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