Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Course Heading On The Sea of Uncertainty... from a tusted source

For the past six month's I've been on journey through what I am calling the sea of uncertainty. The job I've been dreaming of for the past 10years at least had come to an end: no more funding, and I find myself adrift in where to from here. Offers given and rejected, or offers made by me turned down. And now I am praying about a very concrete possibility, at a time when I've been given some other very attractive alternatives. In the midst of all this I've been looking for a sign... some kind of leading... a direction: a blinding light would be great, so would a voice from heaven, or a dream or something...

 In the midst of that I'm reading an old print mentor in Leonard Sweet, and his new book 'I Am A Follower", a book that is a first for me... A pre-ordered kindle book! In it there is a story recorded from the life of John F Kavanaugh (The Word Engaged: Meditations On The Scripture)  as he sought direction for his future. It comes from a six month period he spent in Calcutta at the house of the dying and gives a very good course heading amidst the sea of uncertainty...

"On the first morning I met Mother Teresa" He says,' After Mass at dawn. She asked, "and what can I do for you? I asked her to pray for me. "what do you want me to pray for?" I voiced a request i had borne thousands of miles:"Pray that I have clarity." She said no. That was that. When I asked her why, she announced that clarity was the last thing I was clinging to and had to let go of. When I commented that she herself always seemed to have the clarity I longed for , she laughed: " I have never had clarity; what I've always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust."  
Not the easiest course ... but in the end the only one.

Sweet concluded his chapter on trust by saying

"Church culture has fashioned an addiction to safety and security. If we cannot plot a future path with visible security, then we cannot imagine God would call us or lead us down it. But the way of the cross is one of trust, and it is trust that leads us to obedience in following the Master where ever he leads.

The path may be uncertain. But for the trust casting pilgrim, the One we follow will never steer us wrong." (I AM A Follower 2012) 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Jesus said "follow me" reflections on Matthew 4:17-25

On January 29th I preached at a congregation in Auckland as part of the call process we use in the Presbyterian Church here in New Zealand and it gave me the opportunity to preach on a passage that has been challenging me recently and reflects my recent reading of  Leonard Sweet's new Book "I am a Follower"  and also to articulate briefly a vision of ministry that revolves round following Jesus into relationship, community, ministry and mission.

Jesus said “Follow me”
In his new book “I am a follower” Leonard Sweet says that the church has for the past few decades become obsessed with leadership not follow-ship.

 Churches and pastors have become all about developing  leadership. In the past decades leadership conferences have replaced billy graham crusades as the number one gatherings for Christians in the west. People travel thousands of miles and spend thousands of dollars to listen to the captains of commerce and the pastors of the latest megachurch talk about leadership.

There are shelves of books written on the subject.

In the face of that we need to again hear that call Jesus gave to his first disciples “follow me”. His first words to Peter and Andrew, “follow me.” His first words to John and James “Follow me”. The call to all of us, Jesus said “follow me”. 

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus walking into the lives of those first disciples with the call to follow , comes right at the start of Jesus public ministry, after John the Baptist had been arrested Matthew tells us that Jesus came proclaiming “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”.  We tend to think that the word repent means to feel sorry for what we have done wrong. But it actually means to turn around to go a new way, to live differently. We are to do that because the kingdom of heaven has come near. Matthew uses kingdom of heaven whereas the other gospels use the kingdom of God. Scholars say this reflects a Jewish reluctance to use the name of God, but also as Jesus will teach us to pray “you kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ it reflects the idea of being a place where the will of God is worked out.

