Tell God All About It

Psalm 130:1-8 (130:1) – June 27, 2021

            Have you ever felt alone? I don’t mean alone in your house or apartment, where you can putter about, checking on things as you wish, sequestered from the hustle and bustle of daily life. No – I mean really alone. Desperately lonely. Do you feel so sad and abandoned that it seems like no one could ever come alongside of you – or me – ever again?

            I sincerely hope you have rarely felt such raw loneliness deep in your heart. However, many people have. The unknown author of our psalm has. Psalm 130 is a heartbreaking cry of loneliness and desperation. “Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord!”

            Whatever type or category of deep emotion we may be feeling, chances are one of our psalm writers has already documented it. The Psalms talk about emotions and feelings all over the interior human map, and Psalm 130 certainly hits one of those deep, emotional troughs of loneliness and despair. Can you relate? Have you – or one of your family – ever felt this way?

            This past year and a half has been a roller-coaster ride all over the track of emotions. Frequently for many, many people across this country, a great percentage of these emotions have been negative. Loneliness, anxiety, fear, grief, despair. With the isolation the pandemic has brought into so many lives, these are sadly familiar emotions and feelings.           

            Isn’t it ironic that this particular psalm should be a Psalm of Ascent? A special psalm that pilgrims to the big Temple in Jerusalem would sing as they approached that holy place. At first glance, how odd that this special psalm would start off with a heartfelt cry of loneliness and pain! However, this Psalm of Ascent is a true, authentic cry from the depths of the heart!

            Yet, haven’t we experienced people often doing something inauthentic and false, today? I can remember friends and acquaintances from my church-going past who would slap on a “happy face” for show, on Sunday morning. Yet, they wouldn’t breathe a word about how sad or frightened or miserable they were truly feeling. I suspect you remember the same kind of people, who would wallpaper over their deep, internal emotions and simply put on a “happy face.” I sometimes think of that as people’s “church face.” Totally a false face.

            Instead, we could ask God, “Pay attention to my suffering, and for heaven’s sake, have mercy on me!” “Often such a demand issues from a sense of God’s absence in the depths. Pain, whether physical, psychological, spiritual, or some combination, can be so isolating that we feel abandoned to our misery, even by God.” [1]

Except, Psalm 130 is not just about loneliness and abandonment. As the psalm writer continues in this Psalm of Ascent, he moves to forgiveness. Our psalm writer today might say, “Gracious God, please. I’m so tired, and I really need You to listen to me. If You, Lord, kept track of all my sins, all of everyone’s sins – Lord, could anyone stand before You?” (That’s a rhetorical question, you understand.) Thank God, my sins are covered, and so are yours!

I have known a few people who never, ever ask for forgiveness. We might call that kind of emotion arrogance! Imagine, never seeking forgiveness! “The arrogant person thinks he or she is above it all. Seeking forgiveness is the way we step back from the arrogance of our self-centered universe and see ourselves as we truly are.” [2]

            How do we approach God on Sunday morning? Do we wallpaper over our true emotions and put on a nice, happy “church face,” or are we true and authentic? Showing our deep emotions as they are? God knows us better than we know ourselves, even if we might try to fool others at church, in our community, even our home.

            For that matter, how do we approach God the rest of the week? God isn’t just for Sunday mornings. The psalms over and over let us know that instead of hiding deep sadness from God, the psalm writers choose to tell God the truth about their feelings.

            Let’s consider at certain people who feel so rotten and so horrible that they think God could never forgive them. I met a patient years ago, when I was a chaplain. This dear senior was so fearful that she was never going to be good enough for God. She had thought for decades that God was going to consign her to the depths of hell itself. Thank God I was able to reassure her that God did, indeed, love her. And no, a divorce because of an abusive marriage almost 50 years before would not mean the difference between heaven and hell for her.

            The key to this loving understanding about God’s character is found in verses 3 and 4. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.” “Forgiveness, in other words, is who God is. This Psalm is about the very character of God, which remains steadfast even in the abyss. God is revered because “with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem” (v. 7). God’s unchanging love is the essence of who God is, and God’s power is precisely the power to redeem.” [3]

            Psalm 130 is gentle balm for battered and bruised souls. Yes, we can say with the psalm writer, thank You, O God, for forgiveness and mercy! Thank You, O God, for steadfast love and redemption!  

And most of all, as we pray to God about how we feel, honest, authentic prayer can help us remember God’s promises to love us and to be with us always—no matter how much in the depths we are feeling at any moment. For that, we can all say alleluia, amen!

