Sermon for Sunday, 19 June 2022
By Revd Hannah Akibo-Betts
Before we go into our sermon for today; I want to take a short poll: of three questions. Please respond by a show of hands.
- How many of us use and see the benefits of Psalms in our prayer lives?
- How many of us, in spite of our on-going challenges, found something to be thankful to God when we woke up this morning?
- How many of us woke up this morning grumbling or complaining about our on-going issues?
A few weeks ago, I purchased a day-return rail ticket from the internet. It was a good deal so I did not pay attention to the details of the tickets. My outward journey was satisfactory and peaceful using coach D which took me near the station’s exit of my destination.
My returned ticket allocated me to coach H. Walking down my boarding platform I was fine until I went passed coach C. Thereafter, H seemed a long way down. Fatigue and a heavy rucksack slowed my pace and increased my complaining; wishing my allocation was coach D rather than H.
As I approached H; I realised it was the last coach. On arriving at the door of coach H; its name also read First Class. Mentally, it was not what I was expecting. I immediately re-checked my ticket, which still indicated Coach H. Confused; I proceeded to check my seat number which corresponded. Yes, I was in the right coach. But all the while I complained to get there. Most times in life good things cost us on our journeys towards them. Our attitudes sometimes let us down as we encounter challenges, including waiting on the way. Later, reflecting on the experience; I wondered what my attitude would have been if I had realised that I was scheduled to travel first class. Even if it was not first class; what if God had had a special purpose for my being in coach H at that time?
An overview of our Psalm [Psalm 42] speaks of a desert experience of someone in exile. Other Scriptures have led me to assume that David was that someone; during Absalom his son’s rebellion and rejection of him. For those of you who are not familiar with this story, Absalom chased his father David out of his kingship into exile with the hope of installing himself as king.
In verses 3, 9 & 10, David was conflicted within as we see his soul in distress; feeling the strain of sadness and anxiety. However, in verse 1; another part of David’s mind longed for public worship.
Given that this psalm is about David’s ups and downs in exile; an overview of our individual and community lives will not go amiss. In the last decade or so; our lives tell of suffering, particularly in the last three years. Collectively, we have experienced austerity in our public services, divisions in Brexit, Covid which appeared to be on-going; and recently war and increased cost of living. Most of these challenges are akin to exiled experiences as we experience curtailment and restrictions.
So how can Psalm 42 help us to respond to the desert experiences of our lives?
In answering, I have limited our learning to two points:
The first being: acknowledging and accepting our circumstances. In spite of his longing to observe his normal life’s routines, David knew he could not as an exile. In a sense the families of the victims of Grenfell went into exile at the loss of their loved ones. They may want to see meaningful preventative outcomes but they may be constrained. David also knew that he had to get in touch with his feelings to acknowledge his fear of abandonment by God, even though deep down he knew this to be untrue.
Jesus on a number of occasions got in touch with his human feelings, for example: He showed compassion to the widow from Nain and shared grief with Lazarus’s sisters.
Our Second point is that David reached into his past for some good things that gave him hope for the future. In v. 4 he reminisced about being with his congregation and in v. 8, he acknowledged that he received God’s love in the day. At night he treasured and pondered on God’s songs that kept him praying and resourced.
David’s responses can therefore encourage and teach us in at least three ways:
Firstly, it can teach us about the necessity to reconcile with our humanity
David’s craving for being in God’s presence in the context of public worship and God’s love did not obliterate his feeling of God’s abandonment. Similarly, Jesus knew that the Cross was part of his mission yet, He acknowledged his human feeling of abandonment by the Father.
Some us may feel that it is not acceptable to complain to God about how we really feel. David could not understand why he was oppressed by the enemy when he knew God’s love.
As Christians we will experience hard times. However, Psalm 84 tells us that God’s promise is to take us through life’s challenges and not to avoid them. Life is a paradox in which we hold the good and the bad together. It is about holding the rainbow and the thunderstorms together, as David did in our Psalm. Jesus held the paradoxes of his mission well as inspirations for us.
