My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Updated: Apr 5, 2018
Preached by Mark Singleton on February 25, 2018, the Second Sunday of Lent
Alright. Welcome to Lent! Lent happens quickly. We go from Baptism and temptation last week right to the cross…and not just the cross…but to the desperate cries of Jesus on the cross: Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachtini. Those words that we struggle to pronounce as we read the passion every year but which we should never struggle to hear and feel are actually the first words of the psalm we sang this morning, Psalm 22. We sang the second half. Psalm 22 is a psalm of lament. Most start off with a direct address to God but over a dozen others begin with a simple question: HOW LONG?
How long will you let us suffer? How long will you hide your face from us…scoff at us…let our enemies triumph…judge us…How long oh God? Will you forget me forever? My God. Why have you forsaken us?
When I first came back to the church these psalms kind of freaked me out. Having always played the role of peacemaker in my family which resulted in a propensity for people pleasing, I always wanted to shush the psalmist. Shhh. That’s God you’re talking to. Don’t complain. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t be so ungrateful.
A wise person once reassured me that God could handle it and I got over it…but to be honest, the times we are living in, make me go back there more and more and have made it difficult for me to move on to the second half.
· How long, oh God will Hatred and intolerance be the rule of the day?
· How long will refugees and political asylum seekers be scapegoated?
· How long will your children be hungry, cold and homeless?
· How long til trans women of color can reliably see their 40th Birthday?
· How Long Oh God. How Long till Children aren’t gunned down in our schools?
· Will you forget us forever?
Questions like these led me, as a young philosophy major in college to gravitate towards existentialism and nihilistic thinking. The idea that clearly nothing matters. Obviously if there was ever a God, he or she is indifferent at best and cruel at worst so lets just accept the fact that we’re cosmically alone and just learn to get along. Now these ideas have always been appealing to moody, brooding, young people like me in college but man…some of the stuff going on today makes you wonder: where is God in all of this? I have a kid in high school. Where is her protection? Will God forsake Emma like he did the children in Newtown or Parkland? I don’t know. I could refer here to the covenant promise that God made to Abraham and Sarah in the OT lesson this morning…the whole “as for me, I will be your God and you will be my people” thing but if I’m honest, that promise feels awfully far away and not so meaningful this morning. Just another Children’s sermon.
The Gospel I read says:
Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
And then Peter, the greatest of all peacemakers and people-pleasers responds immediately. Shhh. What are you talking about? That’s no way for a Messiah to speak! Don’t you realize that you are the hope of all these people? Our rescuer. Our ticket out. What the heck is the matter with you Jesus? Don’t be so ungrateful. And Jesus responds swiftly…without his usual tact and overtures of love…get behind me Satan he tells him. Whoa. Satan no less.
I’ve always loved the lessons that deal with the disciples, and Jesus himself for that matter, trying to figure out exactly WHO Jesus is and what his presence among them meant because frankly, that is the same thing we need to figure out for ourselves today and every day: who is Jesus for us and what does his presence here this morning mean? I can almost hear the fully human Jesus asking his disciples that famous question “who do you say that I am” with a very clear back note of “Hey…who am I”. I believe that the fully human Jesus struggled with these questions just as much as we do because really…that’s the point! If Jesus came to fully experience our humanity, then he had to have had these doubts and we know that he did because on the cross, the moment before he dies, Jesus quotes Psalm 22 and owns his very human feelings of forsakenness. So, I guess that’s one take away for today: that it’s OK to feel, own and express those feelings of aloneness, abandonment and estrangement from God. Anyone who can hear about 20 kids crying as they hide in a closet while 17 of their schoolmates are killed and not wonder about this is not really being honest I think. So where do we go from here? Well, in the Gospel lesson, Jesus has a suggestion.
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
OK then. In order to follow Jesus, I have to die. That’s our choice? A life of forsakenness or death? Really? Can I get a second opinion? Jesus also tells us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.
Now I know this is the point in the sermon where you hear about dying with Christ and carrying crosses that you all start checking your emails on your phones or thinking about what you will cook for Sunday dinner and I get that but stick with me for a minute.
So this is where that saying “my cross in life to bear” comes from and I have to say I hate this saying. People use this in all kinds of weird ways and at weird times. Everything from the silly like: walking my dog in the snow is my cross to bear…to justifying truly frightening situations like “of course my husband beats me but I love him and that’s my cross in life to bear”. No. No. That can’t be what Christ means. No.
In order to make sense of the lesson today, I think we need to consider what the cross means to us. This primary symbol of our faith…at once an instrument of torture and, we believe the means of our salvation is complicated to say the least. But this Lent, I have been thinking about the cross in a much simpler way. Many have pointed out that the cross is a perfect symbol for the intersection of the worldly and the divine. It’s where Jesus experienced his most human moment…and his most divine moment…and it’s where we can do the same. Like Jesus, we are called to live at the intersection of the human and the divine and it all starts with denial of self. We always talk about the picking up the cross part but skip past the denial. Jesus says that in order to follow him we need to deny ourselves and then pick up the cross. And trust me, this is no less of an “ask” than dying in the culture we live in.
In a world where the primary cultural messages we receive are all about “me” and “mine” and getting what I deserve it is no small feat to deny oneself. The willingness to accept that what I want or need is not the most important thing in the world, is picking up the cross. When I see the dedication of this congregation to our LTM….I see you all picking up your crosses. When we welcome a stranger in this place and tell them that it is safe here, that they won’t be judged and assure them that God loves them no matter what, we are picking up our crosses…when we stand up for people we encounter in our lives “out there” and say with words or actions that we are Christians who have had an experience with a loving God who calls us to love others and to endure the discomfort that comes from doing so, we are picking up our crosses and living, like Jesus and with Jesus, at the intersection of the human and the divine…on the cross. I pray a prayer sometimes that includes the line “Free me from the bondage of self” and I know that it is only through denial of self, fellowship with you all, service to others and faith in God that I can obtain peace. In this world.
Yeah. I know I haven’t given you any easy answers about to what to do or think about school shootings or all the hate in the world and frankly, I don’t believe there are any easy answers. Maybe, this morning as every morning, our calling is to simply trust that the Holy Spirit is with us always. But never more than in the darkest moments. Lent is an opportunity to remember that we worship a living God who is present in our suffering and pain and who understand that suffering because he suffered too. Lent is a time of closeness to God. A time to experience that intersection of the human and the divine. Take up your cross and follow Jesus….whatever that means to you.