All posts by The Episcopal Church of St. Matthew

Easter 6A: Love Your Neighbor: Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (The Rev. Dr. Eric Hinds)

Love Your Neighbor: Paul Among Jews and Gentiles
Sermon by The Rev. Dr. Eric Kimball Hinds

Almost 30 years ago, after I had made the decision to attend seminary, on a journey towards ordination to become an Episcopal priest, but before our young family of three had picked up and moved to The General Theological Seminary in Manhattan, a fellow parishioner presented me with the gift of a book—which was titled The Search for God at Harvard. The book had just been published and it was written by Ari Goldman whose name was well known to me—as he was a correspondent for The New York Times. At the time he wrote the weekly column on Religion. While working at The Times, Goldman managed to balance the demands of his Orthodox Jewish faith with the schedule and deadlines of a journalist—and incredibly was given a Sunday through Thursday workweek.

It was while he was the Religion Correspondent that Goldman hatched the idea of furthering his religion writing credentials by spending a year at the Harvard Divinity School—so that he could engage more deeply in the world of contemporary religions. One of the things that fascinated me about Goldman’s book was his description of how he was looking forward to directly encountering Christianity and gleaning insights of a faith so different from his own.

And so it surprised me when Goldman described that he felt kind of cheated—for most everywhere that he went he found that the Christians seemed to bend over backwards to apologize for the mention of Jesus. And I remember being so grateful for Ari Goldman’s observation for I eventually realized that he was describing the early stages of a process where many different religious traditions were just starting to think about, and feel their way through, finding ways to engage one another with the hope of building bridges of friendship across differences. And the immediate challenge that presents itself in such situations—is how do you on the one hand hold onto and value your own identity, while at the same time being welcoming and not feeling in competition with another?

Goldman attended Harvard Divinity School in the 1980’s—a time when many religious denominations were just beginning to venture beyond what I would describe as shells of isolation—a kind of religious protectionism that fears diluting or losing a perceived hold on truth more than exploring the benefits of getting to know your neighbor. The good news for us is that we benefit from decades of examples of communities reaching out beyond denominational identity to discover areas of shared interest while appreciating differences.

For some time now the lives of both Peninsula Temple Beth El and St. Matthew’s have intersected. We have worked together with Home & Hope, a local organization dedicated to

dealing with the issue of homelessness in our back yard. But it is really out of our joint participation in the Martin Luther King Day of Service—where among other things we discovered that our congregations have core groups of talented pancake flippers—that a set of relationships led to a set of mutual invitations to visit one another’s houses of worship.

On behalf of our entire congregation I just want to say how welcomed we felt last month when our unexpectantly large group accepted the invitation to attend your Shabbat Service and how thankful we are for your gracious and generous hospitality. We hope not only that we can reciprocate, but that our time together leads to an ongoing relationship marked by friendship and mutual affection.

Now at this point I will share that several of my parishioners—well actually quite a few—commented after attending the Shabbat service that they noticed that there was no sermon. (Now I want to be clear—it was not like a YES!! NO SERMON!!) It was more like an observation that was a kind of lament—for the observation I think betrayed a desire among our congregation to learn more about Judaism and to expand and deepen our knowledge of one another. Towards this end I would point out that in the past decades there has actually been a significant amount of attention given by biblical scholars to areas where our religious traditions intersect—a cooperative effort of scholarship that has done important work to remove old prejudices—and even in some cases lead to a deeper appreciation of our shared history.

In this morning’s first lesson we encountered a fairly famous passage where upon finding an altar dedicated To An Unknown God—the Apostle Paul takes the opportunity to preach to the Greeks in Athens about the God that he has come to know—Both through Judaism and his experience of the risen Christ. Nothing about this passage is simple—but I will point out that recent scholarship has highlighted that centuries of Christian interpretation have both forgotten and misunderstood important parts of Paul’s story and writings.

As a starting point most people do not know that Paul of the New Testament is one of only two Pharisees who have left behind any personal writings (Josephus is the other). On this basis alone says the Jewish biblical scholar Alan Segal—Paul is of interest for what his life can can tell us about first century Judaism. Digging deeper, one of the stereotypes of Paul, and the principle way that he has been understood through the centuries is as an apostate of Judaism—an individual whose conversion (temporary Emphasis) to Christianity can only be seen as affirming one tradition—and negating the other. And it is this trap—a false choice of extremes as applied to Paul—that has led to great misunderstandings.

