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“How Long, O Lord?”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Amos 5:18-24
Psalm 13

 

Amos 5:18-24

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;
as if someone fled from a lion,
and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.
Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

 

Psalm 13

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How 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?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.


 

This Psalm is like a breath of fresh air because it speaks the angst and anger in our souls.  It speaks to the pain and sorrows we bear.  It speaks to our lament and loss.

I have wanted to relate to this Psalm much less than I do.

But in fact, this Psalm has more often than not felt right in line with the prayers and cries of my heart.  So many times I’ve needed to cry out honestly to God, “How long, O Lord!?  How long?”

But the turning point in this Psalm comes when the Psalmist writes, “But I trusted in your steadfast love.  My heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”  Even while he is in the midst of pain and sorrow…  Even while he feels God’s face has turned away from him…  Even before God answers his cries…  The Psalmist returns to truth and praise.

 

I cannot tell you how many times this re-framing of life has in fact saved my life.  I don’t know about you, but there are caverns of my mind and heart in which I can lose myself.  As a minister, I choose to walk alongside others, in deepest valleys and highest mountaintops.  As an empathetic person, I feel the pain and suffering of those around me.  And in times like these, when the whole world is lamenting the needless and tragic loss of unarmed black men and women in particular, I feel the heaviness of hearts around me.

And I believe we are called to walk with one another in these heights and depths.  As Presbyterians in particular, we affirm the “priesthood of all believers.”  This means that we believe each one of us has a calling to minister to one another.  And though each of us does it in a different way, we are all filled with God’s Spirit, and we are all given this heavenly calling of ministering, one to another.

 

But as we walk alongside one another, as we journey through the heights and the depths, we need to remain grounded in God’s word, in God’s truth.

For me, this has meant an intentional returning to scripture, an intentional remembering of scripture, an intentional choice to believe God’s word over my own feelings, over my own fears, over my own despair or anxieties.  God’s word has been grounding.

 

And so when I am tempted to think God has forsaken me, I remember Psalm 139 – in which the Psalmist proclaims that there is no where he can go, where God will not be!

And when I am tempted to believe that God does not regard me, I remember Jesus’ teaching of the lilies of the valley and the birds of the air – how they do not reap or sow but how God clothes and feeds them, and how we are of more worth to God than many sparrows.  I remember God’s words through Psalm 63, “For you are precious in my sight, and I love you.”

When I am tempted to despair that the future will be brighter than the past, I recall Jeremiah 29:11 – ‘”For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future of hope.”’

 

Story after story in the Bible, Psalm after Psalm, God’s Word through prophet and all creation continues to speak into my life and the lives of those around me – grounding and re-framing our experiences.  And at this particular moment of our national history, I am moved by the verses we read from Amos.  In Amos, God is rebuking the people for their evil ways.  God goes so far as to say God despises their festivals, will not accept their sacrifices, and will not listen to their songs.

Now you would think God was talking to a pagan people or something – people who were singing falsehood or worshiping an idol, but in fact God is speaking to God’s own chosen people.  Their sacrifices, their solemn assemblies, their praise are all worthless,… without justice.

Read Amos 5:18-24 again.
Can you hear God speaking to us here and now, through this Old Testament prophet?

We as a church body ask that God’s will may be done.  We pray that God’s Kingdom will come.  We sing aloud.  We offer tithes and offerings.  We celebrate special holy days and seasons.  But none of this is pleasing to God and God will in fact no accept these offerings and songs, UNLESS they are accompanied with justice.

And this is not a token act of justice.  God says, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

 

Our worship, our words, our proclamations, our giving,…none of it amounts to anything, without justice.  For our actions matter more.  How we treat one another matters more.  And justice is not a one-time event.  We are to let justice roll down like waters.  Waters that roll down are unstoppable.  They cannot be contained.  We are to let righteousness be an ever flowing stream -ever flowing!  These waters of righteousness and goodness, justice and truth, are to flow like waters, on and on and on!  THAT is what is pleasing to God.  THAT is an offering God accepts.  THAT is true worship – worship with our lives, worship with our actions, worship with our policies, our politics, our votes, our civic responsibility.

 

So as we come before God this day…
As we stand before one another this day…
As we cry out to God, “How long, O Lord!?”…
As we walk alongside those for whom tears have been their food night and day…

 

May WE do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

May WE labor and love that justice might roll down like the waters.

May WE invite God into the sacred and the secular, the personal and the political, because the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it; there is no place where we can go that God will not be.  And our God calls us to be people of justice. 

 

So BEFORE we see the fruit of our love and labors…
BEFORE we see righteousness cover our communities…
BEFORE justice rolls down like the waters…
BEFORE we see God’s deliverance…

We will remember God’s steadfast love.  We give God our thanks and praise, for our God has dealt bountifully with us.  We rejoice in God’s deliverance.  For though we do not yet see that for which we hope and cry out, we trust that our God is faithful, our God is able, our God is just, and our God is loving.  And so we hang our heads in the hands of the One who loves us better than we can even love ourselves.

