As as we begin to process our grief, we are in the unique position to connect the pain and suffering in others’ lives to Jesus’ pain and suffering. Because what we discovered and experienced in our own grief is the healing power of the Gospel message, that our God, who cares for us, sits with us, and surrounds us, continues to fill us with light and love.
October 15, 2023
Part 2: God, Do You Care?
Psalm 139: 1-18
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Psalm 139: 1-18
Lord, you have examined me. You know me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up. Even from far away, you comprehend my plans. You study my traveling and resting. You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways. There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord, that you don’t already know completely. You surround me—front and back. You put your hand on me. That kind of knowledge is too much for me; it’s so high above me that I can’t reach it. Where could I go to get away from your spirit? Where could I go to escape your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there. If I went down to the grave, you would be there too! If I could fly on the wings of dawn, stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean—even there your hand would guide me; even there your strong hand would hold me tight! If I said, “The darkness will definitely hide me; the light will become night around me,” even then the darkness isn’t too dark for you!
Nighttime would shine bright as day because darkness is the same as light to you! You are the one who created my innermost parts; you knit me together while I was still in my mother’s womb. I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart. Your works are wonderful—I know that very well. My bones weren’t hidden from you when I was being put together in a secret place, when I was being woven together in the deep parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance, and on your scroll every day was written that was being formed for me, before any one of them had yet happened. God, your plans are incomprehensible to me! Their total number is countless! If I tried to count them—they outnumber grains of sand! If I came to the very end—I’d still be with you.
God, Do You Care? Psalm 139: 1-18
I think it is only fair to start this sermon by saying that I have a love/hate relationship with this particular text from the Book of Psalms. I love it because of the imagery, imagery which constantly reminds me that no matter where I go, no matter where we go, we are surrounded by God’s loving presence, that since the beginning, not only since the beginning of time, but since my beginning, our beginning, God was there, forming us, shaping us, filling us with light and love, imagery which reminds me, that reminds us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of our loving Creator and that all through our lives, God will be there, guiding us, leading us, holding us in the palm of God’s hand.
Those are the reasons why I love this particular text. The reasons why I hate it are well…more personal. Pastorally, I have shared these words hundreds of times with families, with friends, with our community of faith in times of great sorrow and hurt, usually at a celebration of life service. I have looked into the eyes of loved ones as they have heard these words come out of my mouth. I have offered these words in hopes that they bring comfort, that they bring peace, that they bring some sort of solace in the midst of grief.
But the real reason I hate this text is even more personal than that. I hate this particular text because it was read at my daughter’s funeral. Now I can only blame myself for that. When the minister asked what words I needed to hear, this one, Psalm 139 with all its images of God holding me, surrounding me, came to mind. But now, every time I hear this text, every time, I share this text, its images which at one time brought me such comfort are now tinged forever by my grief.
Because I can remember sitting in these very pews, hearing these words offered by the minister. I can remember thinking to myself, that the imagery offered by this Psalm, imagery that I used to love so much, imagery that brought delight to me now only accentuated my pain and grief. Because that God which this psalm described, I didn’t like that God very much. I just wanted to be left alone but God kept following me. I wanted to be in the darkness. I didn’t want God’s light at that moment. Yet as I sat in these very pews, angry at God, when words failed to capture the extent of my grief, there was still this image of God being with me, surrounding me, holding me.
Although this was fourteen years ago, these were the thoughts which ran through my mind as I worked on this sermon this past week. These were the thoughts which came to me as I sat in workshop after workshop this past week, listening to experts describe the shifts our communities of faith have experienced and continue to experience, shifts which have knocked our feet out from underneath us, shifts which have us seeking answers to question we don’t even know to ask yet. Fourteen years later, these were my thoughts as I heard a keynote speaker say, and I’m paraphrasing a bit here but.. “As the church, because we don’t make a connection to Jesus’ pain and suffering on the cross to the pain and suffering which is happening in people’s lives, happening in our world, we miss out on mission and ministry and in doing so, we miss out on the healing power of the Gospel message coming to life.”
You see that is what I missed, what we often miss when we read these words from Psalm 139. We get frustrated because God isn’t trying to fix everything, to make everything better. We don’t like the fact that God doesn’t create a false reality for us so that everything is sunshine and rainbows. However when we spend time with the words of this psalm, when we invite them to become a part of who we are, what we do see, what we do read about is our God who comes along beside us, our God who sits with us, our God who listens, our God who embraces, our God who cares. In these words, even though they may be tinged with our grief, in these words written down by the psalmist thousands of years ago, what we do experience is the healing power of the Gospel message coming to life.
Or let me say it this way…I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers. Like I said last week, I’m saying again this week. I will not get up here and promise that by the end of this series, all our grief will fade away or that everything will be fixed.
What I will share is this… this past week, as I sat in workshop after workshop, I kept hearing the word “trauma” pop up. It was used to describe our collective trauma over these past few years as a society and a culture. It was used to describe the trauma which has filled our own personal lives, whether that be sickness, death, loss of jobs, loss of identities, divorce, loss of relationships, loss brought on by rapid change…all of it was described as trauma. And every time I heard that word it was usually tied to the word grief and an invitation to pay attention. Which seemed like an odd combination because the last thing we want to do in grief, when we are surrounded by trauma, is pay attention. We would rather pull the blankets over our heads and pretend nothing is the matter.
But it was this invitation to pay attention which has stayed with me long after the conference is over because each time this invitation was extended, I couldn’t help but think of our last year as a community of faith.
As a community of faith, as we begin to process our grief as a community of faith, I believe that we are in a unique position to connect the pain and suffering found in people’s lives to Jesus’ pain and suffering. Not because we have got it all figured out. And certainly not because I believe that everything happens for a reason. I believe we are in the unique position to connect the pain and suffering found in people’s lives to Jesus’ pain and suffering because of exactly what happened to us, within us as a community of faith last year. As people of faith, as a community of faith, as a whole, we know what it is like to not like God very much, to just want to be left alone, to want to be in the darkness, to not want God’s light at that moment.
And yet…even though the words which brought us comfort are now tinged with our grief, we still, still hold on to the promise that nothing will ever separate us from God’s love. Because what we discovered, what we experienced, in the midst of our grief, is the healing power of the Gospel message made real in our midst, something this hurting world needs right now. What we discovered, what we continue to experience in the midst of our grief, is our God who cares for us, who sits with us, who surrounds us, who continues to fill us with light and love.
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