Ari Goldman lamented that, by the time he got to Harvard, the groundbreaking Swedish New Testament scholar, Krister Stendahl, had left the faculty to serve as bishop of Stockholm. In his famous book, Paul among Jews and Gentiles, Stendahl persuasively argues that we should not properly speak of the conversion of Paul at all. Rather, Stendahl argues for adopting the language of prophetic call—a notion that comes to us from the Hebrew Scriptures. Stendahl at length details and articulates how Paul himself uses language that is very similar to the calls of the great prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah to describe his intense religious experience of the risen Jesus. Stendahl goes a step further, and his insight is worth our study, for he points out that Paul’s Call is to a specific vocation—where he comes to see himself as the Apostle to the Gentiles—an Apostle of the one God who is the creator of both Jews and Gentiles.

A careful reading of today’s first lesson from the Acts of the Apostles demonstrates Paul’s absolutely firm grounding in Judaism. I proclaim to you: The God who made the world and everything in it….The Lord of Heaven and earth…From one ancestor he made all nations…We ought not to think that the deity is like gold or silver or stone….Paul’s experience is grounded in the Hebrew scriptures. In his preaching to the Gentile Greeks, Paul clearly has a foot in two worlds and elsewhere in his own writings he attempts to reconcile the two major strands of his religious experience. While Paul struggled to understand it—in his writings he affirmed God’s mysterious plan for the coexistence between Judaism and Christianity, and he cautioned the early church against harboring feelings of superiority.

Stendahl’s brilliant insights into the first century perspective of Paul helps to illuminate some of the tragic misunderstandings that followed as later generations of Gentile Christians lost sight of the foundational way that Judaism had informed Paul’s relationship with and love for God. We Christians are just now beginning to rediscover the depth of all that Judaism contributed to the Apostle Paul’s knowledge and love of God.

In his year at Harvard Ari Goldman attended many interfaith events and he described how on many occasions he could hear the voice of his Orthodox Rabbi—Rabbi Siegal in the back of his head, complete with the image of his waving a finger, warning of the dangers of interfaith encounters. I have likewise heard members of several Christian denominations express concerns about contact and exposure to doctrines that deviate from their particular faith. From our collective experience—of reaching out to others—-We know differently. In attending the services of other faiths Goldman described his visits this way. He observed: In each case I leave as a Jew, rooted in my own faith—but nourished by the faith of others. That is do wonderfully stated.

As our visitors you have landed in the midst of our ongoing celebration of Easter. Part of the joy of our celebration on this day is knowing that we worship a God who is greater than our individual capacities of knowing and comprehension. We have come to know that we need one another, not only to strengthen the fabric of our larger community, but to learn from one another the many ways that God is at work in the world—in the midst of God’s many and varied people. We gather this day with great joy to affirm that we worship a God who is greater than our differences. A God who calls us to above all reach out and to get to know and love our neighbors.

Sermon preached by The Reverend Doctor Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California on 21 May 2017, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A on the occasion of a visit by members from the congregation of Peninsula Temple Beth El. Lessons: Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21.

Easter 5A: I will prepare a place. (The Rev. Lindsay Marie Hills)

Hospitals are often busy and noisy places…

all around people are moving, often quickly,

announcements can be heard overhead,

incessant beeping,

blaring alarms…

the hustle and bustle never seems to stop….

unless you find yourself into the NICU….or neonatal intensive care unit, like I did a year ago today….

At 3:30 am, after the babies have been fed and tended to,

they get tucked back into their little isolettes (incubators),

the lights are dimmed,

the nurses sit down and begin their charting….

the silence is pierced only

-by an occasional warning beep of an oxygen monitor

-the musical melody of a completed feed, by the feeding tube

-or the muffled whimper of a little one trying to get back to sleep

In this space….in this calmness…

While I sit in my rocker with a wrinkly, wriggly 8 week old laying square on my chest, hung-over on milk and tucked warmly under the hospital blankets that somehow exude the inescapable smell of maple syrup

….there is a peace which passes all understanding….