 In Jesus coming the long looked for reign of God was breaking into the realms of humanity.  The hope the Jews had been looking for of God’s justice and mercy having authority in the world was at hand. We tend to have a static view of kingdoms as nation states but in the ancient near east people were used to seeing kingdoms as places where a particular empire or emperor held sway and these borders were fluid. Like in first century Judea where the Romans had conqueror and imposed their law and there rule through a puppet king Herod and his descendants. Where before that had been Greeks and Babylonians and Assyrians. So the kingdom of heaven was where the reign of God would have authority: Where God’s justice and mercy would be reflected in every aspect of life, as it had been given in the Torah. It would herald just treatment of everybody and everything, including slaves and foreigners, livestock and land use. Where the established order will be turned on its head and the poor and least would be cared for and treated with honour. What has been called God’s up side down kingdom, or as NT Wright says It is the world and the realms of man that have it the wrong way up and Jesus kingdom was  the right way up kingdom. For the Jews this kingdom would extend to all nations to the whole world as the waters cover the sea as the prophet Habakkuk had declared. It was a kingdom that had near because its true king had come.

But this Kingdom of heaven with its world changing perspective starts at a personal level. It started with Jesus call to “follow me” to a group of fishermen  and the first disciple’s response. It starts with that same call to you and I.

This call to follow me at the start of Jesus public ministry shows that at its centre the Christian faith is a call to a personal relationship with the person of Jesus. It’s not an invitation to follow a new set of religious rules, or to practise a new set of religious traditions, but it is an invitation to connect and to follow Jesus. Even Jesus commissioning of his disciples at the end of Matthew’s gospel starts with that promise of Jesus continuing presence and “ lo I am with you to the end of the age.
 It’s easy to think when you read the gospel narrative that this call to follow comes in a vacuum. But there is more to the story that Matthew tells us. The other gospels fill us in.  In Luke’s gospel we are told that Jesus had used Peter and Andrew’s boat as a first century PA system and after that had told them to go out into the deep to put down their nets after a frustrating and fruitless nights fishing and they had pulled up a miraculous catch. This convinced Peter that this Jesus was someone special, a man of God.  In John’s gospel we see some conversations and meeting that went on beforehand and are told that Andrew was a follower of John the Baptist’s and told by him that here was the one John was waiting for.  But for Mark and Matthew, Jesus simply calls the disciples to follow him.
But again it’s not in a vacuum. In Matthew’s gospel in chapter 1 we have been introduced to Jesus through his genealogy  we see that he is a descendant of David and Abraham, we are told more than this we are told that he is the messiah, that he is God’s own son. The long looked for new king, this is backed up by Matthew’s birth narrative where we are told all that had happened was done in accordance with the scripture.

So the call to follow Jesus to have this relationship with him is based on who this person Jesus is. He all us to follow because he is the king of the kingdom of heaven.  We who are called to follow him from beyond the cross and the resurrection, have the gospel s that show us that Jesus is the son of God. We are shown the love of God for us through his life, his death and his resurrection.  To be a Christian is to know and to follow Jesus.

However right from the start this call to ‘follow me’ is not just a call to an individual relationship with Jesus, a private faith, but it is a call to be a community. Right from the start we see two sets of brothers called ‘to follow Jesus’.  They might not be the people we might automatically pick as Mark Woodley says “peter has issues with control and impulsiveness. James and John, nicknamed “the sons of Thunder,” had issues with anger and volatility.” He goes on to say that  “By calling these four men and then Matthew the tax collector, Mary and Martha, and the whole motley crew- Jesus was making a clear statement about his kingdom movement: it does not exist was out community. "  A new people of God with a new king called to the demanding work of shaping themselves into a group that reflect Jesus love for each other. To follow Jesus is a call to community. 

I was talking to a student during the week who last year had become aware of what he called church politics. He was upset about the way people in his church treated each other. I reminded him that sadly this has been part of our struggle to be church from the beginning. In the epistles  Paul  wrote to those first churches were written to groups wrestling with what it meant to be this new community. A community of ordinary broken prickly people like you and I and Paul has to apply this new kingdom way of living to the situations they found themselves in.  Application that is full of words such as forgive, long suffering, patience and the reality of a nittygritty working out of loving one another.
For those first disciples to respond to Jesus call to ‘follow me’ meant that they had to leave things as well. It says they left their nets and boats to follow Jesus.  For them it was not simply leaving the physical nets but what these nets represent.

