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Psalm 42: Prayers for help

Hello, Friends,

     I know I am way behind sharing with you, but these past months have greatly altered our daily lives.  After I started working with the local UMC, my time use has shifted.  Anyway, I will continue to share whenever I can, and today is the sermon I gave on July 19.  Hope you are all well and know you are in my prayers even when I do not connect every week.


Summer with the Psalms:

Psalm 42–Prayers for help

     Growing up in the 1960s, music seemed to fill my world.  Mom and Dad sang in the church choir, so my brother and I sang in the choirs throughout our school years.  We wore those little white robes, too.  

     We also took piano lessons from Mrs. Updyke, who lived in Wellsville.  My cousins and I would even carpool from our Buell farms and have to sit on the front porch while we would wait through the half hour lessons one at a time.

     This was the time when the world seemed filled with strife–Vietnam and race riots filled the evening news.  And we farmed, so we had the typical ups and downs of drought, Army worms, weeds, and the flies that seemed to swarm the cattle constantly.

     Troubles are simply part of our life and music seemed to soothe the days.  And music changed a great deal during those years between World War II and the 1970s:  from big band music to the advent of rock and roll, from steel guitars of country to electric guitars of heavy metal.

     What did I pick?  Even though my very first cassette was Jimi Hendrix, I quickly settled into easy listening; and Simon & Garfunkel rose to the top of my listening.  Music lifts our spirits and are our prayers for help.  The psalms, with which we are spending our summer, are the ancient hymns filled with praise and prayers.  Please join me in prayer: 

Dear God, 

     When time gets tough and we seem lost,

     You are there.  

     When we feel alone, 

     You are there.  

     Open our hearts to your words,

    Knowing you are always there.  –Amen

                  Spending the summer with the psalms is spending the summer with music.  If there was ever a time we need to sing, it is now–and ironically that is one of the very things we are asked not to do during public worship for fear of spreading COVID-19.  That puts us in a bit of a predicament as the psalms were the earliest hymns of the Israelites, but we read them today and can ‘hear’ the lyrics in our minds.

     Therefore, since we can’t even reach out and pick up a hymnal while sitting in our pews, let me share words from one of its introductory pages which lists the directions for singing written by John Wesley in 1761.  The first one reads, “Learn these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.” 

     That line reflects what we know about Jesus and his knowledge of the psalms.  Even as a pre-teen, when he stayed behind in the temple “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”  (Luke 2:46) 

     Jesus learned and used the psalms in his ministry.  We need to follow his example and know the psalms well enough that we can turn to them when we face difficult times.  As Pastor Peter began this sermon series, he provided the daily scripture readings aligned to the six themes found in the psalms.

     Our first week focused on the wisdom psalms and the second week centered on the hymns of praise.  This week’s theme is prayers for help.  The human condition, as explained through various sources, simply means dealing with the positives and the negatives which are experienced throughout one’s life.  Knowing the psalms, provides us the words we need to manage the positives and negatives that pop up in our lives.  

     Just like when we were kids and we fell and scraped our knees, we turn to our parents for comfort, for wiping away the tears, for cleaning up the torn skin, and for assurance that we are going to be ok.  Turning to the psalms is going to our Father for comfort.  

As a deer longs for flowing streams,

     so my soul longs for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God,

    for the living God. (Psalm 42:1-2)

Words comfort us and for me these first two verses make my heart sing, because I am immediately taken back to my childhood on the farm.  The words trigger connections to my mom who loved the deer, the birds, the trees, the wildflowers and all nature.  These are my comfort images, so to speak.

     Throughout history, psalms have provided God’s people the words to express what ails them.  Psalm 42 was transformed into a hymn that is now included in numerous hymnals of various denominations including the Faith We Sing hymnal usually found in our pews–number 2025 to be exact.

     Marty Nystrom, a music graduate from Oral Roberts University, transformed this psalm in 1984 into the modern hymn we now use.  The opening words:

                  As the deer pants for the water

                  So my soul longs after You

                  You alone are my heart’s desire

                  And I long to worship You . . . 

This hymn and Psalm 42 have become connected to my own spiritual life because it takes me close to my own family experiences and Mom’s passion for the deer.  I see deer, and I hear these opening words of the psalm and the hymn.  I know the meaning of God’s presence in my life just like the deer turn to water for their sustenance.