….a peace which took weeks for me to uncover in this place that so many parents worst nightmares come true.

….a place where what is often people’s happiest days of their life takes a bitter turn into a world of worry, uncertainty and heartbreak….

Surrounded by this overwhelming sense of peace…

I sat there and rocked in my chair…trying to take it all in.…..

then the pagers started going off….

and the nurses once at their computer terminals quickly jumped to their feet….

-they seemed to work almost in silence as they whizzed around the NICU….

– members of the advanced life saving team, begin to cover their navy scrubs with pull on protective gear, hair caps, and booties…

-the panda,also known as the emergency isolette, is being prepped for transport, checked and double checked, the nurse gives a thumbs up and is promptly pushed beyond the double doors by the nurses dressed  head to toe in light blue disposable gear making them appear like something from out of this world.

       -iv tubing is being cleaned and double checked

-Prescriptions are put on standby

-a surgical cart is being prepped

-ex ray machines are called in

-the heat in the incubator is turned up

-doctors start arriving

– with a sense of urgency but also an overwhelming sense of calm …everyone gets to work

I had seen this scene dozen’s of times since we first arrived weeks ago…
but this time…
this time… was different….

this time my mind wandered…..and all I could hear was this passage from John’s Gospel we heard today…. “do not let your hearts be troubled…….believe in God….believe also in me.”

It was the first-time God felt present in the midst of what had been weeks of pain, uncertainty, exhaustion and loneliness…and the message was one of pure comfort….

But it was something far greater than just regular comfort.

It was as if for the first time I had received clarity about the immeasurable and unfathomable love of God that John was trying so hard to articulate, in these final moments of Jesus’ life.

Because the passage we heard today is one of the options for funeral readings, it is one I am quite familiar with, have researched and have attempted to preach on dozens of times, and yet THIS was the first time I really — felt like I understood it

After the foot washing, after breaking bread with his disciples one last time, after the departure of Judas…. Jesus’s words attempt to provide comfort to the confused and lost disciples….for only he knows the entirety of what is to transpire  in the days and weeks to come.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

While Jesus attempts to assuage the disciples’ fears, Thomas and Philip continue to be troubled…their questions reveal an almost palpable sense of anxiety.

Anxiety about being left behind.

Anxiety about loosing their beloved friend once and for all.

And yet Jesus asks them to simply trust him, pointing out what he thinks is obvious, that he and the Father — God are one…..reminding them, as John’s Gospel often does, that from the very beginning….. God changed God’s relationship with humanity once and for all, by having made Jesus incarnate… “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”  Through this great incarnation….through his birth…life as we know it changed forever.

As preparations continued to take place all around me I realized that this is the Gospel message…in this preparation lies the hope of the resurrection…..that ultimately a place is being prepared for us, that Jesus will take us with him to that final resting place.

Before this moment I THOUGHT the hope lied in knowing Jesus was taking us with him…..but the real hope and beauty of the passage unraveled before my very eyes as all these nurses and doctors gingerly prepared the way to welcome this new fragile life into the NICU.

The promise IS eternal life….but the immense love that God shows to God’s people IS in the preparation….

I imagine that Jesus’ promise to go ahead of the disciples, to prepare a place for them…to prepare a place for us…. looks a lot like the calm yet calculated care that the NICU team takes to prepare a place for a new baby.

Sometimes they would get three or four  even five false alarms…. before it was actually time…. but they responded with the same love and care and painstaking preparation each and every time…. seemingly not out of obligation….but out a deep sense of vocation and pure privilege, because that’s what it takes to be responsible for ushering new life into the world in safety….and that is the ridiculously unfathomable love that Christ attempts to explain to his disciples, before his departure…..

There will be a place for you….I will prepare it….there is room for all.

As I continued to sit there, listening to his little labored breaths up and down, down and up, as he lay on my chest and seeing the doctors work on the little 910 gram girl next to us glowing bright red under the warmth of the heat lamp…..I was overwhelmed with a sense of awe and wonder knowing that when my own son was born…..

they must have taken just as good care of him….

that they had likely spent all day and several days eagerly anticipating his arrival, for long before he came screaming into the world there were several false alarms.