It meant leaving their Net worth. As fishermen they made their living from catching fish, it was how they feed themselves and how they supported their family…

It meant leaving their networks the way they made sense of their world through the relationships they had in their community and changing that to one where those networks were mediated through a new identity as follows of Jesus.

It meant leaving their network, the way in which they would have seen their identity as fishermen, to adopt a new identity as followers, disciples and after that as apostles, someone who is sent, sent as a witness to what they knew of Jesus.

It meant leaving their safety net, what they familiar with what was safe for the sake of following Jesus. We see this in after Jesus crucifixion that Peter says to the rest of the disciples lets go fishing, let’s go back to what we know and in John’s gospel we see Jesus has to come and restore a relationship with Peter and give him a new purpose for life.

In  Philippians 3:1-11, Paul himself talks of having to reconstitute his life and reality round Jesus and he talks of all he had left behind, all the things that had made his life and his identity and he says that he counts it as nothing compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus. All that he had held as important that was the network of his life he says it’s like I put it out on the edge of the road for the inorganic rubbish collection because I’ve found his pearl of great price in Christ. That’s part of the challenge for us who would answer the call to follow Jesus, that to follow means to leave.
Finally when Jesus says follow me, it’s a call not just to leave but a call to allow Jesus to make us fishers of men. Matthew’s gospel moves straight from this call narrative to a summary of Jesus ministry. For those who answer the call to follow Jesus it is a call to follow Jesus into the ministry of Jesus. It’s a call to proclaim the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Because we know that Jesus its king is present. It’s a call to follow Jesus into the lives of the sick and oppressed, the lost and the poor, with the reality and good news and power of God’s kingdom.  It’s a call that in Luke’s gospel will lead the disciples into loving and caring for the outcast and ostracized in their society, welcoming them back to God and to fellowship with us and with God.  It’s a call that we will see moves on into being and living a different way in this world, as straight after this passage we read today Jesus will sit down and teach his disciples in the sermon on the mount, what has been called the manifesto of the kingdom, what it means to be like the one who we follow.

Leonard sweet says there is usually an audible ‘gasp’ when he introduces himself at conferences when he introduces himself by saying I do not stand here as a leader. I make no pretence to leadership. My fundamental identity is not as a leader. My fundamental identity is this: I am a follower”.  He says sometimes the only way to get the audience back with him is to invite them to sing what he calls his leadership anthem, ‘I have decided to follow Jesus’. As I am here today preaching to a call, I think its apt that I let you know that my key call in life is this ‘I am a follower’. My understanding of the faith and of our identity as the church is that we are celled to be follows. To follow Jesus.
Jesus said ‘Follow Me’. At the centre of who we are as a church is that relationship with Jesus. Ministry for me is growing in that relationship and  encouraging other people deeper and closer in that relationship.

Jesus said ‘Follow me’ and it’s  a call to community, but not a  static community a settled community, in  a call for the church to be a pilgrim community, who are prepared to move and to change, to follow as Christ leads. To be prepared to change and to allow Jesus to lead us out of our comfort zones to where he leads. Humorist  Garrison Keller challenges us with this quip “Give up your good Christian lives and follow Jesus’

Jesus said ‘Follow me’ and I will make you fishers of men’ To follow is a call out into the lives of people around us and the world around us, following Jesus and bringing near  the kingdom of heaven because we are with Jesus.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

prayer giving thanks for God's leading and presence through the various landscapes of our soul.

This is a prayer of thanksgiving and confession also based on PSalm 107 and the idea of God being with us as we travel through the various landscapes of the soul.

