“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” – 07-06-14 – Proper 9 – Cycle A

Listen to the sermon here:

Scripture – Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:8-14; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19,25-30

We sing with earnest, loud voices, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and “On Christ, The Solid Rock, I Stand.” Do we feel that very trust deep down in our beings or do we just like to sing loudly – maybe to exercise our lungs? Or, by singing loudly, the words become real and alive and settle in our souls and nourish us so that we become truly alive?

Do we find ourselves thinking or saying or singing these words when trouble comes around the corner and hits us in our faces? Do these words transport us from fear and worry to the feeling of being nestled in the arms of Jesus? This transported feeling is a blessing that comes only from our relationship with the three persons of God.

Bertie had enjoyed a wonderful life with wife, Bernadine. Then age and illness cut like a knife through the relationship. Neither died but death may have been a blessing. Hospital existence went on and on and on. Hospital visits became death journeys. “Why, oh why,” husband says to himself as he prepares once again to make the trip to the hospital, “Why, God, are we living in this cruel exercise? What are you trying to prove? How do you want us to change our thinking?”

Then wife, Bernadine, has used her Medicare-allowed hospital days. Bernadine needs to leave the hospital. What? Leave the hospital! Where can she go that we can afford? Where can she go that she will be treated kindly? After many consultations later, Bernadine comes home with assistance provided by a local home-nursing team. So, great! No more trips to the hospital. But 24-hour watchfulness and caring wear old after a few days.

As Bertie – short for Albert – was sinking, God gave a gift to him. As Bertie’s alarm signaled time to get out of bed long enough to check on Bernadine, something strange was happening. There was a song moving in his mind. What song did God choose to give to Bertie? Great Is Thy Faithfulness! Yes, there it was just flowing, flowing. It would not go away. Bertie became more loving to Bernadine than he had been for a while now. It felt as though God had one arm around Bernadine and one arm around Bertie. “Yes,” Bernadine,” Bertie said aloud amidst this encircling music, “As long as God gives each of us breath, we can count on his faithfulness.” Did Bertie imagine it or was there a smile on Bernadine’s face? Did she seem to be more relaxed?

Yes, Yes. Bertie was not imagining this new life within his soul. It was real. Life took on a new beat, a happy beat! Great is your faithfulness, O Lord God of mercy and love. Bertie was really surprised when words to the third verse came popping into his head. He had no idea those words were in his head from the times he had sung with intensity in worship. There they were like a never-ceasing fountain.

“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow – Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!”

“My,” said Bertie to himself. “I wish I could take Bernadine’s hands and see her feet swing over the side of the bed and then onto our hardwood floor and we could dance to these words and notes, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” “Oh Lord,” Bertie says, “In your mercy, strengthen us as we sing. As long as you, in your wisdom, decide that Bernadine shall breathe and lay her head in my arms, I accept your mercy and love.”

Then there was Rocky, a handsome successful athlete – in Little League games, in Junior High and Senior High football, basketball, baseball, soccer – however he could squeeze the schedule. It would be mighty difficult to stay humble with that kind of success. And … his scholastic work was also admirable. Pride had to appear through all of those great scores. Did he walk alone? Was he too arrogant to have friends with this extreme accomplishment? He may have been arrogant but he did have friends. You know, success breeds popularity. Never mind that most of these friends were not genuine, not harbored in love. No, this clinging was based on the desire of humans to follow, to cling, to be side-blinded to the real world and real values.

Now Rocky is matriculating in college – a big college – main campus – football team – scholarship! Wow, a whole new set of “idol friends!” How about scholastic courses? They are great! So why am I using Rocky as an example of depending on God? Did Rocky depend on God? If he did, he kept it a secret. Where has your imagination taken you at this moment? Did you guess this? Rocky was finally injured during a football game. It required surgery, rehabilitation, and a vacation from all of the sports for a year!

