Have you ever felt like you are staring at the back of God’s head? (Feeling forgotten by God), Psalm 13

Sermon:        Have you ever felt like you are staring at the back of God’s head?
Scripture:     Psalm 13
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:      First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:              July 2, 2017, Communion

You may listen to the sermon here:

This morning’s preaching text is printed in your bulletin. I encourage you to read it from your devotional Bible later today and note the differences in how it is presented.[1] Today we will read Psalm 13 from Peterson’s The Message.  Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Psalm 13, The Message

1-2 Long enough, God—ic-ma173-icon-holy-seraphim-sarov-deathyou’ve ignored me long enough.
I’ve looked at the back of your head
long enough. Long enough
I’ve carried this ton of trouble,
lived with a stomach full of pain.
Long enough my arrogant enemies
have looked down their noses at me.

3-4 Take a good look at me, God, my God;
I want to look life in the eye,
So no enemy can get the best of me
or laugh when I fall on my face.

5-6 I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms—I’m celebrating your rescue.
I’m singing at the top of my lungs,
I’m so full of answered prayers.[2]

“Long enough, God, long enough!”  Have you ever uttered that flavor of a prayer beforeGod?

Long enough, God, you’re ignoring me!

Long enough, God, people are speaking all kinds of lies about me at work!

Long enough, God, I’m tired of the gossip spoken about me and my family all the time!

Long enough, God, I’m anxious about not being able to pay my bills on time!

Long enough, God, my body cannot go through any more tests, procedures, or pain anymore!

Long enough, God, the anguish of my beloved’s death bitingly stings my soul to the point of no relief.

Long enough, God…hey God, are you even listening to me?

Long enough, God, are you even there?

Long enough, God, I’m tired of staring at the back of your head; turn around and look me in the eye face-to-face!

All of us at one time or another has had, is, or will have these types of prayers escape our lips.  It doesn’t mean we are faith-less people or bad people; feelings of abandonment by the Ultimate Source of Life is endemic to our human condition. Even Atheists and Agnostics, those who don’t believe in any Higher Power or those who do not know what Higher Power to be in relationship with at all will at some point in their life encounter one of Life’s realities, drop their hands, droop their shoulders, and lift their faces heavenward and cry, “Long enough, God.  This is too much for me to bear!  If you’re out there, I’m talking to you so this is a good opportunity to prove yourself to me!”  Today’s psalm is a song of lament, a prayer of beseeching God’s presence and care when life feels overwhelming.  It’s in the Scriptures because it’s a universal cry that even the biggest, roughest, toughest spiritual giants among us have even prayed. I love what the great Reformer, John Calvin wrote about the psalms. He says, “The Psalms are an anatomy of all parts of the soul.”[3]  Oh what comfort that brings us!

There’s comfort as a person of faith to be able to approach the Lord so honestly with raw fear and emotion in times of uncertainty in our life. There’s comfort knowing that God is big enough to absorb those flashes of doubt in what is normally a solid faith in our life. There’s comfort in the fact that like the psalmist, there are those moments we feel we are looking at God’s backside and are desperate for Him to turn around and look at us; just imagine what it is like for those who don’t even think or consider God is in the same room; at least we see God’s backside!

The psalmist is pouring their heart out to God to please take notice of them, acknowledge them, and rescue them.  He or she is demanding that God pay attention to their plight. But then there is a shift in the song and prayer. At the very end of the lament the worshipper cries with celebratory tones in verses 5 and 6:

I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms—
I’m celebrating your rescue.
I’m singing at the top of my lungs,
I’m so full of answered prayers.