Lord God almighty

You are the God who created the world and all that is in it

Arid desert and fertile fields

Distant high mountains and gentile rolling hills

Summit vistas and Valley floor

The unpredictable open sea and the still safe harbour haven

Forest, bush and open ground

Rugged coastline and still calm lakeside

Vast continents and our Island home

We praise you in the midst of your creation

Loving God

You are the God that invites us to walk through this world trusting you

In the midst of the changing seasons and landscapes of our lives you lead us homeward to be with you

You provide what we need to see our journey through

You provide water in the midst of our deserts

Stars to navigate by in the midst of our dark nights

Safe haven and courage amidst our storms

Green pastures and still water to restore our soul

We praise you for your presence to guide and provide

Merciful God

We had gone our own way wandered away from the path you had provided

Yet you did not leave us stranded in the wilderness or lost on city streets

You sent your son Jesus to be the light and the new way for us to travel

He healed the sick and made whole the broken

He spoke your word and brought good news to the poor

When the time was right he gave his life to pay for all we had done wrong

Being raised from the dead he is with you and with us

He will come again to judge with justice

We give you praise for Jesus

God who gives his holy spirit

The wind blows where it will over sea and land

It can be cool breeze in the sweltering heat of summer

It can fill the unfurled sail and take us on

WE can find ourselves trudging into the face of a Gail

You send your Holy Spirit wind to blow into our lives

To speak your truth, to empower us to follow you

To lead and to guide us, fill and embrace us

Even to slow us down and turn us back when we walk away from you

We praise you that you are with us by your Spirit

Lord, who leads us through life, we give you praise

We acknowledge that you are our God

And we humbly come to you this morning to acknowledge our sins

We have done what we should not have done and left undone the good you would have us do.

We do not care for this world and its people, our closest neighbours even ourselves, as we should

We are sorry O Lord and ask for your forgiveness

Thank you for the wonderful truth that as we confess our sins you are faithful and just and forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all wrong

Fill us afresh with your spirit that we might know you and your love

That we might have our eyes open to your truth

That we may be empowered and enabled to live for you

To love your people and proclaim your kingdom in this world

To glory of God father, son and Holy Spirit


Sunday, January 15, 2012

A prayer of thanksgiving and confession amidst the changeability of life and the constant love of God

On Sunday I preached a sermon on Psalm 139 at St John's Presbyterian Church in Rotorua New Zealand. It is part of a four  week Summer guest series called '4 Psalms for summer'.  It had been raining almost none stop for the two weeks we've been in Rotorua and I though that this Prayer I wrote a few years ago was appropriate for the service. AS it picked up both the way in which changeable weather reflects the changeableness of our lives and in that is the constant love of God, acknowledged  in this prayer in ways that reflect psalm 139.

Lord God

Our lives seem to reflect the unruly weather around us

Some times we have damp overcast down days

Some times there are storms and it just keeps on raining

Sometimes it’s warm and calm, clear and bright 

Our times and our lives seem so subject to change

Yet through all that you O God are constant and unchanging

You are there for us and with us,

 Even when it feels that our view is obscured

Lord God

You have created the world and all that is in it

You made us in your image and you know our innermost thoughts

Our night is like day to you

You are in the boat with us as we are raked by storms

You shine your light even through the thickest of clouds

You are our strong tower and our shelter

You are there to comfort and to guide

You turn our mourning into dancing

Lord God

We thank you that in Jesus you entered into our experience

Jesus became one of us and shared our sorrow and joy

He cared for the least of us and befriended sinners and outcast

He bought wholeness and health to the broken and sick

He proclaimed that your kingdom had come

He died on the cross to pay for us all

A great mystery that we can be forgiven and have a new start with you

You raised him from the dead, he reigns with you and dwells with us

Lord God

We come today to confess our sin

We blame you when it all goes wrong and forget to thank you in the good

We don’t show grace and love to others as you have shown us

We get caught up in our own ups and downs and forget those who really need our care

We hold on to what we have and seek more rather than give all we have to the poor

We do the things that we should not do and leave undone the good  we should do

Forgive O lord

Have mercy upon us

Lord God

Like the sunrise after a stormy dark night we rejoice when we hear the truth

That as we have confess our sins that you O God are faithful and just and forgive us our sins