Now what happens to pride and arrogance and self-assurance? Mental stability takes a hit! Rocky’s personality took a severe plunge into unpleasantness! Nurses were not yearning to be assigned to a shift in his care. Family members were thrown into a period of self-assessment – what had they done wrong, did I have a part in letting the arrogance get out of hand? Fortunately, the hospital had an experienced, spiritually-mature chaplain. First, quiet presence and general, short prayer. Gradually, Rocky responded to the gentle personality of the chaplain and started to express his hurts. The chaplain mentioned that Rocky could depend on the rock of all ages. “What is that?” whispered Rocky. Chaplain replied that this rock is a person who is willing to be a rock for Rocky. “Okay, I am listening,” murmurs Rocky. “What will I do with a person who is a rock?”

Chaplain puts another question in the air. “Rocky, do you feel that you are settling into sinking sand?” “That is a pretty good description of where I am,” replied Rocky. “What are you suggesting?” “I am stating that this rock’s name is Jesus, the Son person of God,” explains Chaplain. “Have you ever spoken the name of Jesus in reverence?” “Can’t say that I have. I have been very busy with climbing the pyramid to get to the top of the sports world. How would Jesus have fit into that picture?”

Chaplain sits quietly and thinks for a while. Finally he speaks slowly, “Jesus was with you all the time – from Little League and as time took you to college – to this very day.” “Well,” said Rocky, “Did he just follow me or did he lead me or cheer for me? Why did I not know Jesus was with me? As a matter of fact, if he is here with me now in this hospital room, why don’t I know that he is here?” Chaplain suggested that Jesus may be speaking from his heart and not in audible sounds? “Why would he do that,” asked Rocky. “I think Jesus waits for a soft heart,” said Chaplain. “Now that you feel as though you are in sinking sand, Jesus is probably wanting to connect with you; he probably thinks your heart may be soft enough at this moment.”

“Oh ….” sighed Rocky. “What do I have to loose? I sure do need help.” “Well, listen to these words,” said Chaplain with some sternness. “On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand, All other ground is sinking sand.” The words go on to say that Jesus is the one who changes the moving ground beneath us to solid rock (words by Edward Mote).

“Imagine this scene, Rocky.” “Listen,” says Chaplain. Mary Stevenson writes of walking in the sand with Jesus walking beside her. Two clear sets of footprints. Then there was one set of footprints. Then two sets again. Mary was upset that Jesus would have left her to walk alone. But Jesus explained that when she only saw one set of footprints, they were his. Jesus was carrying Mary during her most trying times.”

Chaplain said, “Rocky, can you possibly accept that Jesus is carrying you now, in this your most trying time? Can you trust that Jesus is not letting you sink since he is the rock?” “Furthermore,” continues Chaplain, “Jesus has some powerful words. We can find them in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 11, verses 28-30. Are you ready, Rocky?” “Go ahead,” agrees Rocky.

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

“Before I say out loud that I will try to think from this direction, what is a yoke?” Chaplain thinks for a moment and then tries this explanation. “Before machinery existed on farms, oxen and horses were yoked (harnessed) to keep the animals working together and to allow the farmer to direct the animals to make straight rows; to get the job done. This was not punishment; it was a device to keep the animals looking straight ahead and not to dilly-dally or for one animal to think it was the leader when the farmer is the leader.”

“Hmmm,” says Rocky. “Do you think that I thought that I was in charge of my life? Actually, don’t answer. I know with certainty that I was thinking and acting that way. If Jesus was really with me all of those years, he wins the prize for patience.”

Chaplain nods his head in agreement. “You may want to be using Paul’s words to the Romans when Paul says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15-25a)

“Am I that bad?” says Rocky. “Well,” says Chaplain. “Each of us needs to declare that confession from time to time. None of us is perfect.” Then God’s grace descends on us in full measure. This is greater than winning any game. Yes, God’s grace is a softness that slides over us and flows into us.”

Yes, with the Psalmist we can say, “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Lord, you are good to all, and your compassion is over all your works. All your works shall praise you, O Lord, and your faithful ones shall bless you.

They shall tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your power, that all people may know of your power and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; your dominion endures throughout all ages. You, Lord, are faithful in all your words, and loving in all your works. The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up those who are bowed down.” (Psalm 145:8-14)