Prayer for Rescue
Let us pray…Gracious and loving God, on this day that we celebrate Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem and immediately move to his passion, we ask that you help us to open our hearts, minds and spirits to your still speaking voice above the din of all other voices in our hearts, minds, and spirits so that we can truly capture and understand what he did for us as he hung from that cross on Friday and then what his resurrection means for next Sunday. Bless us and carry us through this time as we center ourselves on you in this time, Amen.
The Passion Story
The Passion Story
A few years ago, we had a movie night here at church. If my memory serves me correctly, we gathered on Good Friday to watch “The Passion of the Christ” as a group and then had a little discussion about what the movie meant to us in that time and space. One of the things that I remember most distinctly was someone asking during our time of discussion, “why”? And what a profound question that is. It is a simple three letter word that carries a considerable amount of weight, doesn’t it? When I get that question, especially at this time of year, my mind starts racing, thinking of all the scripture and passages that come to mind which help me to understand why Christ had to suffer and die and then I think about all the scripture and passages which help me to define what I see as the reasons that I believe what I believe about the crucifixion of Christ. Unfortunately, none of that is ever going to amount to much for each of you because we all need to discover the “why” of what we believe.
While we will not be delving so much into the stories that we normally cover on this Sunday each year, I want you to know that I am still developing my answers to that question of why…why did Christ have to suffer and die in such a horrible way. Why did Christ enter into Jerusalem on this particular Sunday to shouts of Hosanna in the Highest only to hear those same people shouting crucify him very early on Friday morning? Why did all the things happen the way they did during this upcoming week? These are all really important questions that we need to be asking on this day and in the days to come before we can shout Alleluia, he is risen next Sunday.
Again, I do not have concrete answers to these questions but something I have learned throughout this particular Lent is that our study of the Psalms has informed and constructed more of a foundation for me in my life of faith. I have discovered that yes, there are many Psalms that are dark and depressing if you only take them at their words and only study them one at a time. However, by engaging in this study, I pray that you have also found some wisdom in the words we have studied and that just maybe you have also discovered some new truths in your walk of faith as well, just like I have...
And that leads me to today’s Psalm. Again, this is a Psalm that is written from the Psalmist’s heart. It is a cry and a prayer. It is somewhat dark and it questions God’s intentions for why oppression exists and why the writer must face such turmoil in his life. It is a Psalm that reminds us that life is not easy and that we all find ourselves in predicaments for which we cannot control. But the words and the direction of the Psalm begins to move us from despair to hope, hope in God that God will save us from our despair.
A Little Background...
A Little Background...
This Psalm is likely part of what was once a larger Psalm that included the words of Psalm 42, which we wrestled with a few weeks ago on the very first Sunday in Lent. So, in my mind, at least a little bit, it is quite appropriate that we are studying the counterpart on this last Sunday in Lent…almost to bookend our study. But I am getting away from what this Psalm holds for us today.
The reason that many agree that Psalm 42 and 43 were likely once one larger writing is that a) there is no heading for this Psalm like the others in this group of Psalms and b) the thoughts and words seem to flow from 42 to 43 without much hesitation of thought. Now, the reason we have them on two separate Sundays is what I had mentioned previously…Psalm 43 begins the movement from deep despair, like what we feel at the beginning of Passion or Holy Week to the joy that comes from putting our faith and trust in God and the resurrection we celebrate next week. Does this mean that we will not slip back into some moments of despair this week, absolutely not, but at least we can have a glimmer of hope as we move from today and begin to celebrate later this week.
So, let’s talk a little bit about what is included in the words of Psalm 43…and I will direct you to verse 1...
Vindicate me, my God, and plead my cause against an unfaithful nation. Rescue me from those who are deceitful and wicked.
Now, tell me you have not ever felt like this! I know in my life, there have been times when I have tried earnestly to prove that I was right and defend myself against those who seem to want to only hold me down or back. It has happened throughout my life, from defending my actions or words in a debate, to defending who I was to friends who thought I had done something that I hadn’t, to more recently in defending my beliefs to a group of people who swore they knew what a Biblical writer meant. These are painful memories and times when I felt like I was thrown into a pit and left for dead. I felt alone and that there was no rescue for me.
On its surface, this seems to be what the Psalmist is saying as well. But there is something deeper going on here…the Psalmist is mourning the loss of something in his life. Whether that is freedom to be who he truly is or maybe this was written by a Psalmist who was sent from his home into a foreign land and amongst foreigners who did not speak his language, have the same traditions and family structures that he was accustomed to living within, or maybe this was someone who was being bullied and picked on by someone he loved. Because we do not know the intention of the writer, we have to make some interpretation of what might actually be happening in this person’s life. For this Psalmist, any one of these things could be the reason why he has begun crying out to God for rescue from those who are ungodly and unjust. We start to see some of this in the very next verse...
You are God my stronghold. Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?
So, here’s some more clues…the writer feels like God has abandoned him and he states that his enemies are oppressing him. Let’s stop there for a moment…there are two things I want to lift out of this verse. In the writer’s first breath, he recognizes that his faith and salvation lie in God but in the very next breath, he is holding God accountable for rejecting him.
So, that begs the question of what exactly do we think he means in these words. And here is what I am taking from this…first and foremost, salvation belongs to God. There is absolutely nothing that we can do to gain or hold onto our salvation. Our faith and strength comes from God and God alone.
The second thing I get from this verse is this…when we are in despair, and all throughout history for that matter, we as humans turn to blaming God when things are not going as we want them to. I mean, think about it…when we are in a deep, dark place, don’t we turn and yell at God first? I know God can take it but there is something about blaming God for what we might have done that just does not entirely sit right with me at this point in my life. And that brings me back to a general theme that has come out of this study…sometimes the enemy we face is not outside of us but rather ourselves...
What I am also hearing in these words is the idea that the Psalmist recognizes God’s influence in his life and desires for God to rescue him from whatever forces, inside or outside of himself, might be having an impact on his life.
Now, what the Psalmist says next is really what I want for us to hang onto for this week...
Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.
The writer asks God to send the light into his life. Now tell me you do not hear this week screaming through those words…and if you don’t, I am hoping you hear by the time I am done this morning.
When we celebrated Christmas this year, one of the things that we focused upon was the light coming into the world at the birth of Christ. We often call Christ the light of the world. Now, I want to remind you that these words were likely written hundreds, if not thousands, of years before Christ was born. And yet, the Psalmist is asking for the light to come into his life. When I consider all that happens to Christ in this week, I could easily hear Christ saying some of the very same words this Psalmist wrote and maybe Christ was quoting this Psalm in his prayers that night Gethsemane. Regardless, I can hear Christ’s words reflecting many of the same feelings that we hear this morning. But yet, at the end of this week, the light returns to the world, resurrected from the dead, defeating the darkness once and for all.
I want you to hear clearly, the light of the world goes into the darkness and defeats all enemies, both inside and outside of us, for all time. When the Psalmist speaks these words of prayer to God, I am hearing him say, essentially, “God save me from myself. Help me to live the life you truly desire for me to live so that I can approach your throne of grace, accept that grace, and live in the light of your love forever. And when I do, I know that I will be able to give you thanks once again and to praise you for all to see, so that more will come to know you as I do.” And that my friends is our challenge every day that we open our eyes…to find one thing for which we are grateful and praise God that we have it. Because when we can, we are truly rescued from ourselves and this world full of pain, Amen.