A sermon preached March 4, 2012 at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho.
Psalm 22 is arguably best known as being the source of the words Jesus chooses to say from the cross, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But if you can read past the crucifixion imagery in the first verses of this psalm, and make it to the passage we read this morning, the psalm expands from the very real complaints of an afflicted person into a hymn of hope, a promise of redemption, and a reminder of God’s love for, and authority over, the entire earth.
Isn’t that remarkable? In one little psalm, 31 verses, the narrative shifts from “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” to “future generations will…proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn…”
This reminds us, of course, that despair and hope are not mutually exclusive. Even in the midst of the worst despair, we have the capacity within us to also hold on to hope. It doesn’t mean we disregard our despair and cling, Pollyanna like, to only the positive moments. The psalmist allows for both to live together in one psalm. But it does mean that, even as we experience those moments of life that break our heart and crush our souls, it is okay to let hope and praise come forth too.
I wonder if sometimes we fear that we can’t honor or value our pain if we allow hope to creep in to the midst of it. Does it make us worry that we will forget what we have lost, how we have been hurt, if we can also see how we might be healed?
But the psalmist seems to not be bothered by despair and hope living alongside each other. Perhaps because he or she knew that we most truly understand the power of hope when we have experienced despair.
Really. Who worries about future redemption when the present already feels redeemed?
I want to be like this psalmist. I want to be able to see that entire spectrum of life within the scope of 31 verses. I want to be able to claim my despair, to cry out to God when I feel forsaken. But I also want to make claims of hope and redemption.
And not just personal redemption for me. While this psalm is personal— “God did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him”— this psalm is not private. “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD.”
It is a reminder to us that while God does hear us, while God does listen for our cries, we are also a part of a larger story than just our own individual lives. Our story is connected to “all the ends of the earth” and “all the families of the nations.”
Somehow, though, we seem to live as if that isn’t true. We act as if we could get our own salvation, our own redemption, taken care of, without praying for and working for the salvation of our brothers and sisters in the pews next to us and across the world from us.
So, what does that mean? How do we live as if we believe what the psalmist is saying? How do our lives change if we believe this:
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD;
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him.
I would suggest that we need to read the news with more intention. We need to pay attention to what is going on down the street and across the world with an understanding that it affects us.
And once we have become aware of the despair and hopelessness that others are experiencing, then we can make a difference for them, and for ourselves. As Martin Luther King, jr, once said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
The psalmist is calling us to live our personal despair into communal redemption.
One of the things I appreciate about this psalm is the view it affords us. It starts in close and personal with the anguish of the psalmist’s soul and the mistreatment he receives at the hands of his enemies. It reminds us that we all experience loss, pain, and grief. But as the view expands, we are reminded that we are not alone. We are reminded that other people are with us in our journeys, through the good and the bad. We are reminded of our connection to each other as part of God’s family. And we are reminded that it is God who is in charge.
“For dominion belongs to the LORD,
and God rules over the nations.”
And this is the good news. God is in charge. We are recipients of God’s grace, mercy, healing, and redemption, but it is God who has the whole world in hand.
So our job is not to hold on to our own problems or try to fix everyone else’s. The psalmist instructs us to remember that God is in control and to worship God, offering our thanks and praise for our deliverance, testifying and proclaiming deliverance so that the story can expand even further—to future generations yet unborn.
Putting our despair into the context of the world’s redemption also helps us see the beauty of the “big picture”. Listen to these words from author Ursula LeGuin.
“If you see a whole thing – it seems that it’s always beautiful. Planets, lives…. But close up a world’s all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life’s a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern.”
This is where the psalmist leaves us, inviting us to look up from the dirt and rocks of our personal lives so that we may see the beautiful pattern of God’s wider plan for the redemption of the world.
So, when you find yourself down amid the dirt and rocks, it is okay. Sometimes that is where we need to be. But remember to look up at the sky, seeking the stars, and remember that you are a part of God’s bigger plan for the redemption of the world. And then, when the time is right, you can get up from the ground, wipe the dust from your hands, and get back to participating in the praise and worship that the world offers to God, so that future generations can also know about the Lord, learning about their place in the deliverance of the world too.
May it be so. Amen.
And here is the video from worship this morning. Who are you going to invite to join you for church next week?