Psalm 22:1-2, 23-31 (from Voices United)
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me,
from the cry of my distress?
O my God, I cry out in the daytime, but you do not answer;
at night also, but I get no relief.
Give praise, all you who fear God!
Proclaim God’s greatness, all you children of Jacob;
stand in awe, all you children of Israel!
For God has neither despised
nor scorned the poor in their distress.
You, O God, have not hidden your face from them.
You heard them when they called to you.
You are the theme of my praise in the great assembly.
I will keep my promise in the presence
of those who fear you.
Let the poor eat to satisfaction;
let those who seek you praise you.
May they be in good heart forever!
Let all the ends of the earth remember and turn to you, O God.
Let all the families of the nations bow down before you.
For yours is the dominion, O God,
you rule over the nations.
Even all who sleep in the grave shall worship you;
those who go down into the dust shall bow before you.
I too shall live for you.
Our children shall serve you,
and tell generations yet to come about you
To a people yet unborn,
they shall make known the saving deeds you have done.
Last Sunday we began a sermon series following the Psalms for the season of Lent, and asking the faith questions they imply. Molly first pondered “where God is when life is hard,” and certainly in the opening verses of this week’s Psalm it’s easy to see the anguish some people experience in difficult times, including Jesus. You may have noticed that Psalm 22, verse 1 is quoted by Jesus in the Gospels as he hung on the cross just before he died: “My God, why have you forsaken me?” At the most trying time of his life, Jesus too felt God’s abandonment. And even though not all of us experience or express it that dramatically, most of us at one time or another have suffered the feeling that God is far away and may not even hear our cries of pain. It made me wonder in moments like that, “What do we really need from God?”
Actually, the first question that came to mind was, “What do you really want from God.” Then early last week I was reading a daily installment in the United Church of Canada’s Reflections for Lent series called Longing for Home (which by the way is still available for anyone to participate in on Facebook and would be a worthy addition to your Lenten journey). In a prayer there I read this phrase, “Help us discern our wants from our needs.” And that reminded me of something I learned a long time ago, but often requires learning over and over again – What we want is not always what we need. So today this sermon addresses that question, “what do you really need from God?”
Psalm 22 is one of many laments in this large collection of prayers and songs. And the laments can be very graphic in describing the desperation people of faith can feel from time to time as they plead for God’s help with no satisfaction. In fact, you may have noticed that we jumped over 20 verses of this Psalm which are filled with vivid details that television networks would describe as “Not suitable for some audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.” (You might want to check those out, especially if you’re feeling that way right now.) But one curiosity of all the Psalms of lament is that they include a curious way of praising God, even while the writer might be feeling deserted by God. And in Psalm 22 the concluding 9 verses are such expressions of praise. “Give praise, all of you who fear God.”
Being afraid of God is often expressed in the Bible. Frequently fear is translated as awe, or reverence, or respect, and appropriately so; but we shouldn’t disregard that for most of human history, people have been afraid, because God was understood as someone so great and powerful, a being so far beyond us that we might not even be on God’s radar. People worried, “What if I’m so insignificant in God’s eyes, that I’m afraid God doesn’t even hear me?” As the Psalmist lamented in another prayer, “Who are we, Lord, that you are mindful of us?” Perhaps the fundamental need we have of God is some assurance that God hears us. And from some mysterious place deep within, some spiritual instinct that can only be interpreted as an essential connection with the Holy, the Psalmist proclaims on our behalf, “God’s not hiding from you; in truth God hears your voice.” Trust me your voice echoes in the heart of the Holy.
But being heard is often not enough. What if God hears, but just doesn’t care and simply ignores us; or even worse, what if God is so demanding, someone who controls everything and can do to anyone whatever God wants – what if God doesn’t approve of our behaviour and intentionally rejects us. In our deepest fear, we need some humble confidence that God cares, a renewed trust that God is with us … that we’re never alone. Yet somehow, even the Psalmist’s promise that “God does not despise or scorn you,” may not be enough.
When we ask the question, what do you really need from God? we long for a way to experience God’s caring presence that is meaningful and recognizable. We need relationships that will reflect God’s compassion and care, God’s forgiveness and welcome, God’s encouragement and trustworthiness. We need from God a meaningful place in God’s community. From the very beginning of human history, it appears that we are being drawn into relationships that will reveal the presence of the Holy among us. And the Psalmist certainly affirms the acceptance that is available in the community of faith, the sacred assembly of the faithful. At our best, involvement within a congregation like Orleans United will remind us over and over again that here, we both experience and express God’s goodness through meaningful human relationships. That’s why, even though you might come with whatever fears in your personal life, together we reflect the promise that God’s grace and peace is alive for all.
What we need most from God, God reveals within the faith community. It’s here where we discover God’s goodness; and that is God’s gift to you personally and to our church community, but not to us alone. God’s promise is for all people everywhere, for past generations and especially for future ones. And we need this sacred hope because it’s the only thing of true value we can pass on to our children, and our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren, and to grandchildren of generations long after we’re gone. What do we really need from God? We need a promise in God’s goodness that we can describe to the next generation not only in our words, but in our choices, in our promises, in our actions, in our faith. And God offers it freely through communities of the faithful who, like ours, are not afraid to show it in their lives and praise God for it in all circumstances.
That’s why we’re here. God invites us to practice what we need most. A faith community who will remember God’s faithfulness even when we’re frightened, and who will spread God’s goodness as our legacy to those who will come after us.
Holy God, we praise you for all that enriches and blesses our lives. Help us discern our wants from our needs. Nurture in us a deep longing for all that makes life worth living. Lead us beyond worry and hold us in your generous peace and renewing grace. Amen.
Orleans United Church
March 1, 2015 (Lent 2)