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.

Sermon #2 on Mission: When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Stay on Point!, Matthew 10:24-39.

Sermon #2 on Mission:  When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Stay on Point!, Matthew 10:24-39.

Sermon:        When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Stay on Point
Scripture:    Matthew 10:24-39
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:     First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:          June 25, 2017, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Proper 7

Last week we began looking at the second major sermon in Matthew’s Gospel as we started delving into Jesus’ focus on mission.  We noted how Jesus called out twelve Apostles who then received their marching orders from Jesus to go out to preach and heal.  We particularly noted why mission matters to Christ, what the first step is in any form of mission we undertake, and we looked at the overall purpose of mission in God’s eyes.  Today, we are continuing along in the same sermon Jesus was giving last week but as you see today, the focus has shifted to what you and I can expect in undertaking mission in the world.  Listen to the Word of the Lord.

Matthew 10:24-39

 24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.[1]

There is so much meat in this text that it would appear to be an overstuffed sandwich! There are so many “hot topics” Jesus raises from God’s Providence, human fear to cross-bearing! You would think it easy to make our lection a shorter reading but as I dug into it, I realized Jesus’ words must be taken as a whole unit. Why? Because Jesus wants his disciples to know that when the going gets tough (and it most definitely will), then the tough are called to stay on point.

It’s a little different from our colloquial saying that says when the going gets tough the tough get going. When the going gets tough and the tough get going, we hear it as a call to gather up strength from whatever source you can and keep on going forward no matter what. If you were running a marathon and at mile 16 I yell at you, “Hey Martha, when the going gets tough, the tough get going!” you would hear that as a personal encouragement to reach down inside yourself and pull some more up the bottom. This in and of itself is not a bad thing to do per se but this is not what Jesus was trying to get his disciples to understand.  You see, when the tough get going they could change their direction and go the other way or take an alternate way and path they were originally taking. Contrary to this Jesus is telling the disciples that when the going gets tough, the disciples are to stay focused and on point. As a racehorse has blinders on to prevent them seeing the neighboring horses immediately on their left and right, the blinders help the horse not to become distracted and stay focused on the course they are running because they are running for a purpose and have a goal to succeed.

Today’s scripture outlines how Jesus wants his disciples to stay focused and on point.  Let’s briefly look at the two blinders Jesus uses to keep the disciples focused and then we will identify the goal Jesus wants us to achieve in our mission.

Blinder number one: Verses 24 – 31 have Jesus reminding the disciples that they are not going to experience anything different than Jesus himself has experienced. Jesus reminds them as he was called names and maligned and so will the disciples.  We see this clearly in Matthew a few chapters ahead when the religious officials tell people Jesus is really Beelzbul, i.e. Satan, God’s arch-enemy.[2]

There is an interesting word-play with the name Beelzbul.  In antiquity, names meant something. So for example, my name Patrick means ‘the one who is noble’ and I would try to live into that name’s meaning.  Beelzbul refers to Satan, God’s enemy, but it also means, ‘god of the dung heap.’ So the theological literalists of his day would be calling Jesus Satan or comparing him to Satan, while others who simply did not take Jesus seriously derisively called him this to infer he was the god, lord of the dung pile. Consequently, Jesus was seen as a threat at worst or not taken seriously as a joke at best. He’s either Satan or lord of the piles.  Either way, people will hear and see his message as a threat and/or a joke.

Jesus is reminding you and me that our life of mission will have the same effects his did in both positive and negative ways.  The disciples will preach and they will heal but Jesus is reminding us that we are to remember that people will take the gospel message as a threat or they will see it, and us (the Church), as a joke. We see this happening today all over America. It is because of this fact, disciples are to remember the intentional loving care of God for them. He is telling them you will be treated as I am treated, i.e. with contempt or disdain, but you will also be cared for by the all-encompassing Providential Care of God!  Does not the Father in heaven care for the sparrow?  Does not the Father in heaven know how many hairs are on top of our heads? The answer is yes, most definitely, but keep shouting the message from the rooftops anyway! You’ll be treated as I am treated but stay on point and tell the Story openly for all to hear!  There’s the first horse blinder keeping our eyes focused ahead.

The second blinder offered to keep our goal in sight is found in verses 34 – 39.  It’s the blinder that reminds us that being a disciple takes hard work and we are to expect that fact. American Christianity has become Joel Osteened to the point that we believe once we follow Jesus, we can sit back and expect the material blessing faucet to be turned on over us. Our lives of discipleship will be happy, easy, and our lives will be overwhelmed with material prosperity. Jesus is saying that is a bunch of hooey.

He’s reminding the disciples that their work will disrupt and cause problems in the most basic and most important aspect of their very social structure: It’s going to threaten Jewish family loyalty. The old ways of believing God will bless you if you behave correctly are being replaced with Jesus’ words of God’s desire for us to live lovingly and justly with each other.  It’s not that Jesus wants families and the social structure of the Jewish community ripped apart; Jesus is simply stating the reality of what will happen.

The status quo, the peaceable way things are, is to be overturned. When the ethic and character of God expressed through love and justice is introduced, people, systems, groups, churches, and social structures get uncomfortable. We like it when the boat isn’t rocked. Yet, Jesus is reminding us that the status quo of judging others for their sexual orientation and not seeing them as a child of God makes a mockery of the power of the Cross. He is reminding us that the status quo of our nation’s tendency to overlook the poor because it affects our personal bottom line is unethical. He is reminding us that the oft-used excuse that it’s too hard to change the social structures to care for the least of these just will not cut it anymore. Jesus is reminding us that the message of love and justice is hard.  We will be maligned.  We will be taunted.  We will be accused of being out of touch. We are to keep our race blinders on and keep moving toward the goal of his message: Reconciliation, love, and justice.

Blinder one keeping us focused: When the going gets tough, the tough are reminded that we are experiencing what Jesus did and God has our backs. Blinder two keeping us focused:  When the going gets tough, we are not to be surprised when the world pushes back against the message of Christ.  So what is the goal these blinders are directing us toward down that race track?

Verses 32 and 33 say, “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”

Our goal is that when the going gets tough, the tough stay on point, they stay on focus and that means to acknowledge, affirm, and show allegiance to Jesus and his way of reconciliation, love, and justice.  We deny Jesus when we fail to reconcile with our kids, spouse, neighbors, coworkers, or fellow Republicans, Democrats and Independents across the political aisle. We deny Jesus when we fail to show love to the invisible ones among us. We deny Jesus when we fall back solely with a ‘what’s in for me” mindset and fail to execute biblical ethics and justice for our neighbor.

When the going gets tough, the tough keep on point and purpose. Jesus isn’t asking you or me to do anything he has not done himself. It’s not easy but God is in control. It’s not easy because demonstrating love, reconciliation and justice make everyone uncomfortable. Our text today leaves us a question to wrestle with this week: In my life, in this church’s life, am I, are we, staying on point and acknowledging the Christ or are we denying him before the Father and the world? Let’s remember Jesus’ words that those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for his sake will find it.

Let’s 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] 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.

[2] See Matthew 12:24, 27.