Welcome back!

Good morning, Friends! Today I want to say something very simple to everyone: Welcome back!

We have survived one of the most difficult years which any us have every lived through. The Lord willing, we will never have to go through anything like this again.

I am so glad to see you all today. As you all know, your church has been through some very dark times.

We couldn’t worship here at all for several months. We worshiped outdoors, from last July through last September. We’ve only had small numbers here, most Sundays. We had to cancel so many things we love to do.

Not being able to sing was one of the hardest things. Singing feels like the soul of our worship. When we can’t sing, it feels like our voice is gone, like our prayers are gone.

We know that’s not true. We know that when even two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, he is here among us. We know that God hears the prayers of our hearts, as well as the ones we say out loud. But it sure is good to get our voice back, isn’t it? Can everybody say Amen?

I want to thank all of you for not giving up. All through this, we’ve done our best to stay in touch. We have prayed. We have supported each other. We have made adjustments, and been cheerful about it.

We have given generously. Even when people couldn’t be here, you still supported your church. Thank you!

But we’re back at worship, and I expect there will be more people here in the pews, week by week.

One way you can help, is to tell people – your family, your neighbors, your friends – that Springfield is fully open again. Tell them that you came to church, and enjoyed it. That personal invitation that you give is more effective than anything I can say. Tell people that you came to church, and invite them to join you here.

I just have a very simple Scripture to share with you this morning. It’s one of the Psalms – one of the prayer poems of the Old Testament. This one is supposed to have been written by David, the shepherd boy who grew up to be king. It’s a simple psalm of faith and praise.

The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?

When evil comes charging toward me to take my life,
it is my enemies and foes who will stumble and fall.

Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.

Just one thing I ask from the Lord, this one thing only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be lifted up
above the enemies who surround me;
his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, Lord;
be merciful to me and answer me.

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, I will seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have always been my helper.

Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Savior.
Though my father and mother leave me,
the Lord will lift me up.

Teach me your way, Lord;
lead me in a straight path.
Do not turn me over my enemy,
For false witnesses rise up against me,
spouting lies and falsehoods.

I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord!

Psalm 27

Those are strong words for difficult times. Those are words of hope for when days have been dark.

As I said, we have survived. We have come through this alive together. Not everybody has.

I don’t want us to go back to those days and months of fear and dread. We still need to pray for the families of the hundreds of thousands who died. We still need to take special care for the millions who are still recovering from illness and grief.

A million cases, in North Carolina alone. 13,000 people in North Carolina who died. 600,000, who have died across our country.

But we made it. We are on our way back. We are looking toward the future. I hope we will all be wiser, and more compassionate, and more humble, than we all were a year and a half ago. I hope we’ve learned a few things, even if some of those things change us.

Our Scripture today is a song, or a prayer. The opening words are what says it all.

The Lord is my light, and my salvation. Who should I be afraid of?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Who’s going to make me scared?

The last few months have been dominated by fear. Fear has been running the show.

The fact that it’s been realistic fear doesn’t change that. It was a deadly epidemic. But it wasn’t just the disease, it was the fear that nearly destroyed us.

Imagine a line with arrows at either end — sort of like one of those number lines in school. Only this arrow has “fear” at one end, and “confidence” at the other end. The last year we’ve been all bunched up over at the fear end of the scale.

Or imagine a big meter, one of those things they have on game shows, with a hand that swings back and forth. For the last fifteen months, on that meter, we have been way out in the red zone of fear and anxiety.

But things are changing now. It’s time for us to come back. We were never meant to be in the red zone forever. Fear that lasts for a short time is OK. Fear that doesn’t stop is something which destroys our lives.

It’s time for us – for all of us – to keep living sensibly and intelligently, to reclaim our lives, and to come back out of the red zone.

Today’s Scripture says that, and it also says something else. In all the trouble we ever can face, God is with us.

I know this past year has been hard. But God has been with us, every day. It may not always have felt like it. But God has never left us. Even when we haven’t been able to get together, even when we haven’t been able to sit down together for a meal, God has still been with us.

I know this year, sometimes it’s felt like, “Lord, have mercy!” and sometimes this past year has felt like, “Jesus, take the wheel!”

Today’s Scripture says that God has never left us. God is our light, our salvation, our strong place of refuge.

With an army against us – not just an army of physical enemies, but invisible enemies no one can see – God is still on our side.

One of the things I always like to do when I’m reading the Bible, is to look at all the prayers here and there. Today’s Scripture has a lot of them.

When you go home, open up the Psalm 27, and you’ll see David praying many times. He prays:

• Hear me
• Hide me
• Don’t hide from me
• Don’t turn me away
• Lift me up
• Don’t cast me off
• Teach me
• Lead me
• Don’t give up on me
• Be gracious to me

All those prayers, in just a few short lines! David is asking for protection, for guidance, for wisdom, and for blessing. Those are all exactly what we need, and those are exactly the things which God is most willing to give freely.

Some of the greatest words of faith in the whole Bible come at the end of this prayer poem. David says, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. . .”

Those are words of faith. This past year has been dark. But the Lord is our light. We have felt naked and powerless, but the Lord has been our rock.

We are not alone. God will never leave us alone. You are God’s beloved child. You are a friend of God – Jesus called us friends.

“I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. . .”

Those are words of faith. Those are words of hope and comfort. Believe them.

Then, there’s one last thing for us in Psalm 27. Most of this has been David speaking to God. This last part is David speaking to us.

“Wait for the Lord. Be strong, and let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the Lord. . .”

Waiting has been one of the hardest things for us this past year. Waiting for it to be over. Waiting to be able to come back. Knowing that things were still dangerous, but believing that God is still here. Impatient to get back to normal, but knowing it would take a little more time. That’s what waiting is.

David never says that we would wait forever. David is confident that God will come. David never doubts that God will take care of him. David is totally sure that God hears every word of his prayer.

That’s what faith is all about. Trusting. Knowing in our heart. Praying. Hoping. Believing.

Knowing that the day will come, when we will see the goodness of the Lord, while we are still here, still living. And today, it’s come true. Thanks be to God!

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