That Languishing Feeling: Good Sheperd Sunday Sermon
People love the 23rd Psalm. They love its poetry, bucolic imagery, the acute acknowledgment of life’s pain, and its hopefulness. The people of the first century must have loved it, yearned for its promise so many years ago. When Jesus spoke the words of the Gospel to his followers, the feeling and sense of wellbeing welled up in the 23rd must have flowed over them and enfolded them.
Jesus says, the Good shepherd gives his life for his sheep. The word used there is not only life as in a heartbeat The word used is psyche. The good shepherd gives his psyche. I lay down my soul, my purpose, my being, my essence, my hope, my life. I give you my all. Do you hear in that, much more than sacrifice but in the sharing of power? Can you hear the agency that it gives to each of us?
It is reminiscent of the 23rd which reads. “He restoreth my soul.” “You restore my soul” literally means “you give my soul back to me” Pastor Birgit before her retirement used to remind us of that key understanding in this poetry. Her command of Hebrew called us back to the meaning of the line. You give my soul back to me!
I am the shepherd that gives you my being says our Lord just as the psalm says The Lord gives me back being... The Good Shepherd who gives me back my hope, Gives me back my soul, my purpose, my essence, my life, my purpose.
I could use a little soul restoration, some purpose rejuvenation and some hope incarnation. Say Amen if you are in the same boat.
There was an article in the times last week that’s been getting a lot of air time. Written by Adam Grant. It was entitled: There’s a name for the blah you’re feeling: It’s called languishing
It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.
Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.
As scientists and physicians work to treat and cure the physical symptoms of long-haul Covid, many people are struggling with the emotional long-haul of the pandemic. It hit some of us unprepared as the intense fear and grief of last year faded.
In the early, uncertain days of the pandemic, it’s likely that your brain’s threat detection system — called the amygdala — was on high alert for fight-or-flight. As you learned that masks helped protect us — but package-scrubbing didn’t — you probably developed routines that eased your sense of dread. But the pandemic has dragged on, and the acute state of anguish has given way to a chronic condition of languish.
In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being(the valley of the shadow of death): You feel despondent, drained and worthless.
Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself.
Even if you’re not languishing, you probably know people who are.
We have been living in a time in which the powers of life have often seemed thwarted. A time between anguishing and languishing- the valley of the shadow of death.
Pay close attention to the Acts passage this week. There is a man caught between life and death. Too disfigured to live fully in the community- A man treated as if he was dead yet living in front them, living between social death and physical life, living between fully alive and fully dead. Peter heals him and restores him to community, into a sense of belonging with purpose. A man saved from the prejudice and divisiveness of the world around him.
In scripture save and heal are the same word. This is so important to this passage. The argument can be made that in Luke-Acts, authored by the physician Luke, that to omit the word heal in favor the word save limits our understanding of the use of the word. When Peter heals the lame man, he tells the religious officials, named in our story, the same ones named at the crucifixion, that in their ignorance, they did everything in their power to thwart the powers of life.
You tried to shut Jesus down and he is still healing people.
The proclamation of scripture this morning is that as the world has shut down, as hope has often seemed elusive, Jesus is still healing. The grave does not have the final word. Death does not win despite all obvious and distressing signs.
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
There is healing from no other than the very one you killed, for no other name under heaven has been given to humanity in which we are being healed.
Reading it that way and in the context of the passage- this scripture is not about heavenly salvation. It is about salvation from despair, salvation from a realized and present hell of hopeless. It is the balm for languishing in the valley of the shadows.
This is who Jesus is- You put him to death-he lives, you tried to deny others healing- he healed anyway. You preferred lies, he told the truth, you put him to death, he lives. This is who Jesus is, this is what Jesus does, this is how Jesus acts, this is the Good Shepherd and Good news for the sheep.