Call to Worship: 2008 All Over Again

Psalm 91:1-2

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

With markets reeling in recent weeks over the sovereign debt crisis—the inability of sovereign nations to pay their bills—and the downgrade of our country’s own credit rating, I’ve been hearing colleagues at the financial institution where I work ask, is this 2008 all over again?

Debt is about creditors. Credit is about trust. A famous dictum by 19th century journalist Walter Bagehot was, “Every banker knows that if he has to prove he is worthy of credit, however good may be his arguments, in fact his credit is gone.”

When you hear terms like “value destruction,” it means there has been a breakdown in trust. So, the markets, then, rather than being a place where shareholders invest in companies, have become, as Jon Stewart put it succinctly, “like a giant mood ring and we get to watch.” And we once again see layoffs in the headlines again.

Whet do we make of times like this? In the “sky is falling” type moments like this, what am I to believe?

It’s right here, in this Psalm: His protection is real. His strength and presence is like the bulwark of a fortress. The good faith and credit of our King will never falter. He is trustworthy. He is our protector.

Has anxiety enveloped you? A development unfolded this week that you couldn’t have seen coming? Hold fast to the Lord. He has foreseen these events. He walks through them with you.

How I Used Dahlia's Favorite Toy to Lead Worship at TVC Yesterday

From time to time I lead worship at the Village Church in NYC. It’s mostly like emcee-ing the service (in the way that I’m introducing different segments and making announcements), but there are two portions of the service where my speaking duties are weighty enough that I like to have some thoughts prepared.

Below is one of those remarks that I felt went particularly well for our Call to Worship (Saturday Night Live fans think: “cold open”).

Isaiah 52:8-9

8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.
When the LORD returns to Zion,
they will see it with their own eyes.
9 Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.

The watchmen of whom Isaiah is speaking were set on towers, posted at intervals to give the earliest notice of the approach of any messenger with tidings. The emphasis of the text here is—as James Fausset Brown puts modestly—more forcible, exclamatory even, in the Hebrew.

But, we’re sophisticated New Yorkers, so we don’t get elated about, like, anything. Earnestness in this city is a sign of weakness, that you haven’t got it all put together.

Well, I find my children instructive because they lack my useless sophistication.

Last Christmas, for example, my daughter received a gift that was to her the apogee of awesome—bringing together her three great loves: bath time, dolls, and princesses—a princess Ariel mermaid doll whose tail, when you poured cold water over it, changed color from green to purple.

After I pried Ariel loose from the wire ties and cardboard packaging, Dahlia immediately wanted to try out the color change. We went into the bathroom, ran the cold water in the tub and Dahlia tossed Ariel in. Sure enough, to Dahlia’s delight, the tail changed colors.

This experiment elicited one of my most treasured moments with Dahlia: when she saw Ariel’s tail change color, she hopped up and down next to the bathtub and shouted without restraint, “I have a new Ariel doll!”

This is the kind of elation the Isaiah is proclaiming. Coming at the end of a long, awkward, almost desperate silence.

Have you been watchful for the Lord? Has the grit and dust of your week made you search the horizons for hope?

Then be comforted, for you have been redeemed, dear Village Church. We come to rejoice in the salvation of Jesus Christ that we have seen, are seeing, and will see. This is the Ariel doll in the bathtub. Let’s stand and burst into songs of joy together.