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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

April 14, 2013

 Joy Cometh in the Morning

Psalm 30; John 21:1-14

             Well, for all the world it is Masters’ weekend, that annual producer of virtually every human emotion we have the capacity to express.  I suspect most of you still remember the tears of this year’s final round leader, Nashville’s Brandt Snedeker, when he was interviewed after his closing round of 77 in 2008, when he was only one stroke behind the leader when that last round began.  Brandt, ever the cheerful presence on the course, was simply overwhelmed by all the emotion and disappointment over his own play, and all he could do was weep before a national audience after his final round.  We saw Rory McIlroy do the same thing a few years ago when he made the turn on the final round with lead, and then proceeded to fall apart.  When he snap-hooked his drive into the woods on 13, he dropped to his knees with his hands on his head and cried.  Graciously, CBS did not linger on the moment, and kindly kept the young Irishman off camera for the rest of that excruciating round.

             What most people do not know is the story of Arnold Palmer’s first win at Augusta in 1958.  Having just lost a playoff at the Azalea Open in Wilmington, and then driven across South Carolina, Palmer played a practice round with Ben Hogan, Jackie Burke, and his good pal Dow Finsterwald.  He played abysmally.  While millions of fans had started calling Palmer “Arnie,” Hogan coolly, distantly called him “fella.”  In the locker room after the round, Hogan said to Burke, in a voice loud enough for Palmer to hear, “Tell me something, Jackie, how the heck did Palmer get an invitation to the Masters?”  (Only Hogan did not say “heck”!)  Palmer turned red with embarrassment, but that soon turned to anger.  “The question burned me up and set my mind on showing him why the heck I’d been invited to the Masters.”  Palmer won his first Masters in 1958 in a focused rage.

             Anger, devastation, delight and sheer joy accompany the Masters, and who knows what today will hold?

             Actually, in this regard, the Masters resembles the Book of Psalms.  Virtually every human emotion is voiced in the Psalms, and in our Psalm this morning, Psalm 30, in twelve short verses we encounter weeping, praising, joy, anger, overconfidence, brokenness, pleading and finally, thanksgiving.  There is a wonderful saying in the Mishnah: “Turn it and turn it again, for everything is in it.”  This is how wise rabbis of old treated the texts of the Bible.  Psalm 30 is like a many faceted gem through which you catch a glimpse of all of human life.

             The Psalmist begins by praising God for “drawing him up” from the Pit and saving his life.  The image is one of a bucket that is drawn up from a deep, dark well.  He “cried out to God for help” and God healed him.  He then reflects upon his experience.  “Sing praises to the Lord, O you His faithful ones, and give thanks to His holy name.  For His anger is but for a moment; His favor is for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.”  Is there a more beautiful or profound a word in all the Bible?

             Our New Testament lesson this morning is a powerful illustration of this Biblical truth that “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.”  The disciples had to be crushed by Jesus’ brutal death, and maybe even more so by their own failure to stand with Him.  So Peter, having returned home to Galilee, says, “I’ll go fishing.”  The disciples say, “We will join you.”  They fish all night, but catch nothing.  I will bet it was quiet in that boat that night, as they remembered the tragedy and confusion of the last week of Jesus’ life and His horrible, violent death.

             I wonder if some silent tears were shed.  And then, “just after daybreak,” Jesus, the risen Christ, stands on the beach and beckons them.  As happens at least two other times in the Gospels, the disciples at first do not recognize Him.  Tears can cloud your eyes, sorrow and pain can kill any hope, and expectations can affect powerfully what we see and what we fail to see.  But finally, after following the Stranger’s advice, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” told Peter, “It is the Lord!”  Their sorrow was instantly turned into joy, and they share breakfast with Jesus on the rocky shores of the Sea of Galilee.  It must have been a meal and a moment they would never forget.

             Let’s talk for a moment about human response to the ups and downs, the vicissitudes of life.  Our emotions are gifts given to us by God to enable us to cope with what life brings to us.  The Psalmist here prays as only an Israelite – that is, a “God-wrestler” – knows how.  Honestly, openly and without any pretense or measure he pours out his heart to God.  He even admits that he had grown overconfident in prosperity of his own human powers.  “As for me, I said in my prosperity, I shall never be moved….  By your favor, O Lord, you established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face: I was dismayed.”

             Yet in his pain the Psalmist meets God as we never do in all our joy and pleasure.  Barbara Brown Taylor in her book on suffering says, “Pain is one of the fastest routes to a no-frills encounter with the Holy.”  You know this from your own life, don’t you?  Robert Browning Hamilton captures this in his poem:

 “I walked a mile with Pleasure; she chatted all the way;

But left me none the wiser, for all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow; but ne’er a word said she;

But, oh, the things I learned from her, when Sorrow walked with me.”

             Yet weeping does not tarry forever.  We all live through what the medieval saints called “the dark night of the soul.”  I have sure had mine!  These moments humble you; they can even break you.  And if you are wise, they can rid you of any illusion of your own self-sufficiency.

             Yet the promise of the Psalmist is that “joy cometh in the morning.”  In the deepest darkness we cry out to God, we seek the help that comes only from the Lord.  When God comes, we sense that no matter what happens, God is still there, and we learn that “even the darkness is not dark to Thee.”  We learn that God is with us even in our pain, and especially in our tears.  And in these moments we learn that joy does not depend on everything going well, or on life turning out the way we wanted it to; we learn that God’s joy may be present even in times of suffering, heartache and hardship.

             Joy is every bit as much a reality to the Psalmist as are his tears and his cries.  Thirty-four times in the Psalms the Psalmist speaks of joy.  We will see joy today at the Masters even as surely as we will see the sorrow of disappointment.  Remember Bubba Watson’s tears of joy last year, and his quiet recognition that it was Easter Day upon which he wept them?

             This Psalm is finally a call to praise and thank God in all of life – in the depths of despair as well as in the heights – in our sorrow and in our joy – in our labor and in our leisure – to praise and to thank God in everything is life-giving.

             James Luther Mays says, “The psalmist had made the loss of praise the very basis of his prayer and thereby dared to make one of the most important statements in the Bible about the theological value of praise.  Praise is the way the faithfulness of the Lord becomes word and is heard in the Lord’s world.  For people, it is the language of joy and gladness that goes with life and is life in contrast to the silence of death.  And salvation here is understood as reaching its goal, not just in the restoration of the needy, but finally in the praise of God.”

             The psalmist prays to live and lives to praise.  We are never more alive than when we “praise God from whom all blessings flow.”  “What is the chief end of man?” asks the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  “Our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”

             We all come to those nights when all we can do is weep.  God’s faithfulness does not depend upon our faith, and surely not on our happiness or contentment!  We often falter and fail.  But we can rely on the promise of the Psalm that “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.”  “God’s anger is but for a moment; His favor is for a lifetime.”

             So take off your sackcloth and let God clothe you with joy, so your soul may praise the Lord and not be silent.  I went to visit a member of our church who is dying.  He knows he is dying.  And one day he said to me, as just the two of us talked, “I’m happy.  I looked outside today and suddenly realized, I’m sick and I’m dying.  And I am happy.”

             With all your souls, “Praise the Lord.”  Say with the Psalmist, “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”

                                                                                     Amen

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