Monday, October 12, 2009

"Mercy and grace to help in time of need"

Click above to listen to the sermon streamed online.

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, October 11, 2009.

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.

For as many times as I have issues with the lectionary, the Old Testament, Psalm and Epistle for this Sunday were just masterfully put together. They reach deep inside us and pull out our heart. They do to us what Christ does for us – meet us as we are but do not leave us as we are.

So for just a few minutes, now that you’ve heard them once, we’re going to walk through them again together. And I do mean together … which means you’re going to need to help.

We started with Job. Good ol’ Job. You know, I think Job is Charlie Brown, God is Lucy and everything in Job’s life is that football. All his life, Job has tried to do what is good and right like Charlie Brown lining up that kick and building speed as he charges toward that ball only to have Lucy at the last moment snatch it away and send him flying WUMP! flat on his back on the ground. Job is destitute. His life is like this smoldering pile sitting in front of him … he’s lost it all. And for comfort, he is surrounded by really helpful friends who say really helpful things like, “Well, you must have done something wrong.” “This has got to be your fault somehow.” I’m sure if you translated the Hebrew somewhere in there is a “Job, you blockhead.” So Job is not only depressed, he is mad. Hell no, it’s not his fault. He’s lived a good life … and not without resisting more than a few temptations to choose otherwise, thank you very much. He didn’t do anything to deserve this. And so what Job really wants to do is to give God a piece of his mind. Listen to Job talk about God:
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his dwelling!

I would lay my case before him,
and fill my mouth with arguments.

I would learn what he would answer me,
and understand what he would say to me.

Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; but he would give heed to me.

Job is not only going to give God a piece of his mind, he’s so sure of himself that he’s going to change God’s mind. He knows this isn’t the way things are supposed to be and he is seriously horked and God is going to see the wisdom of his ways. Job is fed up … and God better watch out.

Then we moved on to the psalm. Now, the psalmist finds herself in a place of destitution a lot like Job, but her reaction is different. Instead of raging, she despairs. Instead of storming the gates, she weeps, she pours herself out in loneliness and agony. She begs God, whom she cannot find anywhere, to please find her. She cries:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? *
and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?

O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; *
by night as well, but I find no rest.

Our forefathers put their trust in you; *
they trusted, and you delivered them.

I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born; *
you were my God when I was still in my mother's womb.

Be not far from me, for trouble is near, *
and there is none to help.

You can hear not only the desperation but the utter exhaustion in her voice. It’s just too much. God, where are you. I can’t hang on much longer. You promised you’d be here, but I don’t see you. Help!

In Job and the psalmist we hear people who are at the end of their rope. It’s just all too much. They don’t understand why they’re in the mess they’re in and they can’t see a way out. And they’re mad … and depressed … and confused .. and maybe worst of all, they feel alone.

Do me a favor. Everybody close your eyes just for a minute. Now, keep your eyes closed. No peeking. Now I want you to raise your hand if in the last month you’ve had some of these same thoughts and feelings that Job and the psalmist have had. Fed up, mad, depressed, confused, alone.

Now keep those eyes closed and everyone whose hands are up go ahead and keep them up … and everyone else I want you to raise your hand if someone you care about is going through some of the same feelings that Job and the psalmist had.

OK, now eyes still closed and hands still up … for anyone whose hands aren’t up I want you to raise your hand if in the last year you or someone you care about has had some of these same thoughts and feelings that Job and the psalmist have had.

Everyone keep your hands up. Open your eyes. And look around.

(almost every hand in the church was raised)

Friends, this is where we live. And the gift of Job and the psalmist is they lay it right out there. They don’t hide it. They don’t put on a nice smile and a strong front. They just lay it on the table. And that’s their gift to us. Because they show us that we can do the same thing.

So what is it for you? I need you to be brave here. What is it that has you or someone you love fed up, mad, sad, confused or feeling alone. Come on, I really need you to be brave.

(People named a variety of things – unemployment, sickness, death, landlords, having unbearable job responsibilities because others have been laid off, divorce, etc.)

