My kids are at that age where they are very concrete thinkers. It’s hard for them to understand God as some big, cosmic, other worldly being they cannot see, or hear, or touch. What they do understand is if they fall and skin their knees in the drive way, or they need help resolving a fight they are having, or when they are sick Mommy and Daddy are there.Mommy and Daddy fix their meals, give them baths and do our best to protect them when we are out and about. When my kids are upset or hurt they will often want to be cuddled in Mommy or Daddy’s arms and they won’t brother, sister or anybody else to come near while they are being comforted. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s funny how things don’t change when we get older.
In Psalm 61 the Psalmist is acting like my children when they get a boo boo. The Psalmist is hurt, and feeling lonely and far from the love of God. The Psalmist cries out to God in their pain and suffering looking for God’s comfort, support and grace. Sometimes the Psalmist feels as if they are calling out to God from the ends of the earth. The Psalmist goes so far as to say their heart feels faint, as if their heart was breaking.
The Psalmist has taken refuge in God’s strong tower, or keep before, and hopes to do so again. In ancient and midievil times it was customary to have a strong tower in the center of the city. The keep was to be the last line of defense for the people of the city in the event of an attack or siege. My children’s keep is the love and protection of their Mommy and Daddy. The Psalmist is looking for God’s keep. The Psalmist refers to God’s keep as, “the rock that is higher than I;” “a refuge against the enemy” (vv 2-3). God’s refuge is like a tent; although, protected by God’s presence, God’s tent is a moveable affair (v 4). God’s keep provides protection and support like a bird protecting chicks under its wings (v4). This is the place the Psalmist wants to dwell forever.
As I look around the sanctuary today there must be a lot of people who do not want to be here this morning. Yes, it’s summer time, but a lot of people are not hear this morning. Why don’t more people want to come to worship with us on Sunday mornings? Why don’t more people want to worship with us in this space? I think part of the challenge is God’s keep is not about bricks and mortar. God’s keep is not a building. God’s keep is God’s protection extended to God’s people. God’s Prevenient Grace calls people to God’s protection. Justifying grace makes us worthy salvation. By Jesus Christ’s selfless sacrifice on the cross we have been washed with the blood of Christ and been saved. But the thing is the journey isn’t over. God’s Sanctifying grace continues to work in and through us. Santifying grace makes God’s keep a place where we want to dwell forever. (pause) Now I wonder, what would it look like for a church to be seen by its community as God’s keep?
For a church to be known as God’s keep the church must be as invitational as God’s prevenient grace. Yes or No Church; Is the Holy Spirit reaching out to everyone? Does the Holy Spirit care if someone is rich or poor? Does the Holy Spirit care if someone is Black? Hispanic? Asian? American Indian, or a person from India? Does the Holy Spirit care what people look like? Did Jesus care about any of these things when Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:19-20)? You’re right. The answer is, “No.” God doesn’t care about any of the things we allow to divide us. If we want to be a church known as God’s keep we must be as invitational as God’s prevenient grace.
If our church is to be known as God’s keep we must be willing to work with anyone and everyone for God’s glory. We must be willing to work with people who are very different from us for God’s glory as Christ did. The disciples weren’t rabbis like Jesus. The disciples were tax collectors, a Zealots, fishermen, and a traitor. However, Jesus still worked with each of them and helped them to become disciples who would eventually become the first apostles of the Church. Jesus looked past their jobs to their hearts and saw the potential they had inside. As a church, when was the last time we made it known we are willing to work with anybody to go forth and make disciples? How did we let people know we were willing to work with any one? Do people in our community know we are eager to share the gospel with everyone and we are willing to work with anyone regardless of race, creed, or denominational background to make that happen?
To be known in our community as God’s keep we need to be a group devoted to spiritual growth and the protection of spiritual growth for everyone. What this means is it is important for us as a congregation to encourage people to step out and try new things in faith. Not everything people try is going to be successful. That has to be okay. It has to be okay to make mistakes. As a congregation we must encourage people to be resilient. When we see congregants and visitors take a leap of faith we should be supportive whether they succeed or fail. On the flip side when we see a member of our congregation behaving in a way that is not in keeping with Scripture we should follow Jesus’ direction in Matthew 18:15 & 16. As Methodists accountability is a big part of who we are. We will not grow in our relationship with Christ if we do not hold one another accountable to the vows we have taken as members of Christ’s holy Church.
Now, there are barriers we must face if we are going to be known in our community as God’s keep. While digging through Psalm 61 I discovered something about the word dwell; as in, “Let me dwell in your tent forever” (v.4)! In Hebrew the word translated in verse four as “dwell” actually means “to stay as a foreigner or sojourner.” To fully understand the point the Psalmist is making I have to ask this question first. By a show of hands, who in this room is worthy to step foot in the house of the Lord? Who is worthy to stand before the throne of God? That’s right. None of us are worthy to stand before the throne of God. We are all sinners in need of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The problem is we like to be around people who look, act and spend like the same kind of sinner we are. And we can right away spot those who are not the same kind of sinner as me. There was a time where the sentiment, “If they aint from around here, they don’t belong here,” held sway. In some cases this idea is still around – especially in churches. Have y’all ever been to a church that wasn’t clickish? (pause) Perhaps the key to helping our church become a strong tower of God’s love and grace is a powerful spirit of hospitality.
I think it’s interesting the Psalmist says they took vows before the Lord, and the Lord adopted the Psalmist into the heritage of those who fear the name of the Lord. As United Methodists we also made vows before the Lord and one another on the day we joined the church. When visitors become members of a United Methodist Church they promise to support the Church through their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness. There is a spirit of hospitality woven into all of these.
First to support the church through our prayers, our presence our gifts, our service, and our witness we need to invite, invite, invite everyone and anyone to come to worship, or a church function. I challenge everyone here to invite two new people to come to church next week. (pause) Second, when visitors come into our sanctuary we must greet those people warmly. We must collect their contact information, and we must follow up with cards or a phone call to help those people know they are valuable to our congregation. Third, we must be a church who honors spiritual growth. That means we all need to do a better job of participating in Sunday school, the fall Bible Study, putting together a proper Methodist Class Meeting, and work to create a safe environment for new disciples to try new things in order to grow in Christ.
The point is for our church to be know in our community as invitational, welcoming, safe, challenging, helpful, and most of all Spirit led. If this is the reputation we want our church to have we must devote ourselves to be a place which covers people in God’s grace like a mother hen protects her chicks. We must be a group which fosters and builds disciples who are focused on the upward call of Christ. This is what it means to be God’s keep in the community. This is what it means to be a church.
In the name of Jesus Christ – Amen.