Sunday, March 22, 2015

(Rhythm of) Forsaken and Rescued ( Psalm 22)

(Rhythm of) Forsaken and Rescued from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

John 12:20-33
20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

27"Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say - 'Father, save me from this hour?' No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven. "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." 30Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Psalm 22
To the leader: according to The Deer of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.
1My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

3Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
5To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

6But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8"Commit your cause to the LORD; let him deliver - let him rescue the one in whom he delights!"

9Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother's breast.
10On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.

11Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
12Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13They open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14I am poured out like water, and and my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;
17I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;
18They divide my clothing among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.

19But you, O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!
20Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
21Save me from the mouth of the lion! 

From the horns of the wold oxen you have rescued me.
22I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.

25From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
28For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.

29To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
30Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about The Lord,
31And proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.In the rhythm of the church’s life, we are wandering in the wilderness of lent, and we are carrying our laments to the foot of the cross. It’s a rhythm that echoes the experience of God’s people throughout the centuries, moving from forsaken to rescued, exile to restoration, darkness to light. That rhythm carries us through our lives, and it carries us from lent into the parade of Palm Sunday, to the betrayal of Maundy Thursday, and the world-wrecking death of Good Friday, and into the joy of Easter.

We know the end of this story. We know the cry from the cross is answered with the call of the empty tomb. We know that "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?..." becomes "From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me." We know that the wilderness laments of our lenten journey lead us to us to the promised-land praise of our Easter destination. We also know that we can't skip to the end. Our feelings of forsakenness demand expression. The only one to whom we can express them is God, who has rescued us in the past. We cry out in faith that our redeemer hears us; and will rescue us again.

So we don't want to be still, though we know that I AM is God. We want to skip ahead to the end, the the feeling better. In lament we don't want want to be still because we are sitting in the midst of our trauma, unpacked and laid bare in the middle of the road, covered in embarrassment, our world is wrecked by tragedy.

It's obvious, in the rhythm of this psalm, that it wasn't written in one sitting. It loops around on itself, crying in agony, then asserting faith, then enduring mockery, then remembering God's providential claim on the psalmist's own life. Then midway, a herd of metaphors displaying every dangerous animal out to destroy and devour. The person who wrote this psalm, traditionally identified as David, seemingly came back to it again and again, adding a few lines at a time as the struggles of this world overwhelm his ability to cope.

Then, halfway through a verse, interrupted in the suddenness of a breath, the rhythm changes. The psalmist announces his rescue and reaches out in praise for the remaining third of the psalm. His praise is unequivocally pointed at God, his rescuer. His story has joined the throngs of others reaching back to before the foundation of the world of God's loving and mighty hand.

We are not in the throes of joyous praise yet. Our rhythm carries us towards it, but we can’t disrupt the rhythm by skipping ahead. To do so would leave our praises hollow, and our spirits just as empty.

As many of y'all know, before I was called here, I worked as a Chaplain at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center. Chaplains are not the miracle workers that nurses are, neither are they medical experts like Doctors. We're a caring and guiding presence that helps people to stay whole, even as their lives and bodies are broken. I was privileged to walk alongside patients and families through some of the most difficult and holy moments in a human life. Some days, though, helping others to bear their burdens meant I took some of their struggle on myself.

We had just finished our morning staff meeting, and I volunteered to watch the pager until lunch. Around 10:00, it went off, calling me to visit with a family in the Neuro-ICU waiting area. I grabbed a bible and a notepad, straightened my tie, and walked upstairs to a room where families wait to see how severe their loved one's brain damage is.

The patient's brain damage was severe. Wife, teenaged son, younger daughter were in one corner of the waiting room. I introduced myself and sat with them, and asked them what happened.

Husband, father, son, hard worker, deacon in his congregation. He had gone outside during a storm after worship the previous Sunday to cover their lawnmower when he was struck by lightning. He wasn't going to get better. His brain had died, and the hospital was merely keeping his body functioning. The family was struggling with whether they should withdraw care, and let his body die too. Underneath that, though, the family was struggling with where God was in the midst of this world-wrecking tragedy. I had no words that would fix it for them. I had no technique to ease their pain.

In that waiting room, we didn't need words of praise or promise. We needed words of lament. The wife who became a widow, the mother who became a single parent, the daughter-in-law who became a reminder of a lost son needed the cry, "My 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.” The grieving widow needed the words of a lamenting psalmist who asked “ it was that God, who had always dealt mercifully with his people, should now, forgetting as it were his own nature, thus leave a miserable man without any...solace."

When we are walking through lament, joyous praises are projected on our imagination by Psalm 22. But if all we can reach out and touch is our own ensnaring mess, we are locked into lament, and cannot let go of our cries just to recite praises that feel empty. At some point in the rhythm of being God’s people, we will all need to cry out in desperation with the faith-shaped words of the psalmist.

I can't ignore the fact that our crucified Lord quotes this psalm just before he dies. In agony and abject abandonment, he reaches back into his tradition and finds words to express his pain, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me."

Some folks argue that in calling out this first verse, Jesus is referencing the entire psalm, and that even though he has taken on our sins and abandonment for the moment, he knows that there is triumph and praise at the end.

The folks who make that claim are faithful, brilliant, and love Jesus. They've written books and articles and many of them have spent more time interpreting scripture than I have. But I disagree with them.

I think when Jesus quotes the opening lines of this psalm, he is in the middle of the cry of the abandoned one. If he was reaching for the assurance, he could have found his way to Psalm 22's more familiar neighbor, and murmured on the cross, "The LORD is my shepherd..."  I think Jesus's dying prayer was not meant to point us to praise, but to weep with abandon alongside every person who was afflicted. "Jesus is not questioning the existence of God or the power of God...he is questioning the silence of the one whom he calls 'My God.’" I think Jesus's use of this psalm gives it a special weight: in the depths of human suffering, in world-wrecking pain, in the corners of waiting rooms where the once tightly knit family feels traumatically cut off, Jesus is there with them, sharing their lament.

But from his perspective of praise, and from his memory of his own despair, the psalmist reaches out with hope, announcing that God did not disdain the affliction of the afflicted. The afflicted one is saved because God took notice of their struggle, of their pain, of their very real suffering. God takes notice when the psalmist cries out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me." God takes notice when Christ cries with a loud voice on the cross, God takes notice when we cry out from the depths of our despair. "God must invariably be present in any of the hells that human beings can create on the earth.” Even in the rhythm which takes us out into the wilderness and brings us back, God is present. 

Verse 24 gives us a promise that even when we feel abandoned, God does not reject us, or even our pain. God hears our cries and promises that our forsaken laments will one day shift to rescued praise. But until they do, God can take on our lament, and does not hide his face from us. God does not abhor the rhythm that brings us to lament, but sends his son to join us in our affliction, and returns us home with Christ so that we may know that God rescues us, and "proclaim God's deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it."

Jesus uses this psalm of lament on the cross because he is in agony, and feels abandoned by his Father. So when, along our Lenten journey, we find our heads bowed in sorrow and our hearts are breaking, we're in good company. Jesus walks with us through the rhythm of our lament, all the way to the end. And even if all we can see is the shadow of the cross, we know the end is not death, it's resurrection.

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