Riding the white water: Lament, hope, trust and praise.
A sermon for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost
Have you ever been white-water rafting? Or done so vicariously by watching one of those movies like Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon in The River Wild?
It is a wild ride and it depends on your temperament whether you find the wildest parts exhilarating or terrifying. A white-water stretch of river is not like a white-water fun park ride. In the fun park ride the water is in a chute or a pipe. It all follows the one path. There may be turns but wherever it goes, you go. It is fast and may feel unstoppable but the journey and the destination are controlled.
The wilderness river is different. There are falls, rapids, undercurrents and whirlpools. There are even calm looking stretches that may prove to be either tranquil or treacherous.
Our readings today are like the wild river. We are often in trouble, terrified or anxious. We hope that ultimately all will be well no matter how rough the journey.
As in a white-water experience, we go through varying elements in the rough and smooth stages.
When the rich young man thought he had done all that he should and could, he was on the smooth waters of I’m doing OK! Then Jesus turned this young man’s self-righteousness to sorrow and grief when he revealed to him the problem that he had hidden even from himself. That very real problem was not lack of obedience, but that his self-love blinded him to the suffering and need of his neighbours. We hear that he went away shocked and grieving. His smooth water had hidden snares.
The psalms of lament and books like Job have much to teach us about the rough patches in life. When you read them, you will find some common elements.
There is lament. It is OK to complain and to share with God what you are going through. God may already know all about it but you may need to do that sharing. Who better to share with? God loves you and wants to hear what is on your heart, how you are coping or not coping. Believe it or not, this is much more valuable than just asking God for a magic bullet solution.
Lament is different from the desire for deliverance, although they may be related. Lament is sharing what is in your heart.
Let’s look at this through the eyes of a child. The child who shares with you why they are sad or angry is growing and learning much more that the one who comes and asks you to just fix a problem for them. More, the child who confides in you trusts you. They trust you not just as a fixer but as one who loves and cares for them. They have confidence that you will care about their sadness or their anger or their unhappiness. You will comfort and console them and perhaps, just perhaps help them to a solution or a better coping mechanism.
If we look at the reading from Job, you will see how Job laments and trusts, laments and trusts. This is like being on one of those white-water whirlpools that takes us around and around as we try to find the way forward. We are in trouble but we trust that we will not be there forever, or at least that while we continue to circle, we may not perish.
When we talk to God about where we are, we are being honest, vulnerable and humble. We are allowing the light of Christ to shine into our lives and to illuminate the truth of who we are as well as our situation. We cannot reach for the light until we admit that we are in darkness. We can see this admission in verse 17 from our NRSV translation, If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!
Our reading left out a few preceding verses that tell us that Job is in terror at the presence of God. If we look at the NIV translation, it is more hopeful. Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face. This seems more trusting and hopeful. Darkness need not drive us to despair but can bring us to God, in whom we place our trust and hope.
Thomas Keating said, Each time we consent to a new light on our weakness and powerlessness, we are in a deeper place with Christ.
A couple of weeks ago I spoke about Startrek and the journey to the end of the universe. At St Michael’s I accidentally misspoke. Don’t you love that word favoured by some politicians? It means It’s not true but without saying, I lied. I misspoke and said I would talk about Star Wars. That raised some hope in Star Wars fans and their hopes were dashed. So now I will speak about Star Wars, and about hope.
In the 2016 Star Wars movie, Rogue One, Jyn Erso thinks she might have to try to destroy the death-star alone. When she tries to convince the leaders of the Alliance to attack the death-star, they say, What chance do we have? She replies, What choice to we have? . . . Rebellions are built on hope.
So, hope is the path out of despair. Hope may or may not be realised but with hope there is trust and trust is founded on past experience of seemingly hopeless situations in which hope did come to fruition.
Along with hope and trust we also need humility and vulnerability. When we approach the throne of God with boldness, that includes boldness to reveal our own inadequacies and to know that that is not a reason to avoid the scrutiny of God but to welcome it with trust and hope.
When we hear in the letter to the Hebrews that the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4. 12), we can think of the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel, wielded with skill and care for the good of the patient and the prospect of a full and healthy life. We need to know that the surgeon sees clearly, knows what is needed, and that their intentions and acts are for our good and our well-being.
As it says, we are all laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account (Hebrews 4. 13) . . . Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4. 16)
May our times of lament bring us to hope, trust and ultimately to praise. Amen.