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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.

 

“Faithful Doubt”

By Rev. Katherine Todd
John 20:24-31
Jeremiah 29:13

 

John 20:24-31

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Jeremiah 29:11

When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart


 

To all those tossed about on the stormy seas of depression who are asking, “where is my God, my Rock?”

To all those watching the suffering of another, whose hearts are burning with the question, “Why, God!?  Where is your comfort?”

To all those witnesses of injustice, who are begging, “God show yourself.  Make this right!”

To all you who cannot find an answer to your suffering,

To all you who are waiting for a miracle, praying for a breakthrough,

To all you who live with questions about your faith, questions about the Bible, questions about Christianity…

 

I share with you this hope:  The Story of Thomas.

 
Thomas is a passionate disciple.  When Jesus tells the disciples of his plans to return to Mary & Martha’s home in order to bring their dead brother Lazarus back to life, the disciples all seek to discourage Jesus from going saying, “Rabbi the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and you are going there again?”  Realizing Jesus’ resolve, Thomas rallies the others saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  Thomas is a devoted disciple.

When Jesus, risen from the dead, shows himself to the other disciples, Thomas needs to know it is real.  He can’t help but doubt.  His doubt protects him, because when he believes something, he will go all out.  He cannot follow this Risen Jesus whole-heartedly until he is sure it is indeed him.

 

For eight long days, Thomas is adamant in his unbelief:  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  …The Jesus I knew and loved was tortured, crucified, and buried.  If he is really Jesus, he will have those marks of torture and death.  Only then can I believe what you’re saying.

It can’t have been easy to disbelieve.  Meanwhile Thomas’ friends, the others are exuberant.  They are joyful.  They are no longer mourning.  They are excited.  They can’t wait to go forward, wherever Jesus will take them.  Thomas is still at the funeral.  He can’t understand their joy.  He can’t get excited about a future.  His entire hope was buried, and his friends are in different place.  Yet, Thomas stays with them.  When Jesus comes to them again, Thomas is there.  He remained in the discomfort of being on a different page than the others.  Without giving into pressure from his friends, he remained honest with himself and his closest friends about his thoughts & feelings.  He doubted actively, begging for a resolution, engaging in search of the truth.

And Jesus answers.  Eight days after He first showed himself to the disciples, Jesus reappears to them, while Thomas is present.  Jesus speaks directly to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Do not doubt, but believe!”

 

Jesus answers.

 

Thomas asked.  He sought out truth, and Jesus, faithful to his word opened the door and came in.  “Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Thomas was not lukewarm.  He was not afraid to take a stand.  He doubted out loud in front of his trusted companions.  He did not remain safe and obscure in silent doubt.  He did not trade his search for the truth for an image of piety.  He laid himself out on the line in honesty, in search of the truth.

Thomas finds what he is searching for.

 

Jesus, bearing the marks of death, yet alive, comes to him.  Jesus returns to answer this disciple’s passionate doubt.  Jesus comes that Thomas might passionately believe.  Thomas is blown away.  He worships Jesus:  “My Lord, and my God.”

Thomas is remembered to this day, as “doubting Thomas.”  But his story does not end in doubt.  His story ends in bold worship.  He asked.  God answered.  And he believed.

 

In Christian communities today, it is not popular to doubt.  Many of us tidy up our spiritual lives by packing and sometimes shoving our doubts into closets, where we hope they will remain hidden and forgotten.  Thomas shows us a radically different way to handle our doubts.   Thomas doubted OUT – LOUD.  It takes courage to doubt as Thomas did.

 

 

Today I want to share with you a song by Rich Mullins, a contemporary Christian artist who doubted like Thomas did.

Rich Mullins was a Christian Musical Artist of our time.  He wrote treasured songs such as Awesome God, and Step by Step.  He is known for his beautifully poetic and prophetic lyrics.  His songs were like landscapes:  vast and breathtaking while intimate and detailed.  He loved God dearly, and his music reflected both the complexity and the simplicity of life.  He is respected both for his musical contribution and his life of service to Christ.

