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A Homily for Lent 2
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Psalm 30
Let the Words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
Over my years as a Christian my fondness and appreciation of the Psalter has only grown. In the psalms we find words for nearly every occasion. Comfort in pain, love in loneliness, solace in anger, joy to add to our delight, and peace in the tumult. If I haven’t pointed it out to you yet, take your prayer book and in the very front, on the page marked with Roman Numeral nine, there you will find a list of 28 different uses for psalms, whether it be for devotion at Holy Communion, for peace, about God’s mercy, sovereignty or wisdom, there is probably a psalms there for your season. Let that page become a friend for all seasons of your life, to direct you when you need a little help.
The thing I appreciate the most about the psalms is that the psalter is the oldest prayer book. It is the oldest collection of hymns of praise, lament, and heartfelt prayers. Whether it be David’s crying out for mercy in Psalm 51, the reminder that God is a good shepherd in Psalm 23, the cry of Christ on the cross in Psalm 22, or the calling out of joy in Psalm 66, the psalms are full of the emotions of life. They have been read, sung, and prayed for millenniums. There is a goodness in the steadfastness of their use, there is a solidity and comfort in knowing that your voice is not the first to cry out those words, nor will it be the last.
Yet the Psalms aren’t there just to be words to be echoed throughout the generations. Although it is good to pray them with regularity, and that is why the praying of the Psalms is a daily part of the Anglican prayer life. They are as much a part of scripture as the Pentateuch, the Histories, the other wisdom literature, the prophets, the gospels, the Epistles, and the book of Revelation. They are as much a part of the inspired word of God, there for our good learning and edification. So, although we pray them day in and day out, they are also there so that we can delve deeper into the character of God, and learn who He is and who we are in Him.
For a moment, I want to digress and say – if you do not have a prayer book and would like one, please let me know. I am certain I can find one for you somewhere around here that you can have, it may be a little well worn, but that’s okay, and if you’d like to purchase a nicer one I can give you the name of a few companies that sell them.
With the understanding that the Psalms are God-breathed and worthy of study in mind we turn to Psalm 30, the first Psalm we prayed this morning. The structure of this Psalm is of interest, it goes a high, a low, and back to a high. For, we start out with happiness, then we go into sorrow, and finally go to joy. It is better to classify the beginning as happiness, and the end as biblical joy.
There is a difference between happiness and biblical joy. Happiness is created by our circumstances. Happiness says “my circumstances are good, my heart will be glad.” In fact the word happiness shares its root with the word happenstance. Happiness is arbitrary, it comes and it goes just as good times and bad come and go. Biblical joy on the other hand says that “God is good, therefore my heart will be glad regardless of my circumstances.” Do you see the difference here? Happiness is based on what is happening in your life, Joy is based in our relationship with the Lord.
As Christians, we are called to strive for biblical joy, for in that joy we have a peace that brings us through the lightest of times and the darkest of times. In that joy we remember that God is the Lord, and He is good, regardless of our circumstances.
So we begin with the reminder of the good times. Through verse six the Psalmist sings praises to the Lord for his goodness. From time to time we get hints that perhaps things aren’t perfect, but the Psalmist has faith that the Lord will seem him through. He even seems to have a little hubris in verse six, perhaps thinking that things will never go bad.
We all have memories of times of great joy – times we think, perhaps this happiness will last forever. Perhaps it was your wedding day, or the birth of your child, or finally landing that coveted job. Perhaps it was something simpler. For me, one vivid night remains consistently in my memory. It was the night before a hurricane in Maine. It was the last dinner with a group of students I had spent the summer mentoring, loving, and guiding. We laughed, we ate dinner, we drank wine. We reminisced about the summer, recalling the loving kindness of our Lord. It was a simple night, and it was a very good night. Perhaps you have had nights like these as well and you know what I am referring to.
But when we take up the cross of Christ we are not promised a life full of good nights and laughter, though they will certainly come. We are not promised that every day will be full of sunshine, though I pray you will have plenty. For although it is easy to say with the psalmist – “thou, Lord of thy goodness, has made my hill so strong!” We are reminded too of Christ’s hill, and that we too are called to be crucified with Christ. We are reminded that all of us who have taken up the cross of Christ to follow him that that it is a costly thing to do. We are reminded that Christ promised to all of those who follow him that we will face hardship.
