God Hears Your Voice – Deep Longing

Steve Lindsley
(Psalm 42: 1-3, 7-11)

We continue this morning our sermon series on the many voices of the psalms.  Last week, we looked at the voice of lament, and the words of Psalm 13 – How long, O Lord, how long??  The ache and pain of not being seen, and our calling as the community of faith to proclaim sawubona – we see you – to a world in desperate need of being seen.

Being seen, though, does not mean that all is suddenly well.  It only means we have a clearer sense of what we are facing.  This time last week we thought we’d seen it all, still reeling from the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh the day before.  Then the very next day, a high school student gunned down right in our own backyard.  Adding to the long list of school shootings in this country, far exceeding anything we have seen in recent memory. 

We run the risk of growing numb each time this happens.  We are tempted to look away, change the channel; choose not to see it, because the pain of it is relentless, it is too much to bear.  And yet, that’s a luxury we cannot afford.  I read an article this past week that had in it this quote:  We can no longer be surprised.  But we must still be shocked.[1]

And once again, the Psalms give us voice to do just that.  Psalm 23 that Anne just read, a psalm of comfort, not false or fake security, but real comfort in the darkest of places.  Somehow, God is in the darkest of places.  And now, Psalm 42, the voice of one also looking for comfort, real comfort, in the midst of despair.  I’m going to ask Anne to read a couple of verses at a time, with the sermon interspersed in between.  Listen again for God’s word to us today:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
   so my soul longs for you, O God……
My soul thirsts for God,
   for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
   the face of God?
My tears have been my food
   day and night,
while people say to me continually,
   ‘Where is your God?’

Longing. Deep longing.  Deep as the deer that walk in my neighborhood at early dawn, searching for something to nibble on, searching for water.  They search before sunrise so as to avoid the world they do not know, the world that moves fast and furious, the world they are afraid of.

I see them most every day on my early morning walks.  It is still dark outside, so I see them when I am right upon them, just a few yards away.  I see them and stop, and they stop as well; and they look at me as I am looking at them.  It is almost a game, to see who moves first.  It is so quiet this time of day.   And even though it is someone’s front yard, even if it’s my front yard, I still feel as if I am the one intruding on their space, their holy ground.  Even as they eat the flowers off the rhododendron I planted last spring.

My soul, like that deer.  Longing, deep longing for sanctuary, for uninterrupted space where all we do, all we know to do, is drink deep from the living waters of God.  Flowing streams that never cease, cool waters that continue to renew and refresh.  It is that deep longing that I find myself in, because it is not just the deer who live in an uncertain world.  My tears have been my food day and night – you and I, constantly barraged with “breaking news,” the latest tragedy, yet another shooting, the most recent tweet.  Is it possible to feed on one’s very longing? 

We hold on to faith, and some tell us we are crazy for it.  To be honest, sometimes we wonder ourselves.  We do what we know we should, we hold on to hope and light – and yet, we still  face the bitterness of our tears.  The voices of those around us, crying out, “Where is your God?”  More than we care to admit, we often wonder the same.

We thirst for God, our very souls thirst.  We seek comfort and reassurance that not all is lost.  We long to look upon God’s very face, and more importantly, for God to look upon ours.  Sawubona – we see you.  We feel that in the deepest recesses of who we are, that place we don’t even know about until God looks upon it.  Until we drink those living, fresh waters, void of any teary saltiness. 

Deep calls to deep
   at the thunder of your waterfalls;
all your waves and your billows
   have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love…..
   and at night his song is with me,
   a prayer to the God of my life.

Too much.  It’s too much.  It didn’t use to feel that way.  It hasn’t always been like that.  Before, we drank leisurely from flowing streams, cool waters that sustained life, nourished parched and dry land.  And it was enough water for all of us.  Always enough.

But now, it is too much.  Deep calls to deep.  The waters wash over us, bowl us over; cresting waves and relentless waterfalls, the chaos of it all.  It washes over, engulfing us, tossing us to and fro, doing with us what it will.  We are overwhelmed by its sheer force.

Grief, we are told, comes in waves.  The mourning of those we’ve lost.  We honor their lives on this day because they have a story to tell, a story that lasts long after the waves subside.  And we are their storytellers.  A story that longs to be heard and shared even after a last breath.  We honor their lives today and read their names out loud, because the God who calls us by name, the God who called them by name, is mourning alongside us.  Somehow, to speak their names is to bring them to live again, even if for an instant.  Long enough to remember and give thanks.  Long enough to feel again the grief and give thanks.

Grief, waves and waterfalls, washing over us.  Deep calls to deep. We are swirling in the mess of it all, listening intently for the song of God’s steadfast love.

I say to God, my rock,
   ‘Why have you forgotten me??
Why must I walk about mournfully
   because the enemy oppresses me?’
As with a deadly wound in my body,
   my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
   ‘Where. Is. Your. God?’

The nighttime is always the hardest.  It is where the doubts feel most at home; when the warmth of sunlight is at its weakest.  The darkness is where I feel forgotten, unseen.  I am overwhelmed by the sadness in the darkness, deep calling to deep.  And even though I know differently, even though my head tells me otherwise, it still feels in the darkness as if everyone has turned their back me, taunting me and asking me where you are.

So where are you, God?  In those dark moments, where are you?  I want to know because I am in mourning, because I’ve lost so much.  Lost dear ones who led me to those living waters in better days.  Lost innocence, a world turned on its head, can we change the channel please?  Lost faith, because it is so hard to remember you when it feels like you are the one forgetting me.

Where are you, God?  Are you ahead of me, leading the way?  Behind me, to catch me when I fall?  Beside me, holding my hand?  I struggle to see you, God.  I long to feel your hand in mine.  Longing, deep longing leads me to wonder exactly where you are.

Why are you cast down, O my soul….
   and why are you disquieted within me….
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
   my help and my God.

Your voice – it always comes in the most unexpected of ways, in places I would not think to listen.  I hear your voice with the rising of the sun, reminding me that a new day is dawning, that the long dark of night has taken leave.  I hear it in a dear friend who texts me out of the blue, words of comfort and assurance, words that remind me I do not walk this journey alone. I hear it in those precious moments, few as they may be, when I am like that deer, drinking deep from your living waters that flow through holy ground.

And I hear your voice here, in this place and on this day, gathered with sisters and brothers to worship, loved ones whose lives we come to celebrate on this All Saints Day.  As we speak their names, we speak them into being; we lift them up in heartfelt love so their story continues to be told.  I hear your voice as we speak their names, God – a voice reminding me that the longing, the deep, deep longing, becomes for us deep gratitude. 

Gratitude because we stand in the midst of such a great cloud of witnesses, made up of the living and deceased.  Such a great cloud of witnesses!  And here, we are reminded that none of us are ever truly alone; that none us walk this road by ourselves. 

Deep longing becomes deep gratitude.  Hope in God, the Psalmist proclaims.  Your steadfast love for us is constant, night and day.  Your hope surrounds us, even as the waves and waterfalls cloud our vision.  We drink deep from your living waters, even when that water seems too salty for our tastes.

We drink deep from our deep longing because you are there, you are always there, sustaining us with your hope, washing us from head to toe in your love.

In the name of God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!

 

* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

[1]https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/refuse-to-become-accustomed/2018/10/27/b9643432-da25-11e8-a10f-b51546b10756_story.html fbclid=IwAR0MEuS54oTRrk89fE_FRje76SiY8qDhrL29IOsNnNOS-MWDL_QXi2qoylQ&utm_term=.0d0136fbb54a