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2nd Sunday after Epiphany – 1/19/2020 – St. Paul’s

I put all my hope in the Lord.

He leaned down to me;

he listened to my cry for help.

He lifted me out of the pit of death,

out of the mud and filth,

and set my feet on solid rock.

He steadied my legs.

He put a new song in my mouth,

a song of praise for our God. (vv. 1–3)

Our assigned psalm is the exuberant, unrestrained song of praise and thanksgiving from somebody who has experienced a great rescue by God. We don’t know exactly the nature of the psalmist’s torment, what mud and filth were threatening the psalmist’s life. What we do know is that God gave the grateful psalmist something that he could not get by his own efforts. God, leaned down to me—I love that phrase—listened to my cry for help.…lifted me out of the pit of death…set my feet on solid rock.…steadied my legs.…put a new song in my mouth.

And that song of praise for our God is our psalm for this Sunday. What a great way to begin the New Year with such praise.

And yet you know enough about life, enough about our relationship with God, to know that not everyone is able to sing of such wonderful, miraculous, divine, deliverance.

I heard the story of Shannon Mulcahy. For nearly thirty years Shannon had worked in the same factory in Indiana. The company made steel bearings for all sorts of machines used all over the world. An uncle got her a job as a janitor in the factory when she was still a teenager. She had worked her way up from being a janitor in the factory to being in charge of some of the plant’s most dangerous machines. The steel for the bearings must be exactingly heated, and Shannon had learned how to manage the process. She even gave the machines names. Her favorite machine was Taco. No one in the factory knew how to get that machine and its furnace to just the perfect temperature but Shannon.

There were problems in her early days in the factory. When she first entered the factory as a janitor in the early Sixties, she was the first woman to work there. The temperatures in the room where the machines were heating the steel routinely went up to 120 degrees. Some of the men at the factory made terrible comments to her. But Shannon didn’t let their lewd comments bother her. She had no high school degree and no hope of getting a better paying job. She endured. When she was promoted from her janitorial job and began to work with the machines, the gases, and the furnaces, some of the men sabotaged her work, gave her false directions on the operation of the furnaces, putting her life in danger.

But Shannon persevered. In a few years she was making over twenty dollars an hour. Many weeks she worked seven days a week which gave her time-and-a-half and enabled her to care for her family (her daughter and son—her abusive husband had long since left her) and gave Shannon the wherewithal to do two previously unimaginable things: buy a car and a little house.That factory was my life, said Shannon. The work was hard, grueling, dangerous, and hot, but Shannon didn’t complain. She bought a music player that enabled her to put in earbuds and play music that helped her endure the intense heat.

Though we lived from paycheck to paycheck, we had a good life. I was good at what I did and proud of what I did. The bearings that I produced are used in all sorts of motors for drawbridges, airplanes…Not once did I have any of my work returned because of defects in the production.

Then one day in the summer of 2016, Shannon was told to come to the plant manager’s office. On her way there, she heard some of her fellow employees shouting—no, wailing. Then she heard those unimaginably terrible words, Sorry. We are moving this plant to Mexico. The company has decided to shut this down. We’ll be moving in a few months. You will be needed to train your replacements.

Shannon staggered out of the manager’s office. People were weeping, some cursing. They found out later that management had been contemplating a move from Indiana for years: everything had been premeditated and planned, even though the workers were not told until the day it happened.

That was the worst day of my life, said Shannon. Her world fell apart. The place she loved was being taken away from her. What hope had she for finding another job at her age? Her son required special medical attention, and even with the government help, she owed huge medical bills for his treatment.

Some of her fellow workers refused to train their replacements. When the Mexican workers came in the factory, some of the people jeered them. But Shannon needed the work and couldn’t afford to refuse to train her replacement. He was a young man from Monterey. Shannon said that she couldn’t blame him. It wasn’t his fault. He was only receiving an opportunity just like she got an opportunity to be the first woman in the plant when her uncle got her the job years ago.

One day, during the weeks of training, the young man gave Shannon a cookie at lunch. He said to her that the replacements had not been told that they were taking the jobs of other people. He said he felt terrible about it and wouldn’t blame her if she hated him.

She hugged him (He had become like a son to me, Shannon said.) She told him she didn’t hate him, that the sad situation she was in was not his fault. It wasn’t her fault either. Somebody somewhere high up in the corporation had made the decision. That fall, as the Presidential election heated up and Donald Trump spoke about how bad it was to lose companies from the U.S., Shannon and her fellow employees took heart. Perhaps Trump would help stop the flow of American jobs out of the country. Maybe he could turn their situation around.

Shannon campaigned for Trump. Though she didn’t care for some of his talk and behavior, she said she was desperate. Maybe somebody up there cared and could do something. As Shannon put it, He’s the President. He can do anything he wants. When Trump was elected, all the soon-to-be-laid off workers at the plant rejoiced. And when the news reported the closing of the plant, Trump tweeted, This has got to stop.

What did that mean? Did it mean that he was going to personally stop the move of the plant? Or that he was going to put a stop to the company’s plans? Because of the talk and the questions, the manager of the plant issued a letter to the workers that said that plans are going along right on schedule: the plant would close. The workers wrote the President. Trump never mentioned the plant again.