So this leads us to the turning point, to verses seven to eleven. For most of the rest of the time, I would like to focus on verse seven: thou didst turn thy face from me, and I was troubled.
What are we to do when God is silent? How are we to understand when trouble hits and it seems as though God has abandoned us? Or when we were so sure of something and the carpet is ripped up from under us and we find ourselves sitting on the floor baffled and confused, feeling alone.
We know that it seems as though God is sometimes silent. We even see Christ calling out in the words of Psalm 22 - My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? We undoubtedly know this feeling as well. Yet – too often we are either given platitudes – “don’t worry buddy, it’ll get better,” but we quietly wonder – will it? Or worse, we are given the advice that Job’s wife gives him: “do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” Yet, surely there is a better way than empty earthly promises or the spiritual death of Job’s wife.
First we must look at what the silence of God is. Throughout the next portion of this sermon, I will use myself periodically as an example. Not because I am a super Christian, but because I am comfortable using these periods of my life as examples, though I am sure many of you have shared in similar times. I use these, so you know that when you pass through them that you are not alone, that many a Christian has passed through similar types of pain.
There are four types of times that I can think of that God seems silent to us. Perhaps there are more, but these will do for now, and I suspect that most other times we might be considered subsets, fitting nicely into these categories.
These are some of the times that God seems quiet: when we rebel against God and refuse to hear him, when we must wait for the fullness of time and in that waiting we hear nothing, times of intense mystery where we may never know why God was quiet or our heart was broken, and finally and perhaps most difficultly, in times of tragedy. These are loose categories that are not at all scientific. Perhaps you’ve even experienced times that fit in to more than one of them.
The first – times when we rebel against God or pursue something that he’s saying “no, this isn’t what I have in mind for you.” For me, one example of this was my time in biotech. Throughout my career, I wanted to be the best there was, and yet, it didn’t work out that way. While, I am grateful for my time, I learned a lot that I can use in ministry and the rest of my life, and I know the work I did was good, there was an intense pain of slamming my head against one wall after another and never realizing what the Lord was working in me. For a long time, I refused to see what was so clear to so many others, that my vocation was to be in ministry.
So often, God is speaking, but he isn’t telling us what we want to hear, so we run in the opposite direction, as fast as we can. Instead, of heeding what he has laid before us we ignore his guidance. No, when we are filled with joy and when we are struggling we are called to lay our hopes and cares down at the foot of the cross and trust that the Lord will be our guide and governor.
Now, in my defense, we come to the second time when God is quiet. This is when we must wait for the fullness of time. Despite my distracted heart – deep down inside I knew that the Lord had called me into ministry. While I would have been delighted to spend my 20s in full time ministry, this was not the will of the Lord, from time to time I would look to find a way into a full time ministry positon and no door opened. This desire grew especially intense, and especially difficult to be patient for its fulfilment in the two years leading up to me being called as your rector. There is more frustration, discouragement, and pain here than we have time to go into, but looking back, I can see how God was preparing the fullness of time. Yet, in that moment, it didn’t feel like it. At times, it felt as though God had gone quiet, it felt as though I should give up. Yet, the Lord was there, quietly guiding me to a better place, and a deeper walk with him.
The last two times of silence are the hardest. The first being – times of intense mystery where we may never know why God was quiet can be the hardest to deal with. There are times in my life that I genuinely don’t understand why God did what he did. It can be frustrating and feel so very lonely and painful. But we are reminded that we are not the only one who goes through their pain in ministry, and comforted by the sovereignty of God – when we read the end of Job and God declares to him:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements – surely you know!
We live in a very empirical time. We think that we can and should have the answer for everything. Yet, we don’t always get it. There are times of trouble and sorrow that we will pass through that we may never know why our sovereign and good Lord has poured out this sorrow for us. We are only promised that the Lord is lord, and He is good. So we learn to trust and believe.
Finally, in times of tragedy, in late nights in hospital rooms wondering why one so dear could face such pain, wondering why it was them and not us, wondering why the one we loved could be taken away so easily. In these times it is hard to see the goodness of the Lord. It is hard to hear is comforting words or the working of the Holy Spirit in our life. Yet, I think in these times, God comforts us in the quiet and God comforts us through the love he has given his church. So, in those times reach out.
