Last week we explored the hard reality of disorientation and the importance of coming to God in those times. Before we begin looking at reorientation, let us take a moment to acknowledge the fact this has been a year of disorientation for Clackamas Park Friends. We live in a society that is characterized by denial and the cover your rear mentality, which destroys the space where honesty and forgiveness can exist. Expressing the reality of disorientation is a countercultural witness to the healing power of honesty. Next week you will have the opportunity to express in creative ways some of your own experiences with orientation, disorientation and reorientation. I want to encourage you to share the uncomfortable stuff and get in the practice of worshipping God with your whole self. One of the encouraging truths the Psalms share with us is that disorientation is not a permanent state. New life blossoms right when it seems all hope is gone. One thing important to note is that there’s no return to the simple faith that says bad things can’t happen. God will never call us to deny reality. Our faith must then grow to encompass the reality of disorientation and when the storm passes, to praise the God who brought us through it.
A Psalm. A Song at the dedication of the temple. Of David.
1 I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
3 O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
4 Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment;
his favour is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
6 As for me, I said in my prosperity,
‘I shall never be moved.’
7 By your favour, O Lord,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.
8 To you, O Lord, I cried,
and to the Lord I made supplication:
9 ‘What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
O Lord, be my helper!’
11 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
Psalm 30 (NRSV)
This is our hope, not only that the storms of life pass, but that God is with us in those storms. The Psalms of Reorientation are, at their core, a witness to the good character of God. This witness has four forms in the Psalms: Personal and Communal Thanksgiving, Proclamation of God the King, Confidence that God will be faithful through future Disorientation, and Hymns of Praise.
The Thanksgiving Psalm tells of God’s faithfulness in seeing a person or community through a time of disorientation. These Psalms tell the story of God’s activity and have praise for God’s saving activity woven through them. One of the most referenced of these is Psalm 40 which begins by saying:
To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.
1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the desolate pit,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
When we come out the other side of disorientation and praise God for guiding us through, this Psalm reminds us of the results of our expression of trust in God: many will put their trust in the Lord. Isn’t that our highest hope? The psalms of thanksgiving that acknowledge our disorientation shows the world around us that we don’t have blinders on, that even though we see “the valley of the shadow of death” we “fear no evil.” Even in the psalms of thanksgiving, disorientation is acknowledged and Psalm 40, if we read on from where we stopped, ends with a renewed plea for rescue and help. We are constantly in flux between these states of orientation, disorientation and reorientation. In our reorientation we begin to see how God is present through everything, even those times when we feel abandoned by God. What a witness it is when we make it through the valleys and proclaim God’s faithfulness, and what an even more incredible witness it is when we start to head into another valley with praise and trust on our lips.
We can have that trust because God leads us. It is God that brings order out of the chaos, and as he brought Israel out from under the yoke of the pharaohs in the Exodus, so God is continually bringing his people out from under the principalities and powers of this world. Psalm 114 clearly shows that God’s reign extends beyond humanity to all of creation:
1 When Israel went out from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
2 Judah became God’s sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.
3 The sea looked and fled;
Jordan turned back.
4 The mountains skipped like rams,
the hills like lambs.
5 Why is it, O sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
6 O mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?
7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8 who turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water.(NRSV)
Whatever earthly political situation we find ourselves in as Christians, we are ultimately citizens of God’s kingdom and have a security that is not affected by the whims of earthly rulers. The earth itself trembles at God’s presence so what have we to fear from something as small as a mere government? In the Psalms of enthronement we can declare with Israel that no matter how benign or ill a government is, we are still under the authority of the ruler of creation and obey him above all else. It is easy to get caught up in the hype of an election year, and I know that people in this church are going to be casting their votes according to their conscience for both parties, but let me remind you that regardless of who wins the next election, our God reigns. Let me also remind you that there will be people in this church that will experience extreme disappointment no matter what, so let us be careful of the way we speak that we do not cause others to stumble.
So what is the result of thanking God for his provision during our times of disorientation and proclaiming his true place as ruler of creation? In these Psalms of reorientation we express the confidence that comes from having tasted and seen that the LORD is good. The most known Psalm of all declares these truths in confidence. This is one of those rare times that I will break out the KJV:
1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23)
This Psalm begins with a bold declaration that God is my shepherd, my leader, my ruler, and because of that fact I can have confidence as God leads me through the green pastures and the dark valleys. We can have confidence, not because everything is going to be wonderful, but because God is with us, and the very fact of God’s presence transforms every experience into an opportunity for redemption to spring into being.
We then come full circle to hymns of praise. No longer are we reliant on circumstance, but praise God freely through the good and ill as they come. When we pass through life’s storms, trials and temptations, having seen the redemptive hand of God, we can begin to praise God in all things as the Hebrew Apostle Paul exhorts us. The most familiar of these is Psalm 103 and it acknowledges that even though there are negative circumstances God is at his redemptive work and is worthy of praise.
1Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
2Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—
3who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
4who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.
7He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.
8The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.
10He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.
13As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
14For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust.
15As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field;
16for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
17But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,
18to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
19The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
20Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, obedient to his spoken word.
21Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers that do his will.
22Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Yes, there is hurt, sin and death in the world, but our God is greater than all those. Yes, there is injustice, and often it looks like success goes to the worst possible people, but God works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. He knows how we were made and has compassion on us mere mortals. We return to the base orientation with wiser eyes and a great humility, knowing and having experienced the grace and mercy of God. For those of us who attempt to follow Christ, this humility is multiplied as we read the earliest recorded Hymn of Reorientation in Phillippians 2:1-11
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NRSV)
We all wander into and out of disorientation. Christ before us also experienced the disorientations that all of us have felt, and he knew he could express that to his Father. He invites each of us to live a life that is more honest, to have the integrity to admit the times we feel disoriented, and to intentionally reorient ourselves to the reality of our God who chose to humble himself for our sake. It is my hope we all can share in this reorientation to Christ. I know that we stray from this ideal easily, but join me in prayer to ask the God of mercy and compassion to again fill us with that same love and mercy until it overflows into the lives of all those around us. Then we can join the witness of expressing our reorientation that even though we don’t understand why things happen the way they do, as we turn to Christ and follow his humble obedience, there will be hope. Join me in singing that old spiritual that reminds us of our hope of understanding better.