I have been gathering weekly with a small group of St Michael’s folks for a series called Animate Faith, which includes videos by nationally known teachers and writers.
Shane Hipps shared this story:
I remember being at home for Easter break during my sophomore year of college, and I was really stressed out about all kinds of things going on in my life. I felt like there was a storm raging around me. I’d put on a good face, but inside I was tied up. My dad and I were standing in the back yard and he turned to me and said, Shane, I have this sense that there is a knot in your spirit, and I’d like to pray for it to loosen.
My dad is a guy steeped in prayer, but he’s very private about it and he had never done anything like this before, so I was a little nervous. But I said, sounds good. And then he came, stood right next to me, and he placed his hand on my chest, and another hand on my back, which I didn’t expect, and then he said, “I think the knot is right here.” He spent a minute in silence. He didn’t say a word, and I could feel the warmth of his hand on my body, and I just breathed and in almost not time, I felt something in me uncoil, and tears were streaming down my cheeks. in that moment, something loosened in me. It was like stepping into the eye of a hurricane. The storm still raged around me, nothing in my life had changed. What changed was my relationship to those things, there was a calm, there was a peace, there was hope. It was much greater than my dad’s love for me.
Shane talks about this as an experience of salvation – but it could as easily be called healing, or revelation – the experience of God’s presence with him.
He says, “Salvation – [healing, knowing God’s presence] – “is a moment by moment possibility while we live. “It is a choice we make now, to trust Jesus.”
That day Shane experienced being blessed, and knowing God was holding him in love.
The psalm today is a psalm which celebrates the blessings of God.
It reminds God’s people of the rich blessings they have received – and are receiving.
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us;
let all the ends of the earth revere God
The psalm invites the people to recognize God’s blessings with praise and thanksgiving. Even more, it is an invitation to trust – to trust fully in God’s love and care for us.
It invites the people of God into that place Shane calls the eye of the storm –resting in the loving care of God.This is what I think of when I hear Jesus say “abide in me.” It is what John Calvin called repose in God. And it is a place of healing and grace.
Sometimes when things go wrong, and we pray, we get the answers we seek –sickness is cured, relationships restored, a new job or opportunity comes through.
But other times, the situation does not change – not for a long time, not ever.There is treatment but not cure for an illness.A relationship is broken. Stress over work, struggle with addiction, worry for a child or parent, loneliness, fear - our struggles and pain continue. But there is another kind of healing – the healing of knowing we are held by God.
The healing of abiding in God’s love and peace, even while the storm rages. It is a healing we find in prayer.
In community. In rituals of confession and forgiveness, sharing the Peace, singing together,and receiving the grace of the Eucharist.
It is a healing we find in letting go, and in seeing blessings as clearly as struggles. This is the second time this summer I am preaching about a psalm (the first was at Live at Five in June, when I preached on Psalm 145) It is not something I’ve done often in almost 15 years of ordained ministry.
But I think the way many psalms focus on praise and gratitude has drawn me – I’ve been captured by my reading of them, caught up in study of the beautiful words of poetry and themes of blessing.
Because I am feeling blessed to be at St Michael’s. Despite everything that has happened in the last year and a half, we are truly blessed.
People come here for the first time and feel the Spirit of love and friendship we have among us.
Amid our losses, we have been showered with blessings this summer: a very generous response to our mini-pledge drive in July;
a new teacher at the preschool; and a person coming to lead singing with our kids during children’s chapel.
I mentioned needing a keyboard for her to use, and the first person I spoke to had one to donate.
We are blessed to have David Martin serving here, and Doug Travis coming next month.
It’s a matter of perspective.
It’s a matter of recognizing our blessings.
The blessings are all around us, if we look.
I’m aware of it in the beauty and energy of our song leaders and congregation.
I’m aware of it whenever I look out at all of you, some of whom I know well and some hardly at all, but all of us here together seeking God and looking for healing of our deepest wounds and fears.
I have struggled with depression all of my adult life.
For years I prayed for peace and healing, hoping for some miraculous day when I would wake up filled with peace and the struggle would end.
I’ve realized it doesn’t work that way.
For me, healing is a day-to-day thing,choosing again and again to trust God and keep walking in faith, no matter my mood at the moment.
Now I pray to be present to my life and aware of the blessings I receive.
Two weeks ago, I was staying with my family in a cabin on the shore of Lake Huron.
We had one of those tube floats, and my youngest son, Micah, asked me to go out on it with him.
We floated away from shore, water around us as far as we could see, his little 6 year old body cuddled against me.
As we rose and fell on the gentle waves, I felt such gratitude – for Micah, for the water, for vacation and time to relax.
I knew God was holding me, as sure as the water below and the boy cuddled next to me.
Wednesday morning, I was up before 6:00 for the first day of school.
I went to get something from the car, and saw the most beautiful sunrise(something I am very rarely awake to see.)
I took a 10 minute walk, thanking God for life and beauty –and for school starting up again. As I learn to pay attention to the present, to be aware of blessings, I experience more and more of those moments Shane talks about – moments of revelation, of healing, of experiencing eternal life now.
I read this week about a church in Texas that does a Driver’s License Blessing for families when they reach this life-changing milestone with a teenager.
Youth and their parents are prayed for, and the new drivers given key chains to remind them of God’s presence. They read Psalm 121.
Then the parents of the new drivers pray,
“Holy God, you are the beginning and end of every road we take. At every moment and in every place, you are near to your children. Keep this, your treasured child, in your care. Lead him as you led the children of Israel through the wilderness. Protect him as you protected Abraham and Sarah when they left their own land and set out on a journey. Enable him to travel safely, with care for the safety of others.”
Finally, the pastors, parents, and friends encircle the youth and offer a blessing:
“May the Lord remain constantly at your side, and guide your journey. Amen.”
A parent reflected on how the experience blessed her:
“For me, this was an incredibly touching experience, one that drew from me a well of tears as I read the prayers. The tears were tears of healing and letting go. No one gathered that day had known how tender I was about my son driving on his own, as my own brother was completely paralyzed from an automobile accident that took place in the 1970’s.”
In the prayers of her community, and in offering to God her hopes and fears for her son, this woman found healing.
The ability to bless one another, to recognize and share the blessings we receive, is one of the gifts of community.
We gather to share our stories, to pray with and for one another.
We gather to share our gifts and joys.
We gather to share our wounds, our yearnings, our longing and hope for healing.
As we take time this morning to offer to God our prayer for healing for ourselves and others, I offer this blessing, ancient and new:
May God be gracious to us and bless us.
May God’s face shine upon us.
May God continue to bless us.
May God grant us healing and peace, today and always.