The effects of war are all around us. The cost of living is already biting and will continue to do so. What we see and hear on our screens and radios leaves us helpless. Covid continues to traumatise us. Yes to all of these and more. However, like David there is so much to be thankful for. Let us therefore aspire to look for the good in our lives and around us. If nothing else, let us be thankful for the gift of life every waking day; trusting and knowing that He who woke us, will put food in our mouths that day. This psalm therefore helps us and gives us permission to be human by complaining to ourselves and God when we need to. We too should acknowledge our God-given feelings and emotions when we are in our desert experiences. It is part of who we are and the Psalms are a good resource for such times. In general, they teach us how to respond to our humanity through praise, worship, thanksgiving and lament.
Secondly, this Psalm teaches us to lament
So what is lament? Simply put, lament means recognising and being sad about our situations; and holding those situations up to God. In v. 7, David’s feeling overwhelmed him as he wrote: ‘deep calls to deep’. As in David’s response, lamenting helps us to face our situations while looking for forgiveness, hope and restoration. In our psalm David acknowledged his human weaknesses of covetousness and lust; and his dependency on God to help him out of his condition. So in Psalm 51 he asked God to create in him a pure heart. For those of us who started Bible Studies last Wednesday; the work that David asked God to do in him could only have been done with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Lamenting helps us to heal and to say sorry to God as David did. Collectively, and in our individual lives, there are many things we can say sorry to God for. As nations and peoples we progressively remove ourselves from God’s principles and callings. For example, we are called to care for God’s creations. We abuse them for the most part. We are called to take Sabbath rests: but in pursuit of profits and convenience we run a seven-day/ twenty-four hour culture. We are called to love our neighbours. For the most part, we hurt them and subsequently God, by the things we say and do to them. When we remain silent or passive at injustices and inequalities; when we focus on our own career developments by stabbing others, we hurt God. Again, for those of us studying the Holy Spirit currently; these attitudes mentioned are examples of what the Holy Spirit can convict and guide us as disciples of God.
In our national and worldly challenges, we who are privileged to know God, trust that He will help us through this time, but what of the ones who do not know Him or see Him walking beside them? When was the last time you and I prayer-walked our streets asking God to bless each house; or walked a deprived area; asking God for His blessings and provisions that may change lives?
Lamenting brings us to a place of looking in the mirror for who we are and what we are feeling; offering us pathways to deliverance, healing and restoration.
Thirdly, this psalm teaches us about our relationship with God and worship both at individual and public levels
One half of David wanted to praise and worship God. Another wanted to remain in doom and gloom. But David knew that worship is uplifting. So he appealed and coaxed his anxious sad soul to cooperate with the trust that he had in God.
Sometimes we need to coax our crushed spirits to have hope and live life as God offers it. When parenting my daughter, I chose to work term-time only, which meant contracted jobs. During my in- between-contracts; my anxious soul often forgot God’s provision of the previous job. Its disquietness often led me to despair. It was at those times that I went around the house looking for things to be thankful for: I went to the cooker, the switches, taps, etc thanking God for providing the income for their running costs. By the time I was half way through my rounds; my soul cooperated with me to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving instead of worrying.
We have come through the exile experience of Covid. By God’s grace Ukraine will come out of war into peace times and by God’s grace, too, we will come out of this time of increased cost of living that may see some loss of homes and livelihoods. So, as I finish, I want to leave us with a few questions for our reflections. But before I do: I want to share a prophecy that someone gave in our recent Diocesan Clergy Conference.
The prophecy is calling the Church to be prepared to receive the many that will come through our doors as a result of the economic squeezes. When they do, we should respond with humility, kindness and grace. We are not to focus on their conversions, but rather to treat them respectfully and with sensitivity as we offer them hospitality.
With the prophecy in mind my questions are:
First to Cornerstone and other churches:
Will we be, and are we, hearing the call of preparedness to respond to the many that God may bring to our doors as they come looking for physical, spiritual and emotional help? If we are, what will our priorities be?
My second sets of questions are to each of us and they are:
What can we do for our neighbours? Some of us may be able to survive the increases but for those that may not do we hear a call to pray for God’s people less fortunate than some of us?
Finally, would we allow the squeeze to stop us contributing a tin or two to the food cupboards? Elastics have more elasticity than we may recognise. It is amazing how much we can stretch compassionately to reach others.
As we go through all these challenges Psalm 42 teaches us to hold our situations before God through lament and to work with the paradoxes of our lives, holding the rainbows and thunderstorms of our lives together; knowing that ultimately all will be well and all must be well for God’s people.