“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
― Emily Dickinson
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering 'it will be happier'...”
― Alfred Tennyson
“Hope is a waking dream.”
Today we dream a little. And sometimes that’s all you really need is a little hope.
Because you know the situation you’re in is not going to change anytime soon
· money will not miraculously grow on trees
· that relationship is broken beyond repair
· your body (barring a real miracle of God or medical intervention) will likely struggle for some time
You are in a dry, cold a season… a winter of the soul…but you can make it through, can’t you if you just sense a little hope.
So…we want to offer you some. Not some flimsy, without substance, hope but a deep light breaking through the clouds – kind of hope.
The hope we will explore comes from the heart of God expressed in song and poetry by some of the Bible’s most unique writers - David, Asaph, the Sons of Korah and others…
· people Brennan Manning refers to as “artists, mystics and clowns” – writers “use art and song to whet our appetite for the infinite and inspire awe that helps our impoverished imagination”
People who know how to inspire – Hope.
· the Psalms are not dissertations with bullet points
· they are not stories with morals
· they are not letters with instructions
· they are poetry. they are song…that capture feelings and moods and dreams and frustrations
So as we look for hope in them…we’re not that interested in you learning much. We just want you to feel and emote and sense and wonder and most of all…hope.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23:1-6
Psalm 23 – one of the most beloved, quoted passages of scripture of all time
· music – Bach, Schubert, Bernstein, Pink Floyd, Megadeth and Kanye
· Movies – The Elephant Man, Titanic, True Grit and even in Pulp Fiction
The 23rd Psalm has shown up at crucial moments in history like 9/11 –
· On Flight 93 - Todd Beamer – just before his now haunting words – Let’s roll.
· Later that night It appeared again in Pres. Geo Bush’s address to the nation
Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.” --President George W. Bush September 11, 2001.
It is beloved…but it is also belittled…In Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle” he suggests that the The 23rd Psalm is just a nice pain killer for people who are dying…to give them a false hope. Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
So which is it to you? …a source of hope and power or just wishful thinking?
…the essence of hope or the height of fantasy?
· that’s for you to decide – not going to try convince you…just want you to experience this song in the middle of this winter season of your soul and see what God might do.
There are two scenes in this poem – one outside, the other inside. When David composed them, no one knows.
· As a child? or as an older man…(my belief)
· I can see him leaning against a tree, Lyre in hand looking back over his tumultuous life
Scene 1 – outside – in a pasture, by a quiet stream, and through a dark valley
Key to scene one are the first 5 words: 1 The LORD is my shepherd,
There is drama in these words beginning with The LORD - not just God…not The Big Guy….but God with a name – Yahweh
· the covenant God of Israel – the God of Exodus 19
o lightening sending, thunder causing, smoke generating, trumpet blasting, panic inducing God of Mt. Sinai
o THIS God is my what?...shepherd
· this God pays attention to my condition
o knows when I’m in want
o knows when I need rest - pastures
o knows when all is chaotic and I need stillness - quiet waters
o knows when I feel like I got nothing – restores my soul
o knows when I am straying – right paths – when I lose integrity
o knows when I am in peril…danger…dying
· this God is not just everybody’s God – he is MY God!
o not just the God of humanity – he’s the God of me
§ leads me, helps me lie down, restores me, guides me – he is VERY near.
There is a word we use to describe this personal engaged God – Providence. We say it this way sometimes…God is in control of my life.
But, I want to be clear about what that means…tell you a story
· the accident on I-465
o it is not that God was with you and not her
o not that he was in control of you and not her
· the point – God’s providence most of the time does not keep us from disaster but walks with us through it.
o sometimes we are exhausted – he takes us to pastures
o sometimes we lose our souls – he restores them
o sometimes we go through valleys – he is with us
· My own story of the presence of God – the other night when I was sick – I wanted the pain…to know the presence of God.
In this season – this valley – God is RIGHT THERE.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Scene 2 –The scene shifts - Let me use my imagination here…
· You are a lost, hungry scared and lonely man or woman on the run
o enemies pursuing…dogs howling in the distance
· Panting and desperate you breaks through the woods and come upon a massive castle of a great and terrible king
· Desperate you knock on the enormous doors and wait
· The large door creaks opens and there is the formidable king himself
· He draws you in and in a few breathtaking moments you are whisked away and cleaned up, new clothes, ushered into a great hall and are sat at long banquet table loaded with delicacies…your goblet is filled to the brim
· And he the king himself approaches you – tenderly lays his hand on your head - anointing you with fragrant oil...gets down to your level, looks you in the eye and says…you are my son/daughter - welcome – this is now your home.
That’s what I see in these words - 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23:1-6
If scene one is for those of us who are worn out and in trouble…scene two is for those who have lived with little your whole life.
· you’ve never made it
· you feel like you’ve never achieved…just a nobody
· societies 2nd tier
This scene is also for those who have been one step ahead of enemies your whole life
· no matter where you turn life attacks you
· it’s like the world is nipping at your heels
· be they human or spiritual, demons or real people – enemies seem to hunt you down
And this scene is for the fatherless…the lonely ones who have never received the Blessing
· never had a dad express value to you
· never had a mom give you worth
· never had anyone express great pride and ownership over you
Abraham gave the blessing to Isaac – Isaac did the same to Jacob…and it is a crucial element in a healthy life. But too many never receive it. And as a result they live shallow lives…diminished and lonely.
This Psalm is for you. Because there is hope:
· If you have lived with want your whole life – there is plenty…overflowing from God
· If you are tired of running from the enemy – there is safety in the house of God
· If you are fatherless – there is a great King with a big house who wants you, believe in you…and wants you to feel his anointing and blessing…
There was a moment in my life that felt like this for me…
· It was 1965. Dad came home and put two tickets on the table. Pirates game…Forbes Field…Roberto Clemente, and not just that, they were club seats with a banquet.
I felt, honored, blessed, overwhelmed with plenty and maybe as satisfied as I have ever been in my life. My cup overflowed.
This Psalm says – that is exactly what God wants you to feel today.
No matter the season … there is hope.