Snow Day: Dwelling in the Word

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Snow Day: Dwelling in the Word

Dear Church Family,

I hope that you are all staying warm and safe this morning. I miss being with you all today, but the snow is beautiful. As I look out our front window the bushes are just small, white bumps in a sea of fluff. Everything is bright and fresh. The sight of a world covered in snow helps me imagine what redemption will look like. It reminds me of David's words in Psalm 51:7, "Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." Someday Christ will come to make all things new --- he will wash everything and the whole world will be whiter than snow! Let the sight out your window become a meditation for you today, a reminder of redemption.

Though we are not gathering today, I want to invite you to spend some time in our dwelling passage Philippians 3:7-4:1. I know that this passage is a long one and has felt difficult to engage for many of us, so I have broken it up into smaller sections and provided a few questions to lead you into reflection and prayer (see below). You can engage these questions individually with a journal, together with your family, or perhaps both, taking some time to reflect individually and then share with one another.

I hope these questions are helpful and lead you deeper into this passage that we are dwelling in together throughout this year.

Though we are not together, I am praying for you this morning. And I look forward to being with you all again soon.

"May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace."

Grace and peace,
Drew Dixon

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Signs (Part 4): John 5:1-18 // Waiting to Walking

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Signs (Part 4): John 5:1-18 // Waiting to Walking

John 5:1-18 (NRSV)

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in HebrewBeth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Now that day was a sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. 14 Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16 Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” 18 For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.

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Signs (Part 3): John 4:45-54 // Sickness to Health

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Signs (Part 3): John 4:45-54 // Sickness to Health

John 4:45-54  (NRSV)

45 When he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the festival; for they too had gone to the festival.

46 Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine. Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. 51 As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” 53 The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household. 54 Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.

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Signs (Part 2): John 2:1-11 // Water to Wine

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Signs (Part 2): John 2:1-11 // Water to Wine

John 2:1-11 (NRSV)

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

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Signs (Part 1): John 1:1-18 // Unseen to Son

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Signs (Part 1): John 1:1-18 // Unseen to Son

John 1:1-18 (NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

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Matthew 2:1-12 // King of All, Light of the World

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Matthew 2:1-12 // King of All, Light of the World

Matthew 2:1-12 (NRSV)

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

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Songs of the Season (Part 5): Luke 2:21-40 // Simeon's Song

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Songs of the Season (Part 5): Luke 2:21-40 // Simeon's Song

Luke 2:21-40 (NRSV)

21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

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Songs of the Season (Part 4): Luke 2:14 // Angels' Song

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Songs of the Season (Part 4): Luke 2:14 // Angels' Song

Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV)

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

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Songs of the Season (Part 3): Luke 1:68-79 // Zechariah's Song

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Songs of the Season (Part 3): Luke 1:68-79 // Zechariah's Song

Luke 1:5-25, 57-80 (NRSV)

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. 10 Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11 Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

21 Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. 23 When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

. . .

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71     that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
    and has remembered his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
    to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness
    before him all our days.
76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    by the forgiveness of their sins.
78 By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

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Songs of the Season (Part 2): Luke 1:46-55 // Mary's Song

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Songs of the Season (Part 2): Luke 1:46-55 // Mary's Song

Luke 1:26-56 (NRSV)

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

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Songs of the Season (Part 1): Isaiah 11:1-9 // Prophet's Song

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Songs of the Season (Part 1): Isaiah 11:1-9 // Prophet's Song

Isaiah 11:1-9 (NRSV)

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

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Psalm 126 // Sowing and Reaping

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Psalm 126 // Sowing and Reaping

An audio recording of the sermon from Sunday, November 25th, is not available. A transcript of the sermon is available below.

PERSONAL UPDATE

Good morning! It’s great to be back with you. I want to say a great big thanks to the elders and to you all for the gift of the past two weeks. There has been so much goodness in them.

