Revive Us Again
The funeral of Queen Elizabeth demonstrates how tightly bound are the church and state in England. That is a Christian example. In the modern state of Israel, we see a Jewish example. What began with a strong secular vision and impulse has been slowly swallowed up by the faith and practice of Orthodox Judaism. In Iran and a dozen other Middle Eastern countries, the religion of Islam dominates the power structures of civil society.
I could give other examples: here in the United States, over there in Russia, and down south in Brazil. In Nigeria, Christians and Muslims are fighting for control of the land, the people, and the government.
For much of the history recorded in the Hebrew Bible—Genesis to Malachi—the religion of the people was bound up tight with the king and his court. In fact, the king was considered the Lord’s anointed, the Lord’s representative, the Lord’s chosen one. To resist the king was to resist the Lord God.
It is not easy for us to separate a religion from a state.
Too often, to pray for one is to pray for the other. We want to see the faith and practice of Christianity flourish here and elsewhere; and we also want to see culture and commerce of our country flourish. We want our churches to be vibrant, and we also want our country to be just and prosperous, a beacon of opportunity and peace to people everywhere.
We feel this double-barrel desire as we read this psalm: “Restore us again, O Lord,” the psalmist prays. “Won’t you revive us again so your people can rejoice in you?” (verse 6).
Is he talking about the people at worship or the people at work? Is she praying for the priest or the king?
“I listen carefully to what God is saying, for God speaks peace to the people” (verse 8). To what people? the citizens lining up to pay taxes, or build a road, or go to war? Or the believers standing in the temple to offer praise and kneeling down to confess sin?
The psalmist declares the desire that “our land will be filled with the glory of God” (verse 9).
That is our desire today, our prayer, in our little sanctuary, with our small congregation. We want our land filled with the glory of God. For us today, that is a prayer and a hope for our nation, the United States. It is also a prayer for our churches, our temples, our synagogues. And it is a prayer for me, for you, for our families, our homes.
Keep this three-fold ambition in mind as we also pray, “Lord, Revive Us Again!”
When we pray, Revive us again, we have in mind, first, our country. We pray for the United States of America. We pray for our people, for everyone living in these United States. We pray, “God bless America, land that we love. Stand beside her and guide her through the night with the light from above.”
We are approaching an election day. This reminds us that politics is one avenue of bringing blessing to our country. It is not the only one: We pray God’s blessing on our schools, on our businesses, on our soldiers, on our scientists and artists.
We pray for all the people who serve us: at tables when we eat; at the curb when we take out our trash; at the window when we pay bills and renew license plates; on the highway as we travel and at the hotel when we check in.
We pray people are safe, and happy, and in touch with friends; we pray people are successful in what they do and have opportunity to follow their dreams; we pray people all around us—even strangers—can sing for joy and live with hope.
Elections turn on describing the worst of things and motivating people to vote for change. So the airwaves are filled with somebody’s sad version of how bad things are. I get that.
But in reality, the United States is strong and stable. We are at peace with the world. People are at work and others are packing up their RV and traveling all over, from sea to shining sea. Baseball, football, and basketball are in full swing. Concerts and picnics are bringing people together. Thousands of people came to Hendersonville for the recent apple festival and last weekend they all came to Greenville. The Blue Ridge Parkway is packed with people: young and old, republicans and democrats, saints and sinners: everybody driving to see the glory of the mountains in the most beautiful time of year. It’s all good.
Let us pray for us, the people of the United States, that we might pull together to solve the problems that confront us: too many drugs on the streets and too many guns in the homes; a pandemic of mental illness sweeping through children and youth; tent camps of homeless people with no where to go; hundreds of thousands of refugees, fleeing bad news in their own country and seeing in our cities the land of promise.
Let us pray for ourselves, the people of the United States.
Revive in us, O lord, the strength to reach out and take the hand of a neighbor or a stranger to clean up our rivers, and expand our parks, and gather on Main Street to watch high school bands play “On Wisconsin!”
Revive in us, O Lord, the spirit of friendship as we stand in line to vote, the spirit of curtesy as we drive down a crowded highway, the spirit of compassion as we help an old person, like me, cross a busy street.
Revive in us, O Lord, the practice of holding doors for the one coming behind us, of helping somebody pick up the pieces of a food display after it collapsed on the floor, of paying it forward for the person behind us in the Starbucks drive-through.
Yes, we need to vote, but yes, we need to be kind to one another, and strong enough to stare down meanness and sweet enough to brighten the day of a small child. Revive us, O lord, that we might be people, just people, with hopes for our family and love for our neighbor. Help us to be the people you want us to be. That is what revival means.
It is not just our nation that needs the renewing spirit of God: it is our church—the big church scattered around the country but also this church, our little church, us, here today. We need reviving, don’t we?
I want to celebrate the Christian community in America even as we pray for it.
