Sunday Devotion

Sunday, March 15, 2020
Pastor Megan Torgerson

Psalm 30

Hello, everyone – while I’m glad to be with you digitally, I do wish I could be with you in person.  Thank you all so much for understanding our difficult, unprecedented decision to cancel all church events until further notice.  We want you all to be healthy and well.  We want to do everything we can to help support you as you go through this chaotic time.  For now, that means closing our doors and encouraging you to stay home, wash your hands, stay calm, and keep everyone affected close in your prayers – especially health care providers, grocery store employees, and those most directly involved.

While we’re closed, the Augustana staff is going to try a variety of ways to support you and your faith, especially in a time when holding tight to our trust in God means so much.  Today, that means that I will share these words with you in a few ways.  First, it is posted as an audio clip on the Augustana website where we normally post sermon audio.  Second, it will be recorded as a Facebook video.  We’ll try to do the same with Instagram.  We’ll continue trying ways to use digital resources to offer you devotions, prayer, and reflection.  We’ll do our best to keep you updated on that.  Remember that we’re doing this all for the first time, so bear with us.  If you have practical resources or experience on recording or live streaming to offer, you’re welcome to email or call me at the church office.

Our community does a lot of stuff when we get together on Sunday.  We pray and sing and hear God’s word, certainly, but also so much more.  Sundays in worship are when we most regularly offer our financial gifts to God in praise for all God has given us.  Because we’re not gathering for worship for a few weeks, I invite you to find other ways to share your offering.  If you are still able to give to the church, you can give online; just click on the “Give” tab on the website.  Call the church office this week if you need help setting up your online payment or your automatic withdrawal.  You can also simply mail your check in.

Don’t forget that March is still MN Foodshare Month.  We welcome your gifts of pounds of food or dollars this month.  Our hungry neighbors are going to need these contributions all the more when jobs and income are in question for so many.  Please consider dropping off your gifts here at the church; currently, the church office will still be open regular hours, but feel free to call ahead and make sure.

And now – let’s breathe.  Take a good, full breath.  Wherever you are, whatever room you’re in, whatever is going on in the background, that’s okay.  God is right there with you.  Breathe in your trust in God’s presence – breathe out and release your worries and anxieties.  We are a community of faith together, no matter what separates us, and no virus can change that.  God goes with us in all these uncertainties and promises never to leave with.  With that assurance, please pray with me:

Hear, Lord, and be merciful to us; Lord, be our help.  You have promised to grant us wholeness and be with us when chaos overwhelms.  Send your Holy Presence to us now, for while we are apart in body, we are united in spirit.  Make this a time of worship and renewal to the glory of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Our reading for today is from Psalm 30.  If you want to pull out your Bible you can; I realize you probably aren’t prepared for that right now.  In the future, you might want to have your Bible with you when you watch and listen the videos.  For now, it’s okay to just hear.  I’m reading Psalm 30 from the New International Version:

I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths

and did not let my enemies gloat over me.

Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.

You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;

you spared me from going down to the pit.

Sing the praises of the Lord, you God’s faithful people; praise the holy name.

For our Lord’s anger lasts only a moment, but God’s favor lasts a lifetime;

weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.”

Lord, when you favored me, you made my royal mountain stand firm;

but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.

To you, Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy:

“What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit?

Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness?

Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.”

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

This is God’s word, and it gives life.  Thanks be to God.

If you’re reading along in your own Bible, you might notice that the heading on this psalm in reads something like, “Thanksgiving for Recovery from Grave Illness”.  When our hearts and minds are so focused on an illness that is so frightening and unknown, it’s good for us to remember that these physical bodies that God made for us give God joy and delight.  We are made in God’s image, and what happens to these bodies matters to God.  It’s okay to come to God with prayers for wellness, healing, and miracles.

What I really love about this psalm, though, is that while it reads like one who has recovered from a serious, dangerous time – perhaps even a terrifying illness – the most important part of this psalm is choice to center in thanksgiving to God.  When we think of our prayer lives, we often think of those things that need God’s action: places of sickness, brokenness, and faithlessness.  We are called to petition God in our need, and you should never second-guess that.  However, Psalm 30 reminds us that there is a companion piece to that relationship of prayer.  We are also called to lift our thanks up to God.  God promises to care for us, and we are invited to celebrate those times that we have known God’s goodness in this way.

When you read a psalm, it helps to know what kind of psalm it is.  Psalms are often categorized by whether they’re a personal expression or a group one – like is it a private prayer or is it meant to be used in worship.  Psalms can also be lament psalms or praise psalms.  Lament psalms spend time giving voice to our suffering, asking for God’s immediate response, and expressing our fears.  Lament psalms are very appropriate in uncertain and sometimes-scare times like this.  However, praise psalms are, too.  Praise psalms give God glory simply for who God is and what God does.  Lament psalms point us to praise psalms, and we miss out if we don’t have them both.

And so I invite you, right now, to consider: when is a time that you felt like the person in this psalm?  Can you recall a time when it felt like you were in the darkest depths, in the pit, feeling like God had hidden from you, that your weeping had lasted all night?  What got you through?  As you look back, how was God acting throughout that difficult, terrifying time?  Where was God in the midst of that chaos?  If God had been good then, what’s stopping you from trusting God to be good now?  What do you know and trust about who God is and what God does that will help you choose hope?

This praise psalms reminds us to thank God.  First, because God is worthy.  It is always worth it to give God our glory and to celebrate God’s love for us.  But it’s also important for us to thank God because it reminds us that God has done good things, is doing good things, and will continue to do good things, all the time, no matter what.  Thanks be to God.

As part of today’s devotion, I have some work for you. It might feel a little weird to be so out-of-rhythm in our usual pattern of life these days.  You might be wondering what you can actually do right now when so much seems out-of-control.  In confusing and fast-moving times, we can sometimes feel at a loss.  I want to make a few suggestions for you for things you can do to keep putting your trust in God, sharing your faith, and being a good neighbor, even in an era of social distancing.

Today’s assignment is to call someone.  Get your Augustana directory and look up someone who could probably use a call – either as a check-in or to offer a little companionship over the phone.  Call up a family member and see if they need anything, including a prayer.  Call up a friend and see if they’ll let you talk through some of your anxieties.  Make contact.  Just like we miss out on offering when we don’t meet in person, we also miss out on fellowship.  Be intentional today about reaching out to people.  Even a simple phone call can mean the world.

Next, take some time to set up a daily faith practice.  Maybe it means doing the Faith 5 with your family, maybe it means dusting off the devotional book on your bedside table, maybe it means finding the faith practice cards we’ve handed out this year – whatever it is, now is a great time to rediscover that regular, consistent prayer, scripture reading, and devotional time can really help center your day and connect you with God.  When everything seems to change so quickly, let this help you hear God’s comforting voice.

Finally, remember to check back.  We’ll do our best to give notice about how and where we’ll continue to support you even while the church doors must be closed.  Check the church website, Facebook, Instagram, and your emails while we offer whatever we can so that we can support you and you can care for each other.

Please pray with me:

God, our Creator: care for our wellness in body and spirit, and bless those on the frontlines of medical care.

God, our Savior: forgive us for the ways our fear makes us angry, cruel, or uncaring.

God, our Sanctifier: make this time holy, that our changed schedules would remind us of what is most important and your central place in our lives.  Amen.

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