 

But knowing that they were prepared to receive him….

provided me with an overwhelming sense of comfort that I had not encountered in this sterile space.  Knowing that they must have cared for him the same way they cared for this little girl.

They knew he was coming here before I did.
They were ready when I was not.
They got to see his face and touch him before I could.

The little girl was quickly overcome by doctors, x-ray machines, respiratory therapists

each person carrying out their specific role

each person completing the tasks they are called to do, with very little need to communicate with one another….they cautiously and quickly go to work on the little girl

– her father looked on wide eyed in wonder and yet full of confusion at his perfect pint sized princess is poked and prodded.

And all I can think…is “do not let your hearts be troubled…believe in God”….

if only he knew how much preparation had gone in to making a place for her….

He would believe.

He would trust.

He would know that no matter what….everything will be ok….

His dashed hope would be restored.

In this place…in this moment –sterile space transformed to sacred space…and as I sat there in prayer…

I realized the perfection of God’s plan and faithful preparations….

Even though I struggle SO HARD with wanting things my way and on my terms.

On this Mother’s Day, like all Mother’s Days — many grieve for what has been or has not been, for mother’s lost and mother’s never known, for empty arms and arms too full, for mom’s that could keep it together and mom’s that fell and fall apart.  And yet others celebrate with joy and gratitude their children known and yet to be fully known…..

The tension of anxiety and hope of love and joy wrap this day up with a very, very tight bow, making it almost impossible to undo.  And yet the confluence of this fifth Sunday of Easter and Mother’s day and an assigned Gospel text fit for a funeral, that also can call to mind that new life, that life eternal, that shines as a bright light in the midst of darkness is both ironic and ultimately fitting.

For ultimately it is in God’s loving arms that we will all come to rest from our labors.

It is here where she has prepared a space for us….

it is here where she will nurture us….

It is here where we will be brought to new life.

 

 

 

Bidding is Open for the Heavenly Hoedown!

Greetings St. Matthew’s Parishioners,

The much anticipated Heavenly Hoedown fundraiser is upon us. At the event, in addition to mixing it up with friends, eating a gourmet meal from La Belle Gourmande, getting your picture taken in a cowboy costume and dancing a square dance, you will be able to shop and bid on items in an extensive silent auction and participate in our thrilling live auction.

bootshalologo-right-faceWant to plan ahead what you’ll bid on? Click on the link in this email to preview our auction catalog and get ready to raise your paddles. View the Auction Catalog here!

What? You won’t be able to attend? No problem. We are taking early bidding on live and silent auction items. All you need to do is text or call in your bid to Anne Hinds at 650.888.0805. Please include the exact package or item number from the catalog, your name and phone number. We will take early bids up until Saturday morning, 10/8/16, at 9:00am.

After that, you have to come to the Hoedown! Space is running out! So be sure to buy your ticket today!

Here is the link to rsvp:  Heavenly Hoedown

Drop your ticket payment in the church office as soon as you can, either credit card or check made out to The Episcopal Church of St. Matthew. And while you’re at it, buy some raffle tickets, (1 for $10 or 5 for $40), to win a Premium Parking Place every Sunday for a Year! No need to be present at the drawing to win, but be sure to include your name (legible) and phone number so we can get in touch with you.

Y’all take care now,

Bill James, Sr. Warden
Martha Phillips, Jr. Warden
Vestry of the Episcopal Church of St. Matthew

Tolkien, Matthew & Baptism

Most people become claustrophobic just at the thought of entering a long, narrow, dark tunnel—so imagine being stranded within a section of a tunnel deep within a mountain. Dampness hanging about you. And as you venture to move forward in the pitch dark, instead of finding solid ground, your foot steps into a pool of icy cold water. That little splash in fact marks the edge of a great underground lake. It is here, deep under the earth on the edge of a deadly cold body of water, that the reader eventually encounters the grotesque slimy creature named Gollum.

As J.R.R. Tolkien narrates the story it is the not-so-willing adventurer Bilbo Baggins, who finds himself alone in a tunnel, separated from his Companions. And it is Bilbo’s foot that discovered the lake edge. And as in any good Adventure story, after escaping from the clutches of horrible goblins, Bilbo, now alone in the tunnel, at the edge of an underground lake, is about to face a new challenge.

