July 18, 2021
Last week, during its monthly meeting, I told congregational council that I was feeling more than a little Zoomed-out.
In a stretch of a week’s time, I had attended the Synod Assembly, the National Worship Conference and a session on post-pandemic worship … specifically how we’ll approach communion after we return to in-person services.
All of these were held online … a result of the pandemic … and it’s actually a positive result.
Thanks to the technology that the church has had to put in place, more people are able to take part in these sessions than if they were live, in-person events.
The pandemic has actually broadened the reach of the church and of congregations such as LCOS. Covid has forced congregations to go outside their physical walls and into the greater world. The virtual community is still a community, the bishop once said.
Still, it’s easy to become overwhelmed or fatigued by it all and the information can just get mashed together.
Coincidently, I made my comment to congregational council as it gathered via Zoom … which council members hope will be the last fully online meeting that will be needed as the pandemic eases its grip on life. Last week’s meeting was supposed to be the first in-person meeting for the council in months, but the spike in local numbers disrupted those plans.
Disruption continues to mark our lives.
The theme of the National Worship Conference was Disruption and Grace.
One of the speakers at the event … an Anglican priest from Cambridge … reminded the gathering that the Bible is filled with stories of people’s lives being disrupted … Abraham … Sarah … Mary … are just a few of the examples that came to mind.
But grace follows each disruption … Sarah was going about her life as a senior citizen when her life was disrupted by the words of a stranger … and grace followed as she became a first-time mother.
Mary was just going about her teenaged life when it was disrupted … then came the grace into her … and our … lives.
Since Pentecost, we have looked at the psalms and what they offer to those whose lives are being disrupted.
First, the psalms of orientation … how the writers of the psalms reflected on a right relationship between the people and God. Then, we looked at the psalms of disorientation … ones that echoed the instability of the world and the effect on the people.
The psalms are believed to have been written during the period of time when the people had been forced into exile and were living among the people of Babylon … the temple had been razed to the ground and Jerusalem had been destroyed. The people were strangers in a strange land.
It was a period of great disruption … much more than most of us have felt during the past 16-or-so months. The people were suffering … the community was disconnected … and it would be easy to believe that God had forgotten them … or worse was the cause of their pain.
Today’s psalm … Psalm 146 … is one of psalms that calls on the people to renew their relationship with God after they have experienced a disruption in their lives. It calls on listeners to praise God and offer their thanks for God’s activity in their lives.
The psalm provides instructions that follow on the heels of the closing verse of Psalm 145:
“My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.”
Today’s psalm offers instructions in how to engage in life-long praise of God’s actions and it warns against placing trust or hope for salvation in human authorities because hope based on things of this world are bound to lead to disappointment because such promises and plans are temporary … they fail and fade away … becoming unkept, unfulfilled promises.
God’s love-filled promises … however … are eternal and invite us to offer our praise, and the psalm writer vows to sing those praises:
1 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
I prefer the translation of these verses that offers the word “self” rather than the word “soul.”
That translation calls for our entire being to be invested in offering praise … and into living into God’s call and giving thanks for God’s activity in our lives and how we are transformed by it.
Scholar Beth Tanner once wrote that lamenting to God can be cathartic, but practising life-long praise has the potential to change the world because it can transform and empower people … life-long praise changes a person’s outlook and provides power when people feel powerless.
Through this personal transformation … when we … as individuals and as communities of faith … become God’s hands and feet … eyes and ears … to see and hear the needs of the world around us. And through our service, God intrudes into the brokenness of the world … and uncertainty, anxiety, pain … are overwhelmed by new life.
Disorientation is followed by re-orientation. Disruption … is followed by grace.
Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann places today’s Psalm among the “psalms of reorientation (or new orientation).
Brueggemann writes, “…the Psalms regularly bear witness to the surprising gift of new life just when none had been expected. That new orientation is not a return to the old stable orientation, for there is no such going back.
“The psalmists know that we can never go home again. Once there has been an exchange of real truthfulness, as there is here between Yahweh and Israel, there is no return to the pre-truthful situation.”
Today’s psalm reflects the joy that the writer feels as he experiences God’s impact on his life and the life of those around him.
The writer wants the people to make the same recognition of God’s agency … on God’s unrelenting presence … through the disruptions they have experienced and sing praises and offer thanks.
The stories in the Bible show that life has been filled with disruptions, but also that joy can follow these moments.
Disruptions are necessary for God to break into our life and into the life of the world … these are times we need to remember and share the grace we have received … a grace that remained firmly in place despite our sense of loss and disconnection.
God’s unconditional love never waivered and as the disruption of the past 16 or so months eases … it is through this love … through this reorienting grace … that new life … a new normal … will appear.
And that … surely is cause to offer thanks and praise.