When Waiting is the Best Option       

Sunday, August 27, 2023
Deacon Stephanie Anderson

Psalm 27

In 2019, my family cared for my beloved uncle as he died. He had lived for years with increasingly debilitating Parkinson’s and a whole list of other ailments that made for a hard and physically painful few years at the end of his life. We watched and accompanied my uncle through countless appointments and procedures and diagnoses as his life shifted in really significant ways. When he passed, I remember how odd it felt to harbor within ourselves feelings and emotions that felt like they should be at odds with one another. Part of us was so relieved for my uncle; glad even, that he now was at rest from his pain and was in the arms of God. And, at the same time, we were so sad and angry and heartbroken at the loss of someone young and someone we loved so dearly. Maybe you’ve felt something like this, too: where two things feel opposite, and yet happen within us at the same time.

We hear a similarly conflicted psalmist in our reading this morning. It almost reads as a character that is pacing the floor, talking to God and to himself, posturing and praying and negotiating and processing his reality. We read his lament of:

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;

Though an army encamp against me,

though war rise up against me,

but also his prayer of…

Do not cast me off; do not forsake me,

    O God of my salvation!


But also his assurance…

The Lord is the stronghold of my life;

    of whom shall I be afraid?

There’s a lot happening in the mind and heart of today’s writer. Scholars in the past have wondered if this seemingly paradoxical psalm – in one line a lament; in another praise – might actually be two psalms smooshed into one over time. They couldn’t imagine that a writer would create a piece of poetry this contradictory.

But more recently, those who are tasked with researching and interpreting these ancient texts – those scholars and theologians who study the psalms as their life’s work – they’ve come to realize that these words were all meant for one another; this is one poem. That, just like our own lived experience, the psalmist’s reality isn’t neat and clean; it’s not black or white; it’s not just joy or sorrow, not just confidence or plea. Just like us, they find themselves amidst emotions that might feel opposing, but often go hand in hand – both despair and praise; lament and trust.

As we’ve looked at the psalms this month, we do so knowing that they are an ancient road map for how God’s people have navigated life and how God was present with them as they did so. This poem (psalm) reminds us that not every emotion exists on its own; not everything is counter to its opposite at any given time. What I mean is: grief and joy are often found together. Pain and laughter? They’re not always and only lived separately. We can grieve and rage and cry, right alongside a moment of joy or a prayer of gratitude.

As followers of Christ – crucified and risen – we’re called to both: God calls us as people of faith into the world with gratitude and honesty. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean a life lived in one particular stance or emotion; a life in Christ calls us to live in the grey.

On the one hand, we are called to a life of praise and awe at the sheer, unimaginable joy that life in God’s creation gives us. Praise and joy are a natural part of the human experience because it is magical; this is all magnificent. Basking in these late summer (bug free) Minnesota evenings; holding that sweet new baby; witnessing someone you love accomplish a goal or try something new; eating our favorite foods; getting carried away in a story or movie or book; the human experience of surprise; grace or mercy extended in our direction. Listening to Andy play our organ! It is delightful to experience this life. We believe, as the psalmist says in verse 11, “that [we] shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” God’s goodness is all around us.

And, on the other hand, at the very same time, as followers of Jesus, we are called to keep our eyes wide open to the brokenness of this world with honesty. We do not, for moment, deny that things are not okay and we lament; we cry to God.

There is plenty to cry about. There is no shortage of things that break our heart or make us afraid. And not just feel afraid, there are real things to be afraid of. Living in this world means we are constantly assessing our safety; being human is inherently risky. I think it’s fair to say that most of us are generally unsettled by the risk of scary things – from the day-to-day fear of other drivers on the road to bigger fears of violence, unrest, war, conflict, desperation, diagnoses – coming too close to our door.

And so we’re called to these two things, but how can they happen simultaneously? Theologian Amanda Benckhuysen writes, “Trust does not preclude lament. Confidence in God’s ability to overcome the [scariest] of evils does not require holding back our tears, our disappointments, our deep longing for more of God. Faith does not rule out doubt.” Both trust and lament are perfect expressions of faith when we’re in pain because the thing they share in common is a belief in the goodness and the power of God, who is both worthy of our trust and also attentive to our cries for help.

As followers of Christ, we are faced constantly with the decision to live in fear or, despite our fear, to live in trust of God and God’s promises. Which doesn’t just mean a trust that all will be fine or that God will take care of it or that there aren’t things to fear. Trusting in God means orienting ourselves toward God’s call for our lives; bravely choosing love amidst the fear