June 30, 2013
Psalm 77: 1-2 and 10-20
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
1I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.
2In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
my soul refuses to be comforted.
10And I say, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.”
11I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
I will remember your wonders of old.
12I will meditate on all your work,
and muse on your mighty deeds.
13Your way, O God, is holy.
What god is so great as our God?
14You are the God who works wonders;
you have displayed your might among the peoples.
15With your strong arm you redeemed your people,
the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
16When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you,
they were afraid; the very deep trembled.
17The clouds poured out water;
the skies thundered;
your arrows flashed on every side.
18The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lit up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
19Your way was through the sea,
your path, through the mighty waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
20You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Have you been acquainted with the night?
You know what the Psalmist felt like then. Desolate and alone, strung out, weary, reaching for God and not feeling anything. If you’ve ever felt such grief, such bitterness – that you could not sleep, so that you tossed on your bed, turning the pillow over and over, twisting the sheets, getting up and padding around the dark house, opening the refrigerator and looking in, as if the light in that box would somehow illumine your bleak soul— if you’ve ever felt that, you know what this Psalm is saying.
And you know what it feels like when you think God has forgotten you.
That’s the feeling – God used to remember me, used to know me and care about me.
But now, God has changed – turned away. As the gray light of dawn filters into your bedroom window, you gaze in despair at the clock. How will you get up and get dressed and live this day?
Or maybe it wasn’t that dramatic for you. Maybe it was just one day you looked around at your surroundings which had always been just fine – a nice school or a decent job, a comfortable home, a family you loved all the time and could live with even in the worst times, maybe even a cat that you had at first only tolerated but came to love.
So you looked around at all this, and it was just fine yesterday, completely satisfactory, no complaints, and today, it looks….gray…bland…
school is boring and stupid and everyone is just trying to be popular,
the job is just a job, a lockstep of meaningless work that contributes nothing to the world,
home is just like everybody else’s,
and your family – they don’t get you, never have, and they don’t care, not really.
So you go look for something to distract you, Maybe what you find isn’t really very good for you, maybe it is unhealthy or immoral or just not worthwhile, but you tell yourself that you deserve it, because….because….because God has stopped listening to you, and you are sad and lonely and hurting and nobody cares…nobody cares…nobody cares.
After that you go for a walk down along the river.
And you try praying.
God? Are you listening?
Do you know what is going on down here, in my life? in this town, in this school, in the world? ARE YOU EVEN PAYING ATTENTION TO US? HELLO?
Somehow this seems wrong, to pray by yelling at God.
Even though everything is out of whack, there was a time when you could talk to God, you could say what was on your heart or in your head, and you felt sure God was listening.
It doesn’t seem right, really, to just vent to the Almighty, like you would to a friend about some minor irritation -- like the fact that nobody besides you can put the new roll of toilet paper on the roll, or that you are ALWAYS the one who has to set the trash out on Wednesday.
Not that what you are feeling is that minor, but still, this is God…God – the great I AM, the Creator, the Holy One. You don’t want to waste your airtime with little gripes.
But memory is persistent.
It digs at you with a sharp-pointed shovel, unearthing old resentments and leaving holes all over the place. Memory dings like a text alert and clangs like an alarm going off. It’s an instagram picture – remember this? remember this?
The Psalmist remembers too.
Apparently it is just a run of bad luck, says one translation, apparently just when I really need help, God has gone out of business. But the Psalm writer has not forgotten what God USED to do. And not only is this writer going to recount God’s power, but the voice of the Psalm shifts – now we are no longer talking about God. We are talking TO God.
“But I will remember the LORD's deeds; yes, I will remember your wondrous acts from times long past. I will meditate on all your works; I will ponder your deeds. God, your way is holiness!
Who is as great a god as you, God? You are the God who works wonders; you have demonstrated your strength among all peoples. With your mighty arm you redeemed your people; redeemed the children of Jacob and Joseph.”
As you walk along the river, pondering God and your life, you remember, too.
God was present in your life, and acting in mighty ways. You were there and the sun was shining and everybody was smiling. Everybody was smiling.
You remember what it was like, before this. There was a time when you could lay down and sleep and awaken refreshed and happy, a time when you offered up your prayers and you could almost see them, wafting into God’s presence like the fragrance of lilacs, rising like the smoke of candles, rippling in the sky like wisps of clouds in a sunset.
You remember all the times when God stepped in for you, maybe in ways you’d been unable to see at the time. Prayers in those times were different, hardly more than a breath:
Now there’s this grief, this sadness, this emptiness, this loneliness. You walk along that river and look into the deep water, deep and gray and murky and hiding who knows what. You wonder if it is quiet there, under that water, quiet and peaceful, floating there, no sound, no pain, no more…no more anything. But you are not a Psalmist, nor a statistic, nor a country singer, and the weight of your sorrow is heavy, but not enough, not yet, not enough to sink you in that river.
And as you walk along, a storm blows up, a storm worthy of the Almighty, of King Lear’s shouting “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout Till you have drench'd our steeples, …”
That’s what the Psalmist recalled, seeing a storm like that one, only in the mind’s eye, here’s how you did it, God:
“The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook.”
Yes, Lord, that was how you did it.
And that storm, YOUR storm, as it rolls down the Rock River, that storm is Biblical in its proportions. You take shelter under a bridge, watching the torrents of rain blow across the arch of your shelter.
The lightning splits the sky and every crash of thunder sends a shiver through you. You’re too grown up and sophisticated to be afraid, aren’t you? And you know that God is not hurling down lightning bolts like some angry Greek god in mythology. But still, it is impressive. And a little bit scary. Scary because power like that could kill a person, a flood like that could overwhelm a kid, and those flashes of lightning could destroy a whole neighborhood. Scary because a woman could get caught in that and not find her way home. A man could get lost in that, could slip into the river and have a hard time getting out.
But you keep watching it, and you keep remembering, just like the Psalmist, and you keep remembering what God has done in your life. “Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”
And you remember that Jesus, the good shepherd who leads you, Jesus was acquainted with the night. He knew what it was to suffer, to plummet down to the depths of sorrow so deep that it seemed there was no bottom and no surface. You remember him drenched with sweat in that garden, how he suffered on that cross, how he lay dead and gray and buried in a stone-cold tomb.
And you remember that God is faithful,
and God delivered the people of Israel from slavery,
and God delivered the people of the world from sin,
and even though it is storming, you know the clouds will pass, scudding across the sky in a last exhalation of wind. And you know that beyond this bleak dark night there is life - LIFE!.
Beyond that tomb, there is Easter, and resurrection.
And you wait until the rain lets up, and you walk along the path by the river
waiting for the sun to break through, heading for home.