Transformation. Psalms 86:11-17
A man was lying on the couch of his psychiatrist.
When the psychiatrist asked the man what his problem was, the man told him he had all kinds of fears about the future. The man took a deep breath and looked up to the ceiling.... "Doctor," he said, "I'm worried about the Covid-19 Pandemic, the economy, political and social upheaval, climate change, our diplomatic relations with China..." and he went on and on. Until he was interrupted by the psychiatrist with "Shut up and move over," as he proceeded to climb on the couch next to him.
I've missed you guys, here in the new world.
How are you all doing? Or maybe I could ask: "How is it with
Are you struggling?
Are you sad, depressed, anxious?
Do you miss rock and roll, and jamming, and your band-matesand your gigs? Oh wait, that's probably more me....
It's the peak of summer.
Temperatures have been in the mid-nineties, and COVID-19 infections are spiking.
We have to wear masks, and wait in line, and wash our hands.And we have to bathe. And we have to brush our teeth. And eat our vegetables. Yuck.
A lot of folks feel uncomfortable going to the neighborhood pools or the beach. Many don't want to go to a restaurant, and you can't go to a movie theater, so those normal places of escape from the sun and stress of summer are shuttered.
We are also witness to a heated political season south of the border. People (people like me...) are taking sides and arguing.
It's also a time of racial unrest. With marches, protests and violence rocking countries across the world and close to home. It's kind of like the world has hit a boiling point, hasn't it?
And so, we have the makings for frustration, stress, anxiety and, perhaps, depression.
Is anyone getting a bit stir crazy?
I know I am.
Out at Dundee, we generally have an outdoor service at my family's place at the lake in July or August. One of my favorite services of the year. We were excited about it, and disappointed when we figured it would be too complicated and risky to undertake. Probably the right decision, but we were disappointed all the same.
And the virus rages on.
And tempers and temperatures are rising. A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine called and told me his wife wanted a divorce.
This, for him, came right out of the blue. We talked on the phone a lot during that time. He admitted that he has been under a lot of stress, and has been allowing that stress to get in the way of his marriage. How could it not? These are incredibly stressful times.
I have a friend who's a single mother to two children; absolute darlings in normal times. Do you know what happens to darling tween-aged boys when they're cooped up inside for months? Friends, it's not pretty.
I have another friend who, like so very many, is obsessed with Social Media. He finds it impossible to not reply to political things people post that he strongly disagrees with. This inevitably ends up in angry words with a "friend" over the internet. Each time he does this, it ruins his entire day. He also reads every single comment and remarks that people following up to his post.. None of this does anything except him angry,
frustrated and depressed.. We say things on the internet that we would probably never say to someone's face.
It's kind of like road-rage. When we sit down in front of a computer and get onto Facebook or Insta-tweet or somesuch, it's like we become a completely different animal. We read these very public arguments and we think: How do people get caught up in this mess?
But we all do get mixed up in the "mess" to some extent, don't we? And getting mixed up in the mess, the controversy, the anger, the hate-filled words only leaves us frustrated, angry and depressed.
After-all, we are Christians. And Christians aren't supposed to get caught up in the hatred and anger of the world. We are called to be different.
We are called to love.
We are called to resist evil and love our enemies and turn the other cheek.
We are called to be humble, and we are called to serve others.
We are to be the light of the world; the salt of the earth.
We are to be Christ to our community, to our neighbors.
We are to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation
of the world.
So, when we get involved in fighting about worldly things, trying to hurt others... Well, how couldn't we feel displaced and unhappy? It's like having what the psalmist calls "a divided heart," is it not?
It's a little like saying:
"I'm going to give my life to following you Lord, but not going
all the way."
"I plan to become distracted and encumbered by worldly
"I am going to continue my angry streak."
"I am going to love God and some of my neighbors...not all of them, but only some—only the ones who think like me."
Our Psalm for this morning is a "Psalm of Lament." To lament is to express deep sorrow, grief or regret. And lament is a major theme in the Bible.
The Psalms of Lament are beautiful poems or hymns expressing human struggles.
The men and women of the Bible were as real as we are today.
They danced and sang, rejoiced and laughed, argued and confessed, lamented and mourned. They expressed emotions to God in prayer just as we do.
And so, when we encounter difficult struggles and need God's rescue, salvation, and help, the Psalms of Lament are a good place to turn.
In Psalm 86, David is dealing with a gang of people who are rising up against him; they seek his life. People that hate him and that hate God. And he is terrified. And I'd imagine he is tempted to hate these people back.
"0 God," David cries out, "the insolent rise up against me; a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they do not set you before them. But you, 0 Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness..."
"...give your strength to your servant..."
"Show me a sign of your favor so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame, because you, Lord, have helped and comforted me."
What is David praying for here? Is he praying for strength to destroy his foes? Is he asking God to strike down those who are after him? No.
He is praying to God for transformation. Whatever has caused these people to hate David, David is praying that God will so transform him—that they will see it and become transformed themselves. So much for revenge.
When Jesus later teaches us to love our enemies, perhaps this is what Jesus means.
"Teach me your way, 0 Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name."
In David's time of need, as he is being tormented by those who seek his life David turns to God. And when it really comes down to it, in times of trouble, God is the Only One we can turn to. There is no one else as committed to us and there is no one else Who has the power to rescue us.
When the Apostle Paul was struggling with sin, he cried out: "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" The answer, of course, was right there: "Jesus Christ our Lord!"
David knew the answer as well. And so, in the midst of suffering, David found the renewal of hope. And that hope is found in God and God alone. Everyone who has experienced new birth through faith in Christ, has experienced the forgiveness of God, the steadfast love of God, the miracles of God. But just about everyone who has experience all these things has also found something within themselves that could be described as being something like an divided heart.
We want to follow Christ, but we want something else as well. • And sometimes the something else wins. And when that happens we lose. And so, we return to God, longing for transformation which is a life-long journey, a day to day affair, a minute by minute thing.
I know I live a good deal of my life with a divided heart, and I'm probably not alone. My heart is divided between who I am and who I want to be...what I say and what I do... my joys and my sorrows... promises made and promises broken... my commitments and my wanderings... living faithfully and living as if I were self-sufficient.
The fragments of my heart are many. And maybe you know this about yourself as well. Mayby you can also name the ways your heart is divided. I suspect we are all, for various reasons, in this bind.
My first response to my divided heart is usually to try harder, do better, and to fix the circumstances of my life. I've discovered, though, that this brand of glue doesn't hold things together.
The way of the Lord and what we need to learn is wholeheartedness. To live this way means we can hold nothing in reserve—we need to be open and willing to risk our whole heart for God, in the service of others, seeking what Jesus is offering us with Himself
And so, in this Psalm of Lament, David is asking God to forgive him for whatever sin he has committed which has caused these people to hate him so... He is praying that, God will change him by teaching him God's ways, so that he may walk in God's truth with an undivided heart for the sake of the world. Talk about resisting the lure of hatred. Talk about grace born of prayer.
For what David has learned is this: he— not his enemies needs the patience and steadfast love of God; he—not they-- needs to be forgiven; he—not they—need renewed concentration to resist sin; he—not they—needs to focus on God's teaching, on learning God's ways afresh. And isn't this what all of our mistakes and "getting caught up in the mess of the world" boils down to?
We need to focus on self and not on what others think.
We need to focus on God and loving God and loving neighbor with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.
That is the only way that our answer to the question of: "How is it with your soul?" will be "It is well, it is well, it is well."
As the psalmist says: "Teach me your way, 0 Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
Imagine how well we would be able to live in these trying times: As a people transformed through prayer.
People transformed to the way God wants us to be.
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