31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." 32He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of
“Be Strong, Take Heart”
“There once was a community whose rabbi was ageing and nearing retirement. The members of the community loved their rabbi, who had served them well for the majority of his long life. They understood the rabbi’s ways. They were used to his style, and they were content under his leadership. So it was with a heavy heart that members of the congregation took on the task of finding a replacement for their rabbi. The decision, however, was anything but difficult. They decided that upon the old rabbi’s retirement, they would hire his son. This, they believed, was the perfect solution!
As planned, the rabbi retired, and his son began working in the community. It wasn’t long before some of the congregants started to notice that this young rabbi’s manner was different from his father’s. He followed some customs differently, and he had a very different approach to solving problems. The congregation was confused.
The congregation elders decided that they needed to have a talk with the young rabbi. They needed to clarify the situation, straighten out some things. So they approached the new rabbi and invited him into the conference room. There, with little preamble, they demanded to know the answers to questions such as these; “Why don’t you behave like your father?” “Why do you do things differently than your father?” The young rabbi remained calm. He looked at the elders and replied, “I do exactly as my father does. My father never imitated anyone, and I don’t imitate anyone either.””
I like this story because it is about a young person trying to find his voice, and standing up for himself. I know that for myself, that's hard to do! But can you imagine what it must have been like to be that young rabbi? It reminds me of going to the principals office, or the President’s Office-you’re getting called on the carpet of the real people in charge. I imagine the conference room dark and foreboding, not like the pretty conference room upstairs, full of light and chairs, but like on Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice”, that they take him in there around a big oval table with black leather swivel chairs, all these powerful older people at one end of the room, (if it’s a typical congregation, its mostly powerful older women, and you do not mess with them) and here’s this young guy already up against the ropes. You’re just waiting to hear those words. “You’re fired!” But instead of getting scared or anxious, despite being surrounded by “the enemy camp” so to speak, instead of being afraid or concerned or any of the things that I would be in that situation, he remains calm! This young rabbi displays the most amazing courage, like he’s got absolute faith its going to work out alright. His challenges face him, literally across the table, and yet he’s completely at ease.
It’s as though he’d just read our Psalm from this morning. Now I love the psalms, and I’ll tell you why—they are the most fabulous cheat sheets for prayer in the world. As a chaplain I struggled with how to pray with perfect strangers in great pain, and I found that when we read and prayed the psalms together, the concerns of the heart just floated off the page. You could almost open the Bible to any psalm at all and find a beautiful gutwrenching prayer, the heart just fully open and exposed to how much we need God in our lives. Some psalms lament, some praise, and some, like 27, remind us of what we already know, the confidence we can have that God is with us. I'd like to read it to you again.
1The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
2When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh —
my adversaries and foes —
they shall stumble and fall.
3Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
4One thing I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in his temple.
5For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
6Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
7Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
8"Come," my heart says, "seek his face!"
Your face, LORD, do I seek.
9Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
10If my father and mother forsake me,
the LORD will take me up.
11Teach me your way, O LORD,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.
13I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
14Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!
When we first hear this psalm, we may first notice the bookends of the first and last verse, that “The Lord is my Light” and “My salvation” and “Wait for the Lord, be strong, take heart.” It’s easy to see how this psalm is labeled as one of confidence and trust. But dig just a little deeper, and you can see what the psalmist is really talking about. There is a lot of fear and anxiety hidden in this psalm, something most of us can really relate to.
Just listen to all the begging the psalmist does, “Do not turn away in anger,” “Do not cast me off,” “Do not forsake me.” This is a dark night of the soul. Please don’t do this to me, this which I have felt before. This is the feeling we have when we feel alone, perhaps completely bereft of God’s love. Those moments when things fall apart, when we cannot possibly see how this can fit into God’s plan for us. When the job ends, when the last paycheck comes. When the bills arrive. When you have to decide between health insurance and car insurance, or the heating bill and food. When you can not stop arguing with your partner, much less win the argument. When your lover leaves you, or worse yet, that lover has yet to arrive. When, try as you might, you cannot resist the temptation, that monkey on your back. When your parents die. When the cancer returns or the baby is diagnosed. When children die before their parents, when dreams are cut short. There are moments, however flashing and searing, when we feel pierced through the side and alone and the psalmist isn’t afraid to beg God’s presence into those places. It is suddenly our cry, “My god, my god why have you forsaken me?” The psalm cries Please don’t leave me! But there it is, Wait for the Lord. Be strong, take heart. The Lord is with you.
