Dec 14, 2008
Scripture: Psalm 126
Sermon Title: "Restore!"
Hear now this story from Elie Wiesel, a well-known survivor of the Holocaust:
In Eastern Europe during the time of WWII there was a caretaker of a synagogue. It was his custom to prepare the place for worship each morning, then he would step up front and address the Lord in a strong, proud voice: "I have come to inform you, Master of the Universe, that we are here!"
After he said that, service would begin.
Then came the first massacre of the Jews, followed by others. Somehow the caretaker escaped.
He continued to run to the synagogue each morning, preparing the place for worship, and he would pound his fist on the lectern and announce "You see Lord, we are still here."
The morning after the last massacre, he did what he always did, sweeping, cleaning, and preparing the synagogue for worship.
He was the last living Jew in town. All the others were in concentration camps or had been killed.
Alone, in the deserted synagogue, he stood in the front, stretched out his hands in prayer and whispered, "Master of the Universe, you see? I am still here!"
He stopped, then continued in a sad, quite voice, "But you Lord, where are you?" (Limburg, p.148)
Have you ever felt like that caretaker? Like the world as you know it is disappearing around you?
That the people you know, love and grew up are gone?
That the only one left is you and God, and even God seems to be absent?
Have you ever found yourself asking those questions? Where are you, Lord? Why did you allow this to happen, Lord? Have you forgotten all about me and my family, Lord?
There’s a lot of people saying that in our country right now. A lot of people saying that in our state.
A lot of people sitting right here today who are thinking that.
We are not living during good times. Listen to the words being used: Recession. Depression. Bankruptcy.
On the eve of the New Year and we truly do not know where we will be. Our great nation may lose its footing and like Jack and Jill we could come tumbling down, breaking more then our crown.
What’s happening to our lending institutions?
What has happened to our world of academia?
What has happened to such assured businesses as GM, Ford, and the Gap?
How is it that Studio 28 is no longer open and operating? That Classic Chrysler has said goodbye?
How is it that unemployment is at a 25 year high?
How is it that we can each look around and name at least 10 people who are not here because either they have stopped coming, are too ill to come or have died?
It is as if we as a nation, a state, a church have been lifted up from an oasis of possibility and plenty and dropped down in an arid land in which the riverbeds have dried up and once fertile lands are now barren and brown.
"Master of the Universe, I have come to inform you that we are here!"
"You see Lord, we are still here."
"Master of the Universe, you see? A few of us are still here! But you Lord, where are you?"
In many ways, we are just like the people who first sang the words of Psalm 126. Like them, we are able to recall the good times, weep for what we do not have, and thirst for what we hope lies ahead in the future.
We, like the singers of Psalm 126, are a nation, a state, a church, that is living in the in-between.
And the word we need to hear, the word we need to shout, and the word we need to remind God about today is "Restore!"
Say it with me: "Restore!"
Psalm 126 is a deceptive song. It’s filled with words of jubilation and joy: mouths filled with laughter, tongues shout for joy, people recalling how they rejoiced when God did great things for them.
But don’t let it fool you. The first half of the Psalm is about a distant memory of what has happened and what God has done before.
But between verse three and four there is a pause, There is anticipation.
Then they say "Restore our fortune, O Lord, like the watercourses of 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."
Did you hear that? Can you hear the sorrow and sense of loss that is currently taking place?
Good times may have once been the norm, but now the people are weeping. Their life is like the arid land of Negeb.
The Negeb is a dessert region that experienced long summer drought. Dried up riverbeds, like old bones, crisscrossed the land, ghosts of their former selves.
In the Negeb lays no hint of water, the land dusty and brown. Only nomads and camels could sustain life there.
That is how the people feel. Dried, barren. It’s as if God has forsaken them and they are left lost and alone.
All they have with them are the memories their parents and grandparents shared about the wonderful things the Lord used to do.
All they have left are a collection of stories and scripture proclaiming the miracles that had happened long ago.
Now? Now all they have is their ability to recall. Now all they have is their ability to call upon the Lord "Restore" they say, "Restore."
Now all they have is their tears, and their ability to weep in their sorrow...
...Tears are a funny thing. As Americans we don’t like to cry. Not in public, not as men. As Americans we get uncomfortable when someone breaks down into tears. We either distance ourselves or talk the tears away or get them to shut up or say "stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about."
But tears are seen as something different in the Bible. Tears are seen as means of transformation and restoration..
Joseph is reunited with the brothers who once harmed him, and after weeping so loudly everyone can hear, he finds a way to forgive them and invites them to escape the famine and come live with him.
The Israelites are enslaved to the Egyptians and in their broken down state they cry to the Lord and God sends them Moses as a deliverer.
The people of Nineveh put on sackcloth and cry out to God, and when God sees how turned from their wicked ways, he changes his mind about wiping them out.
Jesus, upon finding out his good friend Lazarus is dead, weeps over his death and then goes about restoring him to new life.
And it is while Mary Magdalen stands in the garden weeping that the resurrected Christ speaks to her and calls out her name.
Restored. Restored. Restored. Restored.
So that’s what the people of Psalm 126 do: they weep. They cry. They moan. They imagine that their tears are seeds that they can plant.
They weep, in hopes and anticipation that God will restore them, just as God has done before, just as they believe God will do again and again.
For the good news is that as dry and arid as the Negeb may be, it doesn’t stay that way. For after the long summer drought, the winter rains begin.
And they are not just a drip here and a drop there. But the rains come down in an abundance, filling the dry river beds.
Suddenly they are now filled with fresh, running water. Water that courses through the country side, water that causes vegetation to grow, flowers to bloom; water that gives drink to the people, animals and birds of the air.
Water that makes the once barren land green and lush and wonderful.
No matter how long and dry the summer is, the promise of God’s restoration continues to come true. No matter how difficult things become, God has not forgotten, nor has God forsaken.
But we are not to sit by and take on a passive role. We are not to sit by and take on the role of victim.
But we are to find ways to survive. We are to find ways to escape the oncoming problems.
We are to find ways to continue worshiping God, stepping into his sanctuary, doing his work.
We are to continue to tell the Lord "See, we are still here."
We are to continue holding God accountable and asking "But where are you?"
And we are to continue lifting up the words of Psalm 126.
Restore, we call to God.
Restore, we cry out to the heavens, to remind God of what he has done in the past.
Restore our country we cry out with tears in our tears.
Restore our state we cry out with tears in our eyes.
Restore our economy we cry out with tears in our eyes.
Restore our schools we cry out with tears in our eyes.
Restore our local businesses, restore our jobs we cry out with tears in out eyes.
Restore our broken relationships, restore our homes, restore our family we cry out with tears in our eyes.
Restore our church, we cry out with tears in our eyes.
Restore Your church, we cry out with tears in our eyes.
As you restored our brother Joseph, as you restored our cousins the israelites, as you restored our friend Lazarus, as you restored the crucified Christ, restore us now, oh God, restore.
And maybe, just maybe, the more we humble ourselves, and the more we call upon God to restore us, the more we will find ourselves restored.
Perhaps the more we call upon God to restore us, the sooner we may find ourselves coming home carrying sheaves of glory, the more we will shout with joy.
Thanks be to God who does remember us and has not forsaken us, to the Spirit that fills our mouth with laughter and our tongue with song and for Jesus Christ who was born, crucified and resurrected so we may all celebrate the promise of eternal restoration.
Restore oh Lord, restore!