That you cleanse us from all unrighteousness

The slate is clean, not so that we can sin again but that we may live for you

Thank you gracious God

Lord God

Let the wind of your Holy Spirit blow again, filling us we pray

That in the midst of our weather beaten lives we may know the truth

That we may be convicted of our need for you

That we may be empowered to live for you

That we produce your good fruit even when the season seems all wrong

That we may be equipped and made bold to proclaim Jesus Christ

That we may serve you and show your love and grace

To the Glory of God, Father Son and Spirit amen 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Psalm 31; When hope and history don't rhyme

Psalm 31 is a lament… the Jewish blues… a song that wrestles with the times when our beliefs and hopes seem to be totally different to our reality. A song that searches for hope in the midst of suffering or in what  Walter Breuggermann calls times of  disorientation.

… It’s like you’ve gone out to the beach on a calm beautiful  day and you’ve gone out into the calm water and suddenly  a set of huge waves have come crashing through and they pick you up and spin you round and round and round and up and down and over and over and it leaves you wondering which way is up as you gasp for air. And just as you struggle to the surface another wave comes through and it’s down into that tumbling darkness again. Your lungs burning your mind screaming. Wave after wave leaves you wondering if you will see the blue sky again. That’s a picture of the life situation a lament wrestles with. Can you identify with such times?

 In response to the Omagh bombing, that was a blatant attempt to halt the peace process in Northern Ireland, the band U2 wrote a song called peace on earth and in it is the line “but hope and history won’t rhyme’ and that sums up the situation the writer of Psalm 31 finds themselves. How does a person of faith live with this gap between what they are experiencing when as the psalmist says they feel like broken pottery thrown out on some rubbish dump like refuse and the belief in a God who is a refuge and whose unbreakable promises are for our good.

One of  the reasons I love the psalms is that they are not some collection of plastic praise songs expounding like a flash ad campaign that it’s all beer and lamingtons, Mercedes and Versace   for those who follow Jesus. They are real, They are written by real people, who are struggling with the realities of the ebbs and flows and ups and downs of life, real life with all its hardships and joys. They have real questions, but they also show us a real faith in the reality of a good and gracious God. Because of that they have been a source of great comfort for believers for well over two thousand years. That’s why when I read them I find hope and help. That’s why I love Psalm 31 so much, it gives us hope and helps us as we face suffering and sorrow in life, it is an example of faith and putting ones trust in God.

The Psalm starts out as a plea to God for help in the midst of suffering. The reoccurring theme and motif is of God as a refuge. It is mentioned four times in the opening part of this psalm along with the metaphors of God as fortress and rock. God is my refuge,  A place of shelter in the storm: A place of security amidst the swirl of battle. If you’ve familiar with ‘The second movie, and book in the Lord of the Ring’s Trilogy’ for the horse men of Rohan that place was Helm’s deep a keep that had never been breached where they retreat in times of trouble to make their stand. But as the forces of Saraman come even these walls fall. For the Psalmist his  hope is not placed in brick and mortar but in God.

The Psalmist does not look to God for a quick fix or as an escape from the reality he finds himself in. It’s not like God is some sort of drug that a person uses to try and escape from  pain and worry. Its not a place to hunker in the bunker till it all blows over. In the Lord of the Rings its only as the defenders of Helms deep ride out to face the enemy that they find help as Gandolf leading reinforcements comes to their aid just  like he promised.   The psalmist hope is that God’s righteousness will prevail that God is with him and will lead and guide him.

 In the surfing movie film “in God’s Hand’s”  one of the pioneers of big wave surfing talks about being trapped under a massive set of waves at a big break in Hawaii, he talks of being under for over a minute and then suddenly seeing a patch of blue and being able to follow it to the surface. He still had to do his part swim and hold his breath, he had trained for such possibilities but he was shown a way through back to the surface. The Psalmists plea is  lead and guide me O Lord.

