June 23, 2019

Life Songs:  God, Save Me!
Psalm 69:1-18
A sermon for Hawaii Kai UCC by Janice Ogoshi
June 23, 2019 (Pentecost +2) 

Have you been working on your playlist?  Last week we began this short series on Psalms, and I asked which songs would be on your playlist or soundtrack for your life.  Does your playlist for life include some blues?  

Life is not always happy-happy-joy-joy, so our playlists should reflect that.  Even if we don’t have songs that correspond to the times in our lives when we have suffered or been unhappy, we can be honest in acknowledging that sometimes we need to sing the blues.  In his categorization of psalms, Walter Brueggemann, calls the blues psalms of “disorientation.”  

Last week we read Psalm 113, a psalm of orientation, in which God is praised.  Life is good, and in God’s sovereignty and generosity, blessings abound.  But then disaster or illness happens, enemies attack us, or we suffer losses, and our lives are disoriented.  Life as we knew it has been unsettled.  It is no good to hide or ignore or explain away such experiences of disorientation.  These are real experiences that affect our lives and shape our faith.  In times of disorientation, we sing songs of lament. 

In Psalm 69, David sings the blues:

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.
My eyes fail, looking for my God.
Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore what I did not steal.
 

Life is dreadful and overwhelming, and it feels like he’s going to drown.  He can’t stand upright.  Many of us have experienced being knocked down by a wave and the beach and not being able to get up.  Life felt like that.  He was knocked down, unable to get up and the waters were rising or swirling around him.  No help in sight, no one hears his cries, and God seems to be absent.  And he has more enemies than he can count.  He is the victim of injustice.  He would be justified in crying out, “Woe is me!” 

His complaint continues.  He tries hard to do the right thing, but to no avail:

You, God, know my folly; my guilt is not hidden from you.

Lord, the Lord Almighty, may those who hope in you
    not be disgraced because of me; God of Israel,
    may those who seek you not be put to shame because of me.
For I endure scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face.
I am a foreigner to my own family,
    a stranger to my own mother’s children;
for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
10 When I weep and fast, I must endure scorn;
11 when I put on sackcloth, people make sport of me.
12 Those who sit at the gate mock me, and I am the song of the drunkards.
 

“Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I think I’ll eat some worms.…”  The psalmist feels utterly alone, misunderstood and unsupported by his family and community even as he tries to remain faithful to God.  He is mocked for practicing his faith. 

This lament tells us that it is okay to complain to God.  We may think that by covering up our struggles and challenges, we make God look good.  We may think that when we admit that our lives are not all blessing and joy, God’s image suffers and our witness will be less bright or convincing.  But the number of laments in the Psalms (someone counted 60 of the 150) suggests that honestly acknowledging our pain and suffering before God and our community is an act of faith.  God invites us to lament as a way of expressing our faith. 

Walter Brueggemann argues that singing and praying the psalms of lament “is an act of bold faith on the one hand, because it insists that the world must be experienced as it really is and not in some pretended way.  On the other hand, it is bold because it insists that all such experiences of disorder are a proper subject for discourse with God.  There is nothing out of bounds, nothing precluded or inappropriate.  Everything properly belongs in this conversation of the heart.  To withhold parts of life from that conversation is in fact to withhold part of life from the sovereignty of God.  Thus these psalms make the important connection:  everything must be brought to speech, and everything brought to speech must be addressed to God, who is the final reference for all of life.  (The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary, p. 52) 

Everything we experience in life can and should be brought to speech and addressed to God.  It is an act of faith to lament.  In other words, we can talk to God about anything.  God can handle our cries and complaints.  In fact, God welcomes our complaints.

Then there is a turn in the psalm.  In spite of all that is happening, the psalmist looks to the Lord and cries out to Yahweh for help:

13 But I pray to you, Lord, in the time of your favor;
in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation.
14 Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters.
15 Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up
    or the pit close its mouth over me.
 

This is faith:  to turn to God in times of trouble, to know that God can save us from our enemies, can save us from trouble, can redeem us, that God cares enough to intervene. 

16 Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me.
17 Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.
18 Come near and rescue me; deliver me because of my foes.
 

While I have not felt such despair or the attack of enemies like David, I have experienced times when life was overwhelming.  The needs of my family seemed endless, while I had to keep up with ministry at church, and on top of it all, physical pain that would not go away.  I remember asking God how much more I needed to endure.  I was well aware that my problems and challenges were not nearly as great as many others faced.  But it didn’t really help to know that my suffering was far less than others’.  My suffering was real to me. 

It felt good to know that the psalmist complained to God, because I then had permission to complain too.  And in complaining and crying out to God, by acknowledging that life was the pits, I felt I was being honest with God and myself.  And in that honest conversation with God, I knew God’s presence and eventually, God’s peace.  While God didn’t take away the pain or the weight of caregiving responsibility, I was somehow able to endure it all knowing that God was with me, knowing that God understood, knowing that in the end, all would be well. 

I think that assurance is what the psalmist is pointing toward when he cries out to God, “But I pray to you, LORD, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation” (v. 13).  There is a sense that in the midst of trials and challenges, there is hope for God’s salvation. 

It’s no wonder that when the gospel writers wrote about Jesus’ life, they quoted this psalm.  Jesus was familiar with grief and pain and the disdain of enemies.  The psalmist expressed well what Jesus endured.  In the gospel of John, several references are made to Psalm 69.  In John 2:17 when Jesus chased the money changes and the sellers of animals for sacrifices out of the temple courts, his disciples remembered words from Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house will consume me”.  When Jesus spoke of the hatred his followers would experience he referred to Psalm 69:4, “They hated me without cause” (John 15:25).  When Jesus was near death on the cross he said “I am thirsty” and was offered sour wine; John understood this as a fulfillment of Psalm 69:21, “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” (John 19:28).

(Source:  James Limburg, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2023) 

The gospel writer connected the lament with Jesus.  Even though Jesus didn’t necessarily pray this psalm, we see his suffering through the lens of the psalmist.  We see how Jesus could very well have cried out to the LORD to ask to be saved, yes even to complain.  Staying with Jesus, we see how his suffering led to death, then to resurrection.  And that resurrection gives us hope for our own salvation, redemption and the end to our suffering. 

Psalms of disorientation and lament help us to put into perspective the real challenges and suffering in our lives. We don’t gloss over or deny them, but they provide us the opportunity to acknowledge God’s presence and sovereignty in our lives.  They help us acknowledge God as God in the midst of our pain and encourage us to continue to place our hope and trust in God. 

Rolf Jacobson wrote that “The Psalter’s prayers for help give voice to the deepest expressions of human pain, crisis, and doubt. But they do so in a way that claims the promise of God's presence in the midst of our suffering and also the promise that the God-who-is-with-us will preserve us.”

(https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2505)  

Friends, sing the blues!  Air your laments to God.  And know that God hears and answers our cries.  Know that, through Jesus Christ, deliverance has come and is coming. Call on God to come near to rescue you.  It is an act of faith to acknowledge our disorientation.  It is an act of faith to cry out, “God, save me!”