Psalm 127 and Jeremiah 1:4-9

The 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?

We spoke these words a few minutes ago at the beginning of the service, and you can find these words at the beginning of our Psalm of the Day. Now we’re singing the Psalm as a hymn, but if you were to look it up in the New Revised Standard Version you’ll notice the editors have given it a title. In our Bibles Psalm Twenty-Seven is called, “A Triumphant Song of Confidence.”

I guess that makes sense. Certainly, this title captures the intention of the Psalm. Listen to verse three: “Though an army shall encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.” So they call it “A Triumphant Song of Confidence” because this is the song’s destination. But come on. Imagine anybody actually invoking this song in real life —that person is scared.

If you were already triumphantly confident before you started singing, chances are, you’d pick a praise Psalm: “Praise God you sun and moon! Praise God all you shining stars!” (Psalm 148:3).

Psalm Twenty-Seven is not a song of uncomplicated praise. It’s a pep talk the singer is giving himself. He is scared and he’s singing his way into courage by rehearsing the truth he has always known: I will wait for the LORD, and God will come to my aid. I learned this a long time ago, and I can believe it now.

Psalm Twenty-Seven is for all of us who know what it is to be afraid, for all of us who need to remember that in your moment of greatest fear, you could sing your way into courage. I thank God for this song.

Through August and September, our worship series is considering different stages of life; today our journey has reached young adulthood. The scripture George just read comes from the beginning of the book of Jeremiah, and you heard what happened. The LORD our God approaches Jeremiah and calls him to begin his ministry of prophecy. So Jeremiah answers the LORD (and I’m paraphrasing), “Thank you for thinking of me. Yeah, so this sounds terrifying. I don’t know how to do what you’re asking, and anyway I’m too young. So no.”

But God does not give up.

And here’s what would make a great story. It would be so encouraging if Jeremiah told God, “No thanks. What you want me to do is terrifying.” Then God convinces Jeremiah to give it a try. Then Jeremiah goes ahead, gives it a whirl, and discovers, hey, this prophesying gig is okay after all. And he’s good at it, and he likes it, and he feels silly for ever having been afraid. Now he can give commencement speeches that go: “Follow your dreams, if you’re scared at first, don’t worry! It turns fun and easy soon enough.”

But this is not at all what happens.

Jeremiah was scared to become a prophet, and the dreadful thing is, he should have been. Jeremiah was charged with speaking to a community under siege. King Jehoiakim was killed in the revolt against Babylon. The people were displaced and taken hostage by the invading troops. Jerusalem was devastated; the Temple was destroyed.

Jeremiah called on his own people to repent and restore their relationship with God. He tried to convince them that they could still worship the LORD, even with no Temple. It was the covenant that mattered. But this is not the news the people wanted to hear.

Throughout his career, Jeremiah was exiled, persecuted, beaten, and thrown into a cistern where the Bible tells us that he sank down in the mud… Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet. He grieves for these people who will not follow his prophecy. It’s not just that he had a job to do, and he did it. Jeremiah gave them his heart, and they broke his heart. And he got up the next day and tried again.

The LORD is my light and my salvation. What else is there? What else matters…

The book of Jeremiah illuminates both the prophet’s outward struggle with political upheaval and his inner struggle to keep his faith in God. You can hear the external and internal dynamic clashing and ringing all through this book.

You can also hear this clashing and ringing if you happen to know any young adults. Young adulthood is a season with a dual awakening. Just as you’re becoming increasingly aware of what is going in the world, you’re also becoming increasingly attuned to your own agency. They’re both rising up in you at the same time.

Young adults leave home, sometimes going to college, sometimes studying abroad. Young adults join the military and the peace corps; they learn to speak new languages; they develop political acuity and entertain radical ideas for changing the world. Maybe parents can shield children and teenagers from some of the horrors in the world, maybe. But you can’t make it through young adulthood without finding out. There’s a loss of innocence.

