The following is a transcript of my homily preached Friday morning, 12/3/2010, at Shepherd's Heart Fellowship in Pittsburgh, PA. The lectionary readings were as follows: Psalms 16, 17 & 22; Isaiah 3:8-15; I Thessalonians 4:1-12; Luke 20:27-40.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cried these words on the cross right before he died. They are the pained cry of a man who has known great suffering. But even on the cross, Jesus had scripture in mind. He understood that his death has meaning, that even at his most forsaken, the Father is working to bring redemption to mankind.
Psalm 22 begins with that same cry we hear on the cross—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God, why? Why did you let this happen? Why do bad things happen to good people? The psalmist felt that question. Jesus felt that question. “I cry by day,” he says, “but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” This is no brief spell of depression. The psalmist is in major crisis—otherwise, his song would not have been appropriate for history’s greatest crisis, the cross of Jesus Christ.
We see the tension between suffering and faith right away, because the psalmist turns around and says, “Yet you are holy… In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them…” He’s remembering the stories he’s heard, the scripture preached to him, the faith he received from those who came before him. We do and we ought to do the same when hard times are upon us. As the great Christian author C.S. Lewis once said, “God shouts through our pain.”
But then the psalmist takes another right turn. He complains, “But I am a worm, and not human.” “Surely these stories, these truths don’t apply to me!” he seems to be thinking. We wonder the same. How can mere words measure up against the reality of starvation or betrayal or the unforgiving bitter cold of a Pittsburgh winter? It’s all fine and well to talk about what God did with those people back then—a long time ago and far, far away—but what about where I live? What about the boundary line between my life and death? What about my pain? We’re aching for God to answer us.
“But,” he says, turning again, “it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.” He remembers. He says, this God wasn’t just around in these old stories. He’s creator God. He saw me through my youth. Now I face hardship, suffering, death—but I remember when God got me through.
I’m going to tell you a story about God getting a family through tough times. Years ago, a young couple in their thirties had one child, a four year old boy. One day the mom walked into the room only to find her one and only son writhing on the floor, his muscles spasming and body contorted in the frightening throes of a full on seizure. He’s rushed to the doctor. The parents are waiting, terrified of what the news might be. The word comes in: your son has a bacterial brain disease, and he’s in a coma. “My God,” they must have thought, “why have you forsaken us?” How could this have happened to our son? How could you take him from us?
Imagine them, sitting up late at night by the hospital bed, worried and grieved to the point of nausea. Then the doctor, a Christian, comes into to talk to them. “I’m sorry,” he says, “but there’s nothing more I can do for your son. We’ve exhausted what medicine has to offer him.” End of story—except, he quickly adds, “But there is one thing I can do—pray.” And they pray fervently in the name of Jesus for the health of this child, and then the doctor leaves. My mom fell asleep by the bed that night, not knowing whether she would ever see her son alive again. The next morning I woke up, healed, unaware anything had gone wrong.
God got me through. I praise him and thank him because if it weren’t for the resurrection power of Jesus, I wouldn’t be standing before you this morning. My parents knew the sharp pang of fear and terror that their son would probably die, knew what forsaken felt like. But God turned it around. The psalmist knew what forsaken felt like, yet he concludes his song proclaiming, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.” And Jesus knew what forsaken felt like, yet God raised him from the dead on the third day.
My good news for you today is that you may know what forsaken feels like, but we worship the true God who raises men from the dead. You may know what the long and hard journey feels like, but Jesus is walking that road with you. You may know that place of pain and bitterness, of isolation and danger, but Jesus knew that place, too. He’s all we’ve got--all any of us have.
Have mercy on us, Lord! We need you! We’re nothing without you! We can’t make it down this road on our own! We’re tired—help! Lord Jesus, have mercy on your people. Protect us from all our adversaries, spiritual or physical, and keep us safe in this life and the next. Fill us with hope and joy, with the light of life, with the peace the passes all understanding, because we’re utterly dependent on you and we’ve nowhere else to go. Thank you, Jesus, for the breath you give us, for the death you died, for the salvation you bring. Amen.