Guest Preacher: Jack Westlund

Psalm 84: 1-12

The Church’s Invitation

 

What is it that has drawn people for the past 115 years to this church? 

What is it that we celebrate in the church week after week? 

What calls us to come into this very Sanctuary

in this very moment?

 

The one sufficient reason for coming to the church is God.

We yearn for the presence of God.

The 84th Psalm is a song that celebrates life in the church.

It is a hymn of the people of God.

It is a hymn for the people of God.

 

The Psalm begins by acknowledging

the personal nature of the church.

 

“My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord. 

  My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

 

“My heart, My flesh, My Soul”

 

Each one of us is called to love God

and God’s church in a personal way.

 

The one person that is uppermost

in the Psalmist mind and heart and soul…

is God…the living God.

The temple is the place where the Psalmist yearns to be

because

he associates the temple with the presence of God.

 

There is an invitation that epitomizes

why we come to this place

and why we should want others to come to this place

for years and years to come. 

 

It is an echoing of the words of this psalm.

Listen to the invitation.

 

“To all who mourn and need comfort,

to all who are tired and need rest,

to all who are lonely and want companionship,

to all who sin and need a Savior,

and to whosoever enters,

this church opens wide its doors

in the name of Christ our Lord

and says, Welcome.”

 

Why do any of us come to the church?

 

We come longing to find God.

 

The reasons we long for God

are expressed in the words of the 84th Psalm

and in this invitation that I have just read.

 

Why have people come to this church

for over a hundred years…

and why have we come

into the sanctuary of this church today?

Reason one:  Some of us come week after week…

      because we are tired and we need rest.

 

We are like the swallows which the Psalmist speaks of who dart from place to place,   restless…

until they find a  place worthy enough

to build a nest for their children.

 

We are the swallows of perpetual motion,

of ceaseless activity…

until we find a resting place for  our young.

 

The church ought always to be the one place

where not only our tired and restless spirits are invited

to enter to find rest and peace,

but where we bring our children

for their good welfare.

 

God’s very presence is a place of refreshment and rejuvenation

 

Jesus said, “Come to me all you who have worked

and are weary and I will give you rest.”

 

The Psalmist promises that the Lord will make us

lie down in green pastures,

he leads us beside the quiet waters, he restores our soul.

 

The church ought always to be a place where we sing of peace

and rest for our souls that we find in God’s presence.

 

Dr. Howard Edington, one of the well known  Presbyterian preachers of our day …

tells of certain poles in India that are strategically placed along the roads, so that the people who are traveling down those roads can take the loads they are carrying and place them on the poles when they come to them and rest awhile before continuing their journey.

 

I do not remember their Indian name for those poles,

but I do remember that the Indian name given to those poles

is the name which they have also given to Jesus.

 

Jesus is their resting place!

 

Why do we come to church?

 

To find a resting place in the presence of our Lord.

 

There are other times in our lives

and in the lives of others

when we and they come to church

because we need friendship and companionship.

 

We feel alone and lonely in this world and we yearn to have friends and companions.

 

We come looking for that relationship that meets our need for one another.

There is a mailbox that has been placed in a rather unique setting along the border of South Carolina and North Carolina.

It can be found in the sand on Sunset Beach near the ocean’s shore.

Its sole purpose is to receive letters and notes from ‘kindred spirits’.

It was put there years ago by a young lady who lost the love of her life.

Now years later…letters and notes of friendship and encouragement are left in this mailbox by others who happen to stroll down the beach.

 

These others are those who also have prized friendship and love and have become ‘kindred spirits’ to her and thousands of others who leave messages for all kindred spirits to read.

 

We all yearn for companionship!

 

The Psalmist declares…that even the most common,

the most insignificant of birds…the sparrow

finds a home in the presence of God.

 

The church’s invitation is to the least of people…

to those who are completely friendless,

to those who are most alone in the world…

 

Here in the presence of God is a friendship,

a companion who will sit or walk with us forever.

 

Jesus said,

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?

Yet not one of them will fall to the ground

apart from the will of your Father.

 

And even the very hairs of your head are numbered.

So don’t be afraid, you are worth more

than many sparrows.”

 

If even the sparrows feel comfortable in the presence of God,

how much more

will we feel God’s companionship in his temple.

The Psalmist declares it for us…

 

“Blessed are those who dwell in your house,

They are ever praising you.”

 

The church always invites those searching for friendship.

 

Where the presence of God is known,

there is that companionship that meets us

at the point of our loneliness.

 

A third reason some of us have come to the church is because of our grief and need for comfort…

 

We are the ones who the Psalmist describes as

“passing through the valley of Baca.

 

The valley of Baca is

the valley of weeping,

a place of sorrowing, of despair, of discouragement…

It is a desert, devoid of life.

 

In this world we will all walk through such a valley

of heartache and loss.

 

But the Psalmist invites us to see such places and times in our

lives as just a moment along the way.

