God as Change Agent

Psalm 40  (preached at Cherry Hill Community Presbyterian Church during a PULPIT SWAP)
Martin Luther King, Jr. was clearly a man who followed God. Many of us see him as a prophet who spoke a word calling for change, renewal and a re-ordering of values. His commitment to non-violence, his teaching, his actions, his willingness to even give up his life, all provide us with an echo of the life of another who spoke and lived peace, who gave up his life, the one we call Jesus, the Son of God.  Martin Luther King, Jr. echoes the life of Jesus.
Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesus himself stand squarely in the traditions of our Jewish forefathers and foremothers who wrote and lived the Old Testament. The psalms have served for centuries as the prayer and song book of the Bible, lifting up the joys, the pains, the praises, and the complaints to God out of the experience of every day life. Some psalms are laments, cries to God for help and consolation. Other psalms are thanksgivings, praising God for the way God has worked in the life of the writer, and in the life of the people of God. This morning I invite you to circle around this one particular psalm as we take a look at how it might be instructive for us in our life today as followers of Jesus who attempt to walk in the footprints of Martin Luther King, Jr.
This psalm, Psalm 40, is really two psalms in one. The first half is clearly a psalm of thanksgiving, of gratitude to God for the wonderful, uncountable deeds that God has already done in the life of the writer. The writer is grateful for God reaching down and pulling him (or her) out of the miry pit. One of the hymns in the Glory to God hymnbook was written by the Iona community in Scotland. It takes this psalm and puts it to music, describing the work of God in this way: “and God bent down to where I sank and listened to me there. God raised me from a miry pit, from mud and sinking sand, and set my feet up on a rock where I can firmly stand.”
Anyone who has been delivered from a miry pit lives in gratitude. When it is God who has rescued you, your outlook on life is very different. As we honor and give thanks today for the life and ministry of Martin Luther King, Jr., I am very acutely aware that there are still many people in this world, in this city, in this neighborhood, and maybe in this room, who are stuck in a miry pit of some kind or another. It might be the miry pit of a financial set back. It might be the miry pit of a loss of a loved one or friend. It might be the miry pit of a health crisis or ongoing condition. It might be the miry pit of a relationship under strain and stress, causing pain and suffering. We human beings have ongoing need to seek God to bend down to where we have sunk and listen to us. Again and again. Over and over.
The good news we find in this psalm is that God is a God of righteousness, a God of faithfulness, a God who offers salvation, who loves truly and truly loves. Where in your life have you experienced this God pulling you out of the miry pit? I went through a personal time of depression for some years when I first came to Baltimore. It seemed like every Sunday was a huge effort to bring any little bit of the gospel good news to a congregation waiting to hear it. Decisions were difficult. Sleep was elusive. I did not eat much. With God’s help, with people who surrounded me and lent a hand in various ways, with a doctor’s care, I climbed out of that miry pit and am grateful to have it behind me. I am grateful to God and to God’s hands and feet on this earth for pulling me out and setting me on a rock where I can stand firmly.
When God pulls you out of the miry pit, God sets a new song in your mouth, and you become a witness, a testimony to others, so that many will see how God works, many will come to put their trust in God. Another musical rendition of this Psalm was written and performed by U2, the Irish rock band, back in the 1980’s– listen to their words:
I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the mire and clay

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song

How long to sing this song
How long to sing this song

He set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm
Many will see
Many will see and fear

I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song

God changes the life of the writer of this psalm, bringing about a new song, a new outlook on life, a new way of connecting to God. Now he (or she) will speak up about the way God has acted, becoming a witness. Go back with me to your call to worship for this morning… we spoke aloud a portion of this psalm, the words which remind us of the amazing, uncountable acts of God.
The ending of this psalm moves into petition, asking God to help once again. We are reminded that because God has helped, or rescued, in the past, we can trust God to help us in the future. The attitude we carry impacts our reaction to troubles in this life. I think about the commitment to non-violence which Martin Luther King, Jr. absolutely insisted on. No rocks. No clubs. No retaliation even when others were choosing to use violence. It is such a difficult road to take, yet a road that follows our Lord Jesus.
In our city so filled with short tempers, easy access to guns, drug fueled animosity and revenge, we are called to maintain the attitude that trusts in a God who does bend down and listen, who does lift us up. Sometimes it seems like it takes a long time. We are ready for it to end, ready for peace, ready for a sabbath from violence. We must hold on to confidence in this God, find the ways God has already acted in our lives and give thanks, so that others will hear and see what a difference this God makes. Amen.

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