 

“Holy Spirit, move within us, stir us and send us like the wind, that we might will and work for your good pleasure – that justice may indeed cover the earth, rolling down like the mighty waters.  Amen.”

 

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE                    (St. Francis)

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

 

“Getting Real”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 22
2 Corinthians 12:1-10

 

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.

Many bulls encircle me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs are all around me;
a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled;[b]
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my life[c] from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.

 

2 Corinthians 12

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.


 

In this Psalm of David, we hear David crying out from the depths of his own desperation.  He is so malnourished, he can count all his bones.  His situation is so very bad that he imagines his bones vying for his pieces of clothing – as though they foresee his end is near and want to make sure they all get a cut of his remnants.  He is so thirsty, his tongue sticks to his jaw.  He feels God has laid him out in the dust of death!  Everyone who sees him, mocks him.  They respond with religious-sounding canned answers.  They imply that his situation is the will of the Lord.  He feels encircled by the strong, who open their mouths at him, like roaring lions, and his heart melts within his chest.  There is no one to help.

 

I cannot imagine things getting so very bad as David is experiencing them, without the rescue of the Lord.  We hear in God’s word that he rescues those who love God.  We hear God saves our feet from the trap.  We hear that a thousand arrows will fall to one’s left and one’s right, but that none will touch the Lord’s beloved…  So why do we have these experiences?!?

Why does God let us get to the dust of death?  Why do we call out yet find no rest!?!!

 

Sometimes I feel like God is not keeping God’s Word to us.

(As though I’ve ever kept up my end of the bargain)

 

Sometimes I feel like God isn’t doing enough.

(As though I possess the wisdom to counsel GOD)

 

And I feel ashamed of these feelings.  I try to hide these feelings.  I do not give them voice…

And yet they rise up within me!

 

Why are the innocent suffering?!?

Why are children dying!?!

Why are our relationships so broken!?!

Why are entire lives wasted?!?

 

Why do the just suffer?

Why are the giving, exploited!?

Why are the tender-hearted abused?

Why are moments of beauty so momentary?

 

I am learning something new from David.

David was very clearly at the end of his rope.  David HAD BEEN crying out to God!…

And yet he cried out still!

Truly, he persevered in prayer, with a God, for whom he felt both love and anger, trust and bewilderment!

He KEPT CRYING OUT to God.

 

Second, David does not soften his feelings toward God.  He accuses God of forsaking him.  He complains at God for bringing him no relief, though he has cried out, day after day.  David knows God to be the one who does not forsake his children, the faithful one who hears, the one who cares…and yet none of this feels true in his life at the moment and he brings this up with God.  David confronts God.

How many of us do this?  Do we feel too ashamed to be that real with God?  Do we know the “right” things to say and feel…so much so that we do not even know the REAL things we are feeling or needing to say?  Do we trust God to still love us even if we let it all hang out?  Do we trust that nothing, indeed nothing, can separate us from the love of God?

 

A third thing I am observing is how David fluctuates between doubt and faith.

In one moment, he is complaining at God for forsaking him, for giving him no rest and in the next, he is remembering God’s faithfulness to his ancestors, God’s mighty acts and deliverance.

In one moment, he is complaining at how he is mocked and scorned by all who see him.  He quotes their prescriptions of spiritual wisdom – they who talk but do not help – and in the next, he remembers how faithful God has been to him, since his birth.

In one moment, he describes, in great detail, just how very bad things are and how alone he is.  In the next, he begins again to cry out yet again for God to save him.

We see a man wrestling with what it means that God is faithful and that he himself is suffering, that God provides and yet he himself is lacking, that God hears and yet he himself feels forsaken!

And I relate.

 

And then, when we see just how truly low David is, we hear this turn in his Psalm,

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

In the middle of this Psalm, there is a turn, God delivers, God provides, and David is filled with praise saying “the Lord has done it!”

 

And in all this, David is known as a man after God’s own heart.

This David

Who trusted and feared,

Gave thanks and complained,

Remembered God’s faithfulness and questioned God’s faithfulness…

This David

 

Perhaps there is hope for us.

 

I want to share with you a story by Rachel Naomi Remen in her book, Kitchen Table Wisdom.  A physician and a woman living with a chronic illness herself, Rachael is a counselor to both physicians and patients.  In this story, she shares the crisis one young man brought to her (p 39).

9'22'19 Rachel Naomi Remen 39

9'22'19 Rachel Naomi Remen 40 41

 

We can expend all our energy trying to be what we think God wants us to be,

Trying to feel what we think God wants us to feel,

Trying to act how we think God wants us to act.

But this is not what we see in this honest, raw, passionate Psalm of David.  And God does not abandon him in this, rejecting him for his anger and doubt, despising him for his weakness, …but rather God delivers him!

 

Perhaps, WE are enough.  Perhaps our anger, our questions, our faith, our hope, our disappointment, our feelings of betrayal, our feelings of abandonment, our swells of overwhelming joy and rejoicing….

Perhaps

We

Are enough.

 

Perhaps we can stop striving

To be

To say

To act…

And just be,

resting in God’s unending love for us,

And knowing that WE are enough,

because GOD is enough.

 

Amen.