So what do we do with this? Well that’s where we move into the Epistle. The author of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that we are not alone. That we are not the only ones who have felt this way.

He says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are.”

Hebrews reminds us that as much as looking around this room and seeing all those hands up reminds us that we have all been there or are there that the very words that the psalmist cried and that might feel so at home on our lips were cried out by Jesus himself on the cross: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.

And really, his crying that on the cross and this room full of upraised hands are the same thing. Because as the Body of Christ we get to be his presence to each other and the world. So when Hebrews goes on to say: “let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” what it’s talking about is keeping doing what Job and the psalmist did, what we have just started to do here and that is be honest with each other. To share in each other’s troubles and together to lay them on this table and at the foot of the cross. And then when we do to receive from Christ, and often through each other, those wonderful, sustaining life-giving things – mercy and grace to help in time of need.

You remember a few weeks back, I brought out that big crossbeam, that pitibulum, and then I gave everyone little ones to write down some burden you were carrying and then everyone picked up someone else’s to carry around for the week? I don’t know what it was like for you, but that week was a holy experience for me. It was an experience of mercy and grace in a time of need. I carried around someone else’s struggle with addiction all week, and I don’t know who it was but I felt so connected to them by week’s end. And by the end of that week I hoped they knew they weren’t in it alone … and then I realized that someone had been carrying around my fear that I was going to somehow not be able to balance my life in this community and my life with my family, and I knew I wasn’t alone either … and I felt the presence of God. I felt mercy and grace to help in time of need.

And I realized then it’s not about solving the problems. It’s not about always knowing the exact right thing to say. It’s just about being Christ for each other as we face them together. It’s about answering the psalmist’s cry of “Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.” With “don’t worry, I’m right here.” It’s about being merciful to each other. And graceful to each other in this time of need.

Being merciful and graceful to each other in a time of need is also about recognizing that we’re in a stressful time right now … and we need to cut each other some slack. There’s lots going on not just in our lives but here in this community … lots of change. For some people it’s the new 9 o’clock liturgy. There’s people who like it and people who don’t like it. People who love the music. People who hate the music. That’s OK. When you have change that’s the way it’s going to be if its something we care about. But change can also spike our anxiety and we can get kind of cranky. I know, cranky in the church, it’s hard to believe! But I think we can do something different. I think we can use this as a chance to be merciful and gracious to one another. We can try to take a deep breath and dial down the anxiety and remember that we’re all just human beings trying to figure this out together and that everyone in this room is just trying to praise God and make it through the week the best we can.

Maybe if we’re tempted to concentrate on how something isn’t the way we’d like it or someone has done something we didn’t like, maybe when we’re tempted to snipe at each other like Job’s friends, we can realize those wonderful merciful words “Is everything OK?” and “How can I help” fill our cups with grace so much faster. We can, when we’re tempted to send an angry email or even think uncharitable thoughts stop and ask ourselves, what is this really about in me. Why am I so upset about this? And think about how we can bring that to Christ’s table … and ask for and receive mercy and grace to help in time of need.

One of the things I learned during my six weeks in Ghana was you have to be living day to day with the people in a new place for quite a while before you find out what’s really going on. Because it’s only when you’ve really been with people every day for awhile that they take off their Sunday best, and begin to start treating you like one of them. I think part of it is that it’s just too difficult to keep up the fa├žade after awhile. But when you cross that threshold it’s wonderful … because it gets real.

I’ve been here six months now. And I truly am joyful when I tell you that I think the honeymoon is over. Every week I’m less and less the new guy and more and more just Mike – for good or for bad. And really, that’s the way it needs to be. Not just between us, but among all of us. We need to be real – and merciful and graceful -- with ourselves and with one another … and the good news is we can. For even though trouble is all around, there are many to help – just look around you. We are the Body of Christ and individually members of it, and together there is no storm big or small we cannot love each other through is we commit before anything to do just that – be honest with one another and love one another. To together approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.


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