This is my written text for my sermon at our Joint Worship Service on August 16th at Longwood Park. I didn't stick to the script, but this the intent of the message I gave.
The lesson for the day is Psalm 40, which is in a series of images at the bottom of the post.
The video - which I didn't play, is the song, "40" by U2.
I first time I heard of Psalm 40 was as a song. And I heard the lyrics wrong. But I actually got it right. Before I got it right, it changed my life.
While I was in college, my roommate introduced me to the music of an Irish rock band, U2. I remember listening to their albums over and over my senior year. Well, as much over and over as can be when you had to get up to turn the record over to hear the other side.
I noticed on one listening that the last song on the album mentioned God. Here are the lyrics to the U2 song, “40.”
I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit, out of the miry clay.
I will sing, sing a new song. I will sing, sing a new song.
How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song?
How long, how long, how long; how long to sing this song?
He set my feet upon a rock and made my footsteps firm.
Many will see, many will see and hear.
I didn’t think much about the song after that. I remember hearing that the band took the lyrics from the beginning of Psalm 40, and I opened up a Bible to check it out, and didn’t read beyond verse 3, which is where they stopped borrowing inspiration. And I didn’t think about it for a long, long time.
When I finally got called back to being in a relationship with God, when I had someone put the Scriptures in my hands and told me to read them, I came across Psalm 40 again.
I was reading an article about U2’s lead singer, Bono, and his work with the charity, ONE. The article dealt with his motivation to use his celebrity and fame to do good works for the poor, the sick and the voiceless. He said the motivation came from his faith. As he elaborated, the author of the article referenced a quote Bono gave in a previous interview. He said that the psalms feel like the blues; man shouting at God.
At a time when I was trying to rebuild my faith, redevelop a relationship with God, the idea of shouting at God was interesting. So I pulled out a Bible, and flipped around to find where Psalms was located. I realized there are a whole lot of them. So where to start? I knew about two Psalms. I knew 23 didn’t include any yelling.
So, what about 40?
As I read it, I realized this was my story, or what I hoped my story would be, could be.
The Psalmist tells about God’s deliverance; God saving them from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog. Miry bog spoke to me – that’s a Scottish reference. A miry bog is a swamp, but the type of swamp that pulls your boots off. It’s the swamp you can’t get out of on your own. The more you struggle, the worse it gets. The mud, the muck and the mire just pull you down.
That’s where I felt in my life. That in my sin and my life away from God, I was in the miry bog. I got in there on my own. But on my own, I could never get out. I was stuck in the swamp of my sin.
You set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
The only way out of the swamp was to be pulled out. Or plucked out. Airlifted by God, not because I deserved it, or was worthy of rescue. But saved from the swamp of my sin by the goodness and grace of God. Delivered because no matter what I had done, I was a beloved child of God.
You may not have been stuck in the miry bog, in a swamp of your own sin. But given the wonderful winters of Wisconsin, I’m sure you can relate to being stuck with no hope of getting out on your own. Your tires spin and spin and spin and never get any traction. It is only through someone coming along to help push or pull you out. That feeling of relief and gratitude is set(ting) your feet upon a rock, making your steps secure.
Our response to that salvation – being saved from being stuck, is the new song.
When I realized that God could draw me up from the pit, lift me out of the miry bog, I realized that the only response was to let others know that there was a way out of the swamp of our own sin. That’s what we are called to do. Many will see and hear, and put their trust in the LORD. Happy are those who make the LORD their trust.
I think this was about the time that I felt that I should not just go to church to worship, but to get involved in what my church was doing. That’s when I asked my pastor words that any pastor loves to hear, “What can I do to help out the church?” Soon after, I was on a couple of committees, and was helping to lead worship. Then, after worship one Sunday, a little old lady told me I should be a pastor.
40 changed my life.
It’s story of how God pulled the Psalter out of the miry bog, and set their feet upon a secure rock gave me reassurance that God could do the same for me. The Psalter goes on to tell that in response to God’s salvation, they will sing a new song so that others can hear of God’s love. They go on to explain what that song is.
God doesn’t want our sacrifices; God doesn’t want us to try to buy forgiveness. Rather, God gives us an open ear. God wants to hear from us. God wants us to share our lives, our worries, our successes, our joys and pains with God.
I thought that I needed to work off my debt. I thought I had to repay God. And you might think that’s what I’m doing as a pastor; that in response to God’s gift of forgiveness, I’ve given God my life. You’re close, but also so far off target.
I became a pastor because I want others to realize there is a way out of the miry bog. I became a pastor because I want others to know that struggling in the swamp of sin, beating yourself up and blaming yourself for getting stuck is just a waste of time and energy. We can’t get out of the bog by ourselves. We are rescued from the swamp, saved and set upon a rock by Our Savior. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are given a new life on earth, saved from the worries of trying to earn God’s love and mercy. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are given a new life after death, to be with our loved ones and the one who loves us the most, our Creator.