I like to refer to this as the “even though but still aspect” of a follower’s spiritual journey. This aspect is all throughout the Bible, too.  For example, Even though I failed my exam, I still know that you are in control of my life!  Even though the bank account is almost overdrawn, I still thank you for providing for me out of your provisions from only you know where that will see me through.  Even though the chemo stings and the radiation burns or causes me gross fatigue, I still know Whose I am and will not waiver.  Even though the shadows of depression are overwhelming me, I still know that you have been to the depths of that hell yourself in Jesus and I get the privilege of feeling the depth of feeling you feel.  The psalmist, even though in the waves of those most desperate times and situations, still knows that God is bigger than any obstacle or problem he or she will ever face. We must note that the psalmist does not say how God specifically answers their prayers but only that they are answered.  We do not know if the psalmist got what they wanted from their prayers or whether God granted them what they needed in their prayers; all we know is that the psalmist, even though in the moans and deepest cries for help, they still had confidence and assurance the Lord is in the process of answering those prayers.

Beloved, what are the “Even though but still” moments in your life right now? Think about a moment. Think to yourself of a dire or less than positive situation you are in now and turn it into a prayer. Pray, “even though such-and-such is happening, I still know in the end you will look at me in the eyes and answer my prayer according to your glorious riches and purposes!”

How can you or I even dare think we can pray to God like that? We dare to pray and believe it because our Jesus prayed the same thing in Gethsemane and on the Cross. “Even though I am scared to death, I still pray not my will but Thine be done!”  “Even though they have beat me, spit on me, and taunt me, I still believe you will not hold this against them.”

How can you or I even dare think in those moments when we feel God has turned his back on us God will still answer our prayer and make good on His promise to restore our lives and restore the light in our eyes to look at life again? Because even though, while we were yet sinners and alienated from God and one another, God still came down to live, walk, and to die among us in Jesus Christ.

We know that in the middle of our doubts, Jesus sits at the Table of God and says, “Beloved, even though battered by life, come and sit with me now.”

We know that when we feel the Lord has his back to us, he smiles lovingly and says, “Beloved, my back was turned just a moment to prepare your meal and banquet that we may dine together and celebrate the Light in your Life! I didn’t leave; I was getting something prepared just for you!”

I invite you to eat of the Lord’s Table this day, my friends. Come scared and leave assured. Come broken and leave being whole. Come with your doubts and leave with assurance.  Listen to the Christ as he says to you, “Silly one, come up here and sit next to me and tell me what’s going on in your day; I want to hear it from you.”

In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
pwrisley@drew.edu
Wrisley,org

© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1] See, for example, how the NRSV translates it: How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?  Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.  But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord,  because he has dealt bountifully with me.
[2] The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson.
[3] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1, Preface on the introduction of Community.

A Message on Missions: Am I Player or a Spectator?

Sermon:           A Message on Missions: Am I Player or a Spectator
Scripture:        Matthew 9:35-10:8
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:         First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                June 18, 2017, Proper 6/Ordinary 11/Pentecost

At the recent Presbytery meeting, Dr. Hunter Farrell, Director of the World Mission Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, began his presentation by showing a slide of a college-aged student on missions. She was an attractive young woman sitting on the ground and she was surrounded by children of color presumably from Africa.  Her arm was extended out with her cell phone in hand and was smiling for the camera but all the bedraggled children in the photo with her looked puzzled and confused.  The only one smiling in the picture was the young woman.missions_trip--selfie

Dr. Farrell went on to say that the Church, particularly the Presbyterian Church and other Mainline denominations, were once known for the power and impact of their mission endeavors. He said, “Whereas there was a time we were known for building universities, schools and hospitals, the church’s mission seems to fulfill the needs of the missionary as opposed to the ones for whom the mission is to be done. We’ve exchanged meaningful mission for mission selfie experiences that last for a fleeting moment.  Sure, they make us feel good but is our work making a meaningful impact in the long term?”[1]

I’m grateful First Pres DeLand still has the notion of strategic mission impact the Presbyterian Church was known for!  Yesterday, 17 members of our church family got back from a ministry with a community in Nicaragua we have had a relationship with for over twenty years! We launched the House Next Door decades ago to meet the social and emotional needs of the working poor in this part of Volusia County.  Dr. Hugh Ash and members of this church began Hugh Ash Manor fifty years ago which has served thousands of modestly-incomed older adults with affordable housing.  We need to be proud of what God has done with, in, and through us as a church but we are here today as a new generation of disciples in this congregation and we have some decisions to make.  Shall we continue with our legacy of making strategic mission decisions that make a lasting impact or will we revert to what so many churches in our country are doing today and participate in projects that only give us quaint mission selfies?

