A Constant Reminder
a message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
June 2, 2021
1O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
2Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble
3and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
4Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town;
5hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
6Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress;
7he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.
8Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.
9For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.
Do you have a constant reminder of something in your life? Maybe family pictures on the wall. Maybe it is an old war wound. Perhaps it is a “lucky charm” that you keep as a way to remember some good luck. Some people wear a cross around their neck as a constant reminder. If we do it should be a constant reminder of Christ’s character for us to live by. Our faith has many ways to remind us on a daily basis of God’s character and this morning I want to suggest to you that the sacrament of communion is God’s constant reminder to us. It speaks to us of God’s character and Gods constant, saving love for us.
The Psalm this morning does a great job of reminding us of God’s character. It speaks of 3 characteristics that define our God. Let me talk about each one a bit. The first is God’s steadfast love. This is the word “hesed” in Hebrew. It means a never-ending, never-failing, never-giving-up, all-encompassing love. When we say, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey we are reminding ourselves and hopefully others of the way God loves us… that is hesed.
Now, as great as it is to know that God loves me, the true characteristic of this love is that it is for others. If I get hung up on thinking only about how much God loves me, I may forget that our faith is completely about loving the other: we love God, who is the Ultimate Other, and we love others – no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey.
This “other” focus is very different from the values and constant reminders of our culture which seem to always urge us to focus on ourselves and not others. Part of that comes from the “rugged individualism” myth of the Western Cowboy movies. Self – sufficiency is important to a point but the one constant reminder we need is that we didn’t get any of what we are or what we have on our own. It was given to us in the gift of life, which our faith teaches comes from God.
Alan Breem, in his blog, [thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com, 7/72009], comments that “Self-sufficiency is a sacred dogma for us. We believe in ‘pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.’ … we want to be able to find our way to any destination without asking directions; we want to make our own way in the world. Self-sufficiency represents the … belief … that we can solve any problem, climb any mountain, ford any stream.”
He goes on to say, “What I might point out is that this represents an interesting contrast to the perspective of the Psalmists. The Psalmists speak of self-sufficiency in a very different way. The ‘mighty ones,’ the ‘proud’ the ‘princes’—everyone who we might think could very well stand in their own self-sufficiency—are those who go astray in their foolish independence and rebellious self-reliance. In the Psalms, self-sufficiency is an obstacle that has to be overcome in order to call upon the Lord for help. Asking for help—truly asking for help—is not something that comes easily for most people. To ask for help requires the ability to recognize that you need help. It requires a significant dose of humility to break through self-sufficiency.
“More than that, our Psalm for today calls those who have experienced the God’s help to take a further step of humility and to offer thanksgiving in public worship. It also takes an act of humility to be willing to gather with a group of people and recite prayers out loud and then actually sing hymns of praise! Out loud. So that those around you can actually hear you! But the kind of heartfelt praise that the Psalmist has in mind comes from the humble recognition that ‘We are the hungry and thirsty who have been fed. We are the bound who have been liberated. We are the sinners deserving death who have been given life. We are the fearful [ones] …who have been given hope.”
A second characteristic that the Psalm writer proclaims is that God “gathered” us from every point of the compass. This is in part a reference to the way the Jewish people suffered from “diaspora” the dispersing of the Jewish people at several points in history. It is also a covenant promise that all people – no matter where we are on the compass, or who we are. There are many today who do not believe that this is true. They believe that giving equal rights to persons different from themselves takes something away from them. They believe that they are being persecuted because others want to be treated fairly, justly, and equally. There is a very dangerous trend in our world that seems to have a new energy – a trend to believe anyone different from me in race, political dogma, religious faith, or gender orientation is a threat to me and we need to build walls of hatred and jails and prisons of punishment to keep what we have while others suffer.
God’s liberating work not only sets the oppressed free from the oppressor, it frees the oppressor from the hatred and fear and anger that they suffer from as well. The antidote to this oppression may be in remembering real science. Cameron Trimble, in her email devotional shared these thoughts from an astronomer, [Convergence/Piloting Faith email, 6/3/21]. Astronomer Dr. Jill Tarter’s life work is “searching for life on other planets. Jill was the inspiration for the main character, Dr. Ellie Arroway, in the 1997 movie Contact staring Jody Foster. She has devoted her career to searching for signals sent from other technologically advanced cultures on other planets.” Rev. Trimble admits it sounds crazy but says Dr. Tarter’s explanation will “convince you that it might be the best job on earth.”
