Rev. Rebecca Heilman-Campbell
(Psalm 90:1-2; 13-17 & Psalm 92:1-4)
For the past two weeks, you have walked with Steve and I bravely through the heavy emotions and weight that lament and healing tend to bring. We have been getting real with you in our sermon series in hopes that we as a congregation are in conversation with each other about the direction of Trinity and also the direction and reality of Church as a whole in our culture. And we are grateful for your willingness to experience the two challenging steps of lament and healing, knowing that, as Steve said last week, we all might be on a different pace. And today, we move to the next step together, carrying the lament and healing with us. Those two steps don’t just go away. They influence us, shape us, allow us to progress on a healthy path. We must lament before we can begin to heal. And we must experience some healing, some repairment within so that we might receive a glimmer of light that is at the end of the tunnel. And so today, I have the wonderful job of celebrating with you! How lucky am I that this sermon fell into my lap? For we have lots to celebrate together and this is such a perfect day for it! Between World Communion Sunday and Stewardship Kickoff and welcoming new members, we are here to celebrate it all.
And so, Psalm 92 is a joyous, song of thanksgiving, inviting us to sing with a festive and hopeful voice. The first verse reads, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.” The word “good,” tob (TOV) in Hebrew, means more than just fine or well. As Martin Luther translates it, tob (TOV) is “a precious thing.” And so indeed, it is a precious thing to give thanks to God. It may not be the first thing we do when we wake up in the morning and it may not be the last thing we do when we rest our head at night, but I know in brief moments, the feeling of gratitude surfaces throughout our day. That first sip of hot coffee or tea that warms our chilled morning bodies. The change in seasons, the change of time and wisdom. The laughter of a needed night out with friends. The music that fills this sanctuary each week. Hugs from friends. Vulnerable conversations about faith. Or even after a long day of work, knowing that your family is safe asleep in your home. These are the gratitudes I read from your responses last week in how you are experiencing healing. Healing and thanksgiving go hand and hand. When we’re healing, it’s easier to find the things we’re grateful for. And so today we celebrate the moments, people, and places that allow us to heal. We give thanks for the children that sit on our front row for Morning Watch. For the many groups on our campus who create authentic and trusting relationships. We give thanks for the space, the land, the structure on this campus that allows us to house two successful schools. We celebrate the wisdom of our Session members who take their job seriously and love this church to her core. We honor the leadership of our Ministry Teams and valiant volunteers who create and recreate and maintain a vision for the community. We give thanks for the cookies and coffee after worship and for the teachers on Sunday mornings. We give thanks to the Little Free Pantry and the Mission & Outreach funds, your giving, that allows us to reach people experiencing homelessness and hunger. Just this past week, we helped three people who stopped by the office looking for support and resources. There’s so much more gratitude to name at Trinity, I know you’re thinking about those things now and I hope you will share it with each other and with me.
It is a precious thing, a privilege and joy to give thanks and celebrate everything we have now. Because we have so much. I can’t tell you how much of a shift I’ve seen in our community this past year. Each day, each program, each conversation brings more confidence that we as a congregation are living faithfully into who God wants us to be. And it’s because you have been flexible, resilient, and willing to ride the wave of the unknown. Two weeks ago, we listed the laments, we had to acknowledge the loss we’ve experienced. Today, we name our celebrations and I say with complete honesty and as much transparency as Steve and I had two weeks ago. I do see vibrancy and a joy in the Trinity community. We are reaching people and meeting the needs of the congregation and those beyond the congregation. Look at the Weekday School alone. I honestly believe we are embodying and embracing our mission of growing together and welcoming all. And I’m please to tell you and fully believe that the reality we need to acknowledge is that the church, big “C”church, every church is far from dead. I believe it, I see it and I trust in God who is at work amongst us and my prayer is to pull you into my energy and the hope I faithfully embrace. If anything, I’m excited for the church.
And that’s what we have to celebrate today. Celebration is more than just giving thanks for what we have and what we have been given. The Psalmist today invites us to give thanks AND to celebrate and trust the promise of hope and good news that God is among us. You see the difference? Celebration is also trusting that something good, something promising is happening right now. Celebration is trusting that God is absolutely apart of the church today. That is something to celebrate. We have to remember when looking at the Psalms, that they written by different authors throughout history providing words of comfort, praise, and support for congregations up against the transient and shifting nature of humankind. The struggles then, may not be the same struggles now. But struggles are struggles. And so Psalm 90, is a prayer of hope to acknowledge God’s constant present. A prayer to help lift our faith in the midst of challenge. To remind us of that deep, core, mystery of faith that for whatever reasons lies within our hearts and leads ups through the days. The author invites us to dive deeper into why we need to celebrate what we have and why we need to celebrate God. We’re not only celebrating and giving thanks for what we have, that’s too easy, we’re also learning to ingrain the act of celebration into our faith, into our culture, into the tradition of the church. How do we continue to celebrate the promise of hope through every challenge we face? That’s where we need to go today.