The plea for help in God finishes with a declaration of faith and trust, which for us who look back from beyond the cross and the resurrection sound familiar “into your hands I commit my Spirit”.  He hands over his life, his circumstances his future. This declaration of trust  is backed up by what the Psalmist knows of God’s character, revealed in his saving acts in history,. Just like in psalm 136, that God’s steadfast love endures forever.

We too can call out to God in the midst of suffering and hardship, knowing God’s character and goodness. That God hears us and is present with us and able to lead and to guide and help us to stand.

The psalm moves on and becomes a tale of woe, the psalmist pours out his sorrow with vivid metaphors. I feel like broken pottery cast away. We do not know what his affliction is but his key issue is that it has caused him to shunned and abandoned by his neighbours. There is an element that they have wrongly accused him. Yes there is an illness or maybe financial hardship, tragedy has befallen him . If it from David’s life we don’t know have the circumstance, but we know that David had suffered from times when he was  conspired against even by his own son, Absalom. That he had to flee his royal city and throne and go once again wondering in the wilderness.

The thing that really hurt however is the assumption of everyone that the psalmist has obviously done something to deserve this. We in our western culture do not get the full strength of the idea of shaming. It is not just a being made to feel we are unworthy, rather it is an ostracising and a cutting off.  We see it in the gospels in the way in which tax collectors were treated by the Pharisees and religious people of Jesus day. Even the paralysed man let down through the ceiling, whom the Pharisees were probably thinking had done something wrong to deserve this. Jesus made these people whole and welcomed them back into being God’s people. Sadly even today there are those  who would say that misfortune was a sign of God’s punishment and prosperity a sign of doing the right thing so that God would bless us. But The psalmist and the scriptures do not hold to that. The book of Job and much of the wisdom literature in the Old Testament, reject that as they wrestle with ‘Why bad things happen to good people?”

 We could go on and wrestle with that, but the psalmist does not do that, rather the writer expresses how in the midst of this he reacts and finds refuge in God. The accusations are false and in the face of them and suffering the psalmist puts his trust in the God of truth.

The psalm know becomes a psalm of trust. The psalmist moves on in verse 14 to  a declaration of trust in God.  Too small words change the tone of the psalm and change everything… “ But I”… But I trust in you, O Lord”. There is a saying about how we see life that goes, ‘there were two people in prison one looks out the window and sees bars and the other looks out and see stars”. The reality that this psalm says there is both, both are a reality. But here the Psalmist realises that to find refuge in God we must be prepared to put our trust in the God we know. Beyond the bars and even the stars to fix our eyes on God:  The God revealed in history and in his saving acts, God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.

The psalmist  places his times all his circumstances in God’s hands because he knows that God’s steadfast love endures forever. Echoing the Aaronic blessing he prays that God might make the light of God’s face shine into the darkness.  The refuge he seeks is the presence of God.  

It kind of sounds in verse 17 and 18 that the Psalmist gets angry and wants to seek revenge on those who have lied and shunned him, and we know that anger is a natural emotion in the face of suffering,  grief and tragedy and being wronged by others.

 But this psalm is about  trusting God righteousness.That the God of truth will not allow falsehood and deception and in justice to last forever. In Luke’s sermon on the plain we see this in the beatitudes’ of Jesus where those who would have been seen as being cursed and cut off from God’s blessing are called blessed by Jesus, the poor, the grief stricken, the Hungry, the hated and excluded because of Christ’s name, where as those who may see themselves as blessed now are called to be careful. Woe to the rich, those who are full, those whose lives are full of laughter, constantly amused and who are idolised by this world.  This psalm challenges us to look and see where is God in the midst of suffering?… God is with and for the suffering, the poor, the grieving, the outcast and ostracised, those who ignore them or who write them off or who participate in increasing their suffering will find that their plans come to naught. The Psalmist asserts this hope.  

