Comeback, Week 2 — The “So RETURN Doesn’t Become RELAPSE” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Was actually designed and prepared in MAY, when I thought we might be coming back to “live” church in JUNE.  Welp!
  • Drew parallels from our “return from exile” since March and Israel’s “dream-filled” return from much more literal exile in Psalm 126;
  • Recognized that the nostalgia of Psalm 126:1-3 is replaced by an urgency in 126:4-6. That urgency is to remind is the celebration shouldn’t lead to complacency but instead to more desperation;
  • Landed here:  He keeps coming through so you’ll keep coming back.


The only thing that gets your adrenaline going more than being told you CAN’T is being told you CAN. The only thing that is more vivid than PERMISSION DENIED is PERMISSION GRANTED. The only thing stronger than being sent out is being welcomed back.

And, my goodness, is that not were are today – back in a place and among a people from whom we have been exiled? In a SNAP we go from refugees to residents; from wanderers to worshippers. Some of you, face it, didn’t even realize what you had until it was taken away. It’s absence made you appreciate its presence that much more. It has been funny to me … during this “exile” some of the folks who most wanted us to return were the same ones who, pre-pandemic, I saw twice a year!

Even you introverts in the house, you who may come alone or you may come with others, but even so you always hope we won’t turn and greet, you’re not that eager for people to come up to you before the service to talk, even YOU realized you miss the buzz of people being together. And the cool thing, as we look around, is that we’re not the first. We’re not the first who have been in a sense “sent away,” and when we thought it wasn’t ever gonna happen, finally GOD CAME THROUGH and WE CAME BACK. There’s precedent.

Because this is precisely where Psalm 126 opens:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of[a] Zion

What in the world is that referring to? Great question! Because I have an answer. This song, sung by pilgrims as they headed up the hill to Jerusalem where they’d have a family reunion and camp meeting at the Jerusalem temple, has a very specific purpose in starting that way. Because back in 587 BC after a long period of moral & spiritual decline, Israel was conquered by Babylon and its ppl forced into exile. The descriptions of what happened when Jerusalem was overrun are downright sickening – cannibalism, child sacrifice, bestiality, famine, a 600 mile desert version of the Bataan Death March. Talk about fortunes lost, dreams dashed, as good as dead, that lady done sung! That army was worse than this virus.

But then, 70 years later God used a man who did not know Him – I love how the Lord works! – a man named Cyrus king of Persia to both conquer Babylon AND set the Jews free, sending them back to Jerusalem. Persia, as a lot of you know, is modern day Iran, and I’ve pointed out here before the irony of Iran doing such a favor for Israel, but that’s what happened. And so the Jews captured this sentiment – unexpected savior, inexplicable timing, improbable return and it’s like their Hail Mary pass, their buzzer beating jump shot, their glass slipper fits, their Cam Newton dabbing US to the Super Bowl, their spontaneous invention of iPod. Look at 126:1b – 2a:

Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”

Mouths are filled with laughter, tongues with songs of joy, all with the “can you believe this?” sort of hilarity. What stands out to me is that they took time to mark and to remember. Their celebration is so much like the delirious aftermath of your favorite team making that last second shot, your candidate winning that upset election, your company opening back up earlier than everyone else did. When you’re as good as dead . . . and then you’re not, it’s time to celebrate. They had to pinch themselves to ensure that it was all real. God came through. Again.  Here’s how 126:3 words it:

The Lord has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.

We have a man here who in 2008 was given six months to live. Can we agree that TWELVE YEARS > SIX MONTHS? So it is and so he is still with us. God came through and we just have to pinch ourselves in conversation – am I talking to real person? That’s Psalm 126, that’s life, that’s us, today, seeing God come through.

Yet 126:3 is not the end of the Psalm. In many ways it is the beginning. Look at 126:4:

Restore our fortunes,[c] Lord,
    like streams in the Negev.

The sense there is Do it again. Essentially: yes we thank you for what you did before but it would be really cool if you did it again. Maybe use someone like Cyrus, maybe someone more conventional, but do it again. I say that because we know that this song was written AFTER the return from exile, but enough after that the RETURN was turning into a RELAPSE. The same stuff that tripped them up BEFORE the Babylonians was tripping them up now – mistreatment of the poor, worshipping other gods in order to hedge their bets. Really, the living God, the God of Israel becomes INCONVENIENT rather than INCOMPARABLE.

And so all of a sudden the last half of the psalm becomes fill with all kinds of urgency. Yeah, the nostalgia of 126:1 was great – when we came back it was like we was dreamin’! – but now we’re relapsing into complacency and we need a shot of adrenaline. What you DID God is just a runway for us to ask you to do it again. Fill up a dry riverbed in a tenacious desert, Lord! And then look at the contrast in 126:5:

Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.

