Sunday, February 19, 2012

A soul cries out (Psalm 22): part 1...Psalm 22:1-11)

Life is full of ups and downs. Highs and Lows. Those times when we feel on top and can stop and look round at the great vista around us and the beauty of life and times when we find ourselves lying on a pile of bricks and it feels like there is a barrel heading straight for us. Maybe to start talking about such times we need a bit of humour.

The Psalm 22 was written by King David thousands of years ago. We don’t know the exact occasion in his life of great highs and lows that it was written for, but it captures something of the great pain and suffering that can occur in life and also the hope that we can find in those times as well.

When I was a teenager I used to write poetry, and I found a book with some of those badly written poems in them a while back and I almost cringed at the teenage angst that must have been really real at the time and the gushing of feeling that flowed into my words. To tell you the truth they are best left to gather dust or burned. But David’s poem captures something of the human condition. Something that has meant that they have stood the test of time they have rung true to each new generation of people who read them and go through what some people poetically call the dark night of the soul. When in the midst of the tough times we can feel abandoned and so alone, even God seems way off and hidden. More than that the passage transcends just mere poetry and there is the breath of the Spirit of God in these words as they paint a picture of what would come when Jesus died on the cross. The bones being out of joint, the people gambling for his cloak. It was this psalm that Jesus also chose as his last prayer his last words on the cross when he used the Jewish tradition of saying the first line of a psalm as a short hand for the whole of the poem. Fighting for breath he cried out “My God, My God why have you forsaken me’. Not a desperate cry of disbelief in the face of this worst that life could throw at him but like this Psalm a statement of faith in the midst of suffering. Were going to be using this psalm for reflections leading into Easter.

You get the picture that in the midst of the trouble that David is in that he feels most acutely the pain of aloneness and abandonment. All his friends seem to have abandoned him his people have turned on him. Even the God whom he has felt so close to all his life seems to have disappeared. So what does he do what is there here that gives hope.

In the 1970’s when there was a first rising of concern about the environment. You may vaguely remember such things as the energy crisis in 1973 when the oil prices first shot up and the resulting car-less days. During that time an academic posed one of the reasons why it was going to be hard to get people to change the way they used and consumed fossel fuels and other non-renewable resources. He said that most people find it hard to think beyond their own sphere in the world and to think in time beyond simply the here and the now. They may think about the community and extended family but to think global effects was hard. It can be like that we face hard times. Depression is an energy crisis where we don’t have the internal resources to be able to force ourselves to look beyond our problems or beyond simply trying to survive. It’s kind of like getting through that first few months of a babies life when you have to deal with sleep deprivation and four hourly feeds. Walking the floor with wind and during teething. It’s hard to think that this too will pass.

But David while he feels alone in his trouble begins to look back and catch a glimpse of a bigger picture. He looks back and sees that the character of God is that God has always been for his people. That from generation to generation, a relationship with the God who loves them has given people the strength to persevere and even to prosper despite what life may bring. God does hear and answer the cries from the soul. When people in their troubles have cried to him. It’s interesting that we had a baptism this morning because in brining Ella to be baptised Rodger and Annabel have wanted to affirm the relationship with God that has sustained and given strength to their families in the past. To say that they want Ella to join her story with the story of the people of God, Knowing and being loved by a God who hears the prayers and cries of his people. Aabraham, Moses, for us Jesus and Paul and those down through the last two thousand years who have found what they need for abundant life in relationship with God. David doesn’t doubt the character of God. God is good God is for his people.

David also looks at his own life his own experience and sees that God has been there with him right from his mothers womb. It’s one of the reasons we are willing to baptise Children because of the faith of parents but also with the hope and knowledge that they will grow up knowing the love of God all their lives.

So in verse 11 David can say with some assurance ‘Don’t be too far away God’ Because he knows that despite his feeling of abandonment that God is good and that God is near.

In his most wellknown Poem that follows straight on from this one in the book of Psalms David had voiced his faith in God as his shepherd. As the one who prepared a table for him in the face of his enemies.

The consistant character of God, the previous relationship that God has had both historically with his people and in David’s life gives him hope.

There is a U2 song off the album ‘All that you can’t leave behind’ that has this wonderful line ‘ But hope and history won’t rhyme’ and for many people that has been their experience for Bono this line is part of a song that expresees his grief and sorrow at the Omagh bombing. What people have tended to do is in the face of such paradoxies and personal or global disaster is to write off the Hope. What good is a god in the midst of the suffering in the world. After the boxing day Tsunami there was an on going discsion in the letters to the editor in my local paper about "can you maintain that there is a good God in the light of the natural disasters"  But David dosen’t do that he knows the reality of God and so even though in this one situation he feels abandoned and alone he still maintains that hope. In the end it is what he and his people have found is what stops them from despairing and has been the source of help. On U2’s latest Album there is a song of renewed faith in God. A renewal of hope, a giving of oneself to God. where Bono sings ‘YHWH’ the Hebrew name for God ‘There is always dark before the dawn’ YWHW’ there is always pain when a child is born.

This dosen’t mean he’s going to settle for the pat answers. You know the easy cliques, the God one liners that we perhaps throw at ech other. In verse and 8 we see that his detractors were simply telling him to commit his ways to the Lord’. In the film ‘About Smit’ staring Jack Nicholson there is a great scene where after Schmitt’s wife has died he goes and sees the local minister and in a dead pan almost bored voice the minister says ‘It’s al right to be angry with God God’s big enough to handle our anger’. You just get the idea that this is the platter, the speel that he gives everyone he’s counselling for grief. There is nothing wrong with the theology ofn the statement just like there is nothing wrong with comment that David’s tormenters make to him, But what David is looking for what the key thing that is looked for here is not just a knowledge of God but a knowing of God. That relationship be restored. That God again be near.

People down through the ages have called that feeling of aloneness when God seems distant and remote ‘The long dark night of the soul’. However the long dark night does not mean the absence of God’s presence or his love or his ability to hear the cry of our souls rather it simply means the inability of our eyes to see God, our souls to feel his embrace. Before the beginning before there was the universe the Christian faith tells us there was God and God was alone in the darkness. Light has to do with self disclosure of God, his revelation, the absence of light does not mean the absence of God.  Faith that gets us through those times is not the blind stumble in the dark carry on regardless sort of faith rather it is the perseverance that is able to keep going trusting because it is based on relationship. What we know of and the knowing of God.

It was the momentary withdrawal of God the father from a relationship with Jesus the son while he hung on the cross that was the worst pain Jesus endured. They were so close that they could only be described as one. It is this relationship with God that Jesus invites us into, a relationship where God is with us and for us even when we cannot see or feel him in the midst of the dark valleys that we must walk through in life’s journey.

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