(Thanks to Elizabeth Webb and her commentary from Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014. I took several extended ideas from that article. And thanks to Illustrated Ministries for their lesson for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost from Psalm 130, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] [1][1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fifth-sunday-in-lent/commentary-on-psalm-130-4

Commentary, Psalm 130 (Lent 5A), Elizabeth Webb, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2014.

[2][2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Give Thanks to the Lord!

“Give Thanks to the Lord!”

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 (107:7) – March 17, 2021 (Midweek Lenten Service, Week 4)

            One thing that I’ve heard many people miss in this time of the pandemic is congregational singing. Sure, there is piano and organ music in worship services, sometimes guitar, violin or cello, even wind instruments on taped services, when no church members are present in the congregation. But, many people really miss singing hymns together in worship services, and can’t wait until it’s safe to sing in a group once more.  

            That’s exactly what we have here today. A congregational hymn, in Psalm 107, one many people would sing together in worship as they marched up the hill to the great Temple in Jerusalem. Or, they also could possibly sing this psalm in praise to God as the worship in the Temple started to get under way.

            Just as modern worship services often begin with praise music, this psalm opens with instructions to the congregation to give thanks to God. We can think of many hymns and praise songs that do this exact thing. In this particular psalm, God, in goodness and steadfast love – or chesed – has redeemed the people from the hand of the oppressor. What is more, God’s people have been gathered “from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south” (verse 3), or from all points of the compass. [1]

            This is a longer psalm, speaking to travelers lost in the desert, prisoners, the sick, and sailors on the sea. God reaches out to all of these groups, to all of these travelers through life. I don’t know about you, but I sure feel lost and alone sometimes – especially after the year of the pandemic. We are now at the one-year point, thinking about all kinds of loss so many have gone through this past 12-month period of time. How have you navigated through these difficult times? What has been your anchor in this time of storm and distress?

            This psalm was written after the exile to Babylon, so I am certain that many of the people who had returned to the land of Palestine had difficult memories of the 50-year period of time just passed. However, this psalm urges us to remember the wonderful things God has done and continues to do for each of us, every day. The Lord is good, and displays steadfast love, or chesed, to all. God’s wonderful words to all the children of humanity completely overwhelm me – looking at the world, the beauty of each day, and the marvels of creation that God freely gives.

Commentator Nancy deClaissé-Walford does remind us, “What about those who in the wilderness and are sick to the point of death through no fault of their own? What about those who are battered by the storms of life? Yes, we can cry out to God; yes, we can hope in God’s good provisions.”

I know this is a difficult thing for some, especially when going through serious illness, extended challenges, or the loss of a close loved one. Yet, God’s mercies are faithful. They are sure every morning. “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” is not just a pretty hymn we sing in church sometimes. No, we can remember those mercies, that steadfast love God displays to all, and take comfort and encouragement from those very gifts. Free gifts, given to all, the just and the unjust.

  “We must never forget that those of us who have ample resources and strength are called to be the arms and legs, the hands and feet, the voice of God in this world. God will redeem from the east and the west, from the north and from the south; but the redemption of God often takes human form. And isn’t that what Lent is all about?” [2]


[1]  Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages

McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, GAhttps://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/fourth-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-psalm-1071-3-17-22-4

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Great Faithfulness, Indeed!

“Great Faithfulness, Indeed!”

Lam 3-23 faithfulness, clouds

Lamentations 3:19-26 – October 6, 2019

About twenty years ago, I attended a church with a pastor who preached very powerful sermons. This pastor would occasionally mention that he prayed his preaching “would comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That sounds very like the Bible book we read from this morning. The little book of Lamentations was written at a complicated time in the history of the nation of Israel, and the prophet who wrote it was conflicted at the time he wrote.

I wonder, can anyone here relate to being sad, troubled and conflicted, sometimes? Does anyone here have bad or sad or troubling things happening in their lives right now, either in their lives or the lives of their loved ones? I know many people do have all kinds of things raining down on their heads.

Perhaps it’s health concerns. At countless hospitals, chaplains or nurses or doctors can tell us about patients with very serious health concerns like heart attacks or strokes. Or, what about continuing health conditions like kidney disease, COPD, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson’s disease? I am certain that everyone here today knows at least one friend or family member who suffers from some difficulty, disease or condition like these.

Let’s look at some other concerns, like lack of finances. Loss of employment can certainly affect not only individuals, but whole families as well. What about floods or hurricanes? How many lives in the United States have been devastated by these horrible happenings, just in the past two or three months? The number is astronomical.