 

The Psalmist invites us to look beyond that valley

to the place we shall appear before God.

 

“Baca” or “grief” is but one portion of our journey.

 

We all shall walk through the valley,

but our pilgrimage will take us beyond the valley to Zion,

to the holy place.

Those who in their mourning can look beyond

to our glorious heritage

can even alter the places of deep sorrow…

giving those places new life…

using those places of sorrow as opportunities

of gaining new strength

for the journey.

 

A number of years ago,

I was on my way to the hospital in Columbia, South Carolina.

I had been informed that Wallace Reid,

one of our beloved young people of the Central Presbyterian Church

who we had known as a teenager

and who at that time was a recent graduate

of the Medical College of South Carolina,

had had a car accident and was not expected to live.

 

As I drove to the hospital, my thoughts were filled

with remembrances of Wallace in earlier days,

telling us one Christmas of his Citadel experiences,

telling us with such wit that we were literally

bent over in laughter.

 

It was then that the words Jesus said

to one of his friends at his death,

came to my mind.

 

“Lazarus, come out!”

 

and I began to pray…  “Wallace, wake up!  Wallace, wake up!

 

It was in that moment that suddenly I realized Jesus had already spoken those words to Wallace and I experienced one of those holy moments in life…and found myself singing the doxology from the depths of my heart.

 

The news I received upon entering Richland Memorial Hospital was that Wallace had died.  I was not able to see Wallace that day nor have I seen Wallace alive since that day…but I know that he lives…

for Jesus has spoken to him…

“Wallace, wake up!  Wallace, wake up!”

 

 

It has been told, that on the evening of June 6, 1882,

a young minister in Scotland sat in his office that night

thinking about his sister who was getting married that evening

in Edinburgh

and he was not able to attend because of his fading eyesight.

He was going blind.

He thought also of a young woman

who had broken off her engagement to him

when she found out that he was going to lose his eyesight.

Now, he was thinking of his only sister

who had cared for him and looked out after him

and she was now giving her love to another.

 

He did not feel bitter or resentful that she was doing so,

only lonely and yearning for love and light and joy.

 

It was then that he thought of Jesus and His cross,

and the great love of God that would never leave him

and so he picked up his pen and wrote of love, light and joy.

The words are familiar to us…

 

O Love that will not let me go,

I rest my weary soul in thee;

I give thee back the life I owe,

That in Thine ocean depths its flow

My richer fuller be.

 

O Light that followest all my way,

I yield my flickering torch to Thee;

My heart restores its borrowed ray,

That in Thy sunshine’s blaze its day

May brighter, fairer be.

 

O Joy that seekest me through pain,

I cannot close my heart to Thee;

I trace the rainbow thru the rain,

And feel the promise is not vain,

That morn shall tearless be.

 

How often Jesus says to us,

“Do not be afraid,” I am the resurrection and the life. 

  If anyone believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. 

 Anyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

 

God is with us in our valleys of mourning,

 

God is beyond us to welcome us to newness of life.

 

That hope is why we gather here in Central Presbyterian Church.

 

Perhaps, the deepest reason all of us come

to the church, whether we know it or not,

is because we sin and need a Savior.

 

We yearn for healing and completeness in our lives.

 

We search for a safe place where we can deposit our secret sins

and know that they will be received and hidden forever,

never to cause us guilt anymore.

 

We come to have our more public sins forgiven…

to expose what everyone already knows,

and to pray that God

will restore us in the sight of others

and give us a new status and a pure heart.

 

We come desiring to be even a doorkeeper

in the house of our God,

with the minimal honor that that would bring us,

rather than remaining outside of the presence of God

in the tents of wickedness.

 

We come knowing and acknowledging that we are sinners,

justly deserving the displeasure of God.

 

There was a young man in Napoleon’s army

who committed a deed so terrible that it was worthy of death.

 

The day before he was scheduled for the firing squad,

the young man’s mother went to Napoleon

and pleaded for mercy for her son.

 

Napoleon replied, “Woman, your son does not deserve mercy.” 

 

“I know”, she answered.

If he deserved it, then it would not be mercy.”

 

 

We come with heads bowed to say, as has been said,

“O God of Second Chances, Here I am again.” 

(Nancy Spiegelberg)

 

Why have we come home to this Sanctuary today?

 

For Rest?

For Companionship?

For Comfort?

For Forgiveness?

 

Whatever your reason and mine,

we come longing for God’s presence.

 

 

We come with the Psalmist’s yearning, saying to one and all,

 

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts!

My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord.

My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.”

 

So we the church issue this invitation …
“To all who mourn and need comfort,

to all who are tired and need rest,

to all who are lonely and want companionship,

to all who sin and need a Savior,

and to whosoever enters,

this church opens wide its doors

in the name of Christ our Lord

and says,

Welcome!

WELCOME TO CENTRAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH