Whether a loss is from a physical death, divorce, declining health, bankruptcy, life transitions, finding gray hair and more wrinkles on our faces when we look in the mirrors, grief from our children growing up and becoming more independent and needing us less and less to some other wound or hurt we have experienced in our lives or in our world, every loss deserves a fitting grief, deserves a good grief.
October 8, 2023
Part 1: God, Are You Even There?
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
God, Are You Even There? Psalm 13
The idea for this sermon series has been percolating for a while now. I don’t know if I can trace it to a particular event or rather, as I reflected and prepared for this conversation, the truth of the matter is that the idea for this sermon series is from the culmination of events, events which began three years ago, when everything shut down for Covid. There was a heaviness to the atmosphere during those several months, heaviness which came from the images we saw on the television, the sense of loss we were all feeling because everything, and I mean, literally everything was out and beyond our control. Even when we as a country, as a state, as a community of faith began to emerge from that time and entered into this new supposed post Covid reality, that heaviness in the atmosphere stayed with us. Because as we emerged from lockdown, we were still in grief over all that we lost…loved ones who died from Covid, the opportunities to celebrate and honor those who had passed during that time. Even as we emerged from lockdown, we were still in grief over all those “normal” moments which were in a way stolen from us.
Sure we tried to find the joy or creative ways to reclaim some sort of normalcy but even then, in those moments, there always seemed to be a shroud of grief hanging over us, a shroud of grief that has stayed with us as a country, as state as a community…because as we emerged, we realized everything changed. We no longer recognized anything around us. Things shifted in our community. Relationships were changed. Familiar landscapes and firm foundations were shaken or crumbled, leaving us with the sense of the unfamiliar and the hard work of finding our footing once again. And in the midst of that unfamiliar, in the midst of that hard work of finding our footing once again, that shroud of grief remained.
Because in our rush to get back to normal, we were never given, we never took the time to grieve…which means all those emotions are still there. As a country, as a community, we have tried “ to suppress and stifle the pain and pretend it’s not there, but our unconscious and our physical body is still affected. As a whole, we have gotten carried away by our difficult emotions and lost perspective. And what we see happening within our communities, in our state, in our nation, in our world, is a well-established psychological principle coming to life, that principle being that what we resist, persists and grows stronger. Meaning that because we have not grieved as a whole, we are actually intensifying the energy of our painful emotions. That’s one aspect of grief which has been a part of all our lives for the last few years…
Then on a more personal level, closer to home, we as a community of faith have had a crappy year. I would use other terms to describe this past year but I’m in polite company. From July 2022 to July 2023, we have been wearing our grief as a community of faith. Over this past year, it got to the point whenever the church sent out an email or did a one call, all of us, me included, were dreading the news on the other end. Death and sickness have filled our lives. They have constantly separated us as a community of faith. And if that wasn’t enough, we are realizing that not only have things shifted in our Midway community, not only have relationships changed in our own personal lives, not only were familiar landscapes and firm foundations shaken or crumbled in our own lives, when we walk into this building, we realized it happened and is still happening here as well. A sanctuary which can hold 250 now sits 20-30 on Sunday mornings. Familiar faces who once sat in the pews beside us no longer attend church here…all for a variety of reasons but that doesn’t mean their absence is not still felt, that it doesn’t still hurt. Even though we logically understand the reasoning, that doesn’t mean we still don’t miss them now that they are no longer here.
All of this was and is the impetus behind this sermon series because as a community of faith grief has been in the water around here. It is what we have fed on as we have gathered. No one, myself included, has had the energy to process it all. No one, myself included, has been able to maintain the level of support and nurture needed for everyone’s hurt and sorrow because we, myself included, have all been dealing with the overwhelming grief which resided, which continues to reside so deep in us as a community of faith.
That is until now when I was reminded by someone way smarter than me that as people of faith, we often believe that we are not allowed to grieve or that we can be sad but not too sad because then people might think we don’t trust God. We don’t believe in God, that if we grieve, we have given up on God. When the exact opposite is true. As Christians, our core faith story tells us that we can’t experience Easter morning without going through the pain, suffering and sorrow of Good Friday first. Our sacred text, both Old Testament and New Testament, are filled with stories of people grieving, are filled with stories of how God comes alongside them, and reminds them that they are not alone, very much like our text today. I invite us to hear these words from Psalm 13…
How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will I be left to my own wits, agony filling my heart? Daily? How long will my enemy keep defeating me? Look at me! Answer me, Lord my God! Restore sight to my eyes! Otherwise, I’ll sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I won!” My foes will rejoice over my downfall. But I have trusted in your faithful love. My heart will rejoice in your salvation.Yes, I will sing to the Lord because he has been good to me.
We hear these words from Psalm 13 and they echo our grief, our grief from the past years, our grief which hangs over us like a shroud. They echo what we are all feeling as we continue to hear stories of hurt and hate which fill our world….How Long God? How long God, will you forget us? How long God will we bear the weight of grief? How long God until we find our footing again? How long God will our world be filled with hate and hurt?
What I love about this text is that God doesn’t answer any of these questions, doesn’t answer any of our questions when we find ourselves overwhelmed with grief because there is no need for God to answer. We don’t see God coming along and telling the psalmist to get over it. We don’t see God coming along and giving some sugary sweet platitude which doesn’t really help ease the psalmist’s pain or sorrow. All that matters is that in the midst of the psalmist’s grief, in the midst of our grief, the psalmist remembers, that we remember the promise, a promise given to the psalmist, the promise given to us that no matter what, God is there for us, that no matter what, God is there with us.
You see, everything we have come to know as Truth about our God is that our God is faithful from generation to generation, that our God loves us more than we will ever know, that our God walks beside us, always leading us and guiding us, that our God never abandons us. Even when it all seems too much and we are overwhelmed, as people of faith, we find hope in the knowledge that our God is there, that love and light will always have the last word, that we can lift our voices in song, even when they shake with sadness, because of who we are and whose we are.
That is why for the next several weeks, we will be journeying together, considering the questions we often find ourselves asking in our grief. We will also name what has changed in our lives as a congregation and as individuals because every loss, whether the loss is from a physical death, a divorce, declining health, bankruptcy, life transitions, finding gray hair and more wrinkles on our faces when we look in the mirrors, grief from our children growing up and becoming more independent and needing us less and less to some other wound or hurt we have experienced in our lives or in our world, every loss deserves a fitting grief, deserves a good grief.
Now please hear me say…I’m not expecting this sermon series, or me as the pastor to make everything okay. Nor am I saying that at the end of the next six weeks, we as a community of faith still won’t feel grief or sorrow in some shape or form.
What I am saying is that in our faith, through the practice of spiritual discipline, we know that when “When we bring space and warmth to our painful emotions, they are free to arise, do their little dance, and move on. We also know that by bringing space and warmth to our painful emotions, we are also creating room for the presence of God in our midst. We are opening ourselves to the possibilities of new life. We are inviting the light and love of God to bring healing and wholeness to our hurts.
We have the strength and the courage to do so because we know that God cares, because as people of faith, we are given a promise by our God, that no matter what, God is there, already at work bringing hope beyond what we can see or even imagine.
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