First of all, Katelyn and I are now married! Here’s a photo of us and our wedding party -- siblings and longtime friends. The wedding was beautiful, somehow the weather was clear and perfect. We had friends and family travel from all over the country to join us on our special day. The ceremony was wonderful. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Then a couple of days after the wedding we headed off on our honeymoon in the U.K. We got to see London, Oxford, and the British countryside as well as Edinburgh and the Scottish highlands. Then, on the way back we had a long layover in Iceland where we got to explore a little. Here’s a photo from our first day in London, standing outside the Buckingham Palace. And here’s a photo from our final day in Iceland, standing in front of the beautiful landscape of that country.

Some other time, I’d love to share more stories and more pictures with you, but for now I just want to say thank you again to you for the gift of getting to take off the last couple of weeks for our wedding and our first adventure together as a married couple. (There’s a lifetime of adventures yet to come!)

INTRODUCTION

You can all go ahead and open up to Psalm 126, this will be our text today. Psalm 126 has been a very special psalm to Katelyn and I, because it played a special part in each of our lives before we met. It captures a lot of the redemption that we have experienced in our relationship together.

As I reflect on the laughter that we shared in the car driving around the UK, our relationship began on a very different note. Some of you know our story and some of you may not, but both Katelyn and I were married before. Those marriages ended in abandonment and betrayal. We first met as two friends who had been through painful divorces and we sat down to ask one another the question, “How did you survive? How are you surviving?” We each shared our stories of pain and brokenness. Long before we shared the laughter of a honeymoon, we shared the tears of our divorces.  --- And how far we’ve come since that first conversation! Our relationship and now marriage has been an act of God’s redemption through and through. It is a story that I hope we will have more opportunities to share with you and please feel free to ask us.

Psalm 126 is a psalm of both laughter and tears. It is also a psalm about harvest, so it connects well to this autumn season and our celebration of Thanksgiving this past week. Katelyn and I arrived back in the U.S. right around 5pm on the evening of Thanksgiving. Her dad came and picked us up and we headed to her parents place in time for a late Thanksgiving dinner. I’m sure many of you had your own Thanksgiving celebrations this past week with family traditions and special recipes. Times like these can be filled with laughter and joy as we gather round tables with loved ones. But others of you may have had a different kind of experience. Maybe holiday gatherings stir up more tears for you rather than laughter as you miss family members who have passed on or as strained relationships come more sharply into view during this time of year.

Psalm 126 does well, I think, to set the stage for us as we navigate the many emotions of the holiday season. The laughter and the tears that it can be so filled with. I hope that we can gather some wisdom and hope from it together today.

So let’s read this psalm responsively together.

TEXT

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
   we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
   and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
   “The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
   and we rejoiced.

4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
   like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5 May those who sow in tears
   reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
   bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
   carrying their sheaves.

The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

A SONG OF ASCENTS

Before we dive into the psalm, I want to point out what kind of psalm this is. As you look in your Bible, do you see an indicator above verse 1? It should say something like “A song of ascents.” If you flip over and look as the psalms that come before this one and the psalms that come after, you’ll see the same thing. Psalms 120 - 134 are all psalms of ascent. They were songs that the people would sing as they “ascended” their way to Jerusalem for gathering festivals like Passover and Pentecost. There is something for us to consider in this today.

The songs of ascent are not the songs of the festival they are going to but rather songs intended to prepare them for the festival. They are not songs of celebration, but of anticipation. These songs were sung in the midst of the journey. They are pilgrim songs, songs on-the-way, not songs of arrival.

These are apt songs for us to know and sing as well (or at least read) because we are all pilgrims on-the-way. We have not yet arrived, yet we have hope for the journey. In some ways, this is true of all of our worship. The songs we sing together each week prepare us for the coming celebration of the coming of God’s kingdom. Someday, we will sing full-throated songs of celebration when Jesus returns to make all things new.

