Psalms of Lament

A sermon for November 1, 2020

There was a time when I was in great pain and sorrow.  I was depressed, I was anxious, and life appeared to be hopeless. I was afraid of everything from being able to pay my bills, to thinking about never being able to pursue the life and career I had felt called to, that my dreams were grounded in. 

Many of us have gone through something like this, will go through something like this, or know people who have gone through these seasons of worry, doubt, and fear.

When I was going through this, I spoke to my close friends and family about it, but the most comfort came from people who understood what I went through. The most comfort came not from pat answers, eloquent responses, or encouraging cards, but through simple sounds of acknowledgement, through periods of silence that allowed me to think and process, and through simple gestures that cared for the wellbeing that I had abandoned.

God and I had some issues though.  

Where was God in the midst of the mess?  It seemed as though God had abandoned me.  It seemed as though God had taken everything from me. It seemed as though my life would now be defined by forgotten meals, and extinguished hope.

But what I learned in the midst of the mess was that God understood what I was going through because Christ understood loss, depression, anxiety, fear, and pain. Luke 22 describes our Lord in the garden awaiting his captors.  Jesus was so distraught that he was sweating drops of blood, he was shaking in anxiety. He was crying out to the Father to spare him of what what about to happen. He was about to be betrayed by someone who he has just shared a meal with, and 3 years of life with. 

And in the book of Psalms, there are Psalms of Lament in which we read the emotions and questions of the writers as they cried out for God to answer their pain, and their grieving. 

The beauty of our faith is that we have a God who understands our suffering and our joy, and we have examples of people of faith who have followed God before us, who had the same questions, and doubts, and struggles. 

And so if you are thinking that you are alone and abandoned when you don’t feel positive about your life, or your faith.  Or if you are grieving long after the funeral, long after people stop calling to check on you, this message is for you. 

If you are at a good place right now, but you know other people who may not be, this message is for you. 

Lets look at Psalm 22.

Verse one starts out with: “My God, My God….Why have you forsaken me!?”

How many times have we felt as though God could not be in the mess in which we find ourselves in?

How many times have we wondered how the world can be so bad and evil, if God exists?

These are emotions and questions that even children feel and ask. And yet, when we have these questions and we ponder them, we feel as though we are alone. 

But this Psalm which has been read and sun for thousands of years reminds us that we are not alone in these moments. 

In Matthew 27, verse 46, as Jesus is on the cross he cries out what humanity feels when we are suffering by quoting psalm 22- My God, My God…why have you forsaken me?

And then Psalm 22, which has been interpreted as a prophecy of the Messiah, goes on to say, “I am despised by others” (v. 6), “my bones are out of joint, my heart is melted, my mouth is dry as I’m laid down to death”, which aligns with Christ hanging on the cross, his bones coming out of joint because of it, his side being pierced, and his thirst before he gave his final breath. 

Psalm 22 shows us when we feel abandoned, when we feel like God is not amidst our suffering, that we have company.  But Christ quoting Psalm 22 reminds us that God understands our suffering.

Moving on to Psalm 42.

A few years ago, our church had a concert series at the amphitheater park near the Library.  For this concert, we have different music showcased, and I had the privilege to be a part of that.  Chad Kilhefner and I spent a lot of time playing music together for the evening service, and overtime, we wrote a series of songs that painted a picture of someone coming to Christ from a place of initial doubt and brokenness.

One song of ours drew its lyrics partially from Psalm 42 with the line, “my tears have been my food” in verse 3, though the lyrics being:

“When my tears cloud my vision, they become my food, when I’m on my knees crying, oh God where are you? Be… soul..”

And its a song that talks about the struggle between a faith that hopes and life’s disappointments. And Psalm 42 is, in a lot of ways, a psalm about a God that restores and helps, and a world that can be damaging. The psalmist seeks to comfort their soul by remembering all the good things that God has done for God’s people, and by hoping that God will answer their brokenness like God has in the past. 

The last verse of Psalm 42 points to the tension that is having hope amidst struggle:  Why are you cast down, oh my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help, and my God.

But I want us to pay attention to the intentionality of that phrasing – Hope in god, for I shall again Praise him.  

This speaks to how we can have hope, even when our hearts are saddened.  We can Hope for God to move, even if we don’t feel like singing the happy songs right now. 

On this day when we think of those we know who have passed on, as we think of the legacy that they left behind, we can have peace in the midst of our grief as we accept that God understands our raw emotions and our pain through our study this morning of Luke 22, Psalm 22, and Psalm 42. 

In the days ahead, whenever we face uncertainty, disappointment, depression, anxiety, fear, may we be reminded that those feelings are not shunned in the church, but that saints who have gone before us felt those same things, and that God felt them in the life, ministry, and death of Jesus. 

And sometimes having someone deeply understand us in times of sorrow is more important than having someone tell us what they think the answer to our pain is.  Because sometimes knowing that someone is with us at our highs and lows is the only answer that comforts us.

This week, I want us to think about the people that we may be thinking about today as we honor those who we have lost this past year, and I want us to think about others we may have lost before. Think of the legacy that they left impressed upon you – things that they did, the kinds of people they were, that you really appreciated.  Go to God in prayer and talk to God as you would talk to a friend about what you feel, and ask God to grow you in the areas you admired about those who have passed, or to show you the ways in which you can leave your own legacy of faith wherever you go.

I would also encourage you to look up psalms of lament online if you can, and read through a few this week to see if there are others that we didn’t read this week that you identify with more.  Or to examine the ones we looked at more closely on your own.

And above all, remember:  God is with us in our brokenness, and in our happiness, and let us all remember that the Bible, and particularly the Psalms, can help us in showing us that we have a faith that welcomes our yearning for God, just as a deer yearns for the fresh stream of water on a hot day. Amen


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