THIS SERMON, WITH ALTERNATING SCRIPTURE AND REFLECTION IS MEANT FOR A HEALING SERVICE.
Psalm 22:1-3a: God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. Yet you are holy.
Preacher: Throughout Hebrew scripture, especially in Lamentations, the lament has a prominent place. They are not pretty; people in all kinds of pain express themselves in some very painful ways. The primary function of the lament is to give voice to human pain and suffering, and to seek the mercy of God. Lamenting to God is a form of confessing – God knows the pains, griefs and afflictions being experienced – and God knows the frustration, anger, discouragement and disillusionment usually accompanying them. To lament to God is to be honest with God – to trust God and to look for God’s salvation and promise of wholeness. Laments begin and end in trust – just as they begin and end in pain of some description – but by moving through lament we voice our deepest hurts to a God who knows and cares deeply, and finally we express our trust in God’s steadfast love.
When we are sick, lonely, feeling the loss of someone we love, anxious, despairing or traumatized we may additionally feel separated from God. This separation can feel like we are in the shadows. Something is between God and us, casting a shadow over our hearts and obscuring us from God’s sight. Feeling as if we’re in the shadow produces fear – fear that can cripple us emotionally and spiritually.
I would like to read a prayer by Joyce Rupp – maybe you’ll find some affinity with it:
“O God, I am afraid in the darkness. I pull the sheets of security about me and view all my imaginings with terror. These fears rise up in the shadows of my soul, like wild warriors ready to attack me. Though I hide from these monsters of my own making, or attempt to flee on the road of anxiety, they are always pursuing, close behind me. Help me to turn and face my fears. Do not let them have power over me. May I not succumb to the terrors of my mind which chase me relentlessly in the darkness.”
Sometimes it’s helpful to know that most fears are never realized, that we are not obscured from God’s sight – but that can seem like someone else’s words of privilege when we are in our depths. In reality, fear is a bully – keeping us contained and preventing us from recognizing that we can and must step out of the shadow into God’s luminance.
But how do we find the strength to step into God’s light when we are still questioning God?
Matthew 18:18-20 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
Preacher: Christ called the church into being to care for the children of God and exhibit the Kingdom of God to the world. Even when we feel there is something between God and us, casting its shadow over our hearts, we are still in the community of faith.
Ecclesia, usually translated as church, means a gathering – in our case a gathering of two or more in Christ’s name. In our pain or comfort, despair or joy, we can gather into church wherever we can be with a sister or brother in Christ.
Today we are gathered corporately for the specific purpose of praying for wholeness, but this can occur informally at any time and in any place. Christ is, and will be, here amongst us. When we ask for Christian prayer, or when we respond to a request for the same, we are an ecclesia – a gathering to exhibit the love and care of God to each other. We are meant to represent for each other the proverbial hand of God extended for us to hold.
But how can we do that when we are, each of us, broken and hurting?
2 Cor 1:4-5,7 (adapted.) God consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.
Preacher: Out of our own afflictions comes understanding – it may not be specifically like the suffering of others but, with God’s help, we can see through the specifics to the presence of someone else’s trembling heart. At some time or another, we have all experienced the shadow of despair and fear – we understand pain.
We cannot see with God’s eyes, but we can allow God to work through us, as willing vessels, to comfort those in need, and to seek God’s consolation in our own lives. As we seek wholeness today, we shall also seek to be a bearer of Christ’s love to one another. In community, the love of God is manifest.
None of us are imbued with stronger gifts of healing, or a stronger faith that results in wholeness – we are all God’s children – equally gifted and equally pained. It is the willingness to be with each other, prayerfully, recognizing the power of God through prayer, which exhibits the Kingdom here and now.
God knows pain. God knows distress. God birthed us, witnessed our sins, suffered our debilitations and, in the ultimate expression of steadfast love, came embodied in Christ to suffer and die with us and for us. We cannot achieve God’s level of solidarity with the suffering of others, but we can be instruments of God to each other, both in our joy and in our pain.
The hope is found in God’s understanding of the pain and despair we experience. We are to exhibit the love of God to the world, but we are not capable of the steadfast love of God. We can, however, by being willing and obedient children of God, reflect God’s love in action to those in need.
Let us prepare to offer ourselves to God and God’s children.
Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our spiritual worship.