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6-14-20 Psalm 100

I’ve had more than one conversation in recent weeks where someone has said that all the pieces predicting the End Times are now aligned.

They know their bibles and refer to some of the apocalyptic passages ascribed to Jesus such as Luke 21:10-11

“Nation will rise against nation (check), and kingdom against kingdom (check). There will be great earthquakes (check), famines and plagues (oh dear, check)….”

But every period of history has had its own version of these events followed by its own prophets of end times, although the Coronavirus pandemic has convinced some fence-sitters that this time it is for real.

One survey found that nearly 90% of pastors believe the end is near and Jesus is about to return.

This led me to look at Wikipedia’s listing of End Times predictions.

It goes on and on with apocalyptic predictions from 66 CE through today – many of which have multiple “corrections” when the first, second and even third predicted dates didn’t materialize.

It seems to me that it is always the end times in the sense that chaos, sin and evil constantly threaten destruction while God is always beckoning us with Grace.

We choose how we will show up in life before our personal end of time.

What we habitually give our heart, time and attention to, that is what we worship, and over time, what we worship shapes how we will respond to threats and turmoil that come our way.

Thanks to Tim for reading Psalm 100 this morning.

This is a processional psalm that people sang as they passed through the gates onto the Temple grounds.

Psalm 100:1, 2 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands!
Come into His presence with singing!

Did the psalmist and his community know conflict and stress?

Sure, but this psalm ushered them into the sacred Temple space where they could set turmoil aside for the moment and joyfully celebrate being in God’s presence … which at the time they believed literally dwelled in the Temple.

Verse 2 reads, Serve the Lord with gladness!

The psalm’s original audience would recognize that this phrase presented them with a choice.

In the Exodus stories, “Serving the Lord” was a shorthand alternative to serving Pharaoh.

Will you return to the pseudo-security of slavery, or will you follow the liberating God into the unknown?

Deuteronomic exhortations to serve the Lord were spoken as a contrast to bowing down to the multitude of sexier local deities.

That turned out to be easier said than done and was a recurring temptation for centuries.

Looking at today, with so many voices competing for our loyalty, how do we know which way to turn?

How do we stop being jerked this way and that way by the president’s latest Tweet or CNN’s alarmist headlines?

How do we not get thrown off balance with the latest report of COVID-19 upticks?

How do we balance effective reforms to stop abuse of minority people with the shoot-from-the-hip, emotional reactions that will lead nowhere?

Spoiler alert.

This is a sermon, so I’m going to say that it comes from following God.

But the thing is, sticking with God in turbulent times is made possible by the habit of worship.

It is through worship that we learn how to find God, and to trust God’s steady hand while being bucked by chaos and confusion.

That’s why verse 3 chooses words carefully when it says, know that the Lord is God.

When I first read this, I thought the command “to know” seemed out of place.

Duh.

If I didn’t “know” God is real, then I wouldn’t be here to worship, right?

But the Hebrew verb we translate “to know” is not about intellectually understanding.

It’s not like I know Gavin Newsom is governor.

This word means that there is a deep, mutual intimacy.

Elsewhere in the Old Testament, this same word is even used to describe sexual intimacy.

Throughout Israel’s history, worshiping the Lord had consequences because the various kings were often at odds with God’s commands.

People had to choose: worship the king, worship God, or try to keep a foot in both worlds.

Big blocks of the Old Testament document the struggles and dangers facing God’s prophets when they challenged self-serving kings and priests.

After King Ahab allowed worship of Baal, the prophet Elijah challenged the Baal priests to a public test on Mount Carmel of their power versus the Lord’s power.

You may remember that when Baal’s priests were defeated the witnesses fell prostrate on the ground and shouted these very words from Psalm 100, (1 Kings 18:39) The Lord is God.

Praise in the Old Testament is largely a response to something God had done.

Destroying the Baal priests.

Freeing the people from slavery.

Defeating enemies as they occupied the Promised land.

Returning them from exile in Babylon.

I try to praise God even when I don’t immediately experience God’s intervention.

I praise God for just being alive, for the beauty of creation … for this church.

But it is good to remember that God does move in powerful and dramatic ways today, too.

Chris Schumacher has a nerd’s dream job – a software developer for Fandom, a Wikipedia-like app for Marvel Superheroes, Game of Thrones and other popular series you might binge-watch on Netflix.

He started his professional life a bit late because of an early life of drug and alcohol addiction that led him to prison after his beating and stabbing
his friend Morgan to death in a drunken rage after a drug deal went bad.

I’m not going to tell his whole story – it is powerful and you can hear him lay it out in a wonderful podcast called The Confessional hosted by Nadia Bolz-Weber.

She describes her podcast as “a carwash for our shame and secrets”.

But I want to pick-up with him in L.A. County jail before his sentence to San Quentin.

He hadn’t thought of himself as a bad person and was having a hard time reconciling his self-image with what he’d done.

He was overwhelmed by the shame he’d brought to his family and by what he’d done to his friend.

He describes a little church service they offer at County jail that only a few inmates went to, but he drifted into where someone he describes as a little old lady was teaching from a children’s Sunday School lesson about Zacchaeus.

He explains that is where he was at spiritually … a child.

This is what Chris says:
“And it was at that point that I just realized that all of my best thinking had led me to here and that I was really longing and searching for a new path and new direction.

“I gave my life to God and began reading the Bible and started learning about, you know, like, right thinking, right living, forgiveness, redemption, you know, all of these things that somewhere deep inside of me that I was longing for.”

Prison is not where you go to get sober.

Prison is full of drugs, violence and gangs.

So, every day he faced the kind of stark choices I hope you and I never face.

Every hour – chaos, sin, evil were clamoring to get him while he was still a spiritual child trying to be faithful to the God he’d just discovered.

Now, fast forward seventeen years and Chris is sober and finished with college, anger management classes, and spiritual direction offered inside San Quentin.

He is working on a number of projects to help convicts rehabilitate their lives because he’s learned that no one’s life should be thrown in the trash heap because through God’s grace everyone is redeemable.

Even a murdering drug dealer.

Verse 3 describes this kind of surrender.

Psalm 100:3 It is God who made us, and we are His;
we are His people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Rulers of ancient Israel often described themselves as shepherds.

Their promise was that they would provide order and safety for people in exchange for their loyalty.

They might have been corrupt and murderous, but if you stayed loyal then you’d be ok, but, of course, in the end they led their nation to disaster.

We have leaders offering to strike a similar deal with us today.

It’s not just a political decision to reject them, it is a matter of faith and loyalty to the Lord.

Here’s the deal: it is always the end times in the sense that chaos, sin and evil constantly threaten us with destruction while Jesus is always returning and beckoning us with Grace.

It is the regular practice of worship that helps us to “know” God – a mutual intimacy and trust – so that we are sustained through hard times during whatever years grace gives us to live.