We have probably all experienced at least some form of these, and they can rattle our faith. They can make us feel heartache, and doubt the goodness of our Lord. Yet, does this seeming silence mean that God has really abandoned us? Or are there habits we can adopt in the good times to help carry us through the dark nights of our soul?
The dark times, the cross that we pick up, when we say “yes, Lord, I will follow you,” can be profoundly difficult, yet the following habits will help us to come verses 12 and 13. The following habits will take us from a tumultuous faith that is swayed by the winds of the world and into the depth of the Love of Christ.
First, Take an eschatological viewpoint. Your ten dollar theological word for the day is eschatological. Eschatological is the study of the end – so what does it mean to have an eschatological viewpoint? It means that our focus is not on an earthly reward but on our heavenly reward, our view is on the end. Throughout Christ’s earthly ministry he kept trying to point the disciples towards the kingdom of heaven, not the kingdom of men, yet they continuously missed it. Likewise we travel through times of heartache and frustration and we forget that we are in the process of sanctification. We are being made ready to spend eternity in the service of the king of kings.
So, although at times things can be discouraging and difficult, remembering this eternal promise will help us to rejoice in the day of hardship. We are to be storing our treasure up in heaven. So, although today may be difficult, we are to be continually refocusing on that eternal promise. Adopting this view has helped me persevere through frustration.
Second, take a posture of gratitude. I was having coffee with someone the other day and they asked me what I did to be rejoice in the Lord daily. I was ashamed that I didn’t have a good answer. I realized that even though it’s easy to be grateful for a job I love, a roof over my head, food on my table, a car that kind of runs, all of these things can fail, they can be here today and gone tomorrow. How then do I maintain this, if I am not grateful for everything in my life? The things that make me happy, and the things I struggle to be happy for. Yet there are things that I can see now are gifts, even if I don’t particularly want them. So, instead of grumbling through the ups and down, we learn to give thanks for all things.
A particularly poignant example of this comes from Jonathan Edward’s wife Sarah writing to her daughter upon Jonathan’s death:
What shall I say: a holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud… The Lord has done it. He has made me adore his goodness that we had him so long. But my God lives; and he has my heart.”
Would we write such profound words of praise in such a season of darkness and heartache? I suspect if we adopted a posture of gratitude in the good days, giving thanks to the Lord for all things, we might be able to.
Third – do not forsake the congregation of the faithful. When things get hard, it feels as though it would be easier to stay home, to turn inward. No, dwell in the congregation, continue to worship with your brothers and sisters in Christ. I still remember how hard it was to worship the Lord after college. Things were tough, and it seemed so very lonely. Yet, I am thankful that God gave me the strength to persevere. So, persevere, even when you don’t want to, even in the darkest of days.
Fourth – Pray. Pray without ceasing, if you have to yell at God, yell at him. Just don’t stop talking to the Lord, but be quiet also. For perhaps you’re heading in the wrong direction and you’re so busy telling the Lord what to do that you aren’t seeing your need for turning. None the less, make time to pray, and listen in your heartache.
Fifth – continue to delve deep into the scriptures. The fact of the matter is, most people aren’t going to hear the voice of the Lord saying “son, you need to do this,” or “daughter, go there and it’ll get better.” But the word of God teaches us of His character and the character of His people. It shows us who he is and how we are to react to him. So though, the times may seem confusing, keep reading, and with time comfort will come.
When we cultivate these habits of healthy Christian living – they will carry us through the valleys of darkness, and into the joy of the Lord. They will teach us to store our treasures up in heaven, and they will assist us, even in the darkest of days.
For although, we are promised a cross, the Christian life is to be one marked with joy. So we learn to cultivate that joy when things are good, in order that when things are bad, we can trust and know that the Lord is a sovereign, faithful and good God. It is when we rest in this truth that we are reminded by Psalmist that every good man shall sing of thy praise without easing and we pray – O God, will give thanks unto thee forever.
So, take heart dear friends if today it seems that God is quiet, that he has turned his face from you, do not lose hope, he has not. Take heart – you are not alone in the heartache, you are not alone in the silence, many a Christian has traveled this road before, and the Lord himself has been there. Cry out to the Lord in your heartache, he will have a compassionate ear, cultivate joy, worship with your brothers and sisters in Christ, be patient and keep your eyes ever focused on his goodness and the eternal promise. Wherever life takes you – continue to persevere, take heart, and rejoice in the Lord always.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.