For a decade I launched and led the Academy of Preachers. This organization gathered young people, ages 14 to 28 mostly, for festivals of preaching. Our mission was to “identify, network, support, and inspire young people in their call to gospel preaching.” It was exhilarating work. Hundreds of young people came to these events to preach a sermon: at Harvard University in Boston and at Abilene Christian University in west Texas; at the great Church without Walls in Houston, Texas, and Christ Cathedral in Indianapolis. Catholics, Evangelicals, Orthodox, Pentecostals, and Protestants of all kinds: liberal and conservative, gay and straight, male and female—they gathered to pray, and learn, and preach, and network with one another.
They became friends, partners in gospel work.
Last week I received a phone call from one of them. His name is Darrien Fann. He called me one day in 2014 from his home is Shaker Heights, Ohio. “I want to come to the festival,” he said. “I have seen the preaching video of Kyle Stevenson. I have the same handicap as he does.”
Darrien has limited use of his body. His speech is distorted. But, he and other disabled young preachers who came to our festivals are pure in heart. Their minds are sharp but their bodies are twisted and the speech can be hard to understand. Darrien is an ordained minister of the AME Church. “The best part of the AoP,” said to me on the phone, “is the network of friends I now have around the country.”
I feel the same way. Everyday, my FB feed is filled with news of these young ministers graduating, publishing, leading, preaching, marrying, and giving birth. From Dexter Hedgepeth on Long Island to John Jay Alvaro at the First Baptist Church of Pasadena, California, they are pushing back against the despair and decline of the Christian community in the United States. They are praying this prayer with us, Revive us again, O Lord. Send us power, send us love, send us grace as we walk the streets, teach the word, sing for joy, and preach with hope.
Another young preacher, Kelvin Anthony of the Solid Rock Church in Birmingham posted on his page this morning: “Ain’t no stopping me now. I’m on the move. Nehemiah said it best, ‘I’m doing a great work and I can’t come down.’”
Here is more good news: God is reviving our church! We are being swept along by the surging spirit of the living God. Do you feel it? Is that why you are here today? What is it that draws you here today?
Somebody has been praying for us because God is answering their prayers. We don’t have large numbers, but God has given us a large heart, full of mercy and compassion. We don’t fill these pews, but God is filling our souls with his love and grace. We don’t have a choir, but we are singing for joy and living with hope because somebody is praying, and God is hearing that prayer.
Somebody is praying, “Revive us again.” Is that you?
Maybe it is somebody in our virtual congregation. Betty, is that you down in Florida praying for us? Steve, new resident of North Carolina: are you the one praying for us? Marshall in New Hampshire or Susan in Kentucky or Ann Green down in Savannah, Georgia: are you the ones praying for us?
Somebody is praying this prayer: “Revive us again!”
The poet wrote in this Psalm 85, “Unfailing love and truth have met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed.”
Some of that is happening right here, in this sanctuary, on this broadcast, in our congregation, among our people, far and near. We are at peace with one another and peace with God, even if we are not actually kissing!
We have been made righteous by the death and resurrection of Jesus our Lord. The truth about life and death is on our lips and in our hearts. Unfailing love: the Hebrew word is HESED. God is loving us, and we are loving each other; we are loving God and loving our neighbor, including the one next to us on the pew.
God is answering our prayer, your prayer, somebody’s prayer.
I spent two days in Birmingham this week with my peer group. We have been meeting together for 31 years, since 1991. Our leader, Dr. Fisher Humphreys, passed to each of us his autobiography, just published this year. It is full of interesting and inspirational material, including his deep affection for and commitment to his church, Church of the Covenant in Birmingham.
In that context, he writes this: “About ten years after we arrived in Birmingham a new, non-denominational church was founded. In 2021, the Church of the Highlands has more than twenty campuses and an average Sunday attendance of more than 50,000, the second largest of any church in America.” Second only to Lakewood Church in Houston where Joel Osteen is pastor.
But Dr. Humphreys then extolls the virtues of his own much smaller congregation, how it was launched when First Baptist Church of Birmingham refused membership to a black couple, how they have led the way as a progressive congregation in Alabama. It is not the biggest church in Birmingham, but it is happy, healthy, and living out the justice and unfailing love described right here in Psalm 85.
We, Providence, are not the biggest, but we may be the best! It is best for me and best for you. It is the place where God wants you to be, where God wants me to be. It is the place and the people where we pray together, Revive us Again. Fill each heart with your love. May each soul be rekindled with fire from above.”
Revive me again.
Give me a fresh sense of your presence. Fill my soul with a renewed desire to worship you, to follow Jesus, to sing for joy and live with hope. Pour through my life a love for you and a love for my neighbors.
The Psalmist sang: “Revive us again. Show me your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant me your salvation.” That is my prayer today. Make it your prayer today also!