Sermon: The Southern Spiritual Practice of Ponderin’
Scripture: Psalm 107.1-9, 43
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Pres Fort Lauderdale
Date: August 4, 2019
Today is communion Sunday, and frankly, I cannot be more grateful. I awoke this morning at four and scanned the news while waiting for the coffee to finish brewing and saw the new headline, “Ten Dead in Dayton” as some guy shot up a bar last night in Ohio. Thirty people dead and some fifty others wounded in the last twenty-four hours from violence. Today is communion Sunday, and frankly, I cannot be more grateful. The meal gives me comfort during a time when I feel unsettled. It gives me hope to look forward to the time when violence of any kind will be no more than a sad recollection of the way things used to be. It gives me grounding and stability to remain steady and focused while cultural earthquakes from politics, scandals, and illness plague the community we live in and in the lives of those you and I love. Yes, today is communion Sunday, and frankly, I cannot be more grateful.
Our scripture this morning is from Psalm 107:1-9, 43. It’s a wonderful foil to our Gospel reading in Luke 12.13 ff. where Jesus is talking about building bigger barns for our wealth only to die and realize we cannot take it with us. Our psalm this morning reminds us that what’s really crucial in our life is not our money, our stuff, or our things; what matters in our life is God’s steady, consistent loving grace even when our life feels most out of control. Hear the Word of the Lord from Psalm 107.1-9, 43:
1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
those he redeemed from trouble
3 and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.
4 Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to an inhabited town;
5 hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
6 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress;
7 he led them by a straight way,
until they reached an inhabited town.
8 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
9 For he satisfies the thirsty,and the hungry he fills with good things.
43 Let those who are wise give heed to these things,
and consider the steadfast love of the Lord.[i]
Our psalm is one that is focused upon God’s sustaining love in our lives and in our world even when we open the news and learn of another 10 people dead overnight. Psalm 107 is a Hebrew song that begins and ends with an ascription to God’s love. In verse 1, we hear how we are to give thanks for the Lord is good and his unmerited love endures forever. The psalm bookends itself with verse 43: Let the wise pay attention to these things and reflect upon the sustaining, unmerited love from the Lord. As a reader of the text, we are forced to pause and ask, “what things are we supposed to pay attention to?”
When news of El Paso and Dayton come to our attention, when we learn the news our loved one of four decades is fighting an incurable illness, when we in our joy of being
pregnant suffer the hell of a miscarriage, the psalmist is asking us to do the counterintuitive thing and invites us to sit with and ponder our difficult moment on the one hand, but also sit with the remembrance of God’s consistent, repetitive expressions of grace to us when our life has been hard in the past. Although our portion of the psalm only addresses those who are hungry and thirsty, three other stanzas of the song 107 address issues of being bound and persecuted, being sick nigh unto death, and what it’s like to be cast upon an angry, chaotic sea where no hope seems visible. In each instance, the psalm gives us a way to respond to our lives’ crises and disappointments. We see it in our text today.
First, the psalmist declares the presenting problem to God. Verses 4 and 5 says the people were wandering around the desert finding no home to live in while suffering from thirst and hunger.
Second, verse 6 has the psalmist lifting up those concerns to the Lord with tearful cries for help.
Third, verse 6 flows into verse 7 with a description of how the Lord answered their prayer and leads them to a new home.
Fourth and finally, 8 and 9 are a call to remember to give thanks to God for their deliverance in the midst of trouble.
This pattern of the description of adversity, a crying out to God for help, a reminder how the Lord answers prayer, and a call to remember God’s faithful love is repeated three other times in our psalm this morning. Perhaps we are to learn something from this. Let’s look at a moment in Jesus’ life that where we can see this pattern at play.
Jesus’ adult life was filled with conflict, backstabbing, gossip, and violence. On the night he was betrayed, we see him fall on his face crying with tears of blood asking God that the calamity about to break open to be taken from him. Even though Jesus may not be aware of it or sense it at the moment, God the Father was already working on answering the prayer. We see Jesus fall victim to an unjust political, cultural and spiritual system that nails him to a tree. We may feel God has ignored his prayers and has remained silent. But as we ponder upon Jesus’ life, we realize it’s not the end of the story yet. We hear him utter his last breath, “It is finished”, but then three days later rise again to new life! God was answering Jesus’ prayer for help in ways Jesus did not originally see or know. Our Lord’s Supper, our celebrating communion, is our way of entering the ancient drama of this cycle.
We bring our lives as swirly as they are to God in prayer. We come to the Table awaiting the answer to those prayers and as we eat of the bread and drink from the cup, we add our hopeful voice to the pattern of the psalm as we thank God for his steadfast love which endures forever…
…in spite of senseless death;
…in spite of senseless illness or miscarriage;
…in spite of lost jobs and dashed dreams.
In the midst of our chaos moments when we cry for help and wonder if our prayers are falling on deaf ears to the Holy One in heaven, we look through the pain as Jesus did and know we will once again dine with the Lord and those who have gone before us; the Lord’s Supper is our waystation reminding us of this. Our prayers will be answered faithfully and lovingly, and yet, it takes discipline on our part to experience or hear those answers.
This morning I invite us to look at the Supper as a way to participate in and experience the Southern spiritual practice of pondering. Those of us in the South realize there is a reason for porches and patios under the cool of the shade. It gets too hot to really do anything so we have designed our living places with outdoor spaces we can just go and sit awhile in a rocking chair, brush off the mosquitos and ponder life. We watch the sunsets from our rocking chair and listen to the rain pound on the roof while we sit on the porch just listening, waiting, smelling the air, and pondering. Porch time, pondering time is the Southern spiritual practice of being present with God. It’s calling out and naming our needs and our hurt. It’s a lifting those needs to God in prayer. And this is the important part to the spiritual practice of pondering: In the midst of the current chaos we are undergoing, we remember how the Lord through the community, this community, has answered our prayers in the past. God always answers prayer but we often do not sit and ponder on how God might be doing that in our life right this moment. We might not see it right away just like Jesus didn’t that night he was betrayed, but pondering is the practice by which we know that God’s love is consistent and true and will not change or leave us. The promise is that through the consistent spiritual practice of pondering, we will begin to hear, see and experience those Divine answers.
What ails you, my friends? Let’s come and ponder at the Table together, lifting our cries to God and practice together how we can hear the answers. So be it.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Pres Fort Lauderdale
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
[i]New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.