      We must deal with the reality of life and it can exhaust us, physically and mentally.  Using the psalms can direct our energies to stay focused on God, to talk with God, and to trust God.  Psalm 3 tells us this:  

                  But you, O Lord, are a shield around me,

     My glory, and the one who lifts up my head. . . 

                  I lie down and sleep;

      I wake again, for the Lord sustains me.

When we are challenged with an ongoing issue, the days can be drained of any joy that we typically experience.  The sunshine can be clouded when we are facing a long-term problem.

     On the farm, there is always the looming concern of a drought.  The days, the weeks, and the months without rain can drain a farmer’s resolve and even love for nature.  Watching the crops struggle, wither, and fail makes an entire lifestyle difficult as it effects the land, the livestock, and even the soil itself. 

     Getting up each morning, knowing that there is nothing one can do to effect a positive change can destroy not just the farmer, but his entire family and even a community.  Trusting God is the shield. Does not that trigger another familiar hymn?  

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way

To be happy in Jesus,

But to trust and obey.” ( UMH #467) 

Trusting God makes it possible to lie down, sleep and wake again happy.

     Turning to the psalms guides us to find comfort and assurance in challenging times.  Even as a drought looms ahead of us even today, we know that the cycles of life continue.  The dry days may seem to last forever, but rain will once again soften the soil:

                  O God, you are my God, I seek you,

                       My soul thirsts for you;

                  My flesh faints for you,

                        As in a dry and wary land where

there is no water.

                  So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,

                       Beholding your power and glory.

                  Because your steadfast love is better than life,

                       My lips will praise you.

                  . . . for you have been my help,

                       And in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.  

[Psalm 63:1, 3 & 7]

These are the words David wrote while in the wilderness.  The trials of the ancient world are the same as those today.  The words build us up, give us confidence as we continue to manage the daily challenges.  

     In more recent history, but not specifically the last century, the challenges of the American slaves reflects how the psalms provided them the spiritual prayers and the comfort of a relationship with God.  Do you recognize these words?  

                  Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen;

                  Nobody knows but Jesus.

                  Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen; 

                  Glory hallelujah.

                  Sometimes I’m up; sometimes I’m down;

                  Oh yes, Lord.

                  Sometimes I’m almost to the ground; 

                  Oh yes, Lord.

                  Although You see me goin’ along,

                  Oh yes, Lord.

                  I have my troubles here below;

                  Oh yes, Lord.

                  What makes old Satan hate me so?

                  Oh yes, Lord.

                  He got me once and let me go;

                  Oh yes, Lord.

                  Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen;

                  Nobody knows but Jesus.

                  Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen; 

                  Glory hallelujah.

How many times have you thought the very same thing?  How many times have you turned to this hymn in your soul and sang it out loud?

     Turning to Psalm 34, we hear David teach us how to use the psalms and even how to teach the psalms as a way to deliver or to keep us from trouble

                  Come, O children, listen to me;

                       I will teach you the fear [respect] of the Lord.

                  Which of you desires life,

                       and covers many days to enjoy good?

                  Keep your tongue from evil,

                       and your lips from speaking deceit.

                  Depart from evil, and do good;

                       seek peace, and pursue it. (Psalms 34:11-14)

The psalms we study are filled hymns of praise and prayers for deliverance.  We are the 2020 version of humanity and there is the common reality of the human condition that exists since the beginning of humanity.  We experience the positives and the negatives of our earthly experience, and we can rely on these ancient words to keep us grounded in faith.

     Just as the American slaves lived through trying times, we all live through trying times.  Rely on the words of the psalms to guide us.  Rely on the lyrics of the hymns to deliver us from troubles and from our enemies.  David knew how difficult it is to defend one’s self:  

                  How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?

                       How long will you hide your face from me?

                  How long must I bear pain in my soul,

                       And have sorrow in my heart all day long?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?  

(Psalm 13:1-2)

Yet his words continue to show that remaining faithful will lead to triumph over the troubles and even over one’s enemies:  [

                  But I trusted in your steadfast love;

                       my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

                  I will sing to the Lord,

                       Because he has dealt bountifully with me. 