This theme is especially true for us in this season as we “Walk to Bethlehem” which you can see on the wall back there. (Reminder to send your activity info to Corinne each week!) We are all on a journey together as a church. Next week we will begin the season of Advent, which is not Christmas but rather an anticipation of Christmas. The songs of ascent are songs of anticipation. It’s the difference between the Christmas song “Joy to the world, the Lord is come” and the Advent song “Come O Come Emmanuel.” One is celebration and the other anticipation. The songs of ascent are like this. They are songs sung on-the-way. And we’ll see as we look more closely at the psalm that the first half of it, the psalmist rejoices in “When the Lord restored our fortunes” but then in the second half cries out “Restore our fortunes, Lord!” It’s not either/or, but both. God has restored their fortunes and yet there is further anticipation of restoration along the way.

So let’s look at it more closely now.

A SONG OF LAUGHTER

As I just said, this first half is a picture of God’s restoration. And look at the description here. “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream… our mouth was filled with laughter… our tongue with shouts of joy…” I wonder if any of this sounds like the kind of celebration that some of you had this past week? Was there laughter and joy around the Thanksgiving table? I can tell you that I certainly felt this at Katelyn’s and my wedding celebration. And there were multiple times throughout the honeymoon that it just felt like a dream. “Is this actually real?”

This is what the restoration that God brings to our lives is like. Forgiveness of sin; daily bread; revitalized relationships; “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” as we just sang. Every now and then the reality of God’s love ought to make us dizzy like a dream. The wonder of the gospel fills our lives with laughter and joy. As I prepared for this week I came across a Yiddish proverb: “What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” So let laughter come from your mouth and let the joy of the Lord cleanse your soul from all that weighs it down!

And as great as all of this is, the psalm goes on to say that this laughter is not just for our sake. The nations overhear the joy that comes from Israel and exclaim, “The Lord has done great things for them!” And I think this is what it means to witness to others, to share the gospel with others. It’s not primarily about convincing people about how bad things are (most people already know that), but rather about showing them how good things can be. We should let the daze of the gospel’s dream and the echo of redemption’s laughter carry out into our everyday lives. Let your joy in God’s restoration be overheard by the people around you!

So, for those of you who experience the restoration of God: Where are the places of laughter in your life that you can share with others? Where are the shouts of joy that might be overheard by your coworkers, neighbors, and family members? Meditate on these things and let them be heard! For as the psalm says, “The Lord has done great things for us and we rejoiced!”

But the psalm doesn’t end there. Because we’re a people on-the-way. And some of us aren’t experiencing laughter right now.

A SONG OF TEARS

So it goes on to say, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.” This is a prayer from those still in need of restoration.

The Negeb is the region south of Jerusalem, which places is right between Egypt and Jerusalem. This is the desert wilderness that Israel had to cross through on their way out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. This is the region that some of the pilgrims who sang this psalm would have been passing through on their way to Jerusalem for the festival. The Negeb is a very dry region, but when it rains the watercourses fill and flow. It’s transformed. This is their prayer.

Yet, even in the wilderness of despair, they have hope. Look at these last verses. “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” Verse 5 is a blessing and verse 6 is a promise. And they read much like Jesus’ own words in Luke 6:21, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” You see, tears are not a sign of weakness but of strength. They are not a sign of curse, but of blessing. Though they may feel like a barren land, they hold the promise of a great harvest! These tears are blessed! Those who sow their tears into the broken landscape of a fallen world will someday reap with the laughter and joy of redemption! This is a promise from the psalmist and from the mouth of Jesus himself! These tears aren’t all for naught. If laughter is like soap for the soul, then tears are like ointment for broken hearts. Let them flow and let them bring healing to your heart and to the hearts of others! And let us look to Christ who sowed not only with tears in Gethsemane, but with his blood on the cross. His sowing has reaped salvation and redemption for us all! Truly, “those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!”

