Today we are continuing on with our sermon series on Psalms. As we noted last week, Psalms connect with people because they describe the reality of our lives. We talked about Psalms falling into the categories of praise, lament, trust, thanks, and a call to praise. Psalm 100 last week was a psalm of praise and this week, psalm 13 is a psalm of lament. Psalm 13 is a prayer for help.
I generally think that our Good News, our hope in Christ that the Bible proclaims to us lends itself to an upbeat kind of vibe in preaching but it is also true that the Bible is so good at reflecting our lives that you just have to go with it and experience the reality. Listen to the words of Psalm 13 again and see how many emotions you encounter.
1How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 3Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, 4and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. 5But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
How many did you find? What was the strongest emotion you heard? Heartbreak. Hopeless. Despair.
Once again, the Psalm hits us where we live. We hope and work for a life free of worries and hard times even when we know full well none of us gets to escape the heartbreak of broken relationships, the hopelessness of a bad diagnosis, or the despair that follows the death of someone we love nor the multitude of other emotions evoked by the Psalm. Very few of us have not experienced the entire range of emotions the psalmist shares with us in psalm 13 at one time in our life.
I wish I could say psalms of lament were the easy resolution to whatever is causing the heartbreak, hopelessness, and despair. It would be nice to say that all that we need to do is lift up our laments, our prayers for help and then all would be well and we can move on with our lives. Somehow it should be that we turn to God and everything gets fixed the way we want it. But I can’t, it would be nice but doesn’t work like that, and it should be that simple but our reality is somewhat different.
We talk about lifting our heartbreak, our hopelessness, and our despair to God in our prayers and it is indeed right that we should do so. We talk about lifting it all up to God but there are times that doesn’t seem to make much difference to God, or to us. How many times have heard of the same heartbreak, hopelessness, or despair for ourselves or for others and we say no! No, not again! No! And then wept at our inability to make a difference.
My colleague John Stevens, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Oregon City, Oregon captured this pretty well. He wrote this:
I am tired of writing.
Writing words like:
I am tired of shaking my fists
at the heavens , yelling
I am tired of feelings that show up
as wrenching the gut
as water flowing down my cheeks
as the need to
wrap ever single
loved one tight
within my embrace.
I am tired so I sit
Not able to hold my body up
my legs give out so I sit
with the ones
that have lost loved ones
that have lost hope and faith
in the ashes
with those who are already there.
Hope that as tired as I am
I will recognize
those sitting with me
as the very person of Jesus.
(Used with permission and attribution. John said you could locate it here: https://www.facebook.com/HaikuPrayers/)
There’s the key to it all, I think. God doesn’t control the world so that we’re all robots. Bad things happen and our hearts are broken, we lose our hope, and we spend time in a black pit of despair. What never changes is God’s presence with us. Even the psalmist knew this for why else would he have written out his lament to God? The psalmist knew, and we are reassured once again, that God is listening and present in our heartbreak, hopelessness, and despair.
God is present by the people we are surrounded by and who stand with us in our heartbreak, hopelessness, and despair. In ministry circles we call it ‘ministry of presence’ and it is something I’ve seen and experienced time and time again. It’s the idea that when we are in crisis we won’t likely remember the words that were said but we’ll remember who was there with us. My mom died 30 some years ago and I don’t remember what anyone said but I still have the mental images of who was there supporting me.
God is also present with us in the real presence of Christ that surrounds us every moment of every day and twice on Sundays as we are reminded when we come to the table that Christ prepared for us. We experience the real presence of Christ in the bread and the wine of communion. A presence that is promised to us when we gather around the table.
A presence that we can depend on. The presence of God that never leaves us. The presence of God that sustains us. The presence of God in hour heartbreak, hopelessness, and despair.