Bringing Our Whole Selves to God – My First Sermon at Clackamas Park

Good Morning Friends. It is a joy to be here on my first Sunday speaking as your pastor. It has been an interesting journey and I look forward to getting to know each of you and hearing from you the stories of your life together. Our stories are important; they tell us our history and reveal the pattern of God’s interaction with us. Today we are going to look at the story of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and what that reveals about how God desires to hear from us. Turn with me to Mark 14:32

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ 33He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ 35And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ 37He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 39And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Mark 14:32-41 (NRSV)

There are sometimes in all of our lives when we know what is coming and aren’t looking forward to it. Some of these times are when we are looking at the consequences of something we shouldn’t have done. When I was growing up my brother and I were out in the yard playing with lawn darts. My brother was running down the yard and I threw the dart high. With a growing horror I saw that their paths were going to converge and with an audible “thunk” the dart hit him in the head, wobbled and fell out. I ran in and got him a towel to help stop the bleeding, but at that moment I saw clearly the whoopin’ of a lifetime approaching. At other times, we experience the results of betrayal as Jesus did in the garden and wonder why it has to happen to us. There are many things that can lead us to a place where we have to ask “God, Why?” Last week, Phil shared with us how Israel often wrestled with God in unhealthy ways that dishonored both themselves and God. This week we will look to the example of Jesus in how we can wrestle with our doubts, fears, and questions in ways that are both honoring to God and healing for us. Jesus saw clearly what was coming and did not like what he saw. Jesus was struggling, and the disciples were no help. They saw Jesus falling apart and they couldn’t bear to watch. Everybody was frustrated with everybody else and it was about to get worse, but Jesus took his questions to the father. Jesus was honest with God that he didn’t want to do what God was calling him to. Jesus asked God to come up with another way and Matthew even tells us that Jesus was so distressed in his time with God that he appeared to sweat blood. Jesus was completely open with God, probably because he knew God saw into his heart anyway. Jesus’ example of vocally expressing our doubts and fears to God is one that we would do well to emulate.

In my growing up church was not a place you could be struggling in. I kept hearing people say “life is hard, but God is good so I can’t complain.” With the subtext being that it wasn’t OK to complain or take any negative feeling to God. I was under the impression that since God’s people had to have it all together that God wasn’t interested in our struggles, just in our praise. My impression of God was summed up in a Far Side comic captioned “God at his computer.” It pictured a white-haired old man looking at a screen containing a guy walking under a piano held up by ropes. The finger of “God” was hovering over a key marked “Smite.” That God was not safe to bring loss, hurt, anger or grief to. There were consequences for believing in that kind of God that forced me to hide parts of myself. I learned how physically damaging it was to bottle up what I was feeling inside when I got my first ulcer at 14. I had to learn how to express my anger, doubts and fears as a way of preventing myself from physical harm. I also learned that the best one to bring these hard parts of myself to was God. That God not only could handle me being mad, but welcomed me in my anger and grief and rage, in my sadness, in my brokenness and in my frustration. It was only through expressing these things to God that I could then heal. This God who listens to our discontent, brokenness, anger and grief is the God Jesus shows us in the garden, the cross, and the resurrection.

I had one problem though: I had no idea how to bring my emotional self to God. I wasn’t comfortable with my emotions since they didn’t seem to be controllable and my church background hadn’t prepared me to look at my emotions with anything other than suspicion. Those pesky emotions just got in the way of being rational and objective, how could that ever be a good thing? It was at this point that I was introduced to the Psalms. The Psalms contain every human emotion and bring each one of them before God in worship. The Psalms that Jesus grew up singing every day. How shocking is it for us to hear Psalm 10 and think of this as worship. Let’s turn there and read.

1 Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

2 In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor— let them be caught in the schemes they have devised. 3 For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart, those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord. 4 In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, ‘God will not seek it out’; all their thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’ 5 Their ways prosper at all times; your judgements are on high, out of their sight; as for their foes, they scoff at them. 6 They think in their heart, ‘We shall not be moved; throughout all generations we shall not meet adversity.’ 7 Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under their tongues are mischief and iniquity. 8 They sit in ambush in the villages; in hiding-places they murder the innocent. Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; 9 they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert; they lurk that they may seize the poor; they seize the poor and drag them off in their net. 10 They stoop, they crouch, and the helpless fall by their might. 11 They think in their heart, ‘God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.’ 12 Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; do not forget the oppressed. 13 Why do the wicked renounce God, and say in their hearts, ‘You will not call us to account’? 14 But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands; the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan. 15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers; seek out their wickedness until you find none. 16 The Lord is king for ever and ever; the nations shall perish from his land. 17 O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear 18 to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more. Psalms 10 (NRSV)

This Psalm is one of disorientation. The Psalmist cannot reconcile what they see with who they know God to be and the priorities God has expressed. It is in Psalms like these that we can learn to say “Things are not as they ought to be. God, things are not the way you have expressed your desires for this world. God, why can’t we see your work against these situations?” Has anyone here ever looked at the way the world is, at a hard situation and felt the question burn within you “Why does God allow this to continue?” I want to give you permission to take this question to God. Not having the ability to take our religious frustrations and disappointments to God destroys the authenticity of our faith experiences. The destruction of authenticity is accomplished through making sorrow, mourning, fear, doubt, and uncertainty the opposite of true faith. Since every one of us experiences all of these emotions at various points in our lives, we damage our own integrity in our efforts to hide them from God and each other. When we give voice to these uncertainties in the presence of God and each other, we find the voice of hope within our relationship to God and then are freed to enter into praise.

Over the next few weeks, we will look at the three types of Psalm:

  • Psalms of Orientation that express joy in the beauty of creation and awe at the ways of God.
  • Psalms of Disorientation that ask hard questions of God when we don’t understand what is going on and ourselves when we make those grave errors that bring harm to ourselves and others.
  • Psalms of Reorientation that renew our relationship with God and reorient our lives to the paths of righteousness.

On the last Sunday of the month we will have the opportunity to worship God through writing our own Psalms and creatively worshipping God together.

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