God’s Away on Business (Sermon for July 14, 2019)

When I was in seminary, I spent a few months as a student chaplain at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in downtown Chicago. Along with the other student chaplains, I took classes at the hospital and covered on-calls. 

During the week, during the day, there were real professional chaplains at the hospital. People who knew what they were doing.

One night a week, there was only me.

Just before my very first night, a pregnant woman had come into labor and delivery. She had a stillbirth. And after she spent some time with a real professional chaplain, she left alone. Her child went to the morgue in the basement.

And when I checked in for my very first night, the real professional chaplain told me, “The dad is a laborer and couldn’t be here for the birth. He’ll come in tonight. When he gets here, labor and delivery will call you. And you’ll go and get him… and walk him to the morgue in the basement… and help him say goodbye.”

Now, at the time, most of Northwestern Memorial Hospital was in one big building. But labor and delivery was in the old women’s hospital across the street. And you got from the chaplain’s office to that building by taking a glass skybridge. And the route from the chaplain’s office to the skybridge to labor and delivery twisted and turned.

That night, after dark, I got the call. And I walked from the chaplain’s office through the twists and turns… and over the skybridge… in the dark. And, on my way, I prayed. You might know this prayer. It goes this this:

Oh God… … … oh God. Oh God. Oh God Oh God Oh God. Oooooh God.

And so on.

The truth is that in that moment, I did not know what was happening, I did not know what I was doing, I did not know how things were going to go, and I was pretty confident that it was all going to go wrong. And I wanted God to be there. And I wanted God to guide me. And I wanted God to make everything okay. And I didn’t know where God was.

And I am sure that how I felt paled in comparison to how that dad—who I walked to the morgue in the basement, who I stood with as he said goodbye, who I spoke with in broken English and even more broken Spanish—felt. I was nervous and anxious. He was devastated.

Today is our third Sunday in our summer sermon series on prayer. A couple of weeks ago, we heard Hannah pray a prayer of thanksgiving. Last week, we heard Jonah pray a prayer of supplication.

This week, we get to hear this… song.

We’ve heard it with our own ears, O God. They told us what you did back in the day. How you drove out the nations and planted our ancestors. How you afflicted the people but set our ancestors free. How you gave victory to those who came before us.

But now… You have rejected and abased us. You have made us like sheep for slaughter. You have sold your people for a trifle. Other people use our name as an insult.

What did we do to deserve this? We haven’t forgotten you. We haven’t turned our back on you.

Rouse yourself! Wake up! Come and help us! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!

We’re hurting, O God. You’re hurting us, O God. Would you like to do anything about that?

It’s not the kind of song we’re used to singing. It’s not the kind of prayer we’re used to praying.

When I was in college, I was in the only Christian group on campus. Every Friday night, we got together for fellowship time. And fellowship time always started with, I don’t know, six hours of singing contemporary Christian music: words on a screen, music on a CD player, eyes closed, hands swaying in the air.

And the only song I remember from those days is Our God is an Awesome God. But every song was that song. Every song was about how awesome God is. Because getting your worship on is all about putting on a sweet and sincere voice and telling God how awesome he is.

And, sometimes, that’s enough. Have faith. God is good all the time. God has a plan. When God closes a door, she opens a window. Everything works together for the good of those who love the Lord. God’s eye is on the sparrow…

Sometimes, that’s enough. And I like those songs. Not so much Our God is an Awesome God. But Blessed Assurance and God’s Eye is on the Sparrow and I’ve Got Peace Like a River.

Sometimes, that’s enough, And I like those prayers. The Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want. God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Sometimes, that’s enough. And sometimes, it’s not.

Sometimes, we are sitting in the dust. Sometimes, we are laying in the ash heap. Sometimes, we are deep in the pit. Sometimes, we are walking through twists and turns, across a skybridge. Sometimes, we are walking to the morgue in the basement.

Sometimes, we are in the dark and out of our depth. Sometimes, we are devastated.

And someone a long time ago—someone who knew the darkness and the depths and the devastation—wrote this psalm, this song, this hymn.

We’re hurting, O God. You’re hurting us, O God. Would you like to do anything about that?

The person who wrote this psalm didn’t know what we know. They didn’t know that God loved the world this way. She looked at the world that she created and saw that it was broken. He put aside his glory and become one of us, a teacher and healer among a dispossessed people in a backwater province of a great empire.

They did not know that the machinery of that Empire would take God and hang him on a cross. They did not know that the Lord would cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” They may not have even known that that cry was part of something longer:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast.

For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.

He might as well have cried out, “I’m hurting, O God. You’re hurting me, O God. Would you like to do anything about that?”

God knows our pain. God has sat in the dust. God has lain in the ash heap. God has been deep in the pit. God has walked the twists and turns. God has walked the long hallway to the morgue in the basement. God has hung on the cross and been laid in the tomb.

God has been in the dark and out of their depth. God has been devastated.

God knows our pain. God can handle our pain.

Sometimes, it is enough to say, “God has a plan.”

Sometimes, it is enough to pray, “Everything works together for the good of those who love the Lord.”

Sometimes, it is enough to sing, “God’s eye is on the sparrow.”

And sometimes it isn’t.

And when it isn’t, we can pray. And we don’t have to tell God how awesome she is. And we don’t have to offer prayers of thanksgiving. We can pray from the darkness. We can pray from the devastation.

And that can be as simple as, “Oh God… … … oh God. Oh God. Oh God Oh God Oh God. Oooooh God.”

And that can be as desperate as, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And that can be as cross as, “We’re hurting, O God. You’re hurting us, O God. Would you like to do anything about that?”

And God will sit in the dust with us, and let us yell and scream and rage. Because God knows our pain and God can handle our pain.

Let us pray:

We have heard with our ears, O God, our ancestors have told us, what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old: you with your own hand drove out the nations, but them you planted; you afflicted the peoples, but them you set free; for you delighted in them.

Yet you have rejected us and abased us, and have not gone out with our armies. You made us turn back from the foe, and our enemies have gotten spoil. You have made us like sheep for slaughter, and have scattered us among the nations. You have sold your people for a trifle, demanding no high price for them.

You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples. All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face at the words of the taunters and revilers, at the sight of the enemy and the avenger.

All this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten you, or been false to your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way, yet you have broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness.

Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For we sink down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.

Amen.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Subscribe