Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Night Shift - A Sermon

photo by Zltatko Vickovic / flickr

Let me ask you a question  Have you ever been on a night shift? It has happened to me—really more than once. Trying to scape up enough money for college I worked in a cotton mill; several summers. The pecking order went like this. The best shift was the first: 7:00-3:00. The next best shift was the second shift: 3:00-11:00. And then there was the very bottom: 11:00-7:00. Guess what shift I was on? Third shift. It was called the night shift. People would ask: “Where are you working?” I told them the mill—third shift. And they’d say: “Oh.” Most folk did not want the third shift. Get off at seven in the morning. Putter around the house. Eat Breakfast. Read the paper. Go to bed about 10:00—in the morning. Hard to sleep. Especially in the Georgia summertime without air conditioning.

Everybody here has faced a time when we were put on the night shift. It’s dark. It’s lonely. It’s hard—and we would want to be just about be anywhere but there.The Night Shift.

Psalm 107 deals with the night shift in people’s lives. We think they sang this Psalm or used it as a responsive reading in their worship. The Psalm begins with thanksgiving: “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good…” And then listen. They wandered in the desert. They sat in darkness like prisoners. They were sick—all kinds of afflictions,. Their lives were really like a ship where the waves were scary and they thought they were going to sink. This is the way Psalm 107.27 puts it: “They reeled like staggered drunkards, and were at their wit’s end.” They did not know what to do. And this was the Psalmist’s answer to people in this hard time.Look back on your history—the night shifts everywhere.


There are four points here. Point One: Distress. Verse 28b says: “They cried to the Lord and he brought them out from their distress. They were at their wit’s end.” 

Some folk think the Bible is just a bundle of nice sayings like a Hallmark Greeting card. Makes you feel good. Nice. Work hard and everything will turn out OK. Guess what? 

Some of the best people have the hardest time. I visited her the other day. She lost her 39 year old son in a terrible accident. He lingered between life and death for weeks and then died. Back home her husband had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It could not get much darker. She said their 40th wedding anniversary was coming up and she was going to bake a cake and take it to the Nursing Home—but, she said, he won’t even know who I am. 

Most of us do not have it that bad. But our backs hurt, we get a bad lab report. A child breaks our hearts. We work all these years for a promotion—and we are passed over for somebody else. The marriage comes unglued. Or you lost somebody you love. Folks, this is the night shift. 

We don’t understand it. We work hard, Do the right. Color within the lines—mostly. And we’re find ourselves on some night shift. And we begin to wonder: Where is God? Where is God? I don’t deserve this. I thought when I came to church and followed the rules everything would be OK. 

We forget often that the Bible doesn’t deal just with the sunny days—but the dark times as well. Remember Job—his life became a mess. Remember Kind David—the apple of God’s eye—and then one day he saw Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop and everything began to unravel. His son, Solomon did no better. All those wives…building all those buildings with his name stamped on them. The Kingdom split. It’s like a thread running through the whole Book. Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. And finally they made it across that ribbon of a river to a land flowing with milk and honey. And guess what? They messed it up. They were dragged away into exile—their lives torn up by the roots. And years later when they finally got to go home—they found nothing but crumbling buildings and grave stones. It was a mess. And if that was not enough—in the New Testament they thought surely it would be better. But at its center there is the story of a hill faraway and a cross on which he died. And someone whispering: “My God…my God why? ”No wonder they called it all: distress. It was the Night Shift if there ever was one. It’s all there.


But we can’t stop there, the Psalmist said. Second point: Prayer. “They cried to the Lord in
photo by Mormon Prayer / flickr
their trouble…”
They prayed. Who wouldn’t? God—I’m at my wit’s end. The night is dark and I am far some home. Remember the barefooted boy with his ragged cloak—smelling of marijuana. He  came back home—head down and ashamed. He prayed: “Father—I have sinned—I’ve messed everything up.” We expect to be moved from the night shift. Maybe not the first shift Lord—but how about the second at least. No.. Sometimes prayers are not answered the way we thought they would. And so the Atheist says: “Well, what do you expect. Nobody up there.”  And in the middle of a troubled time—we have asked it too. 

Some days you know it seems like that. We pray—and it seems like nothing happens. But remember the boy. Kneeling there in the dirt crying out: “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry.” What did the father do? The old Daddy opened his arms and simply said, “My son.” 


But let your fingers move down the text: “He brought them to their desired haven.” He stilled the storm. The waves settled down. This is point three: he stilled the storm. It does say they were moved from the night shift. No. But it does say in the heart of it all they found a stillness. Reckon we can find that too? I think so. Remember Paul—went all over the known world preaching, establishing churches. And every day he had to deal with this thorn in the flesh…and he prayed and prayed and it never went away. Always on the night shift. But finally he came to realize—the thorn might never go away but he learned that God’s grace was sufficient even with a thorn. Later, toward the end, looking back he would add:  I have learned In whatever state I am in to be content. Finally. But it took a long time. 


And so we come to the fourth point. They were glad because the sea settled down But listen to the next verse: “Then they were glad because they had quiet  and “he brought them to their desired haven.”  I like the way The Message puts it: “And you were so glad when the storm settled down and He led you safely back to harbor.” And this is very the good news.I look around me and sometimes inside too and I don’t find much gladness. But other times I open my eyes and look around me and I say: “yes…yes…yes.” Gladness has walked down my street and knocked on my door again. And sometimes I have opened that door. And so have you.

Let me tell you a story of how this happens. We were still at war with the Japanese. And in October of 1942 eight Air Force crew members left on a bomber to check out some sites in the Pacific. But their plane strayed hundreds of miles off their course and they were forced to ditch the plane in the middle of the Central Pacific Ocean. Eddie Rickenbacker was on that plane. And later, much later he told the story in a book he wrote. 

They were adrift for 24 days in the middle of that ocean. Nobody knew where they were. Just in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on two life rafts.  One Captain sustained serious injuries as they ditched the plane and most of the crew were injured. Their food supply lasted three days. They almost starved from hunger and malnutrition. On the eighth day a seagull landed on Rickenbacker’s head and he captured it. They divided it in eight parts and ate the raw bird and used the rest for fishing bait. They lived on rainwater that fell and tiny fish that they caught with their hands. Eddie Rickenbacker tried to keep their spirits up. Not easy.  One crewman was suffering terribly from dehydration. In desperation he drank sea water and died and they buried him at sea. Back home search parties gave up hope after two weeks. But Rickenbacker's wife insisted they keep on looking. Also they looked a third week they just gave them up for dead.

After 23 days at sea they landed on a small island and this led to their rescue. But all seven were suffering from dehydration and hunger. When they interviewed Rickenbacker they asked him what was the secret of their survival. Nobody had ever lived that long in the sea without rations. ”We prayed,” Rickenbacker said,” and finally a seagull came, landed on my head and we caught it. That seagull was an answer to prayer.” A reporter asked him: “What if the seagull had not come?” And Rickenbacker said, “Then we would have died like men and not like cowards.”

Folks sometimes life doesn’t work out the way we thought it would. From time to time there is a night shift. But on those days let’s remember Psalm 107: 

“…they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wit’s end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.” And then the next verse says: “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love.”

(This sermon was preached at the Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church, Sandy Springs, SC, June 11, 2017)

--Roger Lovette /

1 comment:

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