Sermons

We Shall Not Be Moved: March 12, 2017

 

In August of 1982, just after he turned 21 years old, Todd Weems was murdered.  His mother, Ann Weems poured out her grief in the following years—giving voice to the bitter and difficult cauldron of emotions that filled her.

She wrote:

O God, find me!
I am lost
In the valley of grief,
and I cannot see my way out.

My friends leave baskets of balm
at my feet,
but I cannot bend to touch
the healing
to my heart.
They call me to leave
this valley,
but I cannot follow
the faint sound
of their voices.
They sing their songs
of love,
but the words fade
and vanish in the wind.
They knock,
but I cannot find the door.
They shout to me,
but I cannot find the voice
to answer.

O God, find me!
Come into this valley
and find me!
Bring me out of this land
of weeping.

O you to whom I belong,
find me!
I will wait here,
for you have never failed
to come to me.
I will wait here,
for you have always been faithful.
I will wait here,
for you are my God,
and you have promised
that you counted the hairs on my head[1]
Psalm 13 expresses similar frustration and sadness.  The psalmist has been shaken to the core; the individual questions: why in the world is God is taking so long to answer?

We may have asked this too.  Even if we haven’t lost a son tragically, like Ann, we often lose countless other things: our health or well-being, a relationship that was important to us, our own basic trust or our confidence in our ability to cope, our illusions of safety or peace, our ability to complete what we began, and perhaps our dreams.  At these times, we too cry out:

How long, dear God?  How long will you hide from me? How long will you hide from my family or from my loved one?  How long must I bear pain in my soul and sorrow in my heart?

How many of us have prayed some version of these words?  We cry out: How long will it be before I am healed?  How long do I have to bear with these circumstances? This hardship? This loss?  This unbearable and unscrutable silence from YOU?

Psalm 13 is a short song of lament— it is part of a body of psalms that give voice to human misery and give witness to the wide range of intense emotions that happen when a soul, any soul—including the faithful– is under siege by life circumstances.

And yet, many psalms, after airing deep grief and rage, will have a moment in which the psalmist makes a 180 turn back to God.  So, for instance, in Psalm 13, the “turn” occurs in the last verses, hinged on the word “but”:

The psalmist declares: “But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice…I will sing to the Lord.”

Did you catch that?

The psalmist declare he will sing—not sometime again—but NOW.  He will sing because he remembers that God has, in the past, been “bountiful” towards him—meaning that he remembers that God has not always been far off or seemingly absent.

There are some scholars who believe that seemingly abrupt “turn” to faith, abrupt change of tone from urgent petition to confident trust was actually a change of person; they believe that the lines “But I trusted in your steadfast love, God” are actually words of assurance spoken by a temple prophet in response to the psalmist.

We don’t know.  But what we do know is that there is a tenacity in the psalms and in scripture from which we can learn.

Tenacity is the ability to keep on, keepin’ on when it would be much, much easier to resign ourselves to despair, or to the present difficult time and circumstance, or to the raw deal that we believe we’ve been given.   Tenacity looks a lot like courage dressed down and scrubbing a stubborn pot that refuses to yield its grease.  Mary Ann Radmacher says, “Courage doesn’t always roar.  Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, “I’ll try again tomorrow.”

Tenacity is the ability to take the next step when our legs are cramped, one shoe has gone missing, the path is rocky, and we aren’t sure of the way.  Tenacity whispers words of encouragement when the world shouts defeat.  We may not believe that we share such tenacity or that it is not part of our DNA but tenacity is a spiritual muscle that we can all exercise.  It’s the voice of God that says, “I’ve got this and I’ve got you; now don’t give up.”

From where can we harness such tenacity?  Well, we can look at the scriptures as a start.

In the gospels, tenacity meant new parents fleeing for safety and crossing foreign borders to another country despite executive orders from a mad king (Herod), his henchmen, and his murderous regime.

Tenacity meant a young woman holding her head high and believing that her babe was holy and held despite a community that would have written off this teenage mother and her offspring.

Tenacity stretched a Canaanite woman who, despite her foreign-ness, dialect, inadequate healthcare, and desperate circumstance, somehow boldly debated her low status to the visiting Jesus in order to save her daughter, even while being likened to a dog by the famous Rabbi.

Satan is sometimes called The Adversary.  The Adversary is counting on our quitting the fight, counting our wounds, and going home.  Remember that line in in Luke, just after Jesus has faced three powerful temptations, when scripture says, “After the devil had finished tempting Yeshua in every possible way, the devil left him until another opportune time”? The Adversary leaves Jesus temporarily because the Adversary could not prevail at that time.  Jesus was tenacious and his tenacity is proven through his resisting what the Devil deals him.

Yet, the Adversary is counting on our isolation becoming our defeat.

The Adversary banks on our desire to run from our fears or hide in our trials.

The Adversary won’t squelch your passion but wait for the next opportune moment when you will become so dispirited that you become passionless about your purpose or your life and save him the trouble.

The Adversary bets that we will hide from God in our trials while cursing God in our misery.

Remember Job?  The patience of Job is better called the tenacity of Job.

And Jesus?  Tenacity meant that Jesus continued to heal when the ones who believed they controlled such things said healing on the Sabbath was against the rules and tradition while the public coffers for healing the outcast and undone were inadequate to the task at hand.

In the gospels, tenacity meant that a man dead for 4 days and reeking of the grave stepped foot into new life despite the loud funeral wailing.

Tenacity meant that Jesus, dying on a cross, would and could consign his own spirit to God, a spirit that could not be diminished or overwhelmed by Roman oppressor,  mob, betrayer, or by any other Adversary.

Sisters and brothers, what does tenacity mean for you?  How might you stretch your tenacity to meet your circumstances this Lent?

The Scottish preacher, Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highness wrote:

“Tenacity is more than endurance, it is endurance combined with the absolute certainty that what we are looking for is going to transpire. Tenacity is more than hanging on, which may be but the weakness of being too afraid to fall off. Tenacity is the supreme effort of a person refusing to believe that his hero is going to be conquered. The greatest fear [one] has is not that [one] will be damned, but that Jesus Christ will be worsted, that the things He stood for – love and justice and forgiveness and kindness among [humankind] – will not win out in the end; the things Jesus stands for look like will-o’-the-wisps. Then comes the call to spiritual tenacity, not to hang on and do nothing, but to work deliberately on the certainty that God is not going to be worsted.

“If our hopes are being disappointed just now, it means that they are being purified. There is nothing noble the human mind has ever hoped for or dreamed of that will not be fulfilled. One of the greatest strains in life is the strain of waiting for God.

Remain spiritually tenacious.”

Remain spiritually tenacious, sisters and brothers.  And in your tenacity, you will find God’s strength and your own.

Amen.

 

[1] www.beliefnet.com/love-family/2000/05/a-modern-psalm-of-loss.aspx#6aRo0vxOheWPWu2u.99