Though he produced 9 highly acclaimed Christian music albums, Rich was notorious for never having any money.  Bob Thornton (KTLI Wichita) writes : “Rich used to come into the station quite a bit. He had friends who worked here and all of us knew him, so he would drop in when he was in town. He would just walk in the lobby and call out to any staff that was around, ‘Who wants to go to lunch? I haven’t got any money!’ That was Rich. He never had any money…”  He made a lot, and he gave it all way, literally.   Amy Grant said of Rich that “He was the uneasy conscience of Christian music.”  She explained that Rich had taken a vow of poverty.”

In 1995, after completing a degree in music education, Rich pursued one of his greatest dreams and moved to Tse Bonito, New Mexico to teach music to children on Native American Reservations.  Many such reservations could not afford to offer music classes in school.  Rich wanted the children to be blessed from God with music.  He wanted to bring the hope of Christ to the Native American reservation.

Though revered in many Christian circles, Rich strived to be honest with his doubts and struggles.  He did not bow to pressures to appear flawless.  Rather he humbled himself and was honest about the nitty gritty of life.  When he doubted, he doubted OUT LOUD, and when he believed, he believed OUT LOUD!

 

About his last recording, the Jesus record, a friend wrote:

For several years Rich had talked about making an album that would unfold the Jesus that we quickly gloss over on our way to church or Christian concerts. He wanted us to see the raw, rough Jesus who had dirty fingernails and who hung out with all the wrong people and loved them just as they were. It was a record, he said, that was “needed,” because for too many of us, Jesus had become domesticated, ordinary, and predictable. And necessary because those who believed Jesus to be otherwise often felt abandoned and alone in their convictions. Such was the nature of Rich’s work: he sought to at once challenge and heal, stir and to comfort, agitate and settle.

In September 1997, Rich sat down in an old, abandoned church, and, using a borrowed cassette recorder, recorded a demo tape for his new album.  The song, Hard to Get, is first on the recording, and it is one of Rich’s most explicit songs about doubt and faith.  In this song, the singer accuses God of playing hard to get up in heaven, while we all struggle down here on earth.  The song mingles knowledge of God’s love and mercy with the realities of pain and suffering.  It ends with a play on words in which the singer acknowledges God’s presence with him and concludes that rather than “playing hard to get,” God is “just plain hard to get.”

Nine days after this recording, Rich Mullins was killed in a car accident on his way to a benefit concert.  He left this world and went to meet his Love and Lord. Though only 41, when he died, Rich Mullins left a lifetime legacy of compassion and service to others.

 

I encourage you to listen to his song, “Hard to Get,” his demo version.  The words are below:

Hard to Get
You who live in heaven
Hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth
Who are afraid of being left by those we love
And who get hardened by the hurt
Do you remember when You lived down here where we all scrape
To find the faith to ask for daily bread
Did You forget about us after You had flown away
Well I memorized every word You said
Still I’m so scared, I’m holding my breath
While You’re up there just playing hard to get
You who live in radiance
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in skin
We have a love that’s not as patient as Yours was
Still we do love now and then
Did You ever know loneliness
Did You ever know need
Do You remember just how long a night can get?
When You were barely holding on
And Your friends fall asleep
And don’t see the blood that’s running in Your sweat
Will those who mourn be left uncomforted
While You’re up there just playing hard to get?
And I know you bore our sorrows
And I know you feel our pain
And I know it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained
And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I figured this, somehow
All I really need to know

Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can’t see what’s ahead
And we can not get free of what we’ve left behind
I’m reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret
I can’t see how You’re leading me unless You’ve led me here
Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led
And so You’ve been here all along I guess
It’s just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get

 

Let us pray.

Jesus, you amaze us as you care to answer our deepest doubts.

It amazes us that you go out of your way to meet us where we are.

May we have the honesty and courage of Rich Mullins.

May we have the faith of doubting Thomas.

May we seek you and find you, as we seek you with all our hearts.

In the middle of our chaos, depression, tragedy, and injustice, show yourself to us.

Let us see that you have been here too.  Let us touch your wounds.  Show us your face.

May we see your merciful eyes and outstretched hand.

May we experience the power of your resurrection in our own lives.

Lord, how we need your resurrection power in our lives.

We seek you, With all our heart.  Come Lord, Jesus, that we may worship you,

our Lord and our God!            Amen