Then the contrast added with abundance in 126:6:

Those who go out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with them.

And you see that pile on of joy and it makes you realize that the answers in the past are merely to whet your appetite to ask for more. So you realize the source of all your favor.

It’s sort of like peanuts in a bar. What are they there for (so I’ve been told)? Not to make you a connossieur of peanuts! To whet your appetite for liquid refreshment! Or what’s the purpose of dinner? To whet your appetite for chocolate ice cream? The purpose of lunch? To whet your appetite for a chocolate candy bar! The purpose of waking up in the morning? To whet your appetite for Count Chocula! Every answer today, Psalm 126’s urgency tells us, is to make us that more eager to depend on him for tomorrow.

I am convinced that God longs that the answers he provides and the times he comes through are not to make you complacent but to make you more desperate. Crying out to God AFTER you get want is more essential than BEFORE! Here it is: He keeps coming through so you’ll keep coming back. In order for THIS return not be to be OUR relapse into any kind of complacency, any kind of taking for granted how good God is to us, REFRAIN. I want the answer that this day represents to whet the appetite to ask God for more and for bigger and for better.

I am really not telling you anything you don’t know, people. You all know that you’re much more vulnerable to self-destruction when you’re on top of the world than when you’re climbing up. After you’ve gotten what you wanted than before. I mean, that’s been going on a long time. What’s that thing that Noah does after the ark lands and he has the pretty cool task of re-populating the world? Oh, you didn’t read that in your illustrated children’s bible? Gets drunk, gets naked, suffers shame from one of his sons, and nothing is ever quite right again. Return become relapse indeed.

But we just inherit that tendency and perfect it. It’s behind all the rock stars who blow up their stardom, the athletes who get arrested, the politicians who fall for the dumbest ploys, and most especially, most especially, the high profile preachers who squander all their gifts and ruin their ministry. Success leads to vulnerability … and that’s why I want you and me and all of us on high alert so that we have the same level of tenacity and prayer and even discipline now that things are “normal” as when they weren’t.   He keeps coming through so you’ll keep coming back.

You know what I noticed? During pandemic – our exile! – so many of you really jumped on the bandwagon of starting the day in the Word and not the world. So many new readers, not just locally but nationally and even globally. So grateful for that platform. But the temptation I want to name and rebuke is the slow slide back into starting in the world. Not a crisis now, so let me go back to before. Did it ever occur to you that God allowed the crisis so that you’d develop that new pattern. And remember, we not only give you the morning assignment, but the resource to help you make sense of it (give FB invite). Because when you look around and are filled with gratitude for this return or for other favor he has shown you, it’s not so you can rest on his laurels; it’s so you can ask for more. Not more bling. More goodness of God. More: I am powerless without you but because of you I’m never helpless! More him, less you.  He keeps coming through so you’ll keep coming back.

It all makes me think what happened with this pastor who was starting a church in Canada:

In the mid 80s my family moved to northern Saskatchewan to start a church. With no people to start, most months were difficult financially, and I had a little fix-it shop on the side to help out.
One week in April, when the ground was still frozen and snow-covered, we were down to only a few dollars in the bank. Our usual reaction to that was to look to our own solution. This time, however, in a stroke of faith, I went before God and told him we needed eggs, bread, and milk.
That afternoon a man came to my fix-it shop with a leaky kettle. He said, “I know I could get another, but it’s my favorite. Please fix it.” In a minute the job was done and I didn’t charge him for it. But he pulled out a $10 bill and insisted I take it – just enough for a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, and a dozen eggs.
As he left, with a bit of pride in my faith decision, I thank God, to which he replied, “Next time ask for a side of beef.”

Yeah, let’s ask for ALL OF IT. Family members to be saved. Addictions to be healed. Despair to be lifted. The name of Jesus to be lifted high, higher, highest. All of it. I so want you to take this occasion to persist in prayer and to persist in powerlessness. Every thank you that you offer to become motivation for more requests. Every answer you get to whet your appetite for more of God. Because in case you couldn’t tell I don’t want this return to be a relapse but a reload, a relaunch, into greater levels of depending on God. What do I want people to say about Good Shepherd? Man, those people depend on God. They know they’re powerless but not helpless.

A bit like the guy you might have heard of who stopped drinking. He got sober and then he got saved. What a great combination. Some of you have lived that story. But he went to a bible study with another guy in recovery, this one not so sure yet about Jesus. And the bible story was about Jesus turning water into wine. After it was over, the skeptic says the slightly more convinced guy, “Do you really think that happened? Hard to figure. Do you really think Jesus turned water into wine?”

“Not sure about that,” said the first guy, the sober/saved one. “All I know is that in my house he turned beer into furniture.”

So he did. So he does. So he will do.

He keeps coming through so you’ll keep coming back so let’s keep coming back to him and his throne.