The wounds are still very raw around campus. Yesterday morning, twelve people were laid off because, like so many other institutions, this seminary has lost income from endowments because of the market downturn. The wounds are still raw today. I was here from 7:45am till 9pm yesterday, processing from morning till night. I went to bed last night with tears drying on my cheeks and spent the whole night, it seemed, dreaming about the people from this community, especially the faculty and staff. The wounds are still raw today as we arrive on campus and realize – yep, it really happened. Life is still different today, just as it was changed for us yesterday.
Yesterday morning, I preached my Senior Sermon in Chapel. I was tasked with preaching right after people had been notified of being laid off. Words are powerful and I take the responsibility of handling my words in the pulpit very seriously. I feel that I am holding people’s hearts in my hands, and so yesterday, I felt so deeply burdened with this weight of responsibility, so overwhelmed to be the one preaching, so, so amazingly carried through by loving words of affirmation and help from others, and so upheld by the Holy Spirit.
Here is what I preached:
17 November 2009
Text: Psalm 13
LSPS/SSW Chapel Service, Christ Chapel, Austin, TX
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Let us pray. O LORD, we call to you; come to us quickly; and hear our voices when we cry out to you. (Ps 141:1, alt.) Amen.
For many of us gathered here today, the news of yesterday afternoon and this morning feels familiar. It seems that the economy continues to dwell in every news cycle – how the downturn is affecting cities, towns, and states, companies, banks, and charities. We have heard of cutbacks at other seminaries – and we in the LSPS and SSW community have already been touched by this very recently, very deeply, and very painfully.
And so now, the rug has been pulled out from underneath us once again – and once again, we face feelings of anger, fear, guilt, and overarching all those – we face feelings of deep sadness. Sadness at not being able to do more. Sadness at not being able to keep things as they are. Deep sadness.
It is appropriate, then, to have included in our worship this morning one of the psalms of lament, a psalm which recollects for us the anger and grief of some other person who lived long ago. This other person – the psalmist – writes as someone who is entrenched in forsakenness, confusion, and grief. The psalmist is hung up in his present time, not able to see past his current distress. In this state, his question is not, “Are you forgetting me, LORD?” Rather, the psalmist is convinced that God has forgotten him – convinced that God’s face is hidden from him. To the writer of this psalm, the present moment of anguish is so powerful – so overwhelming – that the loving God whom he knows – that loving God – is gone – hiding.
The psalmist asks God: How long will you forget me? How long will you hide your face? How long will I be perplexed and hurting? How long will this enemy of mine be triumphant? “How long, O LORD?” cries the psalmist, and we cry this, too.
In our own place of lament today, we are also asking our own questions of God –
“Why not me?”
The landscape is changing around us once again. That upon which we have rested securely is no longer secure – whether we have lost a job or lost a co-worker. Whether we will be saying good-bye to a trusted mentor or a loving friend. Whatever the case may be for each of us, the landscape today is very different than it was even yesterday.
We may whisper reassuring niceties to one another – “It will all work out somehow,” or “This too shall pass” – but the truth of this pain will cut through our shallow words. Even if the words are true – even if we believe things will work out and the bad moments will pass – for a time, we will dwell with questions and fear, and we will dwell with pain.
One of my favorite images in Scripture is the image of Job, sitting in the ashes, covered with sores, and for seven days and seven nights, his friends are sitting with him, not saying a word to him because they see how deeply he is suffering.
“How long, O LORD?” cries the psalmist, and we cry this, too. How long do we sit in these ashes in our perplexity and grief? The truth is – we may have to sit in the ashes together for a while, which can be hard in a seminary community. We are a community of helpers. We’re a community of people in the business of wanting to listen and hug and offer words of wisdom and comfort. But what do we do when the best help we can offer is simply to sit with someone in their pile of ashes – in their place of grief?
If that is all the help we can be, then, for a while, that is all.
Healing takes time. It takes time to move from lamenting, “How long, O LORD?”
to praying, “give light to my eyes”
to singing out, “I trust in your unfailing love…”
Like God’s people throughout the ages, our lives of faith are a constant motion between fear and trust, between sight and blindness.
Fear is real today. Anger is real today. Grief is real today. And yet fear and anger and grief do not negate our faith in God or take away God’s unfailing love. Instead, they make the unfailing love of God all the more precious to us because God reaches to us where we are. God reaches to us where we are in our feelings and somehow makes himself known to us. Even in our fear – even in our anger – even in our grief – God is here.
I’d like to close by sharing a paraphrase of Psalm 13 written by Stephen Mitchell. Upon the conclusion of these words, we will sit in silence for a time before singing our Hymn of the Day.
How long will this pain go on, Lord,
this grief I can hardly bear?
How long will anguish grip me
and agony wring my mind?
Light up my eyes with your presence
let me feel your love in my bones.
Keep me from losing myself
in ignorance and despair.
Teach me to be patient, Lord;
teach me to be endlessly patient.
Let me trust that your love enfolds me
when my heart feels desolate and dry.
I will sing to the Lord at all times,
even from the depths of pain.
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