During the interview, Dr. Tarter talked about thinking of ourselves as “earthlings.” While not the first title we think to apply to ourselves, Dr. Tarter suggests that understanding ourselves as earthlings might just save the world. She says, her work “has the philosophical equivalence of holding up a mirror to every individual on this planet and saying, 'See, all of you? You’re all the same, when compared to something out there that had evolved independently.'” She expresses the hope that her work’s potential “for changing people’s perspective and trivializing the differences among humans — differences that we’re so willing to shed blood over when, indeed, we are all human. We are all earthlings. We are all the same, compared to something else. And if you see yourself as an earthling before you see yourself as a Californian, then I think that sets the stage for tackling really difficult challenges on a global scale.”
Dr. Tarter’s imagery “invites us to broaden our vision of connection. She is asking us to see ourselves at the level of Earthling - the label we ALL have in common - to highlight that at that scale, we are more the same than different. Our divisions are useless at that scale. None of us can claim exceptionalism or exclusion. At the scale of the Cosmos, we are all Earthlings. We all belong to one another.” Rev. Trimble goes on to say, “The global pandemic has also helped us see our interdependence even as it’s laid bare the barriers we create to give us the illusion of separation. But at the scale of the heavens, we are all part of one tribe. We all belong. We are all One.”
Rev. Trimble invites us to “hold the idea that 13.8 billion years ago, the cosmos birthed us all. We might tell the story this way: God said, ‘Let us create humans in our own image,’ and from the stardust of a wild and wonderful cosmic collision, we were born. And God said, ‘Ah, yes, we shall call them earthlings, because they are ALL made of the stars and hold the beauty of all creation within them.’ And God looked upon creation and smiled. It was good.
The third promise of God’s character is that God “satisfies.” Now this is tricky! Because in American terms that always means something way beyond where God intends us to go. God does not “satisfy” our every whim and desire at the expense of justice and fairness for all people. That is the great “hubris” or overreach of American consumer capitalism. You cannot buy satisfaction. Mick Jagger was right if that is your definition of how to find satisfaction – remember? “I can’t get no sat – is -faction… I tried, and I tried, and I tried, I can’t get NO, no, no, no!”
At the funeral for Winston Hibbert this past Thursday, the preacher, Rev. John Long, was quoting Paul but his words speak to the Psalm. In Philippians 4:19 Paul wrote, “19 And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” My colleague made the point that the Apostle did not say “needs” he said “need.” Singular not plural. We all think that our NEEDS are many – plural. Paul says God satisfies our ONE need “according to his riches in glory in Jesus Christ.”
His point was what we need is what Jesus Christ gives us. And that is the love that gave us life, sustains us day by day, and opens the way to the promise of the resurrection. These things are what we need and they are ultimately one thing: the love of God. And the promise of Jesus Christ is that we have that. We have it even when we are suffering. We have it even if we are afraid. We have it when we don’t feel it and when we do. We need not worry. We need not fear. God HAS satisfied our need in Jesus Christ, and that will satisfy our need.
I want to make this point. The sacrament is the living symbol of that promise to satisfy our need. Every time we receive that we are being reminded that God supplies our need. That little morsel and that drop of juice or wine is enough to remind us. Believe it or not our need is satisfied. This covers everything from my hunger and thirst for food to my hunger and thirst for love to my hunger and thirst for meaning to my hunger and thirst for hope beyond what today holds. If I am going through a terrible time the sacrament is a constant reminder that God will provide. If I am going through the best time of my life it is a constant reminder just where and how that blessing has come from.
So for me that reminds me that even though I am leaving here and going somewhere else, even though this past year has been tough on churches everywhere for a lot of reasons, God will satisfy our need, God HAS satisfied our need in the glory of Christ Jesus. We can all trust that God will be with us and that we need not fear the future for it is in God’s steadfast love. I know I am not usually one to talk a lot about this “spiritual” stuff, this “mystical” stuff of our faith, but sometimes, it just is what it is – and what it is, is a mystical, spiritual promise already fulfilled now for the future. If that causes your mind to spin, then yes, you understand what I am saying.
I pray you will always remember God’s constant reminder that you are loved and God’s love is a steadfast love that has supplied your every need, is supplying your every need, and will supply your every need. Now let us celebrate that reminder together one last time. AMEN.