Texts: Psalm 30, Acts 9:1-6
“It’s been a week.”
I’ve been hearing that expression quite a bit these last few days – sometimes with a choice adjective or two added. I’ve added a few myself when talking with friends and family.
Even more than the usual, I had thought this week was going to be a full one – but not the way it has turned out. I don’t know what your plans included but mine had me driving the 1000 plus miles to Atlanta and back, while there doing research and meeting with professors, spending time with old friends, eating out at as many warmly remembered places as possible. A full week indeed. Most of our weeks generally are – full. When you ask people Sunday to Sunday what they’ve done that week, very rarely do you ever hear “nothing, absolutely nothing.” We pack our weeks in with work, school, soccer, ballet, meetings, movies, church, chores… Sometimes there’s a birthday or a big test, a promotion or party, something to make the week more memorable. If you’re lucky, maybe some of those weeks are vacation.
Weeks of work, weeks of school, weeks of vacation… This is the normal – full—pattern of our lives. And then there are weeks like this one. A week that completely disrupts our pattern, disorients us. A week that both speeds by and drags out, a week where you find yourself at a loss for words, where the question “how’s it going” or “how are you doing” cannot be answered with the customary and oft expected “fine.”
How do you begin to explain a week like this? How do you even begin to process someone falling ill at the end of the week and dying on Sunday? Someone so young, someone so full of life? As this community joined the LeBontes in grieving the loss of Vicki, daughter, friend, colleague, teacher, we have been forced to face these challenging questions.
And that was just the beginning of the week.
I still can’t wrap my mind around how and why someone could be so lost, so aching inside, so absorbed by darkness that mass murder would be… an option? Is that even a way to describe what was going on in that young man’s mind? How do you describe the thoughts that led to such action – led to one child of God, one human being made in God’s image, to distort that image so senselessly, to darken any light inside and “randomly” harm other children of God? Questions like these, questions we will probably never be able to answer, these are all we’re left with..
Even when you know it’s coming, have a general timetable when it will happen, death always catches you by surprise. Many of us said goodbye to a dear friend this Wednesday; ached with and for Mary Beth’s family, wondered why her, wondered why now.
It’s weeks like these that make you wonder, make you rail, make you thankful for the small blessings, the moments of miracles… make you angry, make you ache. That make you think about your loss, about the pain and suffering close to you, and then, perhaps, think about all those suffering throughout this world – this week alone we mourn the 183 souls lost to 4 bombs in Iraq on Wednesday, the 50 lost to election-related violence in Nigeria, the at least 190 killed in Somalia, the nameless who passed each day this week without anyone to tell their story… So much pain, so much suffering, such a week.
It’s weeks like these that psalmist could have easily been writing about.
Our psalmist tells of when he was as those who had gone down to the Pit – was in, well, hell. Life had been good, there had been prosperity, there had been favor. The psalmist had looked out from his mountain, from his penthouse apartment, and said “my life is good. And it’s just going to keep on being good! Ain’t nothing going to change my world.”
And then, the psalmist had a week of his own. What exactly happened, we don’t know. What we do know is that this once happy, confident, too confident perhaps, person is no longer up on some mountaintop of prosperity and fortune – he is in the Pit. He is in Sheol—the place of the dead. This person once full of life had a time of his own that has brought him down to death.
Though once his world had been filled with light, though he had never doubted his security, joy has turned to sorrow. Not only that, but he has felt as though God had hid God’s face from him – that God isn’t just hard to reach but has gone in hiding. How many of us have been there? Have wondered where our help and hope could be? Life in Christ is not a promise for unending joy, not a promise for uninterrupted bliss and good fortune. It’s not unwavering faith and unbending confidence in God’s presence and providence. No, anyone who tells you that is selling something – and it’s not the gospel.
Those who have experienced the pain of loss who have known agony, suffering, those who have found themselves wondering where is God from time to time, maybe more times than not, can understand what the psalmist means when he says God’s face is hidden from him. Understand what it feels like when you long for God yet cannot find or feel the divine presence. Understand what it feels like to be brought down so low, feel so lost, so alone, that you just can’t take it anymore.
In this extreme agony, frustration, even anger, the psalmist doesn’t throw his hands up and reject God, doesn’t turn away from struggle that is life, doesn’t take his pain out on those around him – he cries out to God for help.
His cry isn’t a soft plea, a quiet prayer – it’s a scream, a roar, a rage! “Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!”
This is the plea of a desperate man, a despairing man. It is also the plea of a man who knows the truth, who knows what it is God can do – will do. He cries out to God for help because he knows, even when he wonders where God is, that though times of weeping have come, do come, will come, it will pass. God’s favor is what lasts forever. Yes, there is weeping, but God turns weeping to joy. Yes, there is mourning, but God will set our feet to dancing. Yes there is death, but even in Sheol – the place of the dead – God is there, lifting up.
When we fall to the Pit, when our nights our filled with weeping, God does not let us stay there. God lifts us up. God transforms what was terrible something we may call good. Our story from Acts is just one reminder of what God does in our life, in our world. Saul, Saul was not a good man. He persecuted, zealously, even to the point of murder, something which this week seems terribly, terribly awful. He was doing what he thought he had to do. And as he was on his way to commit more horrendous acts – a bright light stopped him, blinded him, changed him. A light he knew as the Lord, even before he knew to call the Lord Jesus Christ. And from that moment, that moment of light, a new life dawned, a new Saul was born. What once was a persecutor became the persecuted; what once was death-bringing promoted new life; what once was Saul became Paul.
God has a way of it… Has a way of transforming what was terrible to something new, different, and yes, even good. Of bringing hope where there was once none. Of helping us move from weeping to joy. Saul knows it. The psalmist knows it. Even in – no especially in – times such as this past week, we should know it.
If there is anything we followers of Christ, whose Resurrection we celebrate each and every Sunday, should know – know even if we don’t understand it – is the power of God, the promise of God. We don’t have to understand how or even when, but we may know, believe, that even in the midst of all this agony, God is at work. God is weeping, God is consoling, God is raging against the senseless loss of life. God is in the bright blue sky that makes you catch your breath in wonder. God is in the memory of a lost loved one that bubbles up, causing you to laugh and cry at the same time. God is in the arms of those who surround you, in your arms that surround the ones you love. God is.
The psalmist called out to the Lord and as the morning came—perhaps hours later, perhaps days, perhaps months, perhaps more—as the morning came, the Lord drew him up, healed him, restored him to life. No matter what changes he faced—loss of loved ones, loss of health, loss of prosperity, even loss of life—nothing changed the truth that God is there, with him, with us. Nothing can change that. Nothing.
Though there are shadows that haunt our earthly days, the Lord is shining, bringing us the light of life. God is, not even death on a cross could change that. This is our truth. This is what we know. That even in death there is life. This is the Resurrection. This is our Easter Reality. That even when the mark of death mars the face of our days, we may find healing and wholeness, we may find Life in our Lord. Life that in Christ is life eternal. God is, therefore we are. The darkness and death we know here is not the end, is not the ultimate. God is greater than any darkness, any death. Weeping may linger in the night, but in God, joy comes with the morning. In God, life is the ultimate. In God, there is no end. May our souls praise the Lord and not be silent. For the power and promise of life, may we give thanks to the Lord, forever. Amen.