Should I fear anyone?
The Lord is a fortress protecting my life.
Should I be frightened of anything?
When evildoers come at me trying to eat me up—
it’s they, my foes and my enemies,
who stumble and fall!
If an army camps against me,
my heart won’t be afraid.
If war comes up against me,
I will continue to trust in this:
I have asked one thing from the Lord—
it’s all I seek:
to live in the Lord’s house all the days of my life,
seeing the Lord’s beauty
and constantly adoring his temple.
Because he will shelter me in his own dwelling
during troubling times;
he will hide me in a secret place in his own tent;
he will set me up high, safe on a rock.
Now my head is higher than the enemies surrounding me,
and I will offer sacrifices in God’s tent—
sacrifices with shouts of joy!
I will sing and praise the Lord.
Lord, listen to my voice when I cry out—
have mercy on me and answer me!
Come, my heart says, seek God’s face.
Lord, I do seek your face!
Please don’t hide it from me!
Don’t push your servant aside angrily—
you have been my help!
God who saves me,
don’t neglect me!
Don’t leave me all alone!
Even if my father and mother left me all alone,
the Lord would take me in.
Lord, teach me your way;
because of my opponents, lead me on a good path.
Don’t give me over to the desires of my enemies,
because false witnesses and violent accusers
have taken their stand against me.
But I have sure faith
that I will experience the Lord’s goodness
in the land of the living!
Hope in the Lord!
Be strong! Let your heart take courage!
Hope in the Lord! -Psalm 27 (CEB)
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and from the Holy Spirit, our Comforter. Amen.
Throughout this season of Lent, we’re doing a little gardening. Cultivating those things that bring us into deeper relationship with God and letting go of those things that separate us from God or keep us from being the wholehearted (or shalom) people God intends us to be. We’re using a different psalm each week, along with The Gifts of Imperfection, a book written by contemporary sociologist and researcher, Dr. Brene Brown.
Last week, our topic was on Cultivating Calm and Stillness and Letting go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle, using Psalm 92. Tonight, we are looking at Psalm 27 and focusing on how we might let go of numbing and powerlessness and begin to cultivate a more resilient spirit.
Resiliency has been a growing area of study since the early 1970’s. It arose out a desire by professional caregivers to better understand why and how some folks are better at bouncing back from hardship than others. As Dr. Brown has analyzed the data she’s collected in her research, she has noticed that many of the people she identified as living wholehearted lives described living lives of resilience.
As part of my own process to become a pastor, my candidacy committee requested that I seek out grief counseling to deal with the death of my sister, which had happened some 3-4 years before I applied. In the course of that counseling, which wasn’t the first time I sought help, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, as you might know it. I was diagnosed with this because of the extensive amount of loss I had experienced in my life, beginning with my father’s death when I was 14. Yet, even though I was given this diagnosis, my counselor also indicated that I was very resilient.
So, what is it that makes one resilient? In Dr. Brown’s research, she has found that resilient people primarily have five “protective factors.” Resilient people are resourceful and have good problem-solving skills. They are more likely to seek help. They also hold the belief that they can do something that will help them manage their feelings and to cope. They have a social support network available to them. And, as part of that network, they are connected with others, such as family and friends.
Yet, in all of the stories, what Dr. Brown identified as most common wasn’t resilience. But, spirit. According to the people she interviewed, the foundation for these five “protective factors” - the things that made them "bouncy" - was their spirituality. Now this spirituality wasn’t necessarily tied to a particular religion or theology, but it was a shared and deeply held belief that we are all inextricably linked to each other by a power that is greater than all of us. And that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.
Out of this foundation of spirituality, then, three other significant patterns emerged as essential to resilience. The wholeheartedly resilient people Dr. Brown interviewed cultivated hope, practiced critical awareness, and let go of numbing. Numbing is what we do, consciously and unconsciously, to take the edge off our vulnerability, our discomfort, and our pain.
If you have a Bible or a hymnal near you, I’d invite you to turn to Psalm 27, our reading for tonight. Notice in the first verses, the confidence and faith of the psalmist. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?” And in verse 5: “For in this day of trouble God will give me shelter, hide me in the hidden places of the sanctuary…” Last week we learned that the temple - where God was present, was a place of safety. Of sanctuary.
The psalmist continues in this confidence and trust in God through to verse six. But, then, the tone changes dramatically. Beginning with verse 7 and continuing through to verse 14, the trust of the psalmist is tested by enemies. Look at verse 12: “Subject me not to the will of my foes, for they rise up against me, false witnesses breathing violence.” The psalmist is being persecuted and innocently accused. In the words of Dr. Brown, this psalmist is critically aware of his reality. He is also fully immersed in his own fear, particularly, the fear that God has cast him away. He is fully vulnerable. Yet, even in the midst of his reality and fear and vulnerability, the psalmist continues to practice hope. Believing, as we note in verse 13, that he will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
The psalm closes then, not in the psalmist’s own words, but with a word from the Lord - an “oracle of salvation” in verse 14. The answer to his prayer: “Hope in the Lord! Be strong! Let your heart take courage! Hope in the Lord.”
This spirituality - this belief in our interconnectedness, both with each other and with God, is what brings perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives. It is at the heart of resiliency. It requires that we are deliberate about caring for ourselves and for others. It requires that we be inspired - that the light of Christ reside within us. And, finally, it requires that we get going. That we engage in daily meditation and prayer so that that light might grow, that our belief and our hope in God might continue and be strengthened. So that we might become the resilient, wholehearted, shalom people God desires us to be.
May God make it so. Amen.
Preached March 20, 2019, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Midweek Lenten Worship
Reading: Psalm 27