A Spacious Place

Psalm 66
First Sunday in new home (MAR)
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Spirit of the Living God, moving God, fall afresh on us, melting us, molding us, filling us, using us and making this new place our home, that we might be a blessing to the world around us.

The great thing about the Old Testament is that it is full of stories of God’s people wandering around, messing up, trying to find their way, questioning their God, complaining against their leaders, and most of all, learning to put their trust in the One who will never, ever let them down in the end. God is faithful. Can I get an “Amen” on that?

I cannot begin to describe my anxiety this week that I may have set you up to move to a new place which would be accommodate us and we’d have to go back to SCF for two more months at least. Add to that, fears that some of you would be disgruntled like the people whom Moses convinced to leave Egypt. Miraculously they got out across the Red Sea and escaped from slavery and Pharoah chariots chasing after them, much as we appear to have escaped the college chasing after us (or at least our money). We have escaped our own bondage of a sort, but I was nervous we might be wandering in the wilderness for a while. I was worried that our only other reasonable offer was Nolan Middle School, clearly not the Promised Land for a church, though it works well as a school. I was worried that you get here and would complain that life in Egypt, life at the college was pretty good.

But the more we came to visit, the more session members and Admin team members, and staff members came to visit, the more we negotiated this deal, Bob Donaldson and I, the more it looked like a wonderful gift from God. Maybe not the Promised Land, but a very promising place from which Peace’s ministries could grow.

Our scripture reading today was chosen especially for this occasion because it is a psalm of thanksgiving, celebrating with a joyful noise the provision of God. It proclaims the awesome power of God to save us, God’s people. It recounts the trials through which God has carried the people thus far, and proclaims the goodness of the new spacious place.

It then shifts to a more personal, individual commitment to come into God’s house with a sacrifice of praise, an offering which matches the magnitude of God’s blessing. The psalmist then announces to friends, “Come and hear what God has done… God has not rejected my prayer nor removed steadfast love from me.”

Many of the Psalms have the word “Selah” in them. Scholars think it is probably a liturgical or musical mark added to remind the people to stop and think about this. So that is what we will do. We will pause and give thanks three times as we hear this psalm of gratitude.

Psalm 66

New Revised Standard Version

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;

2 sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.

3 Say to God, "How awesome are your deeds!

Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.

4 All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name."

SELAH

5 Come and see what God has done: God is awesome in his deeds among mortals.

6 The Lord turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot.

There we rejoiced in him, 7 who rules by his might forever,

whose eyes keep watch on the nations-- let the rebellious not exalt themselves.

SELAH

8 Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard,

9 who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.

10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.

11 You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs;

12 you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water;

yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

13 I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will pay you my vows,

14 those that my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.

15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;

I will make an offering of bulls and goats.

SELAH

16 Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for me.

17 I cried aloud to him, and he was extolled with my tongue.

18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.

19 But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer.

20 Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer

or removed his steadfast love from me.


The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!

Robin Miller said to me yesterday and I just have to repeat what she said, “I’ve been nervous about this moving thing, and then I got a message from God, as if knocked over the head. Hey, you people at Peace been asking me to lead you into the future. I’m trying to do that. So get out of the boat and walk on this water. I might just have to preach on that text next week, Robin. We are out of the boat. We are walking on this water.

But the image which has been in my mind for the last two weeks is that of the Exodus, the Old Testament story analogous to the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. God lead his people out of Egypt, gives them freedom from Pharoah (and all fierce security guards in the house or shall we say auditorium of slavery) and takes them to a new land of promise, flowing with milk and honey, and classrooms and choir rooms, a place where they might make God’s name known by growing as disciples, building a community of Peace, and caring for the needs of others.

I am so glad that our wilderness time has not included 40 years of wandering. Now we could say that we are still wandering, as we move from college auditorium to event and conference center. We do not aim to stay here forever. We see another promised land out there on Lorraine Road and we aim to make that our home.

But while we are here, we can make a joyful noise to God, sing of the Lord’s glory. We can say “How awesome is our God to give us such a place as this!” We can say to our friends, “Come and see how God has provided for this church’s need and given us a place where we can reach out, grow strong, and send.

We can connect with our ancestors in the faith who wandered in the wilderness not knowing where they were going or when they would arrive, but who still could say without hesitation, “God has kept us among the living and has not let our feet slip.” God has kept us among the living and not let our feet slip. God has tested us and made us stronger, teaching us the humility and the patience of working with security and custodial whose expectations of us were unreasonable and at times, unkind. God has tested us by asking us to consider how we could be the church, do the ministries of Jesus Christ out of our homes during the week, which we have done and can do still, when needed. God has tested us by laying burdens on our backs. When will we grow? How can build Peace? How will we afford next year’s budget?

And God has provided a new area of Lakewood Ranch, more central, closer to our property, more visible to the community. God has provided rooms we can use, in addition to our homes, to carry out the ministries and missions of Jesus Christ. But with the Spirit of the Living God on our side, we can walk through fire and water, and still come into the house of the Lord with our sacrifice of praise, with our rams, goats, and bulls. Or our checkbooks, cash, and cards. We can enter with our time, talent, and treasure. We can do a new thing and do it well.

And most significantly, we can say to everyone in and around Lakewood Ranch, come and see. Come and hear and we will tell you what God can do. We will tell you how in our life as a congregation, we have struggled but carried on, doubted but held on to faith, grown weary but found new strength. We will tell you as individuals how the Lord has worked in our own personal lives to reassure us when we were discouraged. We will tell you, people in this community beyond our doors, that we were lost, but through the love and grace of Jesus Christ our Lord, we are now found. We will tell you how when we were alone, the church community bolsters us and give us family, family closer sometimes than family. We will announce that there is more peace in our family life, in our life as an individual because the Spirit of Peace is here, filling us with the peace that passes all understanding. We will tell you, people all around, anyone who will listen, how meaningful it is to be engaged with this community making a difference in the world, being a blessing because we know we are blessed. Gratitude for all we have. Gratitude for who this church is becoming.

God has truly listened. God has answered our prayers. God has blessed us with this spacious place that we might be a blessing to our community, and the Spirit of God will carry us into a future, filled with steadfast love and promise.

Now let us sing Psalm 66.