40 tells my story.
I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart. I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation. See, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O LORD. I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.
When I realized, with the help of Psalm 40, that God could forgive someone who walked away from the church; when I realized that God still loves someone who has turned their back on God, I thought, why don’t people know this? Why do we let the perception that God only loves those who obey and do what God has said.
Parents don’t stop loving their children when they are disobedient. They may not always like them, but they always love them. Why do we think that the Creator cares for us any less because we have been disobedient?
When we know that God loves us despite of the mess that we are; despite the messes we make in our lives; despite the messes we make OF our lives – how can we not tell everyone?
We will tell others about a new recipe, about where gas is a nickel cheaper, about a bargain we got, about how the fish we caught was THIS BIG, but we are reluctant to tell people we care about that God loves them and forgives them, no matter what.
May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you. May those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the LORD!”
So I’ve told you about how I heard Psalm 40 as the song 40. And I’ve told you about how 40 changed my life; how it actually gave me a guide for my life & my calling.
But I haven’t told you about how I misheard the lyrics, but actually got them right.
I waited patiently for the Lord.
But that wasn’t what I heard. I heard “I waited IMPATIENTLY for the Lord.” That made more sense to me. Because if you are waiting patiently, why are you asking how long to sing this song? If you wait patiently, you won’t mind singing this song over and over and over. But if you are IMPATIENT, you want to know how long you have to keep going.
As I read the psalm, studied the psalm, I found more hints that the Psalter was impatient.
O LORD, make haste to help me.
You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God.
The writer of the psalm knows God will deliver him; has delivered him. But he wants to know FOR SURE. He wants to feel God’s love and embrace.
Three years ago, at the Synod Assembly, Dr. Rolf Jacobson, an Old Testament professor from Luther Seminary and scholar on the Psalms, lead several Bible studies. During one, he mentioned 40.
He said that the Psalter looks over their shoulder to the past at the tough times they have been through and tells about how God has taken care of them. But it's a crappy translation. The Hebrew says, “To wait, I waited.” It intensifies the waiting.
If your waiting is intensified, you are not waiting patiently. You are IMPATIENT. You are looking at your watch. You’re pacing. You are letting out exasperated sighs. You are not waiting patiently on the LORD. You are impatient – Come ON, God.
That’s the lesson I hadn’t yet learned from 40.
I hadn’t realized that sometimes you are in the miry clay, in the swamp because your time in the swamp changes you.
I heard Dr. Jacobson’s talk the first weekend of June in 2012. I’d been back from Michigan for 3 weeks from my mom’s funeral. I was up to my eyeballs in the miry bog and clay.
And I was not waiting patiently for God to incline and hear my cry.
I was screaming for help. I was drowning in grief.
Hearing about Psalm 40, that it really should be translated as IMPATIENTLY made me go back to read 40. I rediscovered its promise. I was reassured in my trust.
I was reminded that singing that new song isn’t a metaphor. It is a literal response to God’s goodness and grace. In my case, the song is a metaphor – because I can’t sing. But proclaiming God’s deliverance must be our response. After God has helped you through the tough times, you have a new song of praise to sing.
So to all of you here, and to the members of our congregations who aren’t here, we have a new song to sing. God has been good to us. While things haven’t always been easy; while things haven’t gone the way we want; while we have had to struggle and stumble and deal with strife and the messiness of life; we have never been alone. God has been with us, holding us up in the miry bog. God has supported us in our swamp of sin.
God has heard our cry, because God has been with us all along. He has lifted us up and set our feet upon a rock, and made our steps secure.
Now, it is time for us to sing a new song so that many will see and hear. It’s time for us to share the blessings God has given us. It’s time for us to be disciples and share God’s love and the Good News with our families, friends and neighbors.
As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God.
And that’s why I wear 40. It changed my life.
Pastor Brian's Page
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell has served at Our Savior's and Emmanuel since August 1, 2011, and began serving Nazareth on December 1, 2015.
Pastor Brian is originally from Saginaw, Michigan. He graduated from Alma College with a B.A. in Business Administration, and worked for the Saginaw Public Schools' Community Education Department for 17 years before answering the call to ministry. He graduated with a M. Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish is his first call.
He is the only child of Robert and Charlotte Campbell, both who have entered the Church Eternal.
He is accompanied in ministry by his faithful bulldogge Ananias, who regularly writes for our newsletter. His articles are archived here.
He is a fan of sports teams from his native Michigan, especially the Tigers and the Lions. But we tolerate him despite that.
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