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Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20

 My son loves to talk. He talks non-stop. He talks about games, cartoons, movies, science, space, trees, clouds, cars. Pretty much anything that he can think of, he’ll talk about it. He normally talks at a good volume, he uses his “inside voice” as my mom would say. But there have been times where he uses a louder voice. One of these times is when he wakes up in the morning. He knows he’s not supposed to get out of bed, but he’s awake. So he lays there, like he’s supposed to, and says, “Daddy!….Daddy!…..Daddy!” And he will continue to say my name till I walk in his room to tell him, “I heard you the first time.” He’s crying out because he doesn’t know if he’s being heard. He gets progressively louder the longer it takes me to get to his room, just in case I didn’t hear him. But little boys aren’t the only ones that do that. We do it too. When we feel like we aren’t being heard, we talk louder. In fights with co-workers or arguments with a spouse or a friend, our voices get louder and louder because it’s obvious they didn’t hear us the first time. When we don’t know if we’re being heard, we cry out. We don’t do this often in church. When was the last time you preached a sermon on this?

Our congregations mostly feel guilty when they are angry with God. They feel guilty when they question their faith, or question God’s faithfulness. But this is where the book of Psalms becomes a great resource for us as their pastors. What we see time and time again in the book of Psalms is the people of God, corporately “crying out.” In fact, over 35% of this ancient songbook, are laments like this one. Over 35% of the songbook in the scriptures are cries of pain, sorrow, and struggle. Lament Psalms give us a great place to offer our people the words to say when going through tough times. Most Lament Psalms have a turning point from crying out to praise. Many scholars believe that the priest may have had a word of encouragement or a statement about the character of God that would then allow the people to turn their thoughts to praise. This is the starting point for this Psalm. The writer begins in v. 1 & 2 describing what he’s feeling.

This writer is in a place where it seems God is nowhere to be found. He never breaks his cries or stops reaching out for God. And yet, his “soul refuses to be comforted.” He goes on to describe the details of his feelings at great length, which is not included in the Lectionary text. Allow that to be a place where you can put your own details. Think on and describe a time when you felt like God was nowhere, give your own details, and then you will be ready to receive the answer that the Psalmist gives us for how to face those troubled times. This could also be a good place to have a story from your congregation. Think about someone who has been through a difficult time in their life that would be willing to share how they were sad or angry. Let them be honest about their journey.  There’s also something very important about you as their pastor being honest about your journey.

Many times a pastor can be put on a pedestal, seen as “more” spiritual. Any time we can break that stereotype and reveal how we are real people that go through real struggles and have real crisis of faith, it’s a good thing. We pick back up at v. 11 “I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;…” The way that we make it through our current situation is by looking back at past difficulties. For the Psalms there are a few different ways that it approaches this subject. Many times they use the language of creation to talk about God’s sovereignty. God created all things, so God is not unaware of your calamity. Other times, like with this Psalm, it grabs an event near and dear to the hearts of the Israelite people and recounts how God came through for them very specifically. You have to love the poetry here. The Psalmist personifies the water and waves of the Red Sea. 

“When the waters saw you, O God, When the waters saw you, they were afraid; The very deep trembled.”

 This event was so central to, not only their faith, but also their culture. They became a people after they passed through these waters. And consistently throughout scripture they are called upon to remember that they were slaves in Egypt and God rescued them. This is a Psalm that takes that mantra to heart. It uses big, mythical language to describe the crossing of the Red Sea. To paint a fantastical image of our God’s wondrous power and might. This is also a classic move in Psalms of Lament. They start off real dark and sad, but then turn to hope. This Psalm, however, says the hope we have is in the character of the God we serve and worship. Because we know how God has acted in the past, that should give some encouragement to know that God will probably act the same in this situation. Whenever you talk about passing through the Red Sea, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on Baptism. Share why baptism is a sacrament, or invite them to remember their baptism. These are great teaching moments, especially for those new to your church, and new to faith. But this is what you do when you are facing hardship. You have to remember. You have to sing out about God’s saving character and wondrous works. If not for you, then for someone else who’s going through something painful. So the prescription for hardship is to “cry out” and then to “sing out.” Since the sermon would be doing a lot of teaching on a worship practice that is not normal, lamenting, consider moving your liturgy around to allow for singing following the message. It would allow you to teach how lamenting is a valid and needed for of worship and then choose songs that allow them to “cry out” from their pain, and then “sing out” in praise. This is the rub for many church people. This gives us a chance to ease their minds as their leaders. At times, we have emphasized the “singing out” to the detriment of the “crying out.” You can talk about the Red Sea and the Jordan River and the wall of Jericho till you’re blue in the face, but until someone has been in an Egypt, it doesn’t mean the same thing. So once they have faced their Egypt, their desert, their exile, then they can recall the works of God’s grace in the past and trust that God will come through in the present. Let this be a real encouragement to your folks that are in their Egypt. Let them know that it’s okay. Help them find ways to remember how God has come through for them without negating that what they’re going through now really sucks. My son still cries out a bunch. Even though every time he does I’ve come to his aide, he still says my name over and over again.

“Daddy!…Daddy!…Daddy!” But you know what? I don’t mind. It allows me the chance to prove that I am who I say I am, that I love him and that I’ll always come when he calls. Our God is the same way. God doesn’t get frustrated or judgey when we cry out. God shows up. Every time.