Prayer: God open our ears to hear your word to us, without distraction or judgment. God open our minds to see you in new ways. God open our hearts to be changed by your actions in the world. God ready our feet so that once we have heard and been changed, we may follow You as we continue on this journey. Amen.
As I mentioned last week, the Psalms are a collection of poems and songs which cover a wide range of emotions from doubt to joyful praise. Last Sunday, we took a closer look at a Psalm of Lament as we looked at Psalm 10 and how God shows up and meets us in our doubts. Today, as we continue our Psalms of Summer sermon series, we will explore Psalm 63, a psalm of comfort. As I read our text this morning, I invite you to think about a few questions which I’ll touch on later in sermon: What are your favorite images of comfort? Have you ever tangibly been comforted by God? What does it mean to be comforted by God? When you think of God’s comfort, what images come to mind? I invite you to listen now to the words of Psalm 63.
The words of Psalm 63, a Psalm of David, may have been written or at least thought about when David was hiding from one of his many enemies in the wilderness of Judah. If you can imagine, the wilderness of Judah is about as pleasant as it sounds. If you somehow found yourself on one of the many survival shows on TV, you would not want to be dropped off in the wilderness of Judah. It is hot. It is dry. It is without living giving water. You would bake pretty quickly in the sun’s intense heat. Though I do not think I would survive well, a human can survive for a month or more without eating but only at the most a week without water. When you are in the wilderness your body rebels against you quickly and you long for water and nourishment.
Friends, we all need water. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why David proclaims his soul deeply thirsts for God and his flesh faints as though in a dry land where there is no water. If you go too long without water and become dehydrated, it is a disorienting and painful experience. Your muscles do not work like they were designed to and your head spins. Without our Lord in our lives, we can also become disoriented. Being in the presence of the Lord and resting in His wings reorients us. Perhaps you have been in or maybe you are currently in your own wilderness today. Perhaps you feel as though your relationship with God is a little dried up. Yet in these moments of longing and desperation, our faith in God has the opportunity to stretch in ways we did not think were possible. It is often in such moments when we like David, come to terms with our complete and total reliance on God alone. It is in such moments when we turn to God for comfort and assurance.
The Psalms are rich in water imagery. There are two images of God’s comfort in our text today and the first is God’s comfort like relief of water when we are in dry lands. Our Bodies crave water. Water is important. Last week, I woke up on Tuesday with laryngitis (which bad for a preacher who likes to talk). I wanted to recover as quickly as possible, and I knew drinking water was essential in order to heal.
Water brings us comfort and relief. After being dehydrated, water restores our bodies. There are several ways Psalm 63 reminds us that God alone is our Life Source and Living Water. The very opening lines of Psalm 63 confess our dependence on God. David’s very soul thirsts for the Lord. His longing for God is deep. Do we also have a deep longing for the life-giving power of God? Often times as we go throughout life, we may seek after and thirst for temporary things. We turn to things that may satisfy us temporarily but eventually will leave us with an unfilled longing. Unfortunately, sometimes we even turn our backs to the Lord and seek after these things.
Yet, ultimately God is our living water, and our true life source. When you stop and think about it, there are so many ways throughout our daily lives when we depend on God. We depend on God’s forgiveness and to be our constant help in need and our guidance throughout our lives. Even though David is in the scarceness of the wilderness, David knows God is his helper and comfort. He knows ultimately God is with him therefore David’s lips glorify the Lord and he rejoices even amidst the oncoming threats of his enemies. In the presence of God, we are able to find comfort, satisfaction, and security.
There are many beautiful images of God’s comfort. In the second image of comfort in today’s psalm, the psalmist writes of being sheltered under God’s wings. As we are sheltered under wings, we become protected from wind, rain, outside elements, and predators. Sheltered and protected under the wings of God, the psalmist is able to sing for joy. One of my favorite images of being comforted by God is similar to being sheltered under wings, but I love the idea of God’s comfort and love surrounding us like a blanket. Throughout our lives we use blankets to wrap ourselves up in. One of first things a child might experience is being lovingly wrapped in a blanket. Blankets are something we use in every season of life. Blankets comfort us and reminds of love others. When I was a baby, my Nanny made me blanket, which I still have and remember her love for me every time I see it. This is a prayer shawl blanket was made by my home church in Hartsville, SC before I came to Winchester to be with you all.
So have you tangibly felt God’s comforting presence? When you think of God’s comfort, what images come to mind? I decided to take an informal Facebook poll and my friends didn’t disappoint. Some felt as though God physically held their hands during illness, others resonated with the image of climbing up into God’s lap after the death of a loved one. Others felt God’s comfort through the kindness of others, through friends who directly comforted and brought meals and supplies to them in times of need. One mentioned receiving a card from a friend with the words they needed to hear, exactly when they needed to hear them. One of my friends from seminary, Melissa Morris, a pastor in PA said, “I directly feel God’s comfort as though I’m one of those oil covered duck who are being cleaned during the Dawn commercials. I know there are two very gentle but very active hands holding me as I’m continually washed clean by water. The less the duck struggles, the quicker the hands do their job. The more we surrender and trust those hands to do their job, the better we are.” I love this image. We can feel God’s comfort in worship through songs and when we feel the prayers of others praying on our behalf when we are unable to pray for ourselves.
The words of our scripture today remind us that it is the Lord who acts first in our lives and we are invited, challenged, and called to response. Because of who God is, David realizes he is invited to “bless the Lord as long as I live” and as God’s people, we are invited to do so as well. Because of who is God, we are able to lift up our hands and call upon God. Because of who God is, we are able to come together and worship. Because of who God is we can rejoice in the shadow of God’s wings. Because of who God is, we are called to bear witness to the work of the Lord in our lives. Because of who God is, we are called to comfort our neighbors with God’s love.
When it comes to teaching and studying the Psalms, one exercise that is sometimes helpful is re-writing one of the Psalms in our own words. Dissecting the psalm line by line and re-writing can be a spiritual discipline and provide new insights. I love the version of Psalm 63, a Christian blogger, Sylvia Purdie, wrote especially with children in mind. She interprets Psalm 63 writing:
O God, my God, my friend,
I am looking for you, I need to find you!
I need you like I get desperate for a drink on a boiling hot day.
I need you when I am hiding
from people who are trying to hurt me.
Save me from lies, rescue me from danger!
I have seen you sometimes out of the corner of my eye –
you are light and kindness and glory.
I have felt you in church as love fills the air,
it’s great to sing and praise and celebrate!
All my life I will love you,
O God, my God, my friend.
And now you are here, you found me!
You lead me to a party, all my friends waiting for me,
plenty to drink and eat, a feast of my favorite food –
I am full of joy!
And when it is time for bed
I snuggle up with you, like you were soft as soft,
gentle wings over me through the night.
And tomorrow, and every day, I will hold on to you
and you will hold on to me,
O God, my God, my friend.
Friends, when we feel as though we are in a dry wilderness, God is there, holding us close, walking beside us every step of the way. Because of who God is, God seeks to comfort us. God’s powerful, protecting, presence, and compassion surrounds us day in and day out, comforting us in the shadow of loving wings. Even when we feel as though we are in the wilderness. God seeks to comfort us when we need it the most. Friends, how have you tangibly felt God’s comforting presence? Remember that comfort, and share it with others. Amen.