Psalm 84; Psalm 27; Luke 9:28-36
Wait for the Lord, whose day is near. Wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart. Waiting. It’s hard to wait, at least in the manner we mean in the song. There are a few ways to define “waiting.” According to one definition, to wait is to “stay where one is or delay action until a particular time or until something else happens” (google). In this sense, waiting is not the part with any meaning or any value. I think this is the common understanding of waiting. Waiting today involves just finding ways to amuse oneself, to get through the in-between part, to distract oneself, or to not have to make chitchat with those around you. This waiting is flipping mindlessly through Facebook or Instagram or the news while you wait for the train, or the metro, or in a line. This waiting tides you over until the good thing, the thing you are waiting for, arrives.
There’s another definition that, I believe, fits better with the song we sang about waiting on the Lord. To wait in this sense is “to remain in readiness for some purpose.” To remain in readiness for some purpose. Waiting on the Lord, then, is not a passive experience but something active; it’s being ready to encounter the presence of God.
Today we have three scriptures and each of these passages describes waiting on the Lord—dwelling, sitting, meditating in God’s presence. We see in each of them that waiting on the Lord is active, involving a readiness to encounter God’s presence in our hearts and lives.
Food is a necessity for life, a basic need. When it comes down to the bare essentials, we need food, water, clothing, and shelter to survive. There are other needs—social needs, personal growth—but these are difficult to work on when our basic needs aren’t met. It’s hard to support a friend or learn a new skill when you’re hungry.
It’s a bit puzzling to me, then, how often I forget to eat. Whether I’m working at home on my studies or I’m in class or doing research work, time ticks by. 11, 12, 1, 2, 2:30 and somehow I still haven’t eaten my sandwich or carrots or apple. I forget to do what nourishes me and sustains me—and my strength becomes sapped. Sometimes, I even get faint or a little woozy. I’m trying to get better at this, because I realize that my work suffers and I get less productive. Our bodies and minds are designed to be fueled.
Hunger. Yearning. Nourishment. These are themes that we see in one of today’s passages, but the focus isn’t on food. Our call to worship today came from Psalm 84. The psalm writer begins by singing about the beauty of God’s temple, then starts describing a yearning, a hunger within the soul. “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (vv. 1-2, NRSV). The implication here is that, beyond our basic needs, we have an inner need to commune with God. The psalmist continues, saying, even the birds recognize how wonderful God’s presence is. The sparrows are lucky, because they can build their nests in the Temple, making the place where God dwells their own dwelling place.
The psalmist also expresses that being in God’s presence is matchless in its worth. We sang these words: “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere” (v. 10). Why is God’s presence so valuable? Because the psalmist understands the LORD to be the source of life and strength—you can see this in the names that are used for God. God is called “the living God” and “a sun and shield,” the source of life, nourishment, warmth, and protection. Going up to God’s presence—spending even a moment is valuable, because the LORD’s presence is precious nourishment that the soul needs.
Lent is a time of focusing on God, encountering Christ in new ways as we head towards the triumphal entry, the last supper, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. During Lent, some people fast, limiting their food or temporarily cutting out other things like television or some other activity. Fasting (intentional fasting, not silly forgetting to eat like what I do) creates a longing. We long for what we cut out, whether food or sweets or meat or Netflix. The goal is to reorient that longing into a yearning for the presence of God.
In the sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, we read, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” How can we cultivate a yearning, a hunger for God’s presence during Lent this year? What can we do to remind ourselves that our souls need to be nourished by God’s presence, just as much as our bodies need nutrients to function? Waiting on the Lord is active, it involves a readiness to encounter God’s presence in our hearts and lives. Are you ready to wait on the LORD?
Rocks (resting in the steadfastness of God)
Some of you have been to our house before and have met our cats. Yes, this is a cat illustration. We have two cats, Scruff and Ursula. Scruff is all black and Ursula is all white. Scruff was in our family for more than two years when we realized his lonely heart needed a friend to play with. He’s pretty needy kitty, even getting mopey when we’re home but just haven’t held him enough. Scruff likes to be held by sitting like a baby facing outwards, in a slouchy way, with his back on our lap. He’ll often sigh a sigh of contentment and stretch out a little bit and close his eyes. I find human-animal relationships to be so marvelous and curious—this little furry being wants to be held by me. I’m not sure if he feels safe, likes the warmth, just loves being close to us, or all three. Whatever the reason, Scruff just wants to be held.
Our second psalm this morning is Psalm 27. The author, King David, begins by declaring who the LORD is: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (v. 1). In other words, David is saying, “God is safety and deliverance, the One who shows me the way and drives away the darkness. When God is my stronghold, the place where I find my solace and safety. I don’t need to fear” (paraphrase). David continues his song, saying that those who come up against him will fall. The reason? Because the LORD is his protection and deliverer.