From an outpost upon a slimy island of rock, out in the middle of that same cold dark lake, Gollum heard the splash of water. With his two big round pale eyes in his thin face Gollum could see Bilbo across the lake. Described as “dark as the darkness itself” without making a sound Gollum gets into his little boat and silently paddles towards Bilbo, his large feet dangling over the side, heading toward the unsuspecting Bilbo. Gollum got his name from the horrible gurgling noise made in his throat when he spoke, and Gollum would normally think nothing of sneaking up behind a stray goblin, or in this case a hobbit, and strangling them in cold blood to provide a tasty meal.

For those of you who have read the book The Hobbit which is a prelude of sorts to the Lord of the Rings, trilogy, this encounter between Bilbo and Gollum sets the stage for the great drama that takes the rest of the trilogy to unfold. For in this meeting, one learns that Gollum has been the finder and custodian of a ring so powerful—that it corrupts anyone who wears it.

In Gollum, Bilbo encounters a creature that was once a hobbit like himself; Yet, as a result of being subjected to centuries of the corroding influence of the ring, Gollum is almost unrecognizable—the ring has twisted both his Hobbit body and mind in grotesque ways. The only thing that saves Bilbo in this unexpected meeting, is that Gollum has lost the ring, and he wonders if Bilbo might have found it.

In literature, a good villain or foe is not easy to conceive and execute—and one of the examples of why The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are able to transcend the label of mere “escapist fantasy” can be found by examining the complexity of the character of Gollum. In Gollum readers encounter a repulsive creature capable of horrible deeds and yet that reality is tempered by Tolkien who eventually provides the knowledge that Gollum was once a ordinary hobbit. That there was, and perhaps still is, a goodness deep within Gollum that has been buried.

Without specifically talking about Theology, Tolkien effectively supplies the reader with the notion that Gollum might indeed have been created with an inherent goodness. A Christian might put it as—created in God’s image—with the observation that aspects of life can combine and converge in such a way that the original goodness is all but covered up.

Much further into the saga of The Lord of the Rings, when a Bilbo’s son Frodo suggests that perhaps they all would be better off if Bilbo had just done away with Gollum when he had the chance back in that very first encounter—it is Gandalf, the wise wizard, who Observes that: perhaps for Gollum—all is not lost—that there yet may be a role for him to play in their mission against the powers of darkness.

In the first century, in the region of Galilee, at the tax-booth near the sea—it would have been difficult to find a more despised and hated man than Matthew, the tax collector. Tax collectors were sell-outs. Roman sympathizers. Betrayers of the Hebrew people, they were willing to sell friends, family and neighbors, down the river—causing real pain and financial hardship. As a religious Jew, suffering under Roman occupation, to befriend Matthew would be akin to saying you were disowning your family and casting your lot with the worst of the wretched. And yet, in this morning’s Gospel we are given a scene where Jesus, while walking along, sees Matthew at his tax booth—and it seems almost casually that he offers an invitation: Follow Me.

Follow Me!? If there were any crowds around, that simple invitation would be like tossing a live grenade into the center the gathering. The text tell us that the Pharisees were appalled—but this action by Jesus would certainly also have stunned Andrew, Peter, James and John—the hardworking fisherman who were the first to respond to the invitation of Jesus when he said Follow Me. That Jesus was willing to invite: a known sell-out, a professional sinner, Our Patron Saint!, must have seemed unfathomable to his followers. And yet the fact that, upon seeing Matthew, knowing all about his livelihood, the horrible opinions that others held against him—knowing all this—and that Jesus still reached out and invited Matthew—-WELL, IT MUST TELL US, It Must Point us Towards—something profound about the way that followers of Jesus are invited to look at the world—The way that we are invited to look at and behold one another.

Where others looked and saw only a despised tax-collector—somehow Jesus was able to see beyond all the things wrong with Matthew—and grasp the beauty and goodness of his inner being. If Matthew were a portrait of a fractured and broken individual—then Jesus managed to see the light shining through the cracks, and Jesus was willing to include Matthew knowing that fellowship with followers passionate for love and fellowship with God and one another had the power to transform Matthew’s life.