(Psalm 13:5-6)

     Spend time with the psalms, look up your favorite hymns, and listen to the music of our times knowing that we are never alone.  This is the final direction for singing that Wesley shared

Above all sing spiritually.  Have an eye to God in every word you sing.  Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature.  In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven. (UMH p. vii)

Today our troubles and our enemies are looming all around us.  Spending time with the psalms and with our hymns lifts us up and keeps us grounded.

     In closing, I cannot ignore another set of lyrics that surface

                  When you’re weary, feeling small

                  When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all, all

                  I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough

                  And friends just can’t be found

                  Like a bridge over troubled water

                  I will lay me down. . . 

                  I will comfort you.

These words from Simon and Garfunkel may never have been written in our ancient psalms or be found in our pew hymnals, but the lyrics are a prayer and God will be our bridge over troubled waters.  We long for God, especially when we are down and out, when we are on the street, when darkness closes in on us.

     As we close today, let us return to Psalm 42, but this time from Eugene Peterson’s 

                  A white-tailed deer drinks from the creek;

                  I want to drink God, deep draughts of God.

                  I’m thirsty for God alive. . . . 

                  “Why am I walking around in tears,

                       harassed by enemies?”  

                  They’re out for the kill, these

                       tormentors with their obscenities,

                  Taunting day after day,

                       “Where is this God of yours?”

                  Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?

                       Why are you crying the blues?

                  Fix my eyes on God–

                       Soon I’ll be praising again.

                  He puts a smile on my face.

                       He’s my God.

Let us close with this as our prayer:

                  Dear Lord, our God,

                  Thank you for the words of the psalms

                  Thank you for the words of the hymns

                       we sing today.

                  Thank you for these bridges

                      that carry us over troubled waters.

                  Let us sing out loud,

                       fixing our eyes on you.

                  Let our words be your words

                       so others may hear you speak.  –Amen.

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The sounds of Christmas: Harmony or Cacaphony

given on Sunday, November 30, 2014

Radio stations are playing Christmas songs, the familiar tunes create a background at all the stores, and the sounds of Christmas clearly remind us that we are getting ready for a very special celebration, a birthday party for Jesus.

The sounds of Christmas are everywhere:

  • the bells ringing at the red kettles of the Salvation Army,
  • ornaments jingle and jangle as they are carefully placed on the Christmas trees,
  • pots and pans bang around in the kitchen as cookies and candies are made in the kitchen, and
  • boxes and wrapping paper have a quieter sound, but it is a noise that adds to the sounds of Christmas.


How could anyone ignore Christmas with all the sounds surrounding us? Yet, for many, the harmonic sounds of Christmas are anything but delightful. For those who do not understand the significance of Jesus’s birth, the sounds become cacophonic.

Cacophony is “a harsh, discordant mixture of sounds” as explained by the American Oxford Dictionary website. Compare that to the definition of harmony which is “the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a pleasing effect.”

For those of us sitting in church on any typical Sunday morning, the sounds of Christmas tend to be harmonic. Hearing the familiar Christmas carols provide us a sense of goodness, an inner little giggle as we hear a favorite or watch as our kids or grandkids or even great-grandkids. The sounds set our mood, adds to our worship, and kids begin squealing with anticipation.

The harmonic sounds of Christmas are not so pleasing for some, and that is a concern for each of us. If the sounds of Christmas have become cacophonic for Christians, how harsh can those sounds seem to the unchurched, the non-Christians. In today’s secular world, the sounds of Christmas may stir up unanswered questions or unpleasant memories or dismal business situations.

The prophets of the Old Testament knew that a change was needed in order to stop the downward spiral that was separating the Israelites and God. The warnings were going unheard:

23 “What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for,” says the Lord.

Therefore, this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to these shepherds: “Instead of caring for my flock and leading them to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them. But I will gather together the remnant of my flock from the countries where I have driven them. I will bring them back to their own sheepfold, and they will be fruitful and increase in number. Then I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the Lord, have spoken!

The hymn, “Send Your Word,” shares the faithful’s cry to God. The secular noise surrounding the faithful in the Old Testament were so loud, so distracting the prophets warning was not heard. Today we can sing the hymn as a prayer for our world:

Send your Word, O Lord, like the rain, falling down upon the earth.

         Send your Word. We seek your endless grace,

         with souls that hunger and thirst, sorrow and agonize.

         We would all be lost in dark without your guiding light.

