Dr. Steve Lindsley
Psalm 42: 1-3, 7-11
This morning our scripture reading comes from the Psalms – Psalm 42, to be specific. We’re going to intersperse the scripture reading throughout the sermon instead of reading it up front, so let me begin now with a prayer:
There are many things that fascinate me about the psalms but two in particular. For one, if we are to understand the Bible as, more or less, God speaking to the people; if the overarching purpose of all 66 books is to tell the story of how God takes the initiative with us, Psalms is the one book devoted exclusively to the people speaking back to God, to the people responding. Think about that – every one of the 150 psalms is first-person speaking, which makes it very personal.
Equally as fascinating is the fact that these very personal psalms are authentic in nature – meaning, the one speaking is speaking from the heart. There is no tamping down of feeling or emotion here; there is no beating around the bush. The many authors of the psalms cut straight to the heart and engage a host of voices in doing so. There are voices of praise and thanksgiving in the psalms – those are the ones we pay most attention to. But there are also voices of lament and loss and uncertainty; there are even voices of anger and rage.
And I love the fact that the psalms are authentic in their voice because it assures us that we do not have to beat around the bush with God either. We can speak our mind and share our heart and know that God hears it all and that nothing we say, no emotion we express, is too much for God to handle. I think sometimes we bottle up our emotions with God and we don’t tell God what we’re really thinking or feeling. We keep it inside and it never does us any good there. The psalms remind us that there is a place for an authentic voice in our relationship with God and we do not have to hold back. I think that’s why Bono, lead singer for the rock band U2, has taken to referring to Psalms as “the blues of the Bible.”
Keep that in mind as we engage Psalm 42 today. It’s a hard psalm to pin down as far as voice goes. It has elements of the voice of praise, although it is a somewhat muted voice. The voice of lament is fairly prevalent, but to define it simply as lament would not do lament full justice. For me, one way of understanding the voice of this particular psalm is a voice of longing – that sense of wanting or anticipating something that is elusive; something you can more or less see but have yet to realize. What Merriam-Websters aptly defines as “a strong desire for something seemingly unattainable”.
Longing. We all know what it’s like to long for something, don’t we? It’s a fairly common occurrence in the human experience. Perhaps one you’re experiencing right now. And so the question before us as we consider today’s scripture is what the Psalmist is actually longing for. Let’s find out, shall we? My friends, listen to this:
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 meander around my front yard at early dawn, searching for something to nibble on, searching for some water. Our dogs notice them and one of them – Sunny is her name – she sits in the green recliner that rests by the front window and alternates between barking and staring in still silence. She, like me, does not fully know what to make of these early morning visitors as they peruse the natural area looking for sustenance among the azaleas I planted last spring.
Our souls, like that deer, know longing. Deep longing for sanctuary, for uninterrupted space where all we do, all we know to do, is to 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 where we now find ourselves, because it is not just the deer who are anxious with the world. My tears have been my food day and night, the Psalmist says – you and I, constantly barraged with “breaking news,” the latest tragedy, yet another shooting, the most recent tweet. Is it possible for one to feed on their very longing?
We hold on to our faith, and some tell us we are crazy to do so. We do what we know we should, we hold on to hope and life. And still, we face the bitterness of tears. We hear the voices of those around us, crying out, Where is your God? And sometimes we acknowledge: they have a point.
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. 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 is too much. It didn’t use to be too much. Before, we drank leisurely from flowing streams, cool waters. Water-sustaining life. Water nourishing parched and dry land. And it was enough water. Not too little; just enough.
But now, it is too much water. And it washes over us, bowls us over, like cresting waves and relentless waterfalls, the chaos of it all. It washes over us, engulfing us, tossing us to and fro, doing with us what it will. We are overwhelmed by its force.
Grief, we are told, comes in waves. The mourning of those we have lost. We honor their lives on this All Saints Day because even though their lives among us have long ended, they still have a story to tell. A story that longs to be heard and shared even after their last breath. And we are now their storytellers, continuing the narrative they started. The burden – the honor – of continuing to tell their story has now fallen to us.
And so we honor their lives today and we read their names out loud, because the God who calls us by name, the God who called them by name, is also in mourning. We remember when Jesus learned of the death of his dear friend Lazarus that his first response was to weep. God mourns the dead, just as we do. And somehow to speak their names is to bring them into life again. So we can give thanks for their life. So we can keep telling their story. Even as we feel again the grief.
Grief, waves and waterfalls, washing over us. Deep calling 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 often the hardest. It is where the doubts can most often find fertile ground. It is when the strength of the sunlight of day is at its weakest, as are we. The darkness is where we can feel forgotten, unseen. Where we can be overwhelmed by the sadness of it all, deep calling to deep. And even though we know better, even though our head tells us differently, it can sometimes feel as if everyone has turned their backs on us, taunting us and asking us where God is.
So let’s ask, shall we? Where are you, God? In those dark moments. Where are you? In those dark moments we want an answer because we are in mourning, we have lost so much. We have lost our innocence, a world turned on its head, seemingly losing its very mind. Sometimes, God, it even feels as if we are losing our faith, because we cannot be expected to remember you if sometimes it feels like you are the one forgetting us.
Where are you, God? This is the question we ask ourselves and you in the deep longing. Are you ahead of us, leading the way? Are you behind us, to catch us when we fall? Are you beside us, holding our hand? We cannot see you, God. We cannot feel your hand in ours. Longing, deep longing leads us 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 we would not think to listen for it. We hear your voice with the rising of the sun, reminding us that a new day is dawning, that the long dark of night has taken leave. We hear it in a dear friend who texts us out of the blue, words of comfort and assurance, words that remind us that we do not walk this journey alone. Never. We hear your voice in those precious moments, few as they may be, when we are like that deer, drinking deep from your living waters that flow over holy ground.
And we hear your voice here, in worship, gathered as sisters and brothers in Christ. Some of us in this space, some of us elsewhere, and some of us with you, God. We speak their names and in so doing speak them into being; we lift them up in heartfelt love and care so that their story continues to be shared. We hear your voice as we speak their names, God – a voice which reminds us that the longing, the deep, deep longing, becomes for us in the end deep gratitude.
Hope in God, the Psalmist proclaims. Hope! God, your steadfast love for us is constant, night and day. We know it is there, even when we struggle to feel it. We see your love surround us, even as the waves and waterfalls cloud our vision. We drink deep from your living waters, even when that water might seem too salty for our taste.
We drink deep from this deep longing, because you are there, you are always there, sustaining us with your love. Sustaining us with hope. Hope in God, for I shall again praise my help and my God.
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.