Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Be Merciful to Me, O God

I gave this homily in the chapel of Baptist Hospital on October 4, 2004. First the scripture text, then my homily --

Psalm 57:1-5
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness! My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts – the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!

I just moved to Miami from St. Louis, MO about two weeks ago. So, Jeanne was my first hurricane. My wife and I got food and water, batteries for our flashlights, cash; we got duct tape to put up on our windows. Then, we waited, watching our TV, for the storm. For newly transplanted Midwesterners, Jeanne was a big disappointment; we got a sprinkle and breeze. I don’t wish for another Andrew or for any damage at all, and I have been greatly moved by the destruction and devastation in other parts of Florida this year. However, we braced for something big, and nothing really happened.

For most of you, you’re really tired of hurricanes, and that makes perfect sense, this is a record-setting year and everyone is talking about hurricane-fatigue. So, perhaps you know better how to relate to our Old Testament reading when it says, “In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.” This image is of a baby bird, taking refuge under the wing of his mother of father during a great storm, perhaps a hurricane.
Jeanne is past us now, when will the next one come? We’ve had four already, will there be another? Of course, the only question is, when? Sooner? Or Later? This year? Or next year? Eventually, another storm will come.

What other storm are you going through now? Cancer? Heart disease? Financial troubles? Hospice? A wheelchair? Divorce? A Child who’s lost her way? Do you feel like life is pushing you to the edge? Like you can’t take much more? This Psalm is for you. If you are not in a storm right now, be sure that one is coming. Maybe this year, maybe next year, but one is coming. This Psalm is for you.

I love the honesty of the Bible. I want you to notice something. This Psalm (like the rest of the Bible) is not rosy – it doesn’t say that everything will be happy and wonderful and easy. That’s not life, life is hard. On the other hand, neither does it say that we are on our own, that destruction and death will have the final word, no. Look what it says. “In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.” It does not say that God will take away the storm, though he could and he might. But neither does it say that we are on our own to tough out the storm. The text goes on further, “he will put to shame him who tramples on me.” Does God keep you from being trampled? Not always. But there is justice in the end. Look further, “My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts.” What an image. Maybe I can put it in more contemporary language. I enjoy a relaxing day at the beach during a hurricane. What is he saying? Not that God wants you to do stupid things like lie down in a den of lions or try to get a nice tan during a hurricane. But rather, that God’s presence does not take away the storm; it makes the storm more bearable.

When I was very little, my family lived in Piscataway, NJ while my father worked on his Ph.D. in research entomology at Rutgers University. He was studying greenhead horseflies, Tabanus nigrovatada. There were no greenhead horse flies in northern NJ, so one summer he had to go down to south Jersey to the salt marshes to study them. He left every Monday and returned every Friday during that summer; I was about 6 years old. I had a hard time letting my dad go each Monday, and mom and I would count down the days until he returned. One day, he took me with him to go see where he had been spending all his time – he gave me a little pair of hip-wader boots, and we went out into the marsh together and he showed me his flies. Well, while we were out in the marsh, one of the flies bit me. If you’ve never been bitten by a horsefly, you should know that it hurts badly. When that happened, dad was not very near to me, and heard me screaming, he came running back to me as fast as he could through the marsh, but it was not fast enough for me. I was in so much pain. When he got to me, he picked me up, wiped off the bite, and held me in his arms. My arm still hurt badly, but it was more bearable. Why? Because my dad was with me. He was taking care of me. He did not immediately heal me, the storm was still there, but I knew that he would take care of me. I could bear the storm if he was with me.

Dear friends, God is not in the business of calming every storm that comes upon you. Rather, he is in the business of calming you in the midst of the storm. How does he do this? He says to us, I am here, I will not leave you. He gives friends and family who care; they are his ambassadors to us, reminding us of his love for us. They are his arms to hug us, his voice to encourage us, his strength to defend us, and his hands to help us. What should you do? Look at the very beginning of the reading, “Be merciful to me, O God.” Cry out for mercy. If you cry out for mercy, God will give it to you. He will walk with you, in the midst of your storm.


Blogger Joe and Robin said...

What a refreshing blog, not to mention very encouraging. I am new to blogging and was not impressed with what I have seen on blogger until now. The analogy with your father was comforting. You guys sound like wonderful people, I will continue to read your blog and share it with my wife. We live in Northern Colorado and attend a small start up church, just thought I'd mention it.
Anyway keep it up, and know someone was blessed by your words today... Joe

10:26 AM, April 13, 2005  

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