Pr. Eric Swensson

February 24, 2015

photo of Pr. EricThis message is based on the readings for the 2nd Sunday in Lent. We shall now listen to Psalm 22:23-31

You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

In worship recently we sang the song whose lyrics I am going to read in a moment. You will recognize the gospel hymn immediately. I am always happy to see it in the bulletin when I worship somewhere. It is a favorite hymn not just of mine but many people. Like the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” many of us also have it memorized. The words in both are simple and relevant.

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I'm tired, I'm weak, I'm alone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.

When my way grows drear precious Lord linger near
When my light is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When the darkness appears and the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.

Perhaps you know that this hymn was written in grief, unimaginable grief of a husband whose wife died in childbirth. The hymn is part of the story of Thomas A. Dorsey. His grief was compounded because a baby boy had been born, but died later that day. Learning the awful story behind it, perhaps the words “I'm tired, I'm weak, I'm alone” are even more poignant, but the insight is hardly necessary. For so many of us, Precious Lord is our cry. I certainly don’t need to gin up any emotion when I sing it. Life is hard, and at times it is a crushing load. There are times, that unless my spirit rallies, the light is almost gone. There are times when I just want to lay down. Life can do that, lay you flat out. If you ever get depressed, don’t feel bad, you are not alone.

Ah, but that is the key. We are not alone. What a friend we have in Jesus. All our sins and griefs to bear. And what a privilege it is to carry everything to God in prayer.

When I was singing Precious Lord recently, at the time that the congregation sang “Hold my hand, lest I fall,” I thought “Lest I fall? No, when I fall!” Perhaps Mr. Dorsey meant that very big fall, the one people don’t get up from. I, too, think with dread at times about falling into that pit, but I have faith in Jesus and I know the answer there. No, the thought behind “Lest I fall? No, when I fall!” is the knowledge that I do fall. I pray to cling to Jesus, and I would always hold his hand, but I fall. However, and a big however it is, He lifts me up. He lifts me up out of the miry clay.

That is not a term we use often, but I can imagine what miry clay is. It must have something to do with “getting mired down.” We all know that situation. After singing the hymn, I reflected on how hard life is right now, and I thought of another image from the psalms. Psalm 119:38 says, “Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your decrees.” Back in the day, wineskins would be hung from a rafter. Left empty they dry up. Left empty long enough they dry up, eventually they will crack. Such wineskins would be thrown on the trash heap and burned, useless. I can imagine the psalmist laying on the floor, dejected, staring at the ceiling, wondering “How long must I endure?” and his eye falls on an old wineskin and thinks, “Man. That’s me. I am just like that wineskin. Empty. Forgotten.”

One may wonder what he did. We don’t have to guess though, we can look at the verses that follow. Though persecuted, with traps being laid, still he clings to the Word. Though they almost killed him, he clings to the Word. And the psalmist says “Revive me according to Your loving kindness.”

Revive us, Lord. Help us stand. We turn to the second lesson, Romans 5,:

Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

And so we can each cry out, “Send me your Holy Spirit, Lord. Fill me, Lord. When I am like a forgotten wineskin, fill me. When the Cross gets too heavy, Lord, give me your Spirit so I can say ‘You are the Christ.’ It is You, and none besides You can give me the strength to stand. Knowing You and your love for the world makes me want to not only carry on, but give testimony to the One that has redeemed us.”

When the darkness appears and the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river we stand
Guide our feet, hold our hand
Precious Lord, lead us home.