Rev. George Miller
Oct 5, 2014
While growing up there was a series of books my friends and I enjoyed called “Mad Libs.”
“Mad Libs” is a vocabulary game in which people are prompted to supply a series of words that are then plugged into a story.
For example, if I asked for a noun, someone might say “dog.” If I asked for a tree, you might say “oak.” After all the words are given, you’d then read the story aloud and hopefully hilarity ensued.
I thought we’d give it a try today. I’m going to say a category, you give the response.
Now, let’s plug those words in:
“Give __________, O _____________
You are __________ upon the __________,
Shine forth before _________, __________ and ___________.
_______________ up your might, and come to ________________ us!
______________ us, O God; let your _____________ shine, that we might be saved.”
That, our Abrahams and Sarahs, is Psalm 80 “Mad Libs” style.
It is also a demonstration of how words matter.
Words matter, especially if you believe, as the ancient Israelites did, that God is personal and active and that the creating, saving, and blessing actions of God are best seen though history and the stories we tell.
Words matter. Titles and verbs matter, especially if we desire to learn how to increase our faith.
Psalm 80 is a song composed of carefully chosen verbs, titles and images. It is written as a community lament, meaning it’s a song to be sung by people who are experiencing hard times and wondering why God is not acting in their current history or part of their story.
As a lament, Psalm 80 follows a certain pattern: an address to God, a series of direct requests, a list of complaints, an affirmation of trust and the promise to praise God if God does indeed act (James Limburg).
But in order to do so, God has got to wake up and take the cotton out of God’s ears.
Therefore, there is a definite tone to this psalm. At first it sounds quite flowery but if you break it down, there is an element of direct boldness.
“Stir up.” “Restore us.” “Turn again…look down…and see.”
Depending on how you read this, the psalmist can sound very forward, if not demanding.
There is no passive “if it pleases you,” there is no apologetic “we just ask,” there is no “if it’s in your will.”
What Psalm 80 asks for, what Psalm 80 requests are very specific, very direct:
“Look down from heaven and see…restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”
Which poses the question: is it Ok for ordinary folk, for people like you and I, to be so forward when we make a request to God?
Is it acceptable for us to blatantly ask for what we need, especially if what we’re asking for is life in its truest essence?
Not talking about a Lamborghini or a 2-car garage; not talking about short lines at Disney.
We’re talking about life, liberty, protection.
Is it acceptable to ask for what you need? Is it Ok to make a demand?
Scripture tells us that Hannah did.
Do you recall that in her distress she went directly to the Lord and asked that God would give her a child? Hannah prayed so passionately that Eli thought she was drunk.
Book of Numbers tells us that Moses turned to the Lord on behalf of the people.
When the leaders lied about the land and the people wanted to turn back, God became so angry that God wanted to disinherit each and every last one of them.
But Moses said “If you do so everyone will think you are weak, so let your power be great in the way in which you have promised.” (Numbers 13-14)
What a potent line- “…let the power of the Lord be great in the way that you promised when you spoke…”
Were Hannah and Moses in any way ordinary?
Hannah was the second wife of a man from the hill country, unable to have kids. Moses harbored a fear of speaking in public.
If Hannah and Moses can make direct requests to the Lord; if they could make demands, why can’t we?
Do ordinary, non-biblical folk have the right to be bold before our Lord?
I’d say yes. Why? Because if nothing else, that is how Jesus taught us to pray.
Think about it. Think about the Lord’s Prayer.
Perhaps we’ve said it too many times, or we’ve been falsely lulled by its poetry, but the “Lord’s Prayer” is one of the most direct, unapologetic prayers there is and it’s the prayer that Jesus Christ taught us to say.
“Our Father who art in heaven…”
Is this opening line descriptive: you are our Father, you dwell in heaven? Perhaps, if things are going well in your life, these words are wonderful descriptors.
But what if life is not going so well? Do the words then change into reminders?
You are our Father- so do what a good parent does.
You dwell in heaven- so do what an inhabitant of the Kingdom is supposed to do.
If God has the power and glory forever, why wouldn’t we be able to ask for those things?
Think of the other components of the Lord’s Prayer:
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts as we forgive others.
Lead us not into temptation.
Deliver us from evil.
Note how direct and unapologetic they are. Note how they ask for what is needed.
Jesus did not teach us to say “If you can, give us some bread.” Jesus does not teach us to say “We just ask, if it’s Ok with you, that you forgive and deliver us.”
Jesus does not teach us to say “If you don’t mind, can you deliver us from evil.”
No. It’s very up-front, very concrete, very life affirming and very much what you’d expect a Father, a Mother, a King, a Queen, a Guardian of the Galaxy to do:
feed, forgive, lead, protect and deliver.
Why? Why would Jesus teach us to pray in a way so bold, a way so direct?
Because we too are part of the vine that was brought out of Egypt; we too are part of the vine that the Lord planted and cared for.
We too can claim that in the Lord we have been able to take deep root, send out branches and play a role in providing shade.
I do not believe the vine referred to in Psalm 80 is a one-time historical event.
It is a continuous story about the ways in which God finds us where we are, carries us to a place that has been cleared, so that we can live and thrive and to play our own role in the Kingdom of God.
So when we are feeling as if we are broken down, when we feel like wild boars are ravaging us, when we feel hurt, when we are left asking “why?”, “how come?” and “how much longer?”,
we too can say to God “turn back” and “restore”, “give ear” and “save.”
When we pray to God, we too can say “give” and “forgive,” “lead” and “deliver.”
Why should we be so bold in our prayers?
If Moses could do it, why not us? If Hannah could do it, why not us? Is the Psalmist did it, why not us?
If Jesus taught us to ask for bread and deliverance, why ask for anything less?
If God is indeed personal and active in both history and the stories we tell, why can’t we pray in a direct, active manner?
If God indeed creates, saves and blesses, then why can’t God also do so in our history, in our story, in our own lives?
May we each find our own ways to be so bold in our own faith this week.
May we each find our own ways to do what the Psalmist does and what Jesus taught us and to do, which is to trust that God will do what God can do: to create, to save and to bless.
Amen and amen.