CONCLUSION

In addition to soap and ointment, laughter and tears are relational adhesives. Just think about it, those who you are closest with, are those who stick together through both the laughter and the tears of life. Katelyn and I have the firm adhesive of both tears and laughter holding us together. Many of you have friends and family who you’ve shared both joy and sorrow with. My word to you this morning is that throughout this coming holiday season, there is sure to be a mix of laughter and tears for all of you. There will be moments of celebration and moments of anticipation. So let the laughter resound and let the tears flow. They are the adhesive that will bring you nearer to those around you. They are the signs of blessing that God gives. They are the experience of God’s restoration for both now and all the days to come.

Amen.


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Hebrews 2:6-18

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Hebrews 2:6-18

Hebrews 2:6-18 (NRSV)

But someone has testified somewhere,

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
    you have crowned them with glory and honor,
    subjecting all things under their feet.”

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12 saying,

“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again,

“Here am I and the children whom God has given me.”

14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

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Hebrews 1:1-4

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Hebrews 1:1-4

Hebrews 1:1-4 (NRSV)

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

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Remembering God (Part 5): 2 Timothy 1:3-14 // Remembering the Saints

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Remembering God (Part 5): 2 Timothy 1:3-14 // Remembering the Saints

2 Timothy 1:3-14 (NRSV)

I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.

13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

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Remembering God (Part 4): 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 // Remembering in Communion

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Remembering God (Part 4): 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 // Remembering in Communion

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NRSV)

23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

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Remembering God (Part 3): Psalm 77 // Remembering in Lament

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Remembering God (Part 3): Psalm 77 // Remembering in Lament

Psalm 77 (NRSV)

To the leader: according to Jeduthun. Of Asaph. A Psalm.

I cry aloud to God,
    aloud to God, that he may hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
    in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
    my soul refuses to be comforted.
I think of God, and I moan;
    I meditate, and my spirit faints.
You keep my eyelids from closing;
    I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
    and remember the years of long ago.

I commune with my heart in the night;
    I meditate and search my spirit:
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
    and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love ceased forever?
    Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
    Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
10 And I say, “It is my grief
    that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”

11 I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
    I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will meditate on all your work,
    and muse on your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy.
    What god is so great as our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
    you have displayed your might among the peoples.
15 With your strong arm you redeemed your people,
    the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

16 When the waters saw you, O God,
    when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
    the very deep trembled.
17 The clouds poured out water;
    the skies thundered;
    your arrows flashed on every side.
18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
    your lightnings lit up the world;
    the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was through the sea,
    your path, through the mighty waters;
    yet your footprints were unseen.
20 You led your people like a flock
    by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

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Remembering God (Part 2): Psalm 136 // Remembering in Celebration

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Remembering God (Part 2): Psalm 136 // Remembering in Celebration

Psalm 136 (NRSV)

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the God of gods,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

who alone does great wonders,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
who by understanding made the heavens,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
who spread out the earth on the waters,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
who made the great lights,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;

10 who struck Egypt through their firstborn,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
11 and brought Israel out from among them,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
12 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
13 who divided the Red Sea in two,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
14 and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
15 but overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
16 who led his people through the wilderness,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
17 who struck down great kings,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
18 and killed famous kings,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
19 Sihon, king of the Amorites,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
20 and Og, king of Bashan,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
21 and gave their land as a heritage,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
22 a heritage to his servant Israel,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

23 It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
24 and rescued us from our foes,
    for his steadfast love endures forever;
25 who gives food to all flesh,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

26 O give thanks to the God of heaven,
    for his steadfast love endures forever.

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Remembering God (Part 1): Deuteronomy 6:1-12 // Remembering Because We Forget

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Remembering God (Part 1): Deuteronomy 6:1-12 // Remembering Because We Forget

Deuteronomy 6:1-12 (NRSV)

Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

10 When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, 11 houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant—and when you have eaten your fill, 12 take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

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