Rev. George Miller
March 15, 2015
“My God, my God- why have you forsaken me?” According to the Gospel of Matthew, those are the words Jesus cried out as he hung, nailed to the cross.
In many ways I think those may be the most honest, universal words ever uttered…
…If you are the kind of person who reads the Sunday funnies you may recall last week’s installment of Mutts by Patrick McDonnell.
Jules the cat is hiding under a blanket, completely covered up. Noodles, another cat, comes over and says “Jules, are you hiding from the world again?”
“Yes. I give up.”
“But that’s so silly,” says Noodles. “One must face the injustices…the insensitivities, the cruelties, the absurdities, the insanities, the…”
“…Move over,” Noodles says, as he joins Jules by completely going under the protective fabric of the blanket.
Noodles was speaking the truth, a truth so daunting his only response was to hide.
The Bible speaks truth as well.
The Bible offers unflinching truth in the way it looks upon the reality of the world, the sin and depravity of humanity, and the insensitivities, cruelties, absurdities and insanities of life.
Right from the start, the Bible openly confronts the pain of childbirth, brothers who kill brothers, and how the waters rise as a consequence of human actions.
The Bible is full of stories that detail the dysfunction of families in which deception, manipulation, jealousy, incest and rape leave a lasting mark.
Spend time in the Old Testament and you’ll see unflinching accounts of how one group of people can so severely oppress another.
You’ll encounter poverty in such a way that a little bit of oil and a handful of flour is all the difference between living or dying.
Disasters randomly take the life of thousands of people and even God’s Temple is vulnerable to attack and decimation.
Yes, the Bible is full of narratives in which hiding from the world seems like the best option.
The Biblical narratives are full of events in which the only thing the people can do is to cry out to the Lord.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In others words, the Bible is not like a Hallmark Card. In fact, the Bible is probably the furthest thing from a Hallmark Card.
Just look and listen to today’s Psalm. Yes, it is ultimately a psalm of praise and thanksgiving, but first the song focuses on the fact that the world…well, the world is woefully wounded.
The verses of Psalm 107 feature the themes of being lost, of being sick, of being incarcerated, and of being shipwrecked.
Regardless if we take these verses as literal facts or as poetic truths, they speak of situations in which no Hallmark card could ever place a positive spin.
But oh, could you imagine if Hallmark tried?
The first card would feature a scared looking lost puppy. The front would read “Heard you were lost in the dessert! But think of it this way…Just take away an ‘s’ and you have desert!”
You’d open the card and it would show the puppy at a café happily eating two scoops of ice cream.
Or the second card would feature an ill ‘lil lamb in bed and say “Heard you’re baa-dly sick, but don’t worry…”
You’d open up the card and it would say “I’m sending you warm fuzzies” and it would feature an older sheep knitting a blanket from its own wool.
Card number three would picture a cockatoo in a cage and the front would say “Heard you got locked up- don’t let it ruffle your feathers!”
Or a Hallmark card with a picture of a soaked kitty kat crawling onto a tiny island. “Heard your ship just sunk. Now’s the purrfect time for some well deserved r&r!”
Could you imagine how you’d feel if you were to get any one of those cards? I’d roll my eyes and most likely rip them up.
When you’re really, really lost; when you’re really, really sick; when you’re in chains; when your ship has gone down, there ain’t nothing nobody can say that can change the situation or make it better.
The most someone can say is “This must really be scary” or “I am so sad that this is happening to you.”
The most you may be able to do is offer a word of prayer or say “I’ll be right over with a pint of ice cream and a copy of “Scandal.”
No, the Bible is not a Hallmark Card, nor does it ever try to be.
But what the Bible does try to accomplish is to provide hope, to give voice to the woeful and the wounded, and to remind us that no one is ever truly forsaken and the steadfastness of God lasts forever.
And referring back to the previous sermons, it suggests that these come to be in the most unusual of ways.
The psalmist does not suggest that we be perfect Right Sharks who cling to our Protestant Pride of self-sufficiency.
The psalmist does not suggest that we deny the reality of our mortality or the pain of our situations.
Nor does the psalmist suggest that we live in fear of radical extremists, or that we tighten the tethers of the Commandments.
What the psalmist extols is that in each of the predicaments the people faced, their response was the same- they cried out.
Four times the exact same line is used in verses 6, 13, 19 and 28: “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble.”
Those in the desert, those in jail, those who were sick, those in sinking ships- they cried out to the Lord.
There is no judgment, there is no shame, there is no condemnation, there is no claim that they were wusses or cry-babies or needed to develop a thicker skin.
In a culture that so much wants to Facebook our way into perpetually smiling faces, and pharmaceutical ads that want to sell us contentment in a bottle, scriptures like Psalm 107 serve such an important function.
They give voice to the hopeless and despondent, and they give validation to the fact that not everything is perfect.
Scriptures like Psalm 107 give the spiritual, theological “OK” for tears and for the ability to say “ouch” and to admit that there are things in life that hurt.
The Bible does not silence pain- the Bible acknowledges it.
In a very straight forward way that flies in the face of pop culture telling us to man-up or to stop blubbering like a baby, Psalm 107 isn’t afraid of tears, but tells us not once, not twice, not three times, but four times that the people cried out.
Why? Because when you are hurt, when you are in pain, when you feel lost or lonely, crying out is a natural thing.
Crying out also allows something else- it allows God to hear, and welcomes God in.
That’s not to say that God doesn’t already know; not to say that God needs a special invite to enter into our lives.
But there is something about crying out; there is something about the breaking down.
There is something about the vulnerability that allows space for the Holy to come in, to work, and to do what we ourselves can’t do.
Exodus tells us that when the Hebrews cried out, God heard their cries and set about a plan to bring them out of that land.
The book of Judges tells us that when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, God raised up a person to deliver them.
Jonah calls out to the Lord in his distress and is released from the belly of the fish.
The people cry, and God delivers them, and it is then that they move to the act of thanks; it is then that they move into songs of joy.
And here is where we can finally hear some Good News- though the Bible does not silence pain, though it doesn’t deny dysfunction and disappointments, the Bible does not allow those events, those feelings, those thoughts to have the last word.
Because it is God who has the last word.
Just as the word of God was the first thing that began Creation, it is the Word of God that redeems and saves Creation.
That word is Jesus Christ.
Jesus, who was born into this world, just as we were. Jesus who stood with us, not apart from us, when he was baptized.
Jesus who walked in our midst. Who called us by name. Who sat with us at table. Who ate the same foods.
Jesus who knew all our sins and forgave us.
Jesus who sees the ways in which we are lost and calls us home.
Jesus who sees us in chains and says “Let me set you free.”
Jesus who says “The guilt of your sins has made you feel unwell, let me relieve them.”
Jesus who says, “You feel as though you are shipwrecked alone, but I am with you.”
Jesus, who knew what it was like to feel forsaken, yet who was raised from the most hopeless of situations three days later.
There is a time for thanksgiving, and there is a time to cry out.
There is a time to give God thanks, and there is a time to say “Help, help, help.”
There is a time in which we are found, but first we must admit that we are lost.
The Lord loves you. The Lord loves me. The Lord loves everyone in this room.
And the Lord is listening.
So if you feel lost, if you feel unwell, if you feel chained, and if you feel like the ship has gone down, don’t be afraid to cry out, don’t be too proud to ask for help…and hear what the Word is able to do.
Amen and amen.