October 24, 2021
Restoring Our Fortune
When the Lord restored the fortune of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortune, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb. May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
How many of you knew we had a safe at the church? Even more importantly, what is the combination to the safe, which is underneath the long desk in the mailroom? At first, it appeared that no one knew the combination. Nor did anyone know what was inside. Well, Dick Herman found the combination and solved the mystery.
Amongst the odd contents, which nothing warranted being in a safe, were some packs of old pictures. They were taken about twenty years ago (before my time). Sharon Flannery was in this week, and we looked through them. Some of you were in them. As we reminisced, Sharon shared about the glory days. You know the times when you were a lot younger, especially the children. Many of the women had different hairstyles and many of the men had more hair! A few were carrying around less pounds.
It also reminded me of recently looking through pictures to put together the power point slide shows for Dawnie’s Retirement Celebration and Frank’s Farewell Service. All the good times that we shared as a congregation. Pictures of dear friends, choir gatherings, special worship services, Christmas programs, Vacation Bible School, Mission Trips. With these images, we can dream about all the times in the past, when we were blessed and filled with joy.
All this must had stayed with me because I even had a dream that Frank had come to a party to surprise everyone. We were at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church and he was hiding behind a chair. When he appeared, everyone was so surprised and glad to see him (much like his video at Dawnie’s celebration service).
It is no doubt that we can echo the words of the Psalmist, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.” It is not a retirement celebration or a farewell, which causes the Israelites to rejoice. No, they are thinking back when God brought them out of exile from Babylon and returned them to their homes. Families and neighbors had been reunited. Their community had been reestablished. God had provided a way for them to rebuild the city and restore all that had been torn down.
The Israelites are reminiscing about the time when God had restored their fortunes in Zion. This period of restoration was a time for them to celebrate and give gratitude to God. Even other nations noticed what God had done.
But this prayer appears to shift from the past to the present. After reflecting on the goodness of God in the past, there is a cry for help. We hear, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb. Something has caused a drought. There has been a loss and there is despair in their voice. We are not told what caused the distress. But, if we think about the challenges that people in our world today face, we can probably figure it out. Could it be a drought spiritually, where the community is tired and burnt out? Could it be a drought emotionally, where the depression has gotten so bad they do not know how to find the strength to get out of bed? Could it be a drought financially, where people can’t pay their bills or their medicine costs too much? Could it be a drought physically, where people are fighting disease like Covid and their loved ones are sick or they are exhausted of caring for a loved one? We do not know specifically what it is but we have all been there. But instead of “Restore our fortunes, O Lord” we would say, “Restore our health, restore our energy, restore our strength, restore our finances, restore our relationships, O Lord.”
All we know is that their life has dried up like a river in the desert. They are asking God to restore their lives. Could their tears be turned into joy? Could their seeds produce a harvest?
As quickly as the cry of despair of the present goes out to God, the Psalmist turns to hope for the future. God has restored their lives in the past and God will restore their lives in the future.
Frederick Buechner writes in his book, “A Crazy, Holy Grace: the Healing Power of Pain and Memory.” “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.” (Frederick Buechner; A Crazy, Holy Grace: the Healing Power of Pain and Memory; October 3, 2017; Abington Press)
I will never forget three years ago when my daughter’s marriage was falling apart. She would call me crying, wondering if she would ever be able to move beyond this pain. Would she be able to recover from this and find joy in life? I would tell her that she was a strong woman and that this even though it was brutally difficult would make her even stronger. I also said that God had taken good care of her throughout her life and that God would continue to take care of her.
Well last weekend, Sarah’s boyfriend proposed marriage to her and she accepted! He had come up to Indianapolis from Louisville two weeks prior to this and had asked our blessing on his proposal. We love Ian and his two daughters, Dylan and Marley. We believe they will be very happy together. Will their life be an abundant flowing river with blue skies and sunshine? No! But, when the drought comes and their world is torn apart, they can hold onto the Psalmist words – God will restore our fortunes!
As I was working on this sermon, I was drawn to the imagery of the seeds producing a harvest. Have you ever planted perennials? I am horrible when it comes to gardening so I have been planting more and more perennials each year. Now, I will be honest that I don’t start with seeds but a seedling. The first summer they did pretty good as long as I remembered to water them.
Then the fall and winter comes, and they die. I am finding that it is better to cut all the dead plant away. So that when spring comes new growth can occur. They are usually thicker and bigger. It is though the restoration becomes better than the original.
We are preparing to receive our Interim Pastor, Beth Wagner, this week. Her first Sunday in the pulpit will be next week. We will begin talking about our future and what lies ahead for us at John Knox.
I don’t believe these last five months have been a drought per say. Life has gone on and the church has been busy. We have carried on with purpose, serving and loving God. But, for me, there has been this undercurrent feeling like things have been put on hold. I have been in a survival mode waiting for the Interim to arrive. We have all been waiting. Honestly, I am tickled pink that Beth starts this week.
I also see this as a new beginning. It is interesting that Frank has shared with us that he has accepted a call to another church. A new beginning for him and the congregation of Western Boulevard Presbyterian Church, starting November 7.
What does restoration look like for the future congregation of John Knox and our community?
In Frank’s last sermon to us on May 16, he shared his hopes and dreams for us by saying, “ What would give me the greatest joy and sense of fulfillment would be to come back at some point in the future and see that you trusted that God would always be with you, and faithfully followed the Spirit’s leading. That would be embodied in new people participating in the church’s life who reflect the continuing diversity of this community. That would be embodied in trying new programs and initiatives that reflect the vision you have forged in this transition time that is to come. That would be embodied in not being beholden to the past and embracing the future that God has laid out before you, one which I know is full of promise, hope, and joy.
We do not know what restoration for us at John Knox looks like in the future. Only, God knows.
Thanks be to God.