This morning we have a Baptism, and it seems to me one of the significant aspects of having a Baptism on this day, The Feast of St. Matthew, is that we make explicit what Jesus implied in his call of Matthew so long ago—that each of us Come into the world created in the Image of God bearing the indelible mark of our creator’s goodness—and that Nothing can ever change that basic fact. Sure it is true that in the course of life we may make mistakes, and that things happen to us that can partially cover-up or obscure that image of goodness, but baptism reminds that that we are ever God’s own—called to a lifelong relationship with God.

Today, our ancient ritual of baptism with water and our invocation of the Holy Spirit, will initiate Sidney into a formal relationship with God and with this congregation, the gathered people of God. And together we will affirm that nothing will ever be able to break the bond of being a valued child of God with unique gifts to share with the world.

As each of us grow, we inevitably make mistakes, missteps in the wrong direction. Perhaps even there has been a time in your life that has resembled flowing a path into a darkening tunnel. A time of uncertainty and doubt. Some have experienced times where reality itself seems twisted around, with the goodness of life distorted and barely recognizable. The exciting part of this Day, a Day with a Baptism on the Feast of St. Matthew is that it reminds us that no matter how difficult or tough is our journey—we can never reach a place beyond the reach of the loving embrace of God. That our lives are never severed from the possibility of transformation and new growth. By extension, this is the good news of the Gospel that we can share with family, friends and our larger community

In the our life journey, we are unlikely to meet characters as lost or as desperate as Gollum, or shunned to the extent of Matthew the tax collector, but we will undoubtedly encounter individuals who have to some lesser extent lost their way. Sometimes it may even be ourselves who have gone off course. And In each case, this day reminds us that Jesus ever extends an invitation—that a new future is always possible, and will open up for us when we respond to the simple invitation to follow me.

Sermon preached by The Reverend Doctor Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California on 18 September 2016, The Feast of Saint Matthew and the occasion of the baptism of Sidney Thomas Hills. Lessons: Proverbs 3:1-6; Psalm 119:33-40; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Matthew 9:9-13.

Proper 15C: Relationship Trouble (Rev. Lindsay Hills)

When I was in junior high, the bishop came to our school. It was an important day for us…..and in my small world, he might as well have been the Pope. We had formal dress uniform that day, and were reminded to be on our best behavior. We were assured it would be mutually beneficial for us if we behaved, because ONLY the Bishop was allowed to issue days off from school. It had been rumored that if we behaved we would get Friday off!

We gathered for Eucharist, and when he preached my attention piqued when he told us he was going to teach us how to pray.

Eager to learn the secret of how to communicate to God, I hung on his every word

For better or worse some 25 years later its one of the few sermons that remains etched in my brain.

The sternness and confidence with which he delivered his directive sermon became my instruction manual for prayer… terrified that God wouldn’t hear me if I “did it wrong” I became obsessed with following the directions he outlined for us to the T….

His guidance was helpful, in that it helped me to think more critically about prayer and how I did it. But largely his words became a kin to a shackle tethering me down and not allowing me to explore the breath of prayer, the types of prayer, or develop my own way of talking to and with God…

Every time I encounter the psalms….I think NOW these people know how to pray or talk to God.

They aren’t afraid to tell God how they feel…aren’t afraid to get angry, to be vulnerable, to admit their own mistakes, to ask for forgiveness, or to offer thanksgiving. The psalms cover the breadth of human yearning, prayers for all times and all occasions, reflecting the true diversity of our hearts.

This Sunday, we recited portions of Psalm 80.

A psalm of lament, “a passionate expression of grief and sorrow”[1]….the heart of the psalmist is poured out in prose….beginning with a plea to God, almost in desperation…

“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,” listen to us God, please listen to us….

This is followed by a portion of the psalm we did not hear this morning, a portion where we hear of a people desperate to be restored, longing to be saved….

For it continues:

3  

Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

 
4 O LORD God of hosts, *
how long will you be angered
despite the prayers of your people?
 
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; *
you have given them bowls of tears to drink.
 
6 You have made us the derision of our neighbors, *
and our enemies laugh us to scorn.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

(psalm 80:3-7, Book of Common Prayer — Psalter)

We hear first hand a people that feel betrayed, forgotten, dismissed by their God…

a people trying to understand why God has left them….despite their prayers.

a people who have become the laughing stock of their neighbors and enemies…

a people who at times we can relate to, probably all to well….