Turn in your Bible to Matthew 9:35. We will read verses 35 through 10:8.  Dale Bruner, Professor of New Testament at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington reminds us that our text today begins a new section in Matthew’s gospel.  The first major section was Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount beginning in chapter 4 which instructs the Church, i.e. you and me, on how to live a God in-Spirited life.  Chapters 8 and 9 give us examples on how Jesus lives those values out through several healing stories which lead to today’s section which begins what we could call a sermon of the biblical doctrine of mission and evangelism.[2]  Our text today provides answers to these three questions:  Why does mission matter? What is the first step in doing missions? What is the goal of mission? Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Matthew 9:35-10:8

35Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

10.1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;4Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.[3]

Why does mission matter to God? Jesus’ style of ministry was by way of a walkabout. In other words, he was a peripatetic, i.e. someone who walks and talks and thinks about deep issues while they are walking out amongst the people. How all of us in ministry need to remember that Jesus did not own a desk!  The reason mission matters to God is right here in the first few verses of our text. Verse 36 reminds us that as Jesus walked around, he saw the people and had a broken heart for them.  The religious and social systems of their day had failed them and Jesus’ heart broke.  They were trying to make it through life without any direction, solace, purpose, and hope. Matthew reminds us that they are like sheep without a shepherd with no one willing or wanting to care, protect and feed them spiritually, socially or politically.

Why does mission matter?  Because Jesus has a broken heart for the people.  He has compassion for them which for Matthew meant Jesus’ very gut was turning over in pain for them.  We forget that our word “compassion” literally means to “suffer with” another.  Why does mission matter?  It’s because God in Christ is suffering with the people.

Dr. Bruner has an interesting insight on this. He writes, “Mission is not motivated by Jesus’ disgust for people because they are such sinners…mission is motivated by the (more) appealing fact that Jesus (has) compassion for hapless people.”[4] We do mission not because people are pagan sinners but first and foremost because as disciples we are to viscerally feel their pain and to respond to it.  Why does mission matter?  Because broken and lost people matter to Jesus and they are to matter to us as well.

This leads us to the second question from our text:  What is the first step in doing missions? Verses 37 and 38 have Jesus making a poignant observation:  The harvest, i.e. the depth of need and suffering is great but the day laborers are few.  The first step in missions is not to go but it is to stop and to pray.  It seems counterintuitive as we see a need and want to immediately go and deal with it.  But Jesus sets the right order in place.  Jesus says, “Ask the Lord of the harvest to thrust out day laborers to glean the harvest!”

First, note that the harvest is already out there to be had.  God has already done the planting, watering, fertilizing and growing. The harvest is waiting for someone to go and work in it. Second, it is God who sends out the workers. A precise reading of verse 38 is that we are to pray for God to “thrust out” workers into the harvest. God does the sending of workers.  God is the one who casts out day laborers into the world’s harvest.

Why is that important?  Because it reminds us that mission is a Spirit-instigated and driven reality; it’s not something we simply sign up to go do and feel good about it; it is something that God initiates and literally casts us out into!  Friends, this is why the first movement of mission in the church is to pray.