Add situations such as “your house has burned to the ground,” or “your family member is getting a divorce.” In these situations, what kinds of things would be going through your mind? What are the feelings of the people in these situations?  What are some of the things these conditions make you want to say to God? What are some of the questions you’d like to ask God about these situations?

That is exactly the problem our prophet and writer of Lamentations has. This little book is a series of laments, asking God about the serious situation the nation of Israel is in, asking—in a word—why? That is a question that so many people are asking!

We know the prophet Jeremiah, the probable author of this book, was no stranger to despair.  Consider how he opens in verse 1: “How lonely sits the city that once was full of people” (Lam. 1:1). His city—Jerusalem—has been ransacked by the Babylonian army and left for dead. It seemed God’s very purpose and people had been abandoned. [1]

As commentator Carolyn Brown tells us, many places in the Hebrew Scriptures have “people talking back to God.  These are deeply hurt, terribly sad, and totally angry people, and they are willing to tell God so.  We talk to children often about telling God the happy things, confessing our sins to God, and asking God for help.  But, we also need to give them permission, even encourage them to tell God when they are angry, when life seems unfair, when it looks to them as if God isn’t doing God’s job the way it should be done.” [2]

I would like to stop right here, and let us consider this particularly important task of allowing, of permitting children to grieve. We all need to grieve and mourn, from time to time. Grieving is an important thing to do. We as adults do, indeed, need to model for children our way of dealing with difficulties, problems, even catastrophes. Otherwise, many more people would pull their heads into their shells, like turtles, to escape from these serious difficulties.

And yet—and yet—amid all of this sorrow, suffering and despair, the prophet writes of how blessed he finds the present difficult situation.

What a contrast! What a puzzle! How can this be? Great question!

Commentator Steve Godfrey goes further, “From the depths of his despair Jeremiah turns to something he has come to know well, the loyal love of God.  The Hebrew word used here, hesed, is a constant theme throughout the Old Testament.  It is sometimes translated ‘steadfast love’ or ‘faithful lovingkindness.’”  [3]

What a marvelous thing to have faith in! After so many awful descriptions of horrible things during the past poems of distress, the prophet gives us a ringing endorsement of faith in God’s steadfast loving-kindness in chapter 3 of Lamentations.

Commentator Steve Godfrey has more than the usual difficulty with sad or disturbing things. He has low-grade depression, and he would like for us to know about his occasional mental condition. “As someone who has managed low-grade depression for 31 years of his adult life these are words that encourage profoundly. They don’t minimize or avoid the issue….

“These words don’t mean that Christians should never get depressed.  The Prophet Jeremiah got depressed and I’ll put his character up against depression deniers any day of the week!  The beauty of the gospel is that it embraces both anguish and hope.  Paul had a thorn in the flesh; low-grade depression is mine.  By God’s grace I manage it through diet, exercise, medication, and counseling.  It’s something I inherited through genetics, and that’s okay.” [4]

Praise God for such a constructive attitude. I doubt very much whether I would be able to maintain such a positive attitude and expression. Knowing that God is there with me, through it all, is so helpful to me when I am going through difficult, even traumatic times. I can share a testimony of God’s presence, of God’s chesed, “steadfast love” or “faithful lovingkindness,” with those who are also having difficulties in life.

But, let us shift our focus from our reading today to why we gather this morning.

We celebrate World Communion Sunday today. This sacrament has been celebrated in good times and in bad, during war and during peace, during times of turbulence and trial as well as times of great joy. Communion has also celebrated by many different people groups in many, many different places throughout the globe. Whether we call it the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist or Communion makes little difference. The unity between various, diverse ministers leading and coordinating observances of this meal our Lord Jesus commanded us to observe is a wonderful glimpse of what this world can be.

Whether we are glad, mad or sad, whether we have only a little or have a lot of goods in this world, whether we are in good health or not-so-good, our Lord Jesus bids us join together in this meal, to be unified and one body, celebrating our diversity. He welcomes each of us to His table, no matter what.

Praise God, what a welcome! Our Lord bids us, come! Thank You, Lord Jesus.

[1] https://churchintheworld.com/2013/09/30/navigating-depression-2/

“Navigating Depression,” Steve Godfrey, Church in the World, 2013.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2010/09/year-c-27th-sunday-of-ordinary.html

Worshiping with Children, Ordinary 27C (World Communion Sunday), Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2010.

[3] https://churchintheworld.com/2013/09/30/navigating-depression-2/

“Navigating Depression,” Steve Godfrey, Church in the World, 2013.

[4] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!