Monday, August 2, 2010

Sermon for Aug 1, 2010, Psalm 43

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 43
“Sharing God’s Light with a Woeful World” ”
Aug 1, 2010

Sometimes it is a dark, woeful world. A word full of sadness and forsakenness. A world in which whatever light and life dwells within us does not seem to be enough. Allow me to share a story.

There was a man. Up until recently he had a good life. So good he could not stop praising God. At church he sung robustly, at missions he worked diligently and on council he served faithfully.

Then he had a bad year, a dark year. He lost his wife, he lost his business, he lost his son.

He stopped singing robustly, he dropped out of missions and council. Eventually, he ceased going to church all together.

After a few weeks, the pastor paid him a visit. It was a chilly evening. She knocked on the door. He greeted the pastor and welcomed her inside.

The pastor looked around. It was clear the man was in grief. Dishes filled the sink. He had not shaved for weeks. And the light that was normally in his eyes were gone.

There was a fire burning in the fire place. The man invited the pastor to sit down. She did, saying nothing.
In grave silence the two of them watched the flames dancing around the burning logs. After a few moments, she leaned over, grasped the fire tongs and picked up one of the burning embers and placed it on the side of the hearth, alone.

They watched silently as the ember’s flame flickered and dulled and burnt out. A few more minutes it was cold and lifeless. Both the man and the pastor remained in silence.

She picked up the cold, lifeless ember and placed it back into the gathering of burning embers. It began to immediately glow, once more sharing the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.

That Sunday the man returned to church, and the pastor couldn’t contain her smile when she heard his voice robustly join in the singing.

...Have you ever felt like that? As if you’ve lost everything that mattered to you? That you’re energy was gone? That you didn’t feel a part of anything anymore? That your light had burnt out?

That’s what this unnamed man felt in the story; that is what the unnamed psalmist is feeling in today’s reading.

Psalm 43 is what we would call a Psalm of Lament, and since Psalm 42 and 43 read as a unified whole, modern scholars believe they were once one psalm.

The psalmist is in a place of despair, with tears the only source of food. This is a darkness of the soul, a darkness in which the person longs for the good ol’ days of worshiping God. But now, they feel like God has forgotten about them.

The NRSV tries to soften the psalmist’s sense of alienation, asking God “Why have you cast me off?” Other translations are more direct.

The NIV asks “Why have you rejected me?” The Good News Bible asks God “Why have you abandoned me?” The Message is perhaps most intense, asking “Why did you walk out on me?”

“Why did you walk on me?” Those are indeed woeful words. But those words are very honest, alluding to a relationship with God in which no feeling is off limits and no emotion is wrong.

If you recall, a few weeks ago we explored the wrath of God and the anger God feels when we do things that violate life. The following week we then explored the theme of forgiveness. Today we tie the two together, but with a twist.

Today, I propose that for our light to burn brightly, for the sake of our relationship with God, we have to be willing to express our anger at God and we have to find a way to bestow forgiveness upon God.

Two weeks ago I used a line from a movie to summarize the entirety of the Bible: “I gave you life so that you could live it.” And today, I ask God, “Really? Is this what you call living?”

If you haven’t noticed God, the country seems poised to enter into a second recession, Florida’s unemployment is over 11%, and the housing market is lower then a rapper’s pair of baggy pants.

“I gave you life so that you could live it”?

Really? In case you couldn’t tell from way up there, God, the Gulf of Mexico is covered with oil that’s been spewing for weeks.

Our fishermen have been out of work unable to care for their families. The hospitality and vacation industry has lost millions of dollars.

Oh, and God, thousands of fish, oysters, pelicans and whales have died in the process. What could they possibly have done to deserve death covered in petroleum?

“I gave you life so that you could live it” and yet you’ve watched as our pensions have dried up, our children have been diagnosed with chronic illnesses and we’ve buried our husbands.

Did you turn a blind eye God, or are you just asleep?

“I gave you life so that you could live it.” Well, what a woeful world we are in, and if this is living, then you have plenty of ‘splaining to do God.

These are some harsh things I just said, but they are honest words.

We can get into a discussion about what God does and does not do, but anytime the heart breaks, anytime the soul is thirsty, those woes create a dark, lonely world in which it seems as if God has walked out on us.

And if God truly wants to be in relationship with us, as the Biblical accounts testify, then God needs to be able to hear these words from us, and we need to be able to say them to God.

There are some who may think that being angry at God or voicing our displeasure during worship is sacrilege, but if God is truly real, if God is truly living and acting in our world, then being angry with God makes sense[i] because we all have become angry at those we love.

And if God is indeed active and in relationship with us, then voicing that anger becomes a part of a “deep, bold faith.”[ii]

And if you’ve ever argued with God, you are not alone, for you join a multitude of voices, from Abraham to Moses, Jeremiah[iii] to yes, even Jesus.

But being angry at God carries with it another component: the ability to forgive God.
Have you ever thought of that before: that perhaps God needs forgiveness from us just as much as we need forgiveness from God and each other?

I thought about this during the week. That if God is in relationship with us, then God also needs forgiveness because that’s part of what being in a true relationship is all about.

Thing is, there’s a lot of folk who can’t or won’t forgive God. If you do not believe me, look around you, at all the empty seats.

Many of them are empty because someone has felt abandoned by God and they don’t know how to forgive, so they’ve abandoned God in return.

A burning ember that has gone out and grown cold.

But to find a way to forgive God brings that light right back, for forgiveness shines through the darkness, forgiveness brings forth new life and the possibility of the future.

In conclusion, yes, it can be a woeful world. Wars continue to be waged, good people get cancer, and children die from mosquito bites. We have every right to be angry with God and to feel as though God has walked out on us.

For the sake of our relationship with God we have the responsibility to share those emotions with God and to ask what God is going to do about it.
But we also need to find a way, somehow, to let that anger go, so we can forgive, and so we can share with God what God already shares with us.

When we boldly address God, when we raise our voice to speak the unspeakable, we move from passive participants to active worshipers who have a closer relationship with our Creator, and our spiritual light burns a bit brighter.

And though the world remains woeful, we, as members of Emmanuel can find ways to share God’s light and remind one another that God has not walked out at all, but God is very much here, listening and waiting to forgive and to be forgiven.

Because that’s what a true relationship entails.

All thanks be to the Spirit that lifts up our soul, to God who longs to have us live life and for Jesus who reminds us of what forgiveness is all about.

Amen and amen.
[i]. Rev. Tony Robinson, from Stillspeaking Daily Devotional from the UCC, July 27, 2010

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