The Psalmist in its 90th song starts with the first verse, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” We’re acknowledging that God has provided a place of belonging, of care, and protection for congregations and people of faith from the beginning of time. When the Psalmist looks back, he or she is confident in the future. That there is evidence from their ancestors of when times were good or when times were hard, God was the dwelling place for them and never once left their side. This psalm sings this to us as well. When we look at past generations, who have lifted their eyes to God when life was not on their side, somehow, they found support and confidence in their faith. Artur Weiser, a theologian on the Psalms, summarized for us that when we look at past generations, people who equally struggled with the laments of their days, when we see how they consciously stand together with the same long living tradition of faith that we have today, somehow it strengthens in us the resolve to trust in God, both now and in the future.” It is somehow easier for us to see in hindsight that God was present with our ancestors than it is for us to see right now how God is present with us too. Somehow we can imagine more easily and trust that past generations did faith right. That they had no issues trusting in God than it is for us today, wondering if we are doing this faith thing right. Somehow we think that our ancestors had a much stronger and more rounded faith than we do today. It’s simply not true. Our faith is just as mature just as authentic and as real as the past generations. And think of this, right now, in the highs and lows of today’s culture, the future generations will look at us and wonder how our faith guided us through these times.
You’ve heard me talk about my Waldensian heritage. The Waldensians were a sect of faithful people in Europe starting their tradition of Christian worship and practice in the 1100s (nearly 400 years before the protestant reformation). Around 1215, they were declared heretics by the all-powerful Catholic Church. Years of movement, wars, and brutal persecution followed them for hundreds of years. Around the 17th Century, the Duke of Savoy declared in the Edict of Nantes that the Waldenses can either attend Catholic mass or be removed from their homeland. They thought the Waldensians would clearly choose to attend Mass. They were surprised when hundreds of women, children, and men instead chose to climb the icy, wintery Alpine mountains towards a new land. The Waldensians always chose their faith. They always chose God. They established their church and tradition under the protection of the rough mountainous terrain in what is now Italy. While they continued to be persecuted and at war with their adversaries they also trusted God to lead them to eventual liberation. They secretly worshipped in caves deep in the mountains, developed their own seminary high on a hillside and taught everyone they could about Scripture, including children and women. Even allowing women to be ordained and teach Scripture, in order to maintain their faith tradition while the men were at war with the Catholic church. When a small group, including my great grandfather, migrated to Valdese in the late 19th century, they first built the church, giving thanks to God for their new home and sharing prayers of safety and health for their families back in Italy. For many, many months, they depended on the Presbyterian Churches in the area for food and other essential items to survive. This was the history I was taught growing up. We often placed the faith of the Waldensians on a pedestal, a reminder that their faith once was a beacon of hope for them and if we lean into that resilience, so too will our faith be a beacon of hope. It’s a faith I can’t help but lean on right now, in this time, when church seems so different.
Our ancestors of faith, those here at Trinity, those from your home church, those people in your life that taught you about faith, they give us the confidence of our own trust in God. It’s the foundation we have been given to know that God was at work, is at work and will be at work always. That’s what we’re celebrating today! God has always been at work and there is a promising hope for our future. The Psalmist says it beautifully, “Fill us full every morning with your faithful love so we can rejoice and celebrate our whole life long. Make us happy for the same amount of time that you afflicted us—for the same number of years that we saw only trouble.”
The Psalmist is inviting us to not just celebrate today, but to celebrate everyday. To ingrain celebration into our faith. To wake up in the morning and rejoice and allow our eyes to be open, to see as the Psalm says, God’s acts for God’s children. The last thing I want to leave you with is a reminder that I am a cradle presbyterian, born and raised in a traditional presbyterian church and now a pastor who loves traditional worship and our denomination deeply. I am also a young millennial woman pastor who is influence by the modern culture. I know so many young pastors and leaders who love this denomination and are here to care for it as the years go one. And we’re excited for the church. We’re excited for the church! We’re excited to see it grow in the midst of the culture we’re in. To see it flourish and be engaged and relevant in a hurting and hectic world. The church has a place in this world, we always will. And the leaders of the church see what you see, what you have always seen in the church. We love it, just as much as you do. The reality we need to acknowledge is that the church is far, far from dead. It’s still very much alive, acclimating to the culture and generations at be. The church is very much alive and we need to celebrate the hope that it promises! Just look at all the ministries of this church that are striving – Family Fun Night, the Weekday School, The Little Free Pantry, the Thursday and Wednesday groups, Tables of Eight, the book club, our loyal relationship with Nations Ford, Room in the Inn, our beloved youth who cares for each other at youth group. These ministries are striving in their own ways and now it’s time for us to celebrate them, to celebrate each other! And like the Psalmist ends in the 90th Psalm I too end this sermon with those prayerful, somewhat longing, most certainly celebratory words. Pray with me. “Make the work of our hands last, O God. Make the hard, loving work of our hands last! Amen.
 Artur Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1962), 596.