Trinity Sunday – June 11, 2017
Psalm 13 and John 6:35-40
Juanita and Jaylene had been friends for years. Suddenly, Juanita felt that Jaylene was distancing herself from their relationship. Jaylene would reply to texts or return phone calls. When they were together, Jaylene didn’t respond to Juanita’s attempts to start a conversation. Juanita didn’t know what was wrong and Jaylene did not appear to want to talk about it. In desperation, Juanita had confronted Jaylene. Jaylene had simply turned her back on Juanita and walked away.
There are times in our walk of faith when God is silent. At these times it appears to us as if God has turned God’s back on us, or as the Psalmist writes, “turn God’s face from us.” We assume that we have offended God and that God is purposefully giving us the silent treatment. One possibility is for us to quietly wait upon the Lord, knowing that at the right time God will move and allow God’s presence to be made known in our lives.
Today, as you may notice, we are focussing on the Psalm reading instead of the reading from John’s gospel.
St. John of the Cross was a sixteenth century Carmelite monk. He wrote extensively on the walk of faith. One part of the walk of faith, of which St. John of the Cross wrote, he called, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” This was a time of deep spiritual pain, swirling doubts, a sense of God’s absence and overwhelming darkness. St. John of the Cross wrote from experience. Even a devoted follower of Jesus experienced such times. In fact, St John of the Cross understood such an experience to be a normal part of the life of Christians. Seen in this light, the mark of strong faith is not success, but steadfastness.
Like the dawn of a new day, we cannot hurry its approaching. We can only sit in the darkness and anticipate its arrival.
Laments are a certain type of complaint; one that is always expressed in the context of faith and trust in God. We believe we can be honest with God about the pain of life because we know God loves us. We know God welcomes hearing our struggles and cries and will reach to us in mercy.
I recall such a time during my early twenties. I had found no fulfilment in my job as an administrative clerk in a municipal office. The work week seemed just too long and I wished away every week, hoping that Friday afternoon would come around soon. It was a season in my life when nothing worked out the way I had expected it to. I had wasted my dad’s money at university, studying, or rather “socialling” my way through the preparation science year for agriculture. The university had turned me down after a second year of no success. I had no circle of support from the friends I had from high school. I was gaining weight like crazy and had taken up smoking years before. My life was one big drag. Looking back, I think there was a lot of lament within me, if I want to be emotionally honest about it. I was fortunate enough to break out of this cycle and within the municipality I got a transfer to the Parks and Recreation department and enrolled in something very similar to agriculture, only it was horticulture. I finally found that it was making sense. I excelled in my studies. The only downside was that I didn’t have a knack for being handy at it at all. It was only when I got the calling to go into ministry that, emotionally speaking, my life turned around. To serve our Lord Jesus became my whole life goal. At around twenty-four I found purpose and it truly felt like God led me out of that desert, away from that dark night of the soul. It was at that same time that I met my lovely wife-to-be. Of course, through the seasons of life there are exceptions, but never again did it feel as if my life was one continuous drudgery.
The poet of the psalm is in a lamentful frame of mind. Among us there may be different reactions to this Psalm.
On the one hand there are those who are experiencing great personal pain and will welcome a worship service and a message that honestly addresses it, a worship service that does not ignore it. There may certainly be those who come to worship eagerly seeking help and comfort. And then, on the other hand, others will resist the subject.
We might do well in discerning where we sit with this. Do we resist the subject of being emotionally honest with ourselves, or do we acknowledge this dark night of the soul?
Once the writer of Psalm 13 had dealt with these emotions of despair, there comes a turning point. We read it loud and clear in the fifth verse: “But I trusted in your steadfast love, my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”
I wonder whether there really is an antidote to lament. Being honest about our emotions might indeed be extremely helpful.
However, what I do see is that the psalmist turns around and rejoices and expresses it outright: I will sing to the Lord, because the Lord “has dealt bountifully with me.”
The writer of the psalm turns on their heels and is able to be grateful and to rejoice. We see the writer if this psalm celebrating.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “In order to achieve contentment, one should cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you and give thanks continuously.”
Lindsay Holmes has rewritten a prescription for 7 Habits of Grateful People, adapted on lessons from Dr. Robert Emmons.
- Keep a gratitude journal – writing down what you are thankful for can lead to a multitude of wellness benefits.
- Do not avoid the negative – thankful people do not shy away from the negative – recalling a hard time will assist to feel grateful for the current state and how to overcame difficult challenges.
- Spend time with loved one – we have not arrived where we are by ourselves. Be grateful to those you connect most closely with and express appreciation to them.
- Careful use of social media – we cannot avoid this but positive thoughts shared spread faster than negative thoughts, which can come back to harm us and disgrace us.
- How to value little things – thankful people make a habit to acknowledge and pay forward each bit of kindness they encounter.
- Volunteer – it is often said that those who volunteer receive more benefit or reward than those they serve or work with – this is gratitude paying forward.
- Get moving – gratitude get’s us going; physically, socially and mentally and breaks up the procrastination block.
Where does my strength come from? The Psalmist remembered to cling to God, and the Psalmist remembered to ask the Lord “How long?” Turning to the Lord in our direst situations seems to eventually lead us through those dark seasons in life.
This is where our Gospel reading from John 6 brings assurance when Jesus said to, among others, the crowd of five-thousand whom He had fed, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.” Emotional honesty towards God seems to pay off. We easily forget that. Let’s consider taking today’s reminder through the Psalm seriously.
Copyright 2017 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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