Upside Down World

Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37
Rev. Dexter Kearny
Longview Presbyterian Church
November 1, 2020

‘O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.

He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the wickedness of its inhabitants. He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. And there he lets the hungry live, and they establish a town to live in; they sow fields, and plant vineyards, and get a fruitful yield.

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Ah, it is good to be back. As many of you noticed Pastor Liz and I were absent for the last two weeks. We took two weeks of study leave, as generously granted by the church, to go and study and grow. We spent the two weeks reading several books and attending several webinars that have served to deepen our understanding and perspective as pastors and as human beings. We studied anti-racism practices for the church, community organizing, and mass incarceration, among other topics. You will be hearing more about these things in the newsletter and other ways. Suffice it to say, we came back feeling rested and encouraged.

But then we came back to reality…

Just this last week I felt like I was hit over the head again. My aunt is fleeing yet another fire in Southern California as climate changes rages through our country from hurricanes to fires. A supreme court justice was rushed through a confirmation process even though millions upon millions of votes have been cast in the election. Another black man, Walter Wallace Jr., was shot dead by police in Philadelphia. And even after I finished writing my sermon another black man, Kevin Peterson Jr, was shot dead in Vancouver. The election is only days away though we may not have results right away as we wait for ballots to be counted. And the list goes on and on… oh, and I did not even mention the global pandemic…

So how can we possibly read our text this morning? “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.” How can we turn to God when the world around us is in shambles? How can we extol God’s virtues? How can we say the Lord is good?

Today is the church celebration and remembrance of All Saints Day. Today we give glory to God for the ordinary, holy lives of the believers in this and every age. It is a day where we remember those who have gone on before us and those we have lost. This year has been a year filled with unprecedented numbers of deaths, from COVID-19 to police shootings to climate change. Death has been our constant companion on the journey. How do we celebrate and remember today?

And this is where Christianity can offer a glimmer of hope in the midst of the pain. We celebrate those who have gone on before us remembering their life and legacy and all that they have shared with us. We mourn them as we miss them in the present. But at the same time we remember that death is not the final word. It is not the way the world works, in the Christian view. Instead we celebrate today because we know that though we are separated right now, that this will not be the case forever. There will come a day when we will all celebrate together again. A day when the world will be made new, a day when God will “[redeem us] from trouble and [gather us] in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.”

Today we remember Jesus’ work on the cross and resurrection from the tomb. Teaching us that just because it seems like death is winning does not mean it has. We have hope in a promised future, a future that we are working on in the here and now. Today is the day we step into that upside down world and bring it to fruition.
In the Beatitudes which Sharon read earlier for us, Jesus claims that the poor, the mournful, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure-hearted, the peaceful, and the persecuted are “blessed.” Somehow in Jesus’ world they are the ones who have aligned their hearts and minds with the character of God. Jesus says they will enter heaven, experience comfort, inherit the earth, be filled, receive mercy, see God, and be called the children of God. The world that God lives and moves and is constantly calling us towards is filled with this upside down logic. It does not make sense in our individualistic, me first, greedy, comfort-first world view. We look around and see how all of our selfishness, all of our greed, all of our attempts at control have failed and are failing. But God is calling us to a new and bigger vision.

“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever… God turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water.”

This week when we got back from study leave, I had to remove all our plants from the garden because the first frost of the year happened while we were gone. All the life that we had carefully nurtured over the spring and summer was dead. It had given us a great crop of veggies to enjoy throughout the summer but it’s time was up. As I was tearing them up out of the ground and taking out the roots to be composted, I was reminded of God’s upside down world that brings life from death. Even surrounded by plant death, I knew that our God is the God of resurrection. And while everything is still dead and though nothing is growing right now, I know that God is at work. Death is not the final word. There is hope in the midst of pandemic and struggle. The promise of resurrection is ours.

Whatever deserts or parched lands we are living in today, whether the pains of loneliness and isolation or the frustration with the violence in our world, whether we are strapped for cash due to lockdowns or we are fighting with our families over elections, God has promised us to turn “a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water.” We are not alone and we are not without hope. We say that the Lord is good because we have experienced that love and joy and even when we are struggling and fighting and it feels like we are losing, we can turn to the steadfast love of our God and know that no matter what we can continue to work and live and create that upside down world filled with love and grace and joy even in the midst of heartache.

Can I get an amen?

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