In the summer of 1993, I participated in my very first mission trip,
the first of what is now somewhere around 25 or so.
I journeyed with 50 or 60 youth from Greenville and Spartanburg, SC to Homestead, Florida,
just south of Miami.
Homestead was recovering from Hurricane Andrew, a category 5 hurricane
that barreled through south Florida in August of 1992.
Until today, Andrew was the most destructive hurricane ever to hit the state of Florida.
With sustained wind speeds as high as 165 mph, Andrew passed directly through Homestead,
in what is now Miami-Dade County.
Many homes were stripped of everything but their concrete foundations.
In total, Andrew destroyed more than 63,000 houses and damaged more than 124,000 others.
65 persons died. Andrew was devastating.
I still remember the acres and acres of palm tree trunks, like hundreds of large toothpicks
stuck in the ground, without a single palm frond to be seen.

Our youth mission team worked in a neighborhood that at first glance looked normal.
The concrete block homes were all still standing in this particular neighborhood,
but when we opened the front doors, there was nothing inside.
They had all been entirely gutted due to the storm.
Some of our group built interior walls and hung sheetrock.
I remember Clay Thomas and Craig Murphey, two of our youth who were at least 6’3” and 6’5”,
installing sheet rock on the ceilings with no ladders.
They just reached up with their drills to screw in the sheet rock on 8 foot ceilings.
I spent that week on rooftops, installing rolls of tar paper and hundreds of shingles.
It was particularly hot that summer, with the temperature registering 103 degrees in the shade.
It was hard, but rewarding work. Dozens of workgroups from all over the country
were in Homestead that summer, a full year after the devastating storm.
Sometime in the next calendar year, some of us will travel to either Houston or South Florida
to work with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, to assist those who will have fallen between the cracks
of insurance and FEMA.

I cannot imagine the devastation happening right now.
Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina, and now Irma,
remind us all of how, as human beings, we are not fully in control of our lives.
We are susceptible to wind and storm, susceptible to tragedy and grief, vulnerable to harm,
because we are mere human beings and not God.
Our sincere prayers are with all those impacted by Hurricane Irma,
and I hope that we will put hands and feet to those prayers by finding some small way to help,
whether helping fill disaster relief buckets,
contributing to the relief in some other way, or travelling with us when we go within the next year.

With the hurricane beating at our shores at this moment and the 16th anniversary of 9/11 tomorrow,
our text for today could seem odd.
Psalm 111 is a psalm of praise, a psalm of orientation,
a psalm expressing grateful praise for the wonderful works of God.
Typically, these types of psalms are sung either long before or long after the storm,
when things are going well, and we have confidence that our lives and the world are in God’s hands.
But psalm 111 can be useful and appropriate even today,
because it teaches an important strand of theology that runs throughout the Old Testament.
Old Testament authors often recall God’s mighty works in the past
in order to enable trust in the present and hope for the future.
Based on what God has done in the past, even when we face the perils of wind and storm,
we trust in God’s providence today and hold onto hope for the days to come.

When reading the English translation, we do not readily notice that Psalm 111 is an acrostic –
that is, it follows the Hebrew alphabet.
Each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are used for the first word of each succeeding line.
The first line of the poem begins with the first letter of the alphabet – aleph –
and each succeeding line continues in this pattern until all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are used.
There are nine of these poems in our psalter.
Some will notice that Psalm 111 includes certain Hebrew “code words”.
The “wonderful deeds” you will hear quoted in the psalm alludes to the Exodus from Egypt.
The words “gracious and merciful” are the same attributes ascribed to God at the scene
of the Golden Calf, when Moses returned from the mountain with the Ten Commandments
and discovered that Aaron and the people had gone astray.
The phrase “provides food” recalls gratitude for manna and quail during 40 years
of wandering in the wilderness of Sinai.
“Giving the people the heritage of the nations” refers to the land of Israel,
the land flowing with milk and honey.

Hear the Word of the Lord – Psalm 111.

Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.
Full of honor and majesty is God’s work, and God’s righteousness endures forever.
The Lord has gained renown by wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful.
The Lord provides food for those who fear him; God is ever mindful of the covenant.
The Lord has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.
The works of God’s hands are faithful and just; all God’s precepts are trustworthy.
They are established for ever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
The Lord sent redemption to his people; God has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is God’s name.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. God’s praise endures forever.

Ten years ago, when Melanie and I arrived at Decatur Presbyterian Church,
we had one son beginning Decatur High School, before the current stadium was built,
our twins were navigating Renfroe Middle School, and our youngest walked across town
to the 4/5 Academy every day with his mom and a crew from the neighborhood.
It’s amazing what all can happen in a decade.
Today, ten years later, three of our sons are college graduates!
Our youngest is a sophomore in college already! Hard to believe.
And 10 years from now? God only knows. God only knows where they will be living and working,
what they will be doing…what other new persons we may have welcomed into our family,
spouses or even grandchildren.

Often, as we look back on our lives, we recognize the presence of God.
We notice “God’s fingerprints” as it were, the ways that God has kept us and sustained us,
the times God forgave us and made us new,
the wise guidance God gave us, whether we realized it at the time or not.
That recollection of God’s work in the past gives us strength in the present and hope for the future.
At my tenth year anniversary of serving Decatur Presbyterian Church,
I am amazed and humbled by all that God has done in and through this congregation
over the past 10 years. Like in the author of Psalm 111,
recollection of God’s past work gives me trust in the present and great hope for the future.

In keeping with the acrostic theme of the psalm, I offer to you an acrostic of my own,
not based on the alphabet, but based on the letters of the words “ten years”.