Are we, as Christians, part of the harmony of Christmas or are we part of the cacophony?

The sounds of Christmas surround us in so many different places. We hear them in our homes, in our cars, in the stores, and even in the various programs from schools to nursing facilities. Advent is a season of preparation; but for Christians, the season provides an opportunity to share the Word with others.

A surprise that popped up in my inbox was a UMC post about “Giving Tuesday.” Obviously we have gotten so overwhelmed with giving gifts to family and friends, we focus on all the special shopping events that begin over the Thanksgiving weekend. But that constant pressure to spend more and more can create a discordant, unpleasant emotion about Christmas.

“Giving Tuesday” answers that secular challenge by reminding us to look at the world through God’s eyes, not retailers’ eyes and to give to the various charities or specific needs that often struggle to manage all the demands placed upon them such as the Salvation Army, United Way, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and the list can continue.

Looking at the world through God’s eyes means we are also able to listen like God would listen. The sounds of Christmas should point out the harmony of Christians around the world. Unfortunately, the harmony is marred by so many trouble spots. The goal of unconditional love right here in our own state much less around the globe seems so unattainable, but it is the season of hope.

Can Christians bind together to quiet the cacophony of the riots, the suicide bombings, the warfare, and even the globule arguments among political leaders and even within families? Looking and listening to the world as God would do should quiet the discord and lead to harmony. Are we doing all that we can to make sure there is harmony in our homes, in our communities, in our countries, and in our world?

The second verse helps us keep the harmony in our world:

         Send your Word, O Lord, like the wind, blowing down upon the earth.

         Send your Word. We see your wondrous power,

pureness that rejects all sins, though they persist and cling.

         Bring us to complete victory; set us all free indeed.


Using these words as our prayer for peace and harmony in the world, we are sending God an urgent plea during these first days of Advent.

Prayer is one gift we can give daily. We talk to God, we sing to God, and we thank God through our words. As we continue through the next few weeks, let us focus on our prayer life as a gift to others:

  • Consider praying for your least favorite people.
  • Pray for peace in the Mideast.
  • Use your words to encourage rather than discourage others.
  • Ask God for guidance in the toughest of times.
  • Talk to God about healing of self and of others.
  • Pray that all people value others as they value themselves.


Advent begins with an ending. The harvest is completed and we mark the seasons’ passing with a tradition of a meal. The meal brings people together and the prayers continue.

  • Thank God for providing for our needs.
  • Thank God for gifts he has given us to use on his behalf.
  • Thank God for his unconditional love.


Unconditional love. God gives it and asks us to give it. When the world seems to be so noisy and we cannot hear the music, we know we can listen for God and trust that he is always with us despite the noise. The sounds of Christmas can be the very healing we need. We use the Salvation Army’s bells as reminders of the needs so many have. We hear the jingle bells as reminders of the childlike faith we all need to use.

The sounds of Christmas signal the unconditional love of God. The last verse explains how God’s love works:

Send your Word, O Lord, like the dew, coming gently upon the hills.

Send your Word. We seek your endless love.

For life that suffers in strife with adversities and hurts,

send your healing power of love; we long for your new world.


With the gift of Jesus Christ, the prophets’ words of warning were transformed into a New Law of unconditional love.

The sounds of Christmas filling our ears reminds us that God did send his Word—also called Jesus Christ, the Messiah, or the Savior. He loved us so much that he did not destroy us: He sent his Son so that those who believe in him can have eternal life.

Harmony is found in the sounds of Christmas for those who accept God’s gift of his Word, Jesus Christ. The sounds of Christmas may create cacophony for those who have not accepted God’s gift of unconditional love. The only way to turn cacophony into harmony is to spread the Word.

We need to check our own list of whether we are naughty or nice. Have we done whatever we could do for all we can in all the ways we can? If the sounds of Christmas are harmonic, congratulations, you have heard the Word and know God’s unconditional love. You can help others to find the harmony, too.

Closing prayer:

Dear Loving God,

We hear your Word in all the Christmas carols,

In the sound of jingle bells,

And even in the rattle of paper and ribbon.

As we feel a sense of harmony during Advent,

Guide us as we share your Word.

Help us reach those who only hear cacophony

So we can share the harmony of God’s Word.

With each gift we give,

With each gift we open,

Let the sounds of Christmas

Fill our world with harmony.


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