The psalmist continues, by outlining all the amazing things God has done for them, with thanksgiving…..they continue to pray….

Thankful that God has taken them out of Egypt, as a tender vine, in need of replanting….and God’s amazing self …

replants them,

cares for them,

protects them….

taking the time to build them up and allowing them to flourish.

For it is only through the nurturing power of God that a once small vine can stretch its tendrils out to the Sea and its branches t the River.

This is the God of blessing,
the God of abundance,
the God of Love….

Their prayer of lament continues, as they wrestle with how this God they know and love could turn their back on them. how a God that once loved them and cared for them so deeply, could then make them vulnerable to attack and allow them to be devoured.

In an interesting turn of events near the end of the psalm, the people boldly demand that God REPENT….for what God has done to them…. ”Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven; behold and tend this vine…..preserve what your right hand has planted.”

A final plea for God to change God’s ways and remain in relationship with them

Its almost as if they had prayed……

O God, you are amazing, listen to all the amazing things you have done.

We said we are sorry, please be in relationship with us again. We miss you.

Why did you let all these bad things happen to us.

You should say your sorry for the bad things you did.

Please make it right. We are waiting.

How refreshing.

 

-How often have you yearned to say those things to God, but perhaps felt unable to,

-or wanted to be angry at God for abandoning you in a moment of great need, but felt like to be angry at God was bad or sinful….

-or in the face of daily tragedy around the world, gotten wrapped up in the everyday lament of why God allows bad things to happen to good people….

 

In so many ways the psalmist offers language that many of our hearts have struggled to express….

And yet, while it is indeed a psalm of lament it is simultaneously a psalm of hope.

The people ask how long, how long will God turn away from them….knowing that even though they may feel estranged, God nevertheless continues to listen to God’s people, or else there would be no need to offer a public lament in the first place, no need to ask God to turn back, if they really felt that God had truly left them.

It has never crossed my mind to demand an apology from God, and yet the brazen psalmist does. Through the psalmists’ plea for God to “turn again,” or repent, and look with favor on the people once more, we see a God whose fundamental being is intimately tied to relationship. And to be in relationship calls for continual adjustment, recalibration, and evaluation…. [2] Relationships come with joy and sadness. They demand give and take, and reciprocity. A reciprocity that requires a commitment to continued conversation even when we feel betrayed or abandoned, angry or mad….a conversation that we are reminded today is rooted in prayer….

After struggling with prayer for sometime, my spiritual director reminded me that prayer….is something we practice….like anything else in our lives its not something that we do flawlessly, or comes without its challenges, or that we are even naturally good at…its something that requires our attention and faithfulness, and like all things we practice— we only get better over time….

It doesn’t have to be the right prayer…or the perfect prayer…just faithful prayer.

Prayer is not how often we sit down with our hands crossed and eyes closed —-but more about intentionally engaging with our God.

It’s not about the words we say aloud ——but how they dance in our hearts…

Its about entering into the relationship with the holy on a regular basis…so that when times get tough we can echo the lament of the psalmist….and say to God….”what?” “why?” but more importantly — “How long?”

As Christians we know relationship….

relationship is made known to us through the incarnation, through the mystery of the holy trinity, and through the communion of saints.

And like all relationships we know first hand that they have their challenges….

The psalmist offers us more then desperation and lament….

the psalmist reminds us of the hope…a hope that only comes with being in relationship with one another and with God.

And it is that hope that reverberates through the end of the psalm, that even though times are tough, even though they may be angry and sad, they choose to stay in relationship …promising to never turn away from God, vowing to continue to “call on God’s name.” And as they let out their final request, their final prayer they do just that, “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts,” show the light of your countenance and we shall be saved.”

The is the challenge offered to us this morning….that regardless of our struggles or disillusionment with God….that we too might remain in relationship with the holy….because God wants nothing more than to be in relationship with each and every one of us.

 

 


[1] Google search “Lament” Available at: https://www.google.com/search?q=lament&oq=lament&aqs=chrome.0.69i59j0l5.751j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[2] Nancy Koester, Working Preacher, Commentary on Psalm 80:70-15. Available online at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2174