Thursday, February 26, 2015

Songs of Lament (Feb 22, St. Al's@5)

Homily:  St. Al’s@5 Feb 22 2015.  Songs of Lament
Psalm 35

This evening we begin a new phase in our series on the psalms.  This evening, and for the rest of Lent, we will be looking at psalms of lament.  Wednesday this past week, Ash Wednesday was the beginning of the season of Lent, and Lent will continue until Easter.  It is a time to get ready for Easter; that is done through study, through prayer, through reflection and through self-examination.  For some that means certain practices, or sometimes giving up certain things. 

I like to look at Lent as a season of honesty, a time of the year when we focus on the truth about ourselves and the world around us, and the truth about God.  You may recall that Jesus, when he was on trial, said that “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world:  to testify to the truth.”  During Lent we take time to look at the truth about ourselves and our world, and the truth isn’t always pretty.

But we might not have realized that based on the psalms and songs that we’ve been singing since we started our series on the psalms in January.  So far we’ve been focusing on what Walter Brueggemann calls “songs of orientation”.  These are songs that focus on the goodness of the world that God created:  the order, the peace and the equilibrium that characterize our lives in God’s good world.  We sang about the beauty and majesty of creation.  We sang about God’s law and teaching, the Torah, which provides order in our lives and peace in our society.  We sang about God’s moral order, how we live in a world in which actions have consequences: the good are blessed and the evil are punished.  We sang about God’s wisdom which can be found in creation and in the ordinary stuff of our lives.  We sang about being still and knowing God.

Q.  When we sing these songs of praise in response to the goodness of God and of God’s creation (and in churches we sing this sort of song a lot), how do you feel?  What sort of emotions correspond to these songs?

Joy. Gratitude. Peace. Awe. Wonder.  Stability. Calm.

Ps 1:  Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked. . . . They are like trees planted by streams of water.

Ps 104:  O Lord how manifold are your works.  In wisdom you have made them all, the earth is full of your creatures.

Ps 37:  Take delight in the Lord and he shall give you your heart’s desire.

Q.  But today’s psalm is not like that.  Psalm 35 is a psalm of lament.  Have a look at psalm 35, maybe even speak it to yourself and tell me what emotions are being expressed.

(anger, vengeance, despair, pain, distress)

“fight those who fight me O Lord”
“my soul is full of despair”
“O Lord how long will you look on?  Rescue me from the roaring beasts”
“You saw it Lord; do not be silent”

Q.  What happened?  What is it that moves us from songs of orientation to songs of disorientation, songs of lament?  What is it that moves us from gratitude, wonder and praise to anger, despair and a desire for vengeance?

Life happens!  The world is not always well oriented and well ordered.  Terrible things can happen to us and to those we love.  There is injustice, evil and violence.  The good are not always rewarded, the evil often prosper.

 There is a movement that takes us from songs of orientation to songs of lament.  Something rocks our world, and takes us from a na├»ve understanding of the world around us to a more honest assessment.  At it’s most extreme, it is a movement from life to death. 

“For they have secretly spread a net for me without a cause; without a cause they have dug a pit to take me alive”

And we will all experience this at some point in our lives.  Some of us are there right now.

Q.  What happens when the church goes on singing songs of orientation, happy songs, in a world experienced as disoriented and messed up?

Perhaps singing happy songs can be an act of defiance, a statement that despite what you are seeing and experiencing, nevertheless God reigns.

But more often, it can be a denial or a deception, a cover-up.  According to Brueggemann, “a church that goes on singing “happy songs” in the face of raw reality is doing something very different from what the Bible does.”

Q:  When we use psalms of darkness, when we sing songs like psalm 35 that call for God to attack our enemies, that openly acknowledge our blood-thirsty anger, that chastise God for doing nothing in the face of our suffering, that accuse God of remaining silent, that call on God to wake up and act, is this an act of unfaith and failure, or is this an act of bold faith?

An act of bold faith!

Nothing is off-limits in our relationship with God.

What we are saying is raw and scandalous – but we still bring it to God.
And we bring it to God in the hope and confidence that God cares and that God will act.

And so what looks like it could be an act of unfaithfulness is actually an act of bold faith.  But even more, lament is a bold act that transforms our faith.  Remember how I said that Lent is a season of honesty, of learning the truth about ourselves and God.

Lament enables us to speak the truth about the darkness of our lives.  It pierces through our denial and our complacency.  But it also teaches us that darkness is not failure.  Our lives will pass through darkness.  But this is where we will meet God and it is in darkness and even death that God will give us new life.

And our faith in God is also transformed.  No longer do we imagine God as omnipotent and unchanging, watching from above.  Instead, we call on God to act, to change his mind, to end his waiting, to do something different in response to our pain.  The most important thing about God to us becomes our faith that God will be faithful to his promises, and that God is capable of entering into our darkness and saving us.  For faith becomes not so much the belief that God has created a good and well-ordered world, but rather that God will hear our cry, enter into our darkness and redeem us.  That it is in death that we receive new life.

New life has not yet happened for the author of psalm 35, but he is calling on God for redemption:  “say to my soul, I am your salvation.”  And when that happens, when he emerges from death to new life, then his song of lament will turn to a song of praise.

“Then I will be joyful in the LORD, I will glory in his victory.  My very bones will say, “Lord who is like you?  You deliver the poor from those who are too strong for them.”

So during this season of Lent, we will be singing songs of lament.  It is an act of courage, it is an act of honesty.  And as we sing, we may even enter into a new understanding, an understanding not just in our heads but in our very bones of who God is, who we are, and why it is that at the very core of our faith is the movement through death into new life.


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