“Resilience: Love That Won’t Quit”
The Reverend Terry McLellan
November 12, 2017
Pastor Eugene Peterson tells a story of being in a line to give his annual blood donation. The clerk asked him a number of questions, as they do, to qualify him as to whether he could give blood. She got to the question, “Do you do hazardous work for a living?” Standing there in his clerical collar, he, semi-jokingly said, “Yes.” This broke her train of thought and looked up at him and paused momentarily before checking, “no” on the form. She said I did not mean that kind of hazardous. He said that he wished he could engage her in a conversation about what she meant and what he meant. But, it was not the appropriate time and place.
When we encounter Psalm 124 is an appropriate time for entering into that conversation though.
Psalm 124 talks about hazard and also about help.
Psalm 124 is one of the songs of ascent contained in Psalms
A song of ascent was sung or chanted as worshippers ascended the steps to the Temple in Jerusalem preparing to worship.
As is typical of most Psalms – they are about real life – real life of joy and thanksgiving but also songs of lament and difficulty.
Like I said – real life.
Some preachers don’t even like to preach about real life – they mostly talk about the rich life that people can have in proportion to their personal faith.
Some of them spend so much time talking about it, that listening to them one might come to the conclusion that having a rich life is the pay-off for following Jesus.
Indeed the life of followers of Jesus can be a rich one, but nowhere does Jesus promise that believers will not incur hazards. Nowhere does Jesus say that we will not experience sadness, grief, pain, loss. We cannot avoid any of the experiences of real human life.
The Jews knew this too. They knew that there would be trials – their history showed all kinds of warts, if you will. The warts of real human life – they acknowledged their heritage as a people of exile, war, struggle. They confessed that some of their patriarchs and matriarchs were guilty of all the personal failings known to humanity, infidelity, murder, double-dealing. We see it in the lives of the first families of Jewish heritage and in their God-given later leaders. Think Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, to just name a few.
But their heritage also included heroic lives sometimes often within the same people who also exhibited the many human failings.
Sometimes when life hits us very hard we say, “What did I do to deserve this?” The answer to that question in the Psalms and in much of the wisdom literature is, “Nothing. You are a God created human.”
124 is a Psalm of corporate lament and corporate thanksgiving – lament for how enemies attacked the nation – recognizing that if it had not been for God’s ever-present care “we” would have been swept away by the onslaught of forces outside of us.
As your preacher today, I will proclaim from this pulpit that God does love us and is present with us regardless of appearances to the contrary. God’s love is never-ending.
Often we groan with pain and sadness and grief,
But, as Paul says here earlier in Romans 8, the whole creation is groaning. Groaning in need to hear the Good News. Paul uses the metaphor of a woman in labor to represent the suffering of all creation. All kinds of suffering. Suffering in pain. Suffering in illness, mental and physical. Suffering in hunger. Suffering in war. Suffering in crime. Suffering in relationships of abuse. In need of good news.
What is labor like for a woman? It is an extended time of pain with the expectation of a joyous end after 9 months of growing discomfort building up to the hoped for birth of a baby. All creation is like a woman in labor in that it is waiting for redemption and the birth of a new creation, wholly in relationship with God. While it is waiting for God’s renewal, there is pain and discomfort. Those who hope in the Lord have the hope that their present pain and suffering will end in God’s victory over their suffering.
And, what does Paul say about the hope that the children of God hold onto? He says that the Spirit comes to those who believe and lifts them up and holds them close in the midst of suffering so that they can have hope of surviving and overcoming the weaknesses of this life. He says becoming conquerors, more than conquerors. But, we do not know how to have this relationship with God. We cannot conjure it up. We do not have the words to know how to pray or be in communication with God. But, God knows us anyway and through the Spirit, God becomes even closer to us than our very own sighs. What do we do when we do not have the words to express our deepest felt desires? What do we do when we do not know how to or cannot express what is on our hearts? We sigh.
And thru our sighs, God hears and knows what we need.
I know that there must be millions of sighs that are going up after the killings at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas this week. The most we can utter is “How long, O Lord?” How long will this repeated mass violence go on? How long until the demons of hate away from us? Beyond that burning question, the best we can do is utter sighs too deep for words.
Though we can proclaim together that God’s love still surrounds us, beyond that there is no apparent cure for the string of deaths that play out all too regularly at the hand of deranged people that hate themselves so much that they try to kill others. There are no good answers. So some say to keep this from happening so much, we need more guns. But we already have more guns in circulation than the whole population of this nation. And some say we need better laws and enforcement measures to keep the guns out of hands of people that are likely to cause violence. Some say that we need more and better mental health care and systems of communicating about who the ones are that are likely to cause violence. Some say the glorification of violence that is rampant in our culture with first person shooter video games and violent movies make violence acceptable to many who don’t have the ability to discern what is right action and what is not.
Maybe the solution is a mix of all those measures. I am not smart enough to say which is the best course. But I know that we as Christians are called to live with hope and that our work in the world is to be life-giving, not death dealing. And I believe that the call of Jesus is to work to make the world whole. And if we are followers of Jesus we will not hear any call to more violence but to less.
Dietrich Bonnhoffer, the German pastor and resister to the machinations of the Nazi party during the 30’s and 40’s, is known to have participated in the resistance to Hitler’s takeover of the German Lutheran Church. He struggled with what he was called to do in that effort and eventually, with great personal anguish, agreed to play a part in one of the several plots to assassinate Hitler. He wrote about it after his arrest by the regime. He felt that he had failed as a Christian by participating in something so violent. But he also could not condone doing nothing to free his people. His judgment was that this is a broken world we live in and sometimes there is nothing that one can do but participate in sin and the brokenness to the extent that evil can be defeated, but only as a temporary measure.
We probably cannot make significant contributions to deciding how to confront issues such as that of gun violence. But we know it is a place in our life as a nation, from which comes great suffering. And we are called to witness to the source of our hope in God and to stand as signposts pointing to the fact that God’s love is never ending. We can rely on the promise expressed by the Apostle Paul that no wall can ever be erected between God and God’s children.
It is this hope that empowers us to be awake to the suffering in the world and work to relieve it.
There is a Jewish term that goes back centuries that is ours today, tikkun olam, repair the world. For centuries, Jews have taken this as their purpose. I believe it no less applicable to Christians today. Repair the world by healing people, taking care of the earth and working to bring about peace.