Narrative Lectionary for the Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year Three
June 18, 2017
Lessons: Psalm 13, John 6:35-40
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people honor space for lament, but we do not stay there; we turn to God in trust and hope knowing we are beloved.
Key Scripture: 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. Psalm 13:5-6
The Psalms provide us with a point of prayerful entry for every stage and station of life. When our sighs are too deep for words, or when we can’t even find the words, the psalms offer words to us. Like our ancestors—the faithful before us who wrote and sang these psalms—they can be our prayer, our expressions praise, lament, joy, hope, and thanksgiving.
This week’s psalm selection is what biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann calls a “psalm of dislocation,” a plaintive song that cries out when our hearts, our minds, when our world is just not right. When all is NOT well with our souls. Mama may have said there’d be days like this, but Psalm 13 gives voice to the experience. Read how Eugene Peterson translates this psalm in The Message. He nails it.
I imagine the writer (it’s attributed to David, the man after God’s own heart) is in a place of great distress—feeling abandoned, betrayed, distanced. It’s as if the singer has finally had enough of seeing the shadow or backside of God (to see God for the Israelites was a death sentence). Yet, David, always pushing the boundaries, is crying out not only to see but to know God. It’s a gut thing. To know God is to live, so it’s worth the risk, worth the audacity, and worth diving into the deep chaotic waters of lament trusting God will not, cannot even, let him drown. And this gives me hope thousands of years later.
To be human is to enter into suffering. He or she who denies that fact is a liar. Our world is broken. Sin and death, although ultimately defeated, are nipping at our heels like worrisome little yapping dogs. Even God’s people behave badly and let us down. This is part of what it means to be human in a fallen world.
There was a time when I deluded myself into thinking that I could stuff all the pain and grief of life into some little corner of my gut, and keep my happy face and cool, calm demeanor intact. Sure enough, right about then my entire world came tumbling down, and the Psalms gave voice to my lament. Perhaps you have experienced something like this, too.
Yes, the psalms give us permission to feel, to BE, human, and to be created and to fully live into our creatureliness. Life is not all rosebuds, puppies, and unicorns. TV and social media are crafty liars. To be human is to feel and live life. To be human and made in the image of the Creator of the Universe is to acknowledge all of life and to give voice to it.
Not everyone who encounters this psalm will be feeling that all well with their soul. Some worshipers may be feeling the weightiness of the days closing in like a summer heatwave. They may be seeking or longing for validation for their heart’s persistent cries and lament. And this psalm, Psalm 13, has the words to give voice to and unite their cries with the cries of those throughout the ages.
But wallowing in lament and grief is not how God leaves us. We may mourn for a while, we may be furious for a time, we may sorrow for a season—but God does not leave us there. The psalms of lament always seek to relocate us in God’s good self. These psalms remind us that God is bigger than everything we can throw at the Divine One-in-Three-and-Three-in-One. In short, God’s got us. Jesus feeds us bread of life, his very life-blood that quenches our thirst and pain.
The point is this: Don’t let grief and pain eat away at you from the inside out. Don’t stuff it down in your deepest, darkest places of your shattered self. Let that lament rip. Let it go like the writer of Psalm 13 did. Let it out as so many faithful have done down through the centuries. Cry out to God because God does not abandon. Even when you can’t feel or experience God, even when God seems so distant and even debatable, even when God’s backside seems as far away as the backwater of the cosmos, God IS as close as your next breath, as present as the wine and bread we will share, as near to you as this psalm—on your lips, giving you voice, and in every atom and molecule of this beautiful broken world that Jesus is mending before our very eyes. Prayers have been, are being, and will be answered. This is very good news.
Be sure to give space for lament today, for all is not right in this world, and some folks in the pews will be feeling dislocated and full of unspoken hurt and pain. Consider inviting worshipers to light candles or bring prayer petitions forward to place on the altar. Perhaps offer anointing for those who desire it. Open with lament, and in the shape of Psalm 13 end worship with the assurance of answered prayers and God’s rescue and ever-present love and care. Prepare people to return to the world nourished and fed with Christ’s amazing mercy and grace.
Youth need permission to lament in the safety of the beloved community. So often our congregations are seen as places where we come to show our best selves rather than our real, broken, and sometimes hurting selves. Use this psalm to create space for pain to be poured out and brokenness to be acknowledged even as Christ’s body is broken and blood poured in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Our youth can set an incredible example for our congregations to be the kind of places where folks get real about their pain so that God can piece us all back together again, stronger yet in our mended hearts, minds, and bodies.
God can Handle our Hurts
Tell the children a story about a time when you thought you couldn’t be your real self for fear of being found lacking or unacceptable. Perhaps you remember a time when you “made nice” when you wanted to pitch a hissy fit or run away. Invite the children to share an example of something similar that has happened to them. Affirm their sharing. Ask them who they feel they can be themselves around. They may say parents or friends. Remind them that like the psalmist they can be themselves with God because they are loved and named and claimed as children of God. They can be sad. They can be mad. They can be themselves. God will never desert them—not the good, not the bad, and not the ugly times. Invite the children to share prayer requests for things that are on their heart and finish with a simple prayer.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
What pains and laments do you bring with you to worship this week? What secret suffering and heavy loads are you carrying? Nothing is too insignificant or too great for God to handle. You are loved, dear child of God. Take comfort and hope in the ancient words of the psalmist and know that God hears your prayers. Even the most faithful and generous steward hits a rough patch now and again. Come and be nourished at Christ’s table and uplifted in God’s house. There’s a place for you here.
Stewardship at Home
Some days it just doesn’t work to “put on a happy face” and “look on the sunny side of life.” Be sure to make some time to lament that which is not right with the world and/or with your life this week. Set out a large poster board or piece of butcher paper on a table. Light a candle and read Psalm 13 every day. Then spend some time in lament through prayer, drawing, and even tears. At the end of the week, take the completed work of “artistic lament” and rend it into pieces in a visual symbol that God is with you and at work answering prayers.
Photos: © kmiragaya – Fotolia.com, lel4nd, Creative Commons, and © 2jenn – Fotolia.com. Thanks!
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