  • T – Thankful – I am so thankful to God for these ten years at DPC. God has been good to us.
  • E – Energized – I am energized about the future of this church! This is a strong and faithful congregation, we enjoy a committed and competent staff, and able session leaders. The future is bright for us.
  • N – Not in despair – I do not despair over larger cultural trends besetting the church in North America. I trust that while the years to come may be quite different for the Church, God will meet us there. We will find new ways to live and worship and serve in God’s presence.
  • Y – You! – Your faithfulness, your hopefulness, your willingness to show up, to say ‘yes’, to welcome your neighbor. You inspire me and give me hope.
  • E – Engaged – this congregation is engaged in this community, interested in its needs, and engaged in addressing the needs of the world
  • A – Ardent – the word means “passionate”, literally ‘on fire’, burning. Many of you are ardently committed to this church and its ministry.
  • R – Realistic, while your hearts and heads may be heavenly-minded, dwelling on the things of God, you tend to keep your feet on the ground, finding realistic ways to ground your heartfelt faith.
  • S – Spirit-led – you are willing to listen, to discern, to seek first God’s will for our life together.
    Thank you for ten wonderful, challenging, and inspiring years!

Over the past ten years, do you realize that we have gathered over 500 times to worship together,
to sing God’s praise, to hear God’s Word spoken and sung, to be strengthened in this experience,
and then to be sent to serve our families, our community, and even the world?
Worship is the heart of what we do as a church. Our faith and service flow from worship.
Worship unites us and binds us as a community together.
Worship gives eternal perspective and reminds us of what is most important.
Christian worship comforts us in our grief and challenges us in our complacency.
In worship, we discover again the grace of God’s forgiveness, the wisdom of biblical teaching,
the inspiration of divine music.
Worship is the heartbeat of the Church.
If there is anything you can do for your pastors, to ensure that the next ten years of this congregation
will be as healthy and as vital as the last ten year, keep worship as a first priority,
for you as an individual and for the congregation.
The doors of this church will always be wide open for praise!

Worship begins with praise. Praise is our first response when we gather.
Praise is an act of humility that acknowledges that God is God and that we are not.
Praise is all about remembering who God is and who we can become in God’s presence.
Especially when a storm may be raging, we may not be aware of God’s presence,
or may question what God is doing.
But when we look back at our lives, when we recall in worship God’s “wondrous works”,
we begin to remember those times when we too were kept and carried by God.
Praise reminds us that we depend upon the grace of God for each new breath,
each new day, every new opportunity.

I asked the staff in our meeting on Tuesday: For whom or for what can you offer praise God today?
and I heard some inspiring answers…
One praised God that in the midst of the Houston tragedy, we witnessed unity in the midst of diversity.
Another praised God for the generous response to appeals for help,
especially for a generous donation to cover all the shipping costs of our relief buckets.
Another offered praise for the insight of children,
and for the children’s responses last Wednesday, when they wrote cards for children in Houston.
Another spoke of the privilege it is to be at work in lives of youth and their families.
Several of us expressed praise for the anthems of the choir, especially those that draw tears,
like “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, which drew numerous tears and feelings of inspiration
last Sunday during worship.
One spoke of praise to God for good news from a doctor, another for good news from a lawyer –
sometimes we do not realize the weight upon our shoulders until news comes that lifts the burden.
Finally, we heard praise to God for the love that you, the DPC members, show for this church,
for all that you do so willingly for the sake of ministry and mission.

In our praise, we are reminded that God is present within this community,
in the love and care and compassion you have for each other and for the world.
In Vernon’s Faith in Real Life blog this week, he wrote:
“The Hebrew captures the incomprehensible aspect of God’s mighty works far better than the English.
(In Psalm 111), the words ‘wonderful deeds’ are translated from the Hebrew ‘niphla’oth’—
meaning “something different, striking, remarkable;
something transcending the power of human intelligence and imagination.”
When considering God’s mighty works, the psalmist concludes:
“Holy and awesome is God’s name. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…”

Before we close, it should be said that there are always those who will have trouble praising God,
who will find it difficult to offer heartfelt worship.
Serious concerns may be weighing heavy upon their thoughts and minds…
the failing health of family members, the concern over needing a place to live,
the worry over one’s child, no matter what age that child may be,
the lack of safety for those who live in conflict,
insecurities about finances and how the bills will be paid,
relationships which are deeply strained, desperately needing healing and renewal,
resentments or nagging doubts that strangle joy and prevent worshipful praise…
To you I say, the psalms are a helpful daily prayer book for human life.
They express every human emotion from joy and praise to doubts and fears,
from gratitude and hopefulness to anger and despair.
The psalms meet us where we are, regardless of our mood or condition.
The psalms remind us that in worship, we have the opportunity to discover new life,
to find new meaning, to restore our hope, and to trust – even in the midst of doubt.
The psalms remind us, as one our church members put it this past week,
that when we gather in worship “we come to believe the impossible is possible.
We come to believe that God is always with us.
We come to believe that love can prevail (even) in a world of injustice and suffering.” (FIRL blog)

God’s love and providence has prevailed, not just for the past 10 years,
but for the past 192 years of this congregation, and will God’s love will prevail for its future.
No matter what wind and storm may be threatening your very being, know this…
God is at work here, today, in our worship and praise.
God is at work in Houston today, and will be in the months to come.
God is at work today and for months and years to come in the Caribbean and South Florida.
God’s love will ultimately prevail.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, Georgia
September 10, 2017