot these days), I become a very good fusser. I am very, very slow to accept the cup of woe. Instead I spend a great deal of time and energy protesting, disputing, and complaining to anyone who will listen. During that extended close-fisted tirade there is often very little prayer. All the while, my heavenly Father waits with open arms while I spit and moan and throw a fit. The Composer has chosen to put a very dissonant part on my music stand, and yet I refuse to play it. I sit there with lips pursed and arms crossed, thinking all the while how much better the music would be if I wrote it. Turns out I’m just a whiny little kid fussing over my charred marshmallow when my Savior offers s’more than my fickle heart could ever want.
It is in these moments that the Psalms become so very precious to me. The Psalmists themselves are very good life coaches. They teach me how to pray, urging me toward the wonderful Counselor when I am tempted to seek out the false saviors of pleasure, entertainment, or distraction to anesthetize my pain or avoid the heartache.
Through this quarantine I am learning to lament, which is much more than just catharsis or “venting.” It is a form of worship, an exercise in faith, an act of trust in a God who is big enough to handle all we throw at him. Of the 150 Psalms, no less than forty-two are laments. Thirty of these are individual prayers and the rest are communal. The whole of Scripture is filled with lament (see Habakkuk or Lamentations or our Savior in the garden). The gift of the Psalms for me is that they are not just emotional vomit, but beautiful poetic songs that give structure and purpose to my prayers. These Psalms are more than just a cry to God and a plea for help. They are litanies of the Lord’s saving works and His power. The Psalmists are frequently peppering the verse with expressions of confidence and/or vows of praise. They may start with “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping” (Ps. 6:6), or “O God, be not far from me. O my God make haste to help me” (Ps. 71:12); but they often end with a declaration of the truth and a shout of victorious praise “I will give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever, for great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (Ps. 86:12-13).
My encouragement to you in these days would be to sing your sorrow to the Lord. Christian worship is a robust symphony of every mode and key. It is not all happy-clappy-sappy. Dan Allender has written:
“Christians seldom sing in the minor key. We fear the somber; we seem to hold sorrow in low-esteem. We seem predisposed to fear lament as a quick slide into doubt and despair; failing to see that doubt and despair are the dark soil that is necessary to grow confidence and joy.”
During this time of massive disruption of life, I am stumbling forward toward the Lord in an effort to clumsily cry out to Him with my own pain, sorrow, grief, and fear. In this pursuit of the Lord, the Psalms of Lament (and so many other hymns and songs of the faith) have helped me find and lift my voice again. Brothers and sisters, in our mutual pain and struggle, may we turn our gaze from ourselves and toward the One who alone can save us. In the midst of suffering and death, may we discover joy and life in the presence of our gracious Father in heaven. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
I recently came across a song of Lament by Michael Card, called “Lift Up Your Sorrows.” I have been playing through it the last few days, and I thought I would share it with you. This version is reflective of my present journey in prayer. Rough-hewn, out of tune, and full of issues. Despite all that, I hope this is an encouragement to you. So, once again, here is a song from our house to yours:
We Will Feast in the House of Zion
Words and Music by Sandra McCracken and Joshua Moore, 2015
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
– Isaiah 25:6-9
I have developed a love-hate relationship with Zoom calls and video conferencing. They are a helpful life-support machine during this pandemic, but they are not real life. A phone call is not the same as a hug. Every time the face on the other side of the screen freezes and starts speaking in robotic sound spurts, I just sigh and think “For now we see in a screen dimly, but then face to face. Now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
“We will feast in the House of Zion” is a new hymn that reminds us of the abundant joy that awaits all those who put their hope in Christ. The repeated refrain celebrates the ultimate fulfillment of our faith, where we will dwell in the house all the days of our lives, and we will feast on the fullness of Christ, forever praising him with restored hearts. It is a hymn that seems to be a perfect fit for our present circumstance. The song is a simple folk-like declaration of some awesome truths, ones that we need to hear and declare to each other during this season. It speaks into our isolation by reminding us that under the mighty arms of the Lord we will be “upheld, protected, and gathered up.” During this time of threat and turmoil, we are reminded that “we will not be burned by the fire” or “consumed by the flood” (Is. 43).
But my favorite aspect of this song (and the reason I picked it for Sunday) is that is answers the very real longing that we all feel during this exile. We are all homesick for church and doubled over with hunger pains while we endure a fast from communion. The title of the song alone answers both of those aching needs with a word of hope. Here is that refrain:
We will feast in the house of Zion! We will sing with our hearts restored.
He has done great things; we will sing together. We will feast and weep no more.
Singer and songwriter Sandra McCracken had this to say about the piece. These are excerpts from an interview at TGC (The Gospel Coalition):
“’This song propels me forward,’ McCracken says. ‘It propels me into the heart of the promises of God, giving a glimpse of the vision to see what God sees—the final resolution of all things. And it does this with a corporate point of view, inviting us to sing together as a people, to share one voice in loss and life together under the banner of God’s redeeming love.’
Did you notice her emphasis on communion of the saints? I love that vision of heaven, which is pulled straight from the book of Revelation. McCracken goes on to frame this song in the context of lament:
“‘Nicholas Wolterstorf in his book Lament for a Son says, ‘Every lament is a love song.’ Our sorrow is a display of honor, of valuing the loss, of knowing that this is not how things are supposed to be. It is crying out against death and disappointment while declaring the God-given affections of our hearts. There is no resurrection without death. I’ve heard it said that psychologically, you cannot shut off one part of your unpleasant feelings (like sadness) without also shutting off the pleasurable feelings (like happiness). If Jesus comes to offer us abundant life, that means highs and lows, fullness, awake-ness. And awake-full-ness is hard-won. It takes courage and a steady supply of God’s tender mercy, not just to expose our wounds, but also to heal our wounds from the inside out.
Our culture is uncomfortable with extended grief. The church has a responsibility to fight against the dishonesty of living on the surface of things, or encouraging people to put a smile on their faces so they will have a positive attitude about difficult things. As a music minister, I am convinced that the songs that we sing have a role in shaping our hearts, and songs of lament can make space for us to feel more deeply and to speak more honestly before God. We need songs of lament to be part of our church life, every week. In doing so, I hope that we would not be held fast in our complacency, but drawn out of hiding and comforted by our loving, pursuing Father.’”
Scriptures referenced in this song (quite a long list!):
Job 1:4; Isaiah 38:20; Joel 2:20; Psalm 126:2; Psalm 126:3; Joel 2:21; Psalm 22:29; Isaiah 30:19;Revelation 5:5; Isaiah 43:2; Jeremiah 38:17; 1 Chronicles 16:14; Psalm 105:7; Lamentations 3:22;Galatians 5:15; Amos 8:8; Amos 9:5; Proverbs 7:9; Isaiah 27:9; Genesis 3:23; Esther 7:8; Song of Solomon 6:2