And all while their perception of the world is expanding and intensifying, young adults are coming into their own authenticity.

The question that keeps them up and wakes them up is this: Here, look at what is happening in the world. Here, look at what I know how to do. So what am I going to do with this? What am I going to do with my life…

Now please understand. You do not have to be a young adult to ask this question, but I don’t see how you can be a young adult and manage to escape it. Children and teens, and older adults can reflect on this if we want to. I think young adults have to, like it or not. It’s the question that will pursue them and won’t stop.

What’s more, when young adults consider, “What can I do to make a meaningful difference?” there’s a chilling underside to this question. It goes like this, “What happens if I don’t…” (You know Jeremiah wondered this too.) Please do not miss how threatening this is. Now there is the risk of not doing enough.

Now the question of young adulthood is not simply: “What can I do to make a difference?” Now it’s: “What do I have to do to go on living with myself in this world…”

Three years ago, activist (and young adult) Bree Newsome, found herself convicted by the massacre of nine people who were at a Bible study at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina. As she put it, “I sat awake. I couldn’t sleep. All the ghosts from the past seemed to be rising.”1 http://archives.bluenationreview.com/exclusive-bree-newsome-speaks-for-the-first-time-after-courageous-act-of-civil-disobedience/ She knew that she had to do something, or who would she be…

Friends, I am fairly confident that what Bree Newsome did on that summer day three years ago is an action that will strike a different chord in each of us. One of our best gifts as Church of Peace is that we do not all share the same political views. You may not agree with Bree Newsome’s outrage. I know a lot of us in here are rule-followers, and you may not approve of her decision to break the law. I’m not asking you to. I am inviting us to take a moment and imagine things from her perspective.

When Bree Newsome became convicted to take action in response to the Charleston massacre, she got together with a small group of folks who shared her concern, and they developed a plan. They decided the confederate flag flying at the South Carolina state capitol must come down. This would be a symbolic gesture forcibly removing a reminder of racial intimidation.

The group considered the optics and power dynamics; they determined that a black woman should scale the pole and retrieve the flag while a white man would stand watch at the bottom. So that’s what they did.

In watching the you tube video, I was struck by the quiet. As Bree begins climbing the thirty-foot pole, all you hear are worried directions from police. “Ma’am come down from the pole!” they keep repeating.

When she reaches the top and unhooks the flag, Bree issues a statement that I’m pretty sure she rehearsed: “You come against me with hatred, violence, and oppression. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!”

When Bree Newsome reaches the bottom of the flagpole, she and James Ian Tyson are promptly arrested. The flag was re-hung less than an hour later. Later that summer, the governor authorized a bill officially removing the confederate flag from the capitol.2https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/07/10/watch-live-as-the-confederate-flag-comes-down-in-south-carolina/?utm_term=.421b362b0f44

All around us, young adults are asking: “What can I do to make a meaningful difference in the world, and what do I have to do to go on living with myself?” Here’s what I’m wondering. As the church, what if we decide this question is not exclusively for young adults —it’s our question too, whatever our ages. When young adults have their conscience provoked and their convictions are raging, what if we come alongside them and stand with them?

What if our young adults who are counseling children, teaching in classrooms, playing music, volunteering their talent, working with vulnerable populations, going to Greece —what if our young adults knew that Church of Peace has their back… because we do. So do not be afraid.

When Bree Newsome reached the top of the flagpole, she issued a statement that I’m pretty sure she rehearsed: “I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today.” But as Bree was shimmying down the pole getting ready to be arrested, you can tell, she was scared. In that moment, you know what she’s saying to herself?

The 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?

You know somebody somewhere taught her the words of that Psalm. Thank God for them. I thank God for whoever taught her that song.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. http://archives.bluenationreview.com/exclusive-bree-newsome-speaks-for-the-first-time-after-courageous-act-of-civil-disobedience/
2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/07/10/watch-live-as-the-confederate-flag-comes-down-in-south-carolina/?utm_term=.421b362b0f44

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