Ultimately this is a psalm of praise: the Psalmist  turns from lament to praise. It’s as if in the midst of the churning waves he has spotted that patch of blue and it stills the Psalmist’s mind. As he has made that affirmation of trust and surrender into God’s hands there is the realisation that God is with and for him. In the face of his own suffering he is able to call God’s people to give God praise.

He says he had felt like a besieged city and there was no hope in sight, he had felt like God was not looking, Could it be that God turned his back, was out to lunch, had packed up and taken a holiday. NO!  The Psalmist has again become orientated properly. He has found a solid place to stand.  As he had surrendered his life into God’s hands he became aware again that God answers prayer that God is with us. We don’t know if everything comes up roses, we are not told, we are simply told that God has drawn near God has heard, God has answered and shown his steadfast love.. Therefore we should give God praise. All the saints us included are encouraged to love the LORD. To keep following him, not to be turned away and discouraged by even the darkest of circumstance  but to  take courage because as the psalmist discovered God is with the humble who seek him.

How does this connect with us today?

Firstly, and possibly most importantly, this psalm is placed in the mouth of Jesus on the cross in Luke’s gospel. I said before that some of its words are familiar. In Luke 23:46 Jesus last words are recorded as “Father, into your hands do I commit my Spirit”. With those words Jesus identifies with the suffering and faith of psalm 31, Physical suffering, but also the unrighteous rejection of the people he came to save. They write him off. It allows us to see that God identifies with our sorrow our suffering, just as the psalm says he does. But also it shows us the faith that Jesus has and the faith that you and I are called to have. Jesus puts his trust and faith in his Father, even at the point of death… Father I trust you, I have faith that even though I am going to die that you are here that you are sovereign that you will work your purposes and salvation out in this situation. Not hey Dad get me out of here, not unleash those legions of angels, more by the way that the roman army had. But I trust you I know your steadfast faithful love. It’s a faith that faces suffering even death knowing that God is sovereign and good. After the cross came the resurrection, the joy set before Christ of new life for all who would believe.

  The same words are echoed in the mouth of the first Christian martyr Stephen in Acts 7:59 “Lord receive my Spirit”.  When hope and history don’t rhyme we don’t throw the hope out we cling to it even more strongly. In the word’s of another U2 song ‘walk on’ dedicated to Burmese freedom activist Aung San Suu Kyi,  ‘You’re packing your suit case for a place you’ve never been a place that has to be believed to be seen’.

Secondly, it calls us whatever the circumstances to trust in God. Yes in the midst of suffering and hardship it is right to cry out to God, with the same confidence that the psalmist found. God hears and God knows our suffering and sorrow, God is able to be a refuge a steady place to stand in the face of the storms of life. Yes it is OK to pour out our tale of woe to the LORD, God understands, Jesus has been there and knows our pain, it’s not wrong to  groan, God can be trusted with even the most heartfelt and deepest sorrow. But the way forward is in the face of every reason why not to to say “But I”… “But I will trust the Lord” to hand ourselves over to God’s care and God’s keeping, trusting in a sovereign and compassionate God. Then to give him praise, to acknowledge in the darkness or even in the smallest hint of dawn, the smallest patch of blue sky, God’s sovereignty, goodness and mercy.

 Let me finish by quoting bible scholar Gerald Wilson in concluding his comments on this Psalm he says

“Like Jesus we cannot assume that committing our spirits into the hand of the God of truth will result in deliverance from suffering and death. (although I do believe people that God heals and saves and comes to our aid) Indeed, to commit one’s spirit in this way is to give up control or expectation over the outcome of life and so trust in the redemptive love of God, come what may. It is giving up that makes it possible in the final analysis to enter the refuge of God. The taunts and ridicule do not disappear. They simply pass without harm because we have passed beyond caring. The one who gives up life finds it. And in surrendering our claim to what we had thought to be life, we discover the true nature of living in the power of God alone and in his presence.”

“Be strong and let your heart take courage all you who wait on the Lord.”