On the Bench in Lament: A Sermon on Psalm 150

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I saw a sad sight the other day, just over at Mills Lawn. It was a beautiful morning, with lots of local families on the playground; one of those days in which it feels like the village belongs to us for a moment before the usual bustle of the summer resumes. And there sat a little girl on a bench with her leg in a cast, looking wistfully at those playing around her. I imagine that she remembered what playing feels like and that her friends felt awful that her leg is broken—but there are swings and slides and sorry, we gotta go—and they were all making memories and devising new games as the little girl remained marooned on the bench. There, but not seen. Present, but not accounted for. A part only by being apart.

The Psalter closes with the ultimate praise hymn, only one note but it is high and strong. It is all praise all the time here on Psalter Radio, we are 150 on your FM dial. On one level, this makes sense. Here we have a collection of laments psalms and praise psalms; songs that serve us in the various states of our experiences. Of course, it will end with a full-throated praise. That’s just good planning is what that is; you always want to go out with an upbeat number in a major key.

But there’s more nuance to it than that; the Psalter reminds us that psalms are to be sung more Monday through Saturday than they are on Sunday. These are the words of God to get us through the complexities of life; words that once were sung and matched with music lost to time. These are songs put to numerous melodies over the course of millennia, but God calls us to sing them in our hearts to our own tunes each and every day. This last praise song is to remind us to keep coming back; the more we experience lament and can turn it to praise, the more we are able to use distance to look critically and with appreciation for what God has done in our lives, the more we are able to praise authentically in both the fantastic and the mundane.

Sometimes we are the little girl on the bench. We remember what it is like to play with our friends and be laughing, so we wonder what we have done to deserve this cruel fate of a broken leg at the onset of summer? Our friends, once so loyal, have abandoned us for the fruitful promises of being pushed on the swing or racing to the teeter-totters. We are in lament; abandoned and bereft of hope, sitting alone on a park bench.

But as time passes, our leg slowly will heal and we will understand our limits. We can’t swing but we can play tetherball. When the walking cast comes, bikes are back in business. We remember what it is like to be stuck on the bench and we feel so joyous that we are no longer there. The bench was our Pit. And now we are out.

Finally, with a couple weeks of break still left, the cast is off and while we’re no longer hurt, we’re not the same as the person who broke the leg. With the bone resetting and knitting itself together, we also learned some things about ourselves. About others. About our reasonable and unreasonable expectations of others. Or ourselves. Maybe we learned some things about ourselves we don’t like along with discovering strengths and fortitudes?

The Psalmist tells us to turn our lives into hymns of praise. Had I tried to say this to the little girl, I don’t think she would’ve have understood. But only because some discoveries must be experienced on our own. I’ve been on the bench in lament. Full, Psalm 88, God you stink and I might just walk away, kind of lament. You been there? The last thing on your mind is giving God a kind word, and like Lucy, he has some ‘splaining to do? On the bench in lament. But have you been on the bench in praise? Yes, one leg is broken but the other is not. Yes, those around you are able to do things you cannot, for the moment—perhaps longer—but you can watch them. You can appreciate their joy, recall when you felt that same joy, and in cultivating those together you will feel genuine joy. A new joy. One you can only get when you are on the bench. Or in the Pit.

There is an overwhelming amount of suffering in the world right now. Everyone I know is feeling it, experiencing it, reacting to it. Have you noticed that the most common answer to “how are you” is something like, “Tired, but okay”? It is not just the pace of our lives, which I think we all can agree is frenetic, it is the nearly constant state of crisis that exists. From illness in the home to violence in the streets, from overwhelming numbers of opioid deaths to ever-concerning developments internationally, there are few of us who don’t feel exhausted by the ceaseless demands on our energy and attention.

In the face of these, the Psalmist tells us to sing. To live with the psalms each and every day; honestly, that’s quite difficult. But I have found that if I am in the Pit with lament for one thing, it makes it a whole lot better if I am in the Pit with praise on two or three other things. I really dislike the line, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” I used to like it, but then I realized that it is not very good theology. I embraced Mother Teresa’s response, “I just wish God didn’t trust me so much.” Even that I have abandoned in the past few years watching people I love be hit again and again and again with blows that, taken individually, could devastate a person for years. I’ve seen people be kicked into near submission by the tragedies of life. No one is that strong to be able to handle all of that and I don’t like a God who would do it.

This is what I think the Psalmist might be saying to us: Most of life is in the Pit. When we understand that much of that Pit-dwelling is owed to our own attitudes, we can authentically be in the Pit and miserable because of one thing, while still climbing out in regards to other things. And when we are in the Pit and look over to see others struggling with something we’ve worked through previously, we can choose to have some energy to extend a hand or an ear. The Psalmist is not saying, “Just sing praises to God and then God will reward you and you’ll never suffer.” Rather it is, “when we realize that the sorrow we feel over what we can’t control can be processed more authentically when we’re mindfully and gratefully responding with that which we can control, the quicker we’ll experience God pulling us out of the Pit.”

At least, that’s what I’ve taken away from our five-week journey through the Psalms. I almost didn’t preach this series; in fact, the only thing that made me decide to do it was that I didn’t want to, largely because preaching on the psalms can be difficult. But I submitted, and there were some magical moments, such as having Psalm 23 to comfort us the morning of Lloyd’s passing. For me, living with Psalm 30 after finding out about my hearing situation was a true blessing. My hope is that through this journey, you might have found an entry point into incorporating Scripture into your everyday lives. The Psalms are there for the foxholes in our lives as well as the mountaintops. Hopefully, we will each day have at least one legitimate reason to sing a song of praise, even if we’re very much in the Pit. Amen.

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