A Sermon in Three Parts
Sermon by Rev. Gary W. Charles, June 6th, 2021
From Out of the Depths
“Keep it upbeat!” “After more than a year of quarantine exile, no one wants to
listen to a downer sermon.” “People are ready to celebrate, to move on, to put the
past in the rearview mirror.”
All of the above voices are my own. I have been thinking them ever since I
knew that we would worship in the sanctuary today for the first time in fifteen
months. These voices have been chattering away in my mind like field mice on the
While these voices speak some truth, they hide more of it than they reveal.
These voices would have us leap past our grief, pretending that in the blink of an eye,
we can forget the now over 600,000 American lives, some our family, some our
friends, who have been lost to this virus, forget that our lives that have been
constrained and isolated due to the virus, forget the disabling fear of getting the virus
that has hung over us like a dark cloud, forget the fights over masks and vaccines,
forget the lost jobs, the lost income, the lost hope.
These peppy voices are variations of the same voices that I have heard all my
life whenever grief has hit. These voices say that it is fine to mourn for a week, even a
month, but after that it is time to pull yourself together, put the past behind you, and
be happy. These voices of denial would have us believe that grief is something that
you and I can control.
Thank God for poets like the ancient Psalmist who cries to God from “out of
the depths.” He does not waste one minute trying to put a good face on his grief, to
“pull it together,” lest others be uncomfortable in his presence. He does not tiptoe
before the throne of God asking for an audience, “if you please, O God” and “when
it is convenient, O God.” No, he slams his fist on the door to heaven and shouts,
“Lord, listen to the voice of my supplications. Now!”
This is the person I want to listen to now, the one I want to follow from out of
my own depths as he guides us back into some semblance of normal. For the Psalmist
knows that you cannot and I take a step forward until we name our grief from “out of
the depths” of our grief.
So, on this Sunday when you and I dare to step gingerly back into some
semblance of normal, what are your cries of lament and grief to God? Who did you lose
in the pandemic that you will not see again? What do you lament and grieve before
God as you cry from “out of the depths”? [Raise your hand and speak loudly through your mask so everyone can hear.]
May God hear our cries of lamentation and the sound of our grief. May the
Psalmist’s prayer be our own: “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!”
[Out of the Depths; text and tune: Martin Luther; Harm.: J.S. Bach]
No Crumbs Here
As a boy, I had a Sunday School teacher who loved the Psalms. She was a
“glass half full” kind of woman, so it is no surprise that her favorite psalm was Psalm
100. If she were in our Cove community for this special Sunday, I have no doubt that
she would have called me weeks ago and said, “Gary, I sure hope you will be
preaching on Psalm 100.”
I pray that she is smiling in heaven today because how could I not preach on
Psalm 100 for the part of the sermon devoted to joy and thankfulness? You can
almost hear the Psalmist singing out above the noisiest crowd, “Make a joyful noise to
the Lord, all the earth. Give thanks to God, bless God’s name. For God is good.
God’s steadfast love endures forever, and God’s faithfulness to all generations.”
In the course of my lifetime, I have found that joy and thankfulness live at the
same address. The Psalmist knew that was true years before you and I walked the
earth. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord.” I wonder how life would change if those
were the first words we chewed on for breakfast and the last late night words we
snacked on before we turned in for the night.
I love the way that the poet Mary Oliver offers her own version of Psalm 100 in her poem, “Don’t Hesitate.”
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
I love it when the poet writes, “Joy is not made to be a crumb.” That strikes
me as profoundly true. Joy is not made to be a crumb. Neither is thankfulness. Jesus
knew that to be true when he took break and broke it with his dearest friends and gave thanks to God. And, ever since that holy night in the Upper Room, whenever
the people of God have come to this table, joy and thankfulness have awaited us.
We have already named our grief today or at least we have started that long and
painful process. Now, it is time to name our joys and to name those for whom we
give thanks, for neither joy nor thankfulness is made to be a crumb.
My great joy today and also my cause for thankfulness is you. Over the past two
years you have learned to worship God on a computer, even when worship looked
little like how you have worshiped most of your life. You have learned to give
generously when there was no plate to pass. You have learned to tend to the sick and
the estranged even when you had to wear masks and gloves to do so. On the
anniversary of my 40th year of ordained ministry, you surprised me with a long car
parade of well-wishes, reminding me of what a remarkable community of faith you
My list of joy and thankfulness is long, but now is the time for you to finish
this part of the sermon. Remembering our call to “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all
the earth” and that “Joy is not made to be a crumb,” name the joy and thankfulness in
[Musical Response: Be Joyful in God ; Text: James Montgomery; Tune: Harmonia Sacra]
“Abound in Hope”
Text: Romans 15:13
If there is one benediction – from the Latin, meaning, “a good word” – that is
worthy to close every worship service, it is the good word found in Romans 15:13
when the Apostle Paul writes: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in
believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
For well over a year, hope has been a rare commodity. For many months, I
heard politicians peddle medical fantasy and market wishful thinking, while genuine
hope eluded even the most skilled in public relations. Ironically, in the process, we
may have unearthed a lifelong treasure.
For day after day after day for months and then a year and then more months,
our hope has been refined, honed on the sharp edge of the loss of time spent with
friends, on the sharp edge of isolated hours spent at home, on the sharp edge of
nightmarish grief of watching a nation and world dying daily from a virulent virus out
Out of this ongoing pandemic, our hope has been refined, severed from silly
notions that all is well with the world and that everyone is basically good as we
watched Covid death climb from 100 to a 1,000 to well over 600,000 in America alone
and as we watched our nation’s Capitol stormed by people fueled by hate as madness
had and still has its way.
In this time of medical, economic, and political upheaval, we have learned that
our hope is found in God, and in God alone. Genuine hope teaches us that you and I
are not at the center of the universe. Life is not finally about us, about getting what we
want, about avoiding what we don’t want to do. Life is about God and what God
wants from us and makes possible in us.
For a people of hope, the Psalmist asks a question that keeps life in
perspective, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and
the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of
them, mortals that you care for them?” (Ps. 8:3-4). And yet, God does care for us,
blemishes and all, and God even calls us “beloved.”
So, beloved of God, for what do you hope as you look ahead? For me, I hope
that you and I will resist every urge to glory in our own ingenuity, to celebrate our
own cleverness, to boast of our great accomplishments. I hope that you and I will
“abound in hope” that is given to us as a precious gift from our benevolent God.
Those are my hopes. Sisters/brothers, name your hopes today.
And now receive the benediction spoken by Paul, “ May the God of hope fill
you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power
of the Holy Spirit.”
And, let the people say . . . AMEN.