Updated: Nov 9, 2020
a message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
November 1, 2020
Psalm 107: 1-9
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.
I would guess if you asked most people they would say that there is this great divide between people today. Most of that division seems to be driven by the politics of the day. We might describe this great divide as like a rushing river between two lands. But I believe the divide is not so much the one between blue or red states, but between hope and hopelessness. So many people seem to be standing on one side or the other. Many others feel as if they are standing in the middle of that river, feeling they are about to be washed away by the rushing waters and feeling there is no hope, that all hope is lost. The Scripture lesson this morning brings us the Good News that there is hope and our hope is not dependent on circumstances, but upon a God who is steadfast, loving, and powerful enough to transform the world so that all people can find a new hope. Listen again to the words of the Psalm that proclaim the source of our hope:
1O give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good; the steadfast love of God endures forever.
Hope begins when we choose to give thanks to the Lord who is GOOD and who is a source of ENDURING LOVE. This is a radical statement because many people do not believe in the God the Psalm writer refers to. Many do not believe in any God. Remember, the original translation of the words “the Lord,” is “YAHWEH.” That is, the God who said, when questioned about his or her identity simply said, “I AM.” This God is, no matter what anyone believes! We give thanks to this God because this God, is GOOD, and is a God of STEADFAST LOVE.
This is not a God of whim and impulse. This is a God of everlasting love. This love is seen and known in the world wherever good changes evil, where blessing changes curse, where death is transformed into life. For these reasons we can always find new hope, no matter what happens in life, no matter how an election turns out, no matter what we believe about anything else!
The Psalm writer then challenges us to say so:
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.
Who are “the redeemed?” Us. Every one of us has been “redeemed.” The word literally means rescued, paid for, even “saved.” In the Psalm writer’s time “redeemed” was the word used when, by their cultural norms and by Scriptural law, if a man’s brother died and his wife had no son to provide for her, to care for her, that brother was then commanded to “redeem” that widow – to take her in as his own and even to provide her with a male heir so that she would be provided for. Now while we may not live in a time where that is a desirable social law, it is the term which reminds us that we have all been saved, rescued, paid for by God. We have been gathered from the spiritual divide represented in north from south and east from west. It is the power to overcome the divide between God and us, and between human beings, because God is good and God’s love is steadfast. Therefore we have hope!
The Psalm writer knows that we face difficulties in life. Our time is no more difficult than the world the writer knew. He was not just speaking metaphorically when he said,
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.
For some “desert wastes” might best describe their spiritual reality: a sense of hopelessness or fear or angry distrust. For others the hunger and thirst are real physical realities. For others it might seem like being caught on one side or the other of a raging river or even in the river itself. A little earlier this month Rev. Cameron Trimble shared a story that I think illuminates the way out of our distress, the way to be “redeemed” from hopelessness, the way to an “inhabited town” called “Hope.”
In northeast India there is an area “considered to be the wettest region in the world. The people who have lived there for generations have learned to live with extreme monsoon seasons with between 32 and 45 feet of rainfall a year. Most of these villages do not have road access. Getting from place to place means crossing wide, dangerous rivers. Crossing these rivers isn’t possible without a bridge.
“But the raging waters presented a profound challenge. Any bridges they built were washed away. They needed a solution that was strong enough to withstand the torrents of water and safely carry them to the other side.” They found an ingenious solution. Rubber fig-trees surround their land. These trees have roots that grow upward into the air. And in a “breathtaking bio-engineering feat,” the people used the aerial roots, nurtured and trained over time, to build living tree bridges. It takes 10-15 years for the trees to be old enough to put out aerial roots, which the bridge builders then “coax across the river with the help of bamboo scaffolding. This scaffolding doubles as a temporary way for pedestrians to cross the river while the bridge is under construction. Over the years, the aerial roots are pulled and woven to meet the tree on the other side of the river. The roots are tied with one another and eventually they merge by a process of fusion known as anastomosis. Once the tree has reached a certain level of maturity, it adds more roots to the network, which the local people weave into the bridge. After the entire network of roots has sufficiently matured, the bridge reaches a critical strength capable of supporting pedestrians.”
“Generations of these people have cared for these bridges. They have nurtured roots that they would never walk on but knew their grandchildren and great-grandchildren would. They had a vision of bridges that would connect one shore to another, and set out to build them, knowing that it would take more than their generation to finish.” Rev. Trimble then asks, “What are we building today that future generations will cherish, giving their lives to continuing to nurture and sustain?” When we build bridges we build hope that sustains the future. We must remember that building bridges means “We are in this together.”
I believe we can build bridges of hope if we trust the steadfast love of God. I don’t believe we can build bridges that will nurture future generations if they are built on hatred, or fear, or anger. We can’t build bridges of hope if we build walls of separation, put up gates the prevent people from coming together, create great tables of fabulous feasting and then refuse to let anyone sit at the table with us.
The table of Jesus Christ is a table of hope because it is an open table. For too long the Christian church tried to proclaim it a table of privilege. The church claimed it had the power to deny people a place at the table of Jesus Christ. We tried to say only those who believed the way we believed they should believe could be seated and satisfied. We denied the steadfast love of God for all humankind. That is changing, although not everyone yet believes it. So let us continue to proclaim and give thanks to “the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind, for the Lord satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry God fills with good things.”
This is a table of new hope. This is a table where the vision of bridge building for generations to come is nourished, nurtured, proclaimed, and where we all remember we are “redeemed” by the steadfast love of God, and so is every one of God’s daughters and sons. God continues to weave the bridges of steadfast love for anyone who wants to cross over to the land of hope and sit at the table of grace. “Let [us] thank the Lord for [that] steadfast love, for [those] wonderful works to humankind. 9For [the Lord] satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry God fills with good things.” At this table we can taste a new hope. At this table we can see the future that God intends, a future where steadfast love changes everything and everyone. Let us give thanks to the Lord, for this steadfast love endures forever. AMEN.