And the psalm does something we don’t often dare to do in prayer; it names enemies. Lots of enemies! Now, “When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh” might not be the language we’d use. It sounds a bit like a zombie movie to me. “The army encamped against me” might sound a little foreign, I haven't been in battle but some of us have. “Adversaries and foes” gets a little closer; I have foes, I can name some foes. But enemies we do have, though we know we should love them, enemies we have whether we admit to it or not. Jesus knew he had enemies. “Go and tell that fox for me.” Jesus was well aware of the reality of enemies, and the psalm doesn't ask us to hide that brokenness.
I happen to think that its healthier to name the broken places, at least then they have a chance at healing. So there are the easy “enemies”, the ones that seem far off, like terrorists or telemarketers or the IRS, faceless people that somehow ruin our day. But it’s more honest to name “that one coworker I cannot stand”, or “my ex,” ex-husband, ex-wife, ex-friends or “my family”. The psalmist even mentions “if my father or mother forsake me,” there’s good cause to think that perhaps they did. Or perhaps these enemies aren’t worldly at all, but rather divisions of oneself, or even the demonic forces of evil in the world. But rest assured, enemies are out there, and the psalm admits this truth that sometimes we’d rather ignore. We’d rather not have enemies. Yet, the psalm reminds us, Wait for the Lord. Be Strong, Take heart. The Lord is with you.
But there is one place that the psalmist claims to find relief, to find hope, to find God. There is one place in the psalm where the enemies cannot touch you – in God’s temple. In God’s temple the psalmist lives, in God’s house we find solace, comfort and strength, for it is here that we are sheltered, here that we are concealed when we need protection and here that we find the comfort of other believers. And it is worth saying that while the psalmist might have meant the literal
Let me explain.
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there was a group of about 167 Scots imprisoned in the dungeon of a castle by the sea. And after they had endured torture and starvation, sickness and death, the remainder of that lot took heart, and made the long voyage across the
I haven’t been here very long, and as a seminary intern, I know I never have the full picture. But in that time I have come to know this congregation as loving and committed, which is obviously part of the legacy of this place. So when I heard this psalm, I also heard a call for this congregation, to Wait for the Lord. Be Strong. Take Heart.
Today is an important day, not just because it is Sunday, not just because it is Lent, but also because later today we will elect the Pastor Nominating Committee. At today is the Annual Meeting Potluck, and at is the Annual meeting, and there you will elect your PNC, pastor nominating committee.
See, what is interesting is your reactions when I say that. We were all going along very nicely, and then I went and mentioned church politics and ruined a perfectly good sermon. But perhaps that’s the point. There is a lot of anxiety, stress and fear wrapped up in this leg of the journey. Some of us aren’t ready to take the next step, others can’t move fast enough. What will the next pastor be like? Will it be a man, or a woman? Will he/she be a good preacher? Will she/he be open and inclusive, warm and friendly? Wise or funny or old or young? But what the Word of the Lord says to us today is “Wait for the Lord. Be strong. Take heart.”
For all the enemies that seem to surround us, from all the anxiety and fears that we feel, especially when it comes to the places most important to us, know that God is with you. God is in this place, and moves within this community. Whatever the future brings, you are in God’s temple and this body will live on. The PNC is next step, and they will need your support, your love and encouragement as they take on the incredibly challenging role of discernment. But to those who are on the committee, be strong, take heart. The Lord is with you. For those of us who will NOT be on the PNC, fear not. “The Lord is my light and salvation, of whom shall I fear?” And it is also written, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord. Be strong, and let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord.”
But don’t wait too long today, dinner starts at 5.
 Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon, “Finding Your Own Voice”, in Three Time Chai: 54 Rabbis Tell Their Favorite Stories, ed. Laney Katz Becker (2007).