Saturday, October 13, 2012

Boldness Before God

Psalm 22:1-15  Meditation #1- Pentecost Proper 23; 10 14 12

Perhaps what we most hear in these words is the echo of Jesus who used them from the cross to express his feeling of abandonment by God. 

They are hard words, aren’t they? . . And yet we immediately know how real they are. Perhaps you have felt like the psalmist. Maybe you can personally identify with the pain and sorrow expressed in this psalm. If so, then you understand completely what is going on in his words or cries. You also understand the abruptness of the end of today’s reading, for when you are in such pain, there is no satisfactory resolution. LIfe doesn't wrap up nicely, it just trails off and leaves you hurting. . .Such is the pain of this psalmist who expresses abandonment on behalf of ALL humanity.

The fact that the reading for today leaves off the ending of the psalm tells us we shouldn’t rush to reach a conclusion. (which in this case returns to the hope of praising God again) We shouldn’t deny that life often, if not usually, includes pain. 

I often pray the psalms and advise others to do so, especially in times of great distress. The stark expression of pain in a CRY to God is the reason why people turn to the psalms to find comfort in knowing we are not alone. 
Somehow, In this raw expression of feeling directed to God, we find assurance that our emotions matter, that it is even OK to complain to God -or even yell AT God.

Yet, We are still left looking for ‘whatever kind of relief, if any, can this psalm provide?”

  1. First we must notice that Prayers like this are intimate - they are not prayed by strangers but by those with a long history of positive interaction w/G-d. says, OT scholar Walter Brueggemann. (ibid) He makes a point that if you don't have much of a relationship with God, you aren't likely to be sharing on such a deep level.
 Boldness before God
  1.  Not everyone is comfortable with such Boldness before God. But I believe this psalm offers us ‘permission to speak freely.’ Even when it’s a complaint.
  2. Clearly this honesty encourages us to be honest in saying that we ... really do feel pain, whatever it is. LIFE IS HARD. We need Not deny it or make little of it. 

  • This psalmist also encourages us NOT To give up, no matter how bad it gets. . ..

  1. The call is a reminder of covenant between humanity and God.
  • It's Not a bargain with God, but a reminder to God of who God is. 
  • It calls on God by laying guilt at God’s feet saying, That for God to not answer shames God
  • Being this bold also means remembering who WE ARE. We are creatures NOT on the level of the Creator, and not able to understand all the happenings in the universe.

By reciting all the times God HAS been there in the past, we remind ourselves of the covenant. And this makes calling on God an act of faith! 
IT reminds us as much as God that we are partners in life and death
Sometimes all we can do is to draw closer to others who suffer also. 
“Shared suffering connects us to a larger world at the very time we are most at risk to feel isolated and alone.”

  • Grieving mother to other grieving mothers
  • Victim to other victims
  • Laid off person to other unemployed   
Even as we suffer can we reach out and be present to others who share our plight?..

When we are the ones surrounded by bulls or lions, as verse 12 describes life's trouble,
and we cry out for help, can we rest ourselves in God's hands and make our deepest request merely "Be Not Far From Me” 

If so, then we will be ready to pray the rest of the psalm with the assurance that God WILL be near, - - -even when we don’t feel it -- just yet.

Job 23:1-17 Meditation #2  Proper 23

It sounds like Job and the Psalmist we heard earlier were best friends!  
Actually, this passage is from a time when Job was with his 3 “friends” if you could call them that. 
Scholar Kathryn Schifferdecker
 describes the scene saying, 
these friends sat with Job in complete silence for seven days but now they can’t shut up. Job was better off in silence because they accuse him of terrible things.
At this point in the story, Job has lost his family, his wealth, his home. He’s covered with painful sores and his ‘friends’ say it’s all Job’s fault...some friends!

But I imagine you have heard people doing the same. Prof. Schifferdecker reminds us, “When tragedy strikes our gut reaction is often to reason to ourselves why it can’t happen to us.”   Which often results in ‘finding’ some reason why our ‘friend’ brought this on themselves.

But thru all this abuse “Job holds to his integrity. He knows that he has done nothing to deserve his suffering.”

He certainly IS miserable. He has wished he’d never been born, now in this passage - he moves on and cries out for justice. ‘if ONLY I could get an audience with God to plead my case.” he says. He even turns the tables and accuses God of lying in wait to destroy him.

Yet like the psalmist, Job - continues -  to talk - to God. 

He doesn’t give up, doesn’t walk away. 
Even when he’s despairing and complaining to God, his words are an act of faith. --Faith that God; the God who is beyond human understanding, hears him and eventually will answer.

What we learn from Job’s lament is the WAY OF FAITH. 
  • It doesn’t deny the reality of suffering, 
  • it doesn’t make sick excuses for theology like, “God needed your sister in heaven.” or 
    • “Everything happens for a reason.” 
The way of faith acknowledges God’s sovereignty by complaining to the God who CAN do something about it. Even when we can’t understand WHY no relief comes.
The way of faith (eventually) stops trying to make sense of suffering and feeling divine abandonment and instead learns to sit with it. .

*Sit with suffering like Job, in a very active way.

*Sit with abandonment like St. Teresa of Avila 
who didn’t feel God for 18 years, but kept on praying everyday.

*Sit without comprehending like the Jews in Death Camps who never accepted how God could allow evil to continue in the world.

Sitting with the pain is not the same as accepting it as punishment. 
Job NEVER accepts his suffering. He continues to say he does not deserve it. But instead of making excuses for God, . .(how ridiculous is that anyway?) 
. .Job comes to recognize the God who is FAR Beyond our understanding - even when it requires him to remain in darkness far longer than he’d like.

BELIEVING when we can no long see God or find God or FEEL God IS ACCEPTING what we DON’T know .. .. ..while we petition God because we WON’T accept injustice.

Faith - particularly when we are faced with Job-level suffering- (Faith) is the willingness to WRESTLE with God. It is then that we find out if our devotion is sufficient for real human experience.

We can learn from Job. We can learn from him how to lament. We can learn from him how to bring our anger, pain, grief and despair directly to God, even when we feel only God's absence. 
We can learn from him how to have hope, even if only a little HOPE, holding on to God with a fierce faith
trusting that God is God, trusting that God will hear, trusting that God will answer. 
And that answer will come, not one that Job (or we) could ever imagine, but an answer nonetheless.

1 Walter Brueggemann in Feasting on the Word, Exegetical Bartlett & Taylor eds, (Louisville: WJK, 2009) 153
2 Jason Byassee in Feastong on the Word, Theological Bartlett & Taylor eds., (Louisville: WJK, 2009) 156

3 Kathryn Schifferdecker at
4 ibid Schifferdecker

5 J. S. Randolph Harris Feasting On The Word - Theological Bartlett & Taylor eds, (Louisville:WJK,2009)151

6 adapted Paul Capetz Feasting on the Word - homilectical Bartlett & Taylor eds, (Louisville: WJK, 2009)148

7 Schfferdecker

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