Prayer is the first thing we do because we are to ask God which part of the field we are to do mission in ourselves. Our temptation is to try to take on the whole harvest as a church and do it all but this isn’t realistic; there is simply too much out there to do.  So we pray that God will show us which part of the field we are to work and harvest. God knows our personal and collective gifts and graces and when we start with prayer, we are asking God to first choose which part of the field we are to harvest and then based on that particular field, choose the day laborers who are gifted and graced to accomplish the ministry outlined for us. We pray so that our mission and ministry is not guilty of low aim whereby we have mission-selfie opportunities but that we dare to dream God-sized dreams to be change agents in the field we are called to work!

Why is mission important?  Because Jesus’ heart is breaking for people. What’s the first task of mission?  Pray the Lord of the harvest will send the right people to the right mission at the right time. This leads us to the third vital question our text raises.

What is the goal of mission? Matthew 10:1 says that Jesus gave them authority over the unclean spirits as well as the ability to cure people. The goal of mission is for you and me, this very church, to be the extension of Jesus’ authoritative Presence in the world exposing brokenness where there is pain, challenging unjust social policies and mores when there is oppression, and earnestly seek reconciliation and wholeness where there is tension, bigotry, and discord. As the extension of Jesus in the world, we are to unmask consumeristic idolatry, we are to heal prejudice, and we are to demonstrate to others outside the church community what living in the unity of the Spirit of the Lord looks and acts like. Unlike mission selfies that shine the light on us, our missional outreach is to shine a light on others and what God is doing in their lives.

Here’s a question for you trivia buffs: What is the only publicly held and owned team in the NFL? The Green Bay Packers!  It is not owned by a family or a corporate sponsor but by the fans of the Packers themselves! So, when in January 2012, The Green Bay Packers were to play the New York Giants for a Divisional Playoff game at Lambeau Field after a night of nearly a foot of snowfall, the fans who had an investment in the team came to shovel out all the tons snow in the stands and on the field.  They City workers did not do it. A private company did not do it. The fans who owned and had stock in the team did it!  At 4:30 in the morning of the game, nearly 1,300 people showed up in the subfreezing temperatures to wait for the privilege to blow, shovel, and clean the stadium from tons of snow. On that day, the spectators became the players on the field. It was the spectators who made the game possible in the first place![5]

Today’s scripture is Jesus’ way of telling you and me that we are not to be spectators of the mission of the church, we are to be the actual players.  Mission isn’t for just a few or for the professional ministers; mission is the way ordinary disciples are called to be the authoritative Presence of Christ in the world. You may not know the mission you are to accomplish.  You may not know if you are the one who is even the person to do what you think you are to do. You may not believe you’re qualified to go and cast out the spirits of this world and cure others and reunite spiritually lost sheep to God and to others. And do you know what?  That is okay.  It’s God’s job to reveal the field of harvest we are to reap. It’s God job to choose, select and then dispatch the workers into fields to do ministry.

And why does God do it? Because people matter to Jesus and he has a broken heart for them. And what are we to do about it?  We are to pray for workers who will go to the fields God has chosen for us to tend and reap.

First Pres is in a position to make new and exciting strategic investment in God’s harvest field, beloved, just as we have in decades past but God needs our help. Jesus needs all of us in this church to pray the Spirit will identify the mission field we are to work in and then reveal those among us who will be the authoritative Presence of God in seeing that mission through. If you are willing to pray that the Lord of the Harvest will do that through us, I invite you to stand right now. Let us pray.

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
pwrisley@drew.edu
Wrisley,org

© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1] Dr. Hunter Farrell at a plenary presentation for the June meeting of the Central Florida Presbytery, Wycliffe Bible Translators Discovery Center on June 7, 2017.

[2] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Christbook. Matthew 1 -12, Volume 1 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 445ff.

[3] The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[4] Bruner, 448.

[5] “Packers fans wait hours for chance to shovel Lambeau Field,” by Alex Morrell, Green Bay Press-Gazette, January 13, 2012. Accessed on 6/14/2017 from http://content.usatoday.com/communities/thehuddle/post/2012/01/packers-fans-wait-hours-for-chance-to-shovel-lambeau-field/1.