Like Psalm 84, David also talks about spending time in the presence of the LORD. “This is what I ask, the only thing I’m seeking: to be able to spend time in God’s dwelling place for all of my life, to see the beauty of God’s presence, to learn from God. I know that when trouble comes, God will be my refuge and keep me safe; I’ll be hidden from view or set up high upon a rock” (paraphrase). David sings about immersing himself in God’s presence, being held by God, seeking the wisdom, safety, and strength that come from God.
When I sent in my sermon title to Care, a lot of things were still undefined (i.e. my sermon wasn’t written). But several images had stood out to me from the scriptures: sparrows nesting in God’s presence, rocks up high where no bad things can reach you, and the shining glory of the Transfiguration, which we’ll get to in a few moments. “Set me high upon a rock.” David seeks to be in God’s presence. He trusts that resting in God’s presence will be like a high rock, a place where no one and nothing can touch him. The psalm closes with words we sang for our prayer song this morning. David writes, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD” (vv. 13-14).
David was intentional about encountering God. Whether it was seeking God in the barren wilderness on the run from Saul, or listening to the words of a prophet Nathan and hearing about his sin, David’s heart was ready to meet God. In 1 Samuel and the book of Acts (13:22), David is referred to a person “after God’s own heart.” He sang, danced before God, asked the LORD for wisdom and protection, found quiet places in solitude, and prayed—as we read in Psalm 27—to dwell in the presence of God all the days of his life. In times of turmoil and doubt, David sought the LORD as his rock, the steadfast immovable force to cling to, that would give him hope even when it seemed like his enemies surrounded him.
When things are overwhelming and we feel like our legs will give out under us, whether spiritually or physically, whom do we cling to? Do we try to muddle through on our own strength? Or do we seek solace, wisdom, and strength from our Creator, the One who can give us a firm place to stand, who can hide us in the shelter of his tent and set us high upon a rock? Do we come to God in prayer, resting in God’s arms and trusting in God’s steadfastness? Waiting on the Lord is active, it involves a readiness to seek God’s presence, protection, and strength. Are you ready to wait for the LORD?
Shining Glory (God’s presence)
Our third and final passage this morning comes from the gospel of Luke. It’s a passage of mystery, of dazzling clothes and shining glory. Throughout the gospels, we see that Jesus likes to go up mountains and pray. He usually goes by himself but, this time, he picks three of the disciples to come with him. This prayer hike, however, doesn’t stay within the bounds of the expected.
Jesus’ disciples journey with him up a mountain, watching, waiting, and praying, and then getting pretty sleepy as Jesus continues praying. Peter, James, and John wake up from their sleepy prayers and, suddenly, they see a shiny face and white clothes; two guys long dead (Moses and Elijah?) are chatting with the teacher. A bright shiny cloud gets way too close for comfort and out of the cloud comes the voice of God. This is no ordinary prayer hike in the mountains. During this journey up a mountainside (referred to as the Transfiguration) an encounter with Jesus starts out ordinary but ends up extraordinary and a bit terrifying, with shining glory and the voice of God. In the transfiguration, the disciples encounter the holiness and presence of God—startling, breathtaking, and a little scary.
At times, I’ve noticed a hesitance in myself—and in others—to sit in the silence of God’s presence. It can be unnerving, coming before God in silence: you realize that you can’t hide from the One who made you and knows you. You don’t know what voice you’re going to hear out of the cloud. Yet as scary as silence can be, the disciplines of solitude and silence are ones that have brought some of the most depth to my inner life. Richard Foster writes that “It is in solitude that we come to experience the ‘silence of God’ and so receive the inner silence that is the craving of our hearts” (Foster, p. 102).
It is in the silence that I recognize that I am fully known, fully loved, fully cared for. It is in the silence when my hard heart starts to have its layers peeled back, when I start to see others’ good intentions and my own selfishness, when I feel the Spirit’s leading to pray or to act. It is in the silence and the solitude that I see I’ve been relying on myself, that I haven’t been so loving, that I’ve been consumed with frivolous things instead of yearning after God’s presence, which nourishes me and sustains me for love and action.
When we spend time in silence and solitude, when we go up the mountainside—whether it’s a quiet place in our apartment or our house, whether it’s a time we’re quiet on the train or in the car, or a few moments standing outside and staring at the trees during a busy day—when we do this, we open ourselves up to being transformed and seeing God work in our lives and the world around us. When we enter into silence and solitude, we can encounter the glory of God.
Sisters and brothers, how can we find ways to cultivate our souls during this Lent? How can we start yearning for God’s presence? Can we implement a fast to hunger and thirst for righteousness? How can we look to Christ for strength and solace amidst the turmoil of each day? What strategies can we find that center us, point us to the One who can hide us in the shelter of his tent and set us high upon a rock? How can we journey with Jesus up the mountainside, encountering God’s shining glory in silence and solitude? Waiting on the Lord is active, it is a readiness to encounter God’s presence and be transformed. Wait for the Lord, friends, be strong, take heart, and wait for the Lord. Amen.
Foster, R. (1998). A celebration of discipline. New York: HarperSanFrancisco.