Narrative Lectionary for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year Three
July 2, 2017
Lessons: Psalm 30, John 6:67-69
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people recognize that God is working in their lives and offer their praise in response.
Key Scripture: You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever. Psalm 30:11-12
I have this problem–or maybe it’s just the way I work–of getting songs stuck in my head while studying the lectionary texts. Sometimes these songs are classic hymns, their melodious meanderings through my mind usually sparked by a verse of phrase from scripture. Other times, however, a lyric will pop seemingly out of nowhere and get stuck like scratched vinyl in the synapses of my thought processes. This week it just happened to be the late 90s ditty “Tubthumping” by the disbanded British group Chumbawamba. Before you think I have taken complete leave of my reason and modest mental faculties, hear me out. I am convinced that music and lyrics teach us much about conveying a message concerning the nature of God, the amazing and all-encompassing good news of Jesus Christ, and the untamable ways and wiles of the Holy Spirit.
During the long green summer season, we get to talk about everything from psalms to sacraments to epistles. It’s a summer break of sorts, and we serve it up in small chunks of topical and useful scripture study. So “Tubthumping” has become the earworm for my study of Psalm 30 this week.
This song is an individual and corporate hymn of thanksgiving and praise, acknowledging a tidal wave of grief and joy, the pull of sadness and the return to gladness. It reminds me of what folks say about the weather in North Dakota: “If you don’t like it right now, hang around. It’ll change.” Life is not a smooth, linear path to ultimate success. Life is peaks and valleys, rain and stars, gravel and sand, love and ambivalence, sun and wind, bitter and sweet. It’s what we have in the present, but it’s not the final destination. There is more, there is hope and promise that we experience as resurrection people, and faith in Jesus is the vehicle that carries us through it all.
In our gospel passage this week, Jesus asks his disciples if they want to leave him like other followers who are finding the going tough. Peter confesses “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Sure, following the way of Christ doesn’t seem to be the easiest path—especially in the eyes of the world—but when you come to know Jesus, when you read, listen, experience, encounter, and even taste him in bread and wine, you realize there is no one else to whom you can turn. It’s all about Jesus, and there is no turning back. They way forward may look straight uphill, and the forecast may be for tough sledding, but we do not go it along. We go with Jesus, God’s Holy One and only son.
And this, dear friends, is where I come back to Chumbawamba’s song. Sometimes you have to tweak the word to the song to get your message across. Instead of singing, “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down,” I tweak the lyrics to reflect my faith: “I get knocked down; God gets me up again. This world’s never gonna keep me down.” We’re not merely “tubthumpers,” you know. We have this incredible message of hope and healing contained in fragile vessels and cracked pots. We may sing off-key and dance awkwardly, but our job is to point to the One who holds it all together, to pour out our offering of praise and thanks, to fall down seven and get up eight by the grace of God. So tell me…how will you sing of God’s goodness this Sunday? How will you proclaim the promise and hope of resurrection in the face of this world’s lies about death and destruction? What song is stuck in your head?
Yes, it is springtime in the northern hemisphere, but I commend to you the poem “Those Winter Sundays” by 20th century American poet Robert Hayden (1913-1980). In this short meditation, Hayden calls to mind the “austere and lonely offices” of love in the underappreciated, everyday work of his father, who banks the family’s fires and polishes his son’s good shoes–even on his day of rest. Consider reading the poem as part of your worship or in connection with your sermon. Another possibility is to weave the lines of this poem into a call/response reading of Psalm 30:
L: I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
P: Sundays too my father got up early and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, –
L: O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
P: then with cracked hands that ached from labor in the weekday weather made banked fires blaze.
L: Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
P: No one ever thanked him.
L: As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”
P: I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
L: By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
P: When the rooms were warm, he’d call, and slowly I would rise and dress, fearing the chronic angers of that house,
L: Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!”
P: Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well.
L: You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
P: What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?
All: O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever
Consider having your youth write a modern paraphrase of Psalm 30. Better yet, have them create a video version to share with the congregation or on your congregation’s Facebook page or website.
Psalm 30: From Sad to Glad
You will need tongue depressors or other wooden sticks, heavy colored cardstock or construction paper and glue. Take two different colors of paper and cut dessert-plate size circles–one for each child. On one color circle draw a sad face. On the other color draw a happy face. Paste them onto the tongue depressor or popsicle stick to create a mask.
Give each child a sad/glad “mask” that you have made. Tell them that today we’re going to talk about how God can help us turn from “sad” to “glad.” Invite them to tell you about a time when they were feeling sad and how God or someone God sent (like a friend or parent or teacher or even a pet) helped them to feel glad again. Listen and affirm all stories. Then share a very simple version of Psalm 30 and invite the children to turn their sad mask to glad whenever they hear the Psalmist receiving help from God (verses 1, 2, 3, 5, 11). Then ask them, what is the psalmist’s response to God’s help? Encourage them to see that the psalmist gives thanks and praises God. That’s what we can do, too! Finish with a prayer and a rousing amen.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Praising God is an act of stewardship, an appropriate response to God’s amazing and unmerited love and grace. This week make sure to start every day with a time of thanksgiving and praise to God, the Creator of the Cosmos and Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith.
Stewardship at Home
This week make a dedicated effort to read Psalm 30 every day. You might want to use some form of Lectio Divina. If you enjoy journaling, consider writing what stands out to you every day. How does reflecting on this psalm make a difference in the way you orient your day and your actions? What do you hear God saying to you through the words of the psalmist? Be sure to offer a prayer of thanksgiving and praise each day, too!
Photos: Noel Pennington, Creative Commons; © robhainer – Fotolia.com; © GalinaSt – Fotolia.com. Thanks!
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