The day the plant actually closed and the machines were packed off for shipment to Mexico was the worst loss Shannon had ever suffered, more painful even than the death of her mother when she was a young girl. Shannon has been looking for work, following up every lead since then, but at the time of the publication of her story, 

Shannon had found nothing.

Her daughter entered Purdue last year and plans to study nursing. She got a $30,000 scholarship. But Shannon knows that she and her disabled son can’t stay in their home. Her unemployment benefits are close to running out.I feel worthless, she said. When that factory died, it’s like I died. Nobody up there cares about people like us.

This Sunday’s psalm is a song of pure, unrestrained, joyful praise and thanksgiving. Whereas Shannon’s world has fallen apart and she is still feeling overwhelmed with loss, the person who sings Psalm 40 has been dramatically, miraculously rescued and now wants to tell everyone about his salvation.

I put all my hope in the Lord.

He leaned down to me;

he listened to my cry for help.

He lifted me out of the pit of death,

out of the mud and filth,

and set my feet on solid rock.

He steadied my legs.

He put a new song in my mouth,

a song of praise for our God. (vv. 1–3a)

In his exuberant praise, the psalmist doesn’t linger long enough to tell us exactly what was so dismal about his situation other than he felt like he was in the pit of death full of mud and filth. As I said, this song, this psalm, is consumed with pure, grateful praise. Psalm 40 is the song that you sing when who can say that God leaned down to me and listened to my cry for help.

It’s the song that I wish Shannon Mulcahy might one day be able to sing. The psalmist seems to want Shannon to sing a song of God’s deliverance too:

Many people will learn of this

and be amazed;

they will trust the Lord.

Those who put their trust in the Lord,

who pay no attention to the proud

or to those who follow lies,

are truly happy! (vv. 3b–4)

Will Shannon ever sing this song and again be truly happy? She put her trust in powerful people in high places and was deceived—or at least disappointed—by them. Powerless people, victims of situations out of their control, seek help and vindication from powerful people.

Sometimes they get the help they need and sometimes, as in Shannon’s case, they don’t.

I wonder how Shannon would react to our singing of this psalm. Would she think that we were simply dreaming about how things ought to be rather than seeing how in the real world things really are? Would she think she was hearing the sweet prattling of powerful, privileged people who have never had to struggle, who have never been utterly powerless and out of control, who have never staggered under the burden of great loss?

Would Shannon think that we were being incredibly insensitive to sing this psalm in the face of her loss?

Years ago, I remember someone saying that to play the Perpetually Happy Christian means that one is ignoring the tears of the millions who suffer.

Is that what Shannon would think of us?

I don’t know. I do know that as Christians we believe that Jesus Christ is not only our good friend but also savior, not rescuing us alone but has saved the whole world. We believe that God hears our cries and responds—leans down as the psalmist puts it.

Yet not always. It seems important for the church to say that. We ought to sing our praises, to encourage people to lay their need before God, to cry to God in their times of loss and devastation. But there’s nothing automatic about it.

When the psalmist says,

I declared your faithfulness and your salvation.

I didn’t hide your loyal love and trustworthiness

from the great assembly. (v. 10)

I think he comes perilously close to claiming, If you do this for GodGod will repay you by doing this for you.

So now you, Lord—

don’t hold back any of your compassion from me.

Let your loyal love and faithfulness always protect me.

I don’t want us to tell Shannon, Shannon, you need to put your trust in God, praise and love God, and we guarantee everything will work out for you. With God, if you do this, you will always get that.

However, I do want to say to Shannon, in her loss and sadness, Shannon, though your company betrayed you, though your leaders disappointed you, you are still beloved and cherished by God. In fact, we know that in Jesus Christ, God is on the side of the downtrodden, the bereft and powerless, that God holds the powerful responsible, and that in the end, when God’s will is finally done on earth as it is in heaven, God’s will shall be done.

To know that God, to praise God in our joy and in our pain, in our gain and in our loss, is joy, joy that one day we will have forever. Amen.

Let us pray:


We praise you because your light has shown upon us. 

We have beheld your glory and majesty. 

Nowhere are you more glorious and majestic 

than when your light shines upon us in our times of darkness and despair.

We give thanks for those times when we cry out to you and you hear us and lift us up. We praise you for the times when we have felt lost and you found us, 

when we have fallen down and you picked us up.

During those times when we do not have evidence 

that you are moving toward us and working for us, 

help us to wait for you, 

to prepare to be surprised by you and, 

even if you do not come to us on our schedule when we call for you, 

give us the faith still to praise you as our God, 

our hope and our mercy.


Opening Prayer

O God, you have singled us out.
Our ears have been pierced by your call,

Our bodies are made like polished arrows 

to serve you,

Our voices to sing your praises.
We acknowledge that you have chosen us.
Meeting you here on this day in this time,
We will listen and walk with you,
As we worship together in the beauty of holiness


Giving is not a casual act—

it relates God’s work to our work.

Peter writes:

“as each has received a gift,

employ it for one another,

as good stewards of God’s varied grace,

that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”



May God

Who comes to us

In the things of this world,

Bless your eyes

And be in your seeing….

May Christ,

Who looks upon you with deepest love,

Bless your eyes

And widen your gaze…

May the Spirit,

Who perceives what is

And what may yet be,

Bless your eyes

And sharpen your vision….

May God Almighty,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Be with you……