Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
“The Lord is my light and my salvation.” “One thing I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord.” “’Come,’ my heart says, ‘Seek God’s face!’ Your face, Lord, do I seek.” “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
There are so many gems in Psalm 27, we could spend hours together reflecting on its beauty and power. So many gems that you might be hard pressed to pick just one or two lines to memorize, if you’re taking on that challenge I issued a couple of weeks ago, and trying to learn by heart at least a few verses of a few different psalms over the course of the summer. At the very least, I encourage you to read this psalm again sometime this week and allow yourself the time to notice which words and phrases most grab your attention, where you pause, where you circle back and want to read again.
I’ve read Psalm 27 each morning this past week, and each time a different part of the chapter has spoken to me. Rather than always trying to read through a larger segment of the Bible more quickly, I enjoy sometimes sticking with a single chapter like this for awhile. It’s amazing how God’s word can speak to us in new ways when we give it that kind of time and space. You might consider doing this too, at some point, either with this psalm or another.
There are so many beautiful, encouraging words here in Psalm 27… but you may also have noticed that’s not all that’s here. The psalmists weren’t shy about enemy talk, and they certainly didn’t pull any punches when it came to talking about the hardships of their lives. So there are verses scattered throughout this psalm that aren’t as lovely and comforting and peaceful as others. But even this can be a gift to us. The psalms, after all, offer us prayers that aren’t necessarily prettied up for prime time. They are in some cases quite raw, actually, because the psalmists are unafraid to bring before God the honest state of their lives. “Here, God, here’s all of it. Have at it!” So we do hear in Psalm 27 about evildoers, adversaries, and foes. We hear about armies encamped against this individual, and about those who are breathing violence and telling lies. It’s all there, painful and angry emotions right along with words of trust. Which means it’s ok if that’s what our own prayers are like too. We have considerable biblical precedent for calling it like we see it, when speaking to God.
Even words in this psalm that might not strike you or I at first as conveying anything particularly painful can hold up under considerable emotional weight. I remember well a conversation with a member of another congregation who told me Psalm 27 was her favorite. I expected her to speak about those soaring lines at the beginning about God’s light and salvation, but she explained that she actually found the greatest comfort in verse 10. It turns out she had been raised by parents who were terribly cruel to her. So whereas you or I might gravitate to a different verse in this psalm, she took refuge in verse 10: “If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” Would that she hadn’t had that awful experience as a child, but how moving that the psalm could speak to her and give her confidence in that way. Again, gems all over the place here…
Not only can it be helpful to reread a single chapter several times over the course of a given week, I also recommend coming back to familiar passages months and years later to see how God might be speaking a new word to you for a new season of your life. The very same words in Psalm 27, for instance, could in one period of your life be a cheerful reminder to trust in God, a confident assurance of God’s presence with you everyday. Another time, you might be the one to find an absolute lifeline here, offering light in a time of darkness, or reminding you God won’t forsake you, no matter what others may do.
Personally, I find the conclusion of the psalm both encouraging and challenging, as it speaks to my overall impatience with God’s timing. “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Heaven knows, God doesn’t work according to our schedules. Even when our prayers are ultimately answered in the way we hope they will be, they aren’t always answered quickly. And what about the times when it seems for all the world like we aren’t going to get an answer at all? The psalmist urges us not to give up hope. “Be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
Each Sunday during this summer series, I’m trying to provide an opportunity to engage our psalm for the day in a different way than you may have done in the past. This morning, we are again trying something new. There are two prayer stations up front you may make use of over the next several minutes if you wish. At one, you will be invited to reflect on the first verse of Psalm 27 – “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” At the other, you’ll be invited to reflect on the final verse – “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” And at each of the two stations, there is an opportunity for a very simple symbolic action that can be part of your prayer this morning as you reflect on the psalm, one that involves lighting a candle, one that invites you to select and bring home a small prayer stone.
This exercise is of course completely optional. You are equally welcome to visit one station, or both, or neither. You may also remain seated, open your Bible to Psalm 27 and do as we did a couple of weeks ago, simply selecting a line or two to begin to memorize during these quiet moments of reflection.
Remembering that we are always in God’s presence, let us pray…
Instructions at Prayer Stations:
A) “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” – Psalm 27:1
Consider one fear that is weighing you down. Light a candle as you silently hand over that fear to God, remembering that the Lord is your light and salvation.
Is there an area of darkness in your life? Where do you most need God’s light? Light a candle, asking God to bring light to that dark place, remembering that the Lord is your light and salvation.
B) “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; Wait for the Lord!” – Psalm 27:14
Take the prayer stone you most need from the bowls before you (strength, courage, or patience) praying that God would allow you to be strong, to take courage, and to wait for the Lord. Bring the prayer stone home with you, as a reminder to return to the words of Psalm 27.
At conclusion of reflection time:
Hear, O Lord, the prayers of your children in this place. Be gracious to us and answer us. ‘Come,’ our hearts say, ‘Seek God’s face!’ Your face, Lord, do we seek. We have heard your invitation not to fear, but to be strong, to take courage, and to wait for you. Help us to know with ever-greater certainty that you, and you alone, are our light and salvation. Amen.