Preparing for Joy

Psalm 126. A Song of Ascents.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
    like the watercourses in the 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.

By John Grimm

Grief takes time to work through.

Tears will arrive when they are least expected.

Misfortune can zap our dreams.

Yet the Lord has his means of restoring us.  If we have not given up, if we have not succumbed to the weeping, and if we have not been swallowed up in tragedy, then we can know how the Lord can restore us.  Some of us are cynical.  Some of us have cut ourselves off from any good because we have experienced much tragedy in our lives.  Some of us have stopped dreaming.

It is good to dream.  How can we have our fortunes restored?  How will God give us joy for which we can shout? Throughout the generations, people have paid attention to the Lord. When people pay attention to the Lord, then we see God restoring us.  That brings us joy!

We need not only have joy during Advent and Christmas.  There are more weeks to the year than the weeks of Advent.  Joy can be our shout every week of the year!  For we can notice the great things God has done for us, even if times are bad. 

Lord, we know people who have stopped dreaming.  We know that you can restore joy to each person and each nation.  May we know joy in our lives as we see you restoring us and our fortunes that are found in you alone.  Fill our lungs so we may give shouts of joy, even today!  In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

To Console and Comfort

Job 2:11-13 (NRSV)

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.


By John Grimm

In the United States of America, when a loved one dies, we typically receive three days of bereavement time from our employers.  When a friend dies, we will make time to pay our respects to the family.  Either way, we will gather at the grieving person’s house.  We will reminiscence about the good times with the deceased loved one.  We somehow make it through those days, being able to console and comfort the grieving family.

Job’s friends came to console and comfort him.  They wept loudly; they threw dust on themselves; they tore their clothes.  Then for seven days and nights, they only sat with him.  This last mode of consoling and comforting a grieving person seems appropriate for today.  Sitting with the grieving family without saying a word is wise.

It is when we begin to accuse and blame that we have lost the practice of consoling and comforting.  The grieving person will express a range of emotions, from deep anger to praise.  They will have regrets and sweet memories.  As for Job, he could express himself, and did express himself, despite his friends’ words of accusation.

How wise would we be if we only sat with the grieving people?  How wise would we become if we refrain from accusations when we see family and friends grieving?

God of wisdom, thank you for your consolation and comfort during our grief.  Thank you for helping us to learn to grieve with those who are grieving.  Forgive us for speaking out of turn when we could be silent when we sit with those who are grieving.  May we have hearts and ears to hear the pain of grief. May we have the patience to see those who are grieving through the time of intense grief.  In the name of Jesus, we ask for wisdom when it comes time to console and comfort.  Amen.

What Miracles Accomplish

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Demons and Deafness.” It will be based on Mark 7:24-37. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: Luke 18:27

[Jesus] replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”


By Chuck Griffin

Why might we seek a miracle?

We do pray for miracles, particularly when lives seem to be in jeopardy. As we move toward Sunday, however, we need to consider the purpose of miracles.

If we seek miracles strictly to bypass suffering or impending grief, we likely are missing their larger point. Certainly, when we are praying over an immediate, very personal crisis, our minds might not be processing broad theological concepts. But that is simply an argument for thinking about such matters in calmer moments, so we can better understand what it is we are seeking when times of crisis come.

An important fact to remember: As far as we know, every person Jesus healed from illness, brought out of a tomb or raised from a deathbed or funeral bier died later. If we look at these miracles simply as stories of what these people escaped, then Jesus’ work had temporary effects.

Miracles do so much more, however. First, they are evidence of God’s presence in a world where we otherwise see things as if “in a mirror, dimly,” to quote Paul. (1 Corinthians 13:12.) For just a moment, divine possibilities shine through, and the presence of the dawning Kingdom of God is easily, if briefly, seen.

Miracles were signs of God’s presence in Jesus. Miracles are signs of God’s presence in the church, by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

We also should understand that miracles come with responsibilities, both for their recipients and their witnesses. Someone needs to testify as to what has happened!

Belief also should naturally spread in the wake of miracles. It is a response we see throughout the Bible. God is seen, and therefore, people change their lives dramatically as they begin to believe.

Lord, we are not afraid to pray for miracles, and we pledge to testify to what we have seen as we receive them. May lives be changed! Amen.

At the Funeral

Psalm 130
A Song of Ascents.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
    Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
    to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
    so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than those who watch for the morning,
    more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
    from all its iniquities.

By John Grimm

When attending a United Methodist Church member’s funeral, we most likely have heard this psalm read during the “Entrance” of the Service of Death and Resurrection.  This service is found in the United Methodist Hymnal, 870, and the Book of Worship.  After acknowledging our grief, this psalm is read.  It is both a confession of sin and an expression of hope.

As we are all created equal by God, hearing this psalm read at numerous funerals is appropriate.  To humbly ask the Lord for something can be hard.  It is at funerals of our loved ones and friends that we seem to be begging for hope for our life without the departed.  As this psalm moves toward hope, it sets the tone for the rest of the service as Old and New Testament Lessons, Psalm 23, and a Gospel reading are read during a funeral.  It is these lessons that draw out what hope in Jesus Christ looks like.

We know our sins.  Our iniquities are ever before us.  Our transgressions weigh us down.  By going to God in prayer, we confess our wrongs.  This psalm reminds us of the Lord who redeems and forgives.  That is where hope comes, knowing that the Lord redeems and forgives us, and our departed loved ones.

Almighty God, thank you that when we cry out to you, you hear our confessions.  It is by your steadfast love that we have hope.  We thank you for forgiving and redeeming us.  Our hope in you is what carries us through times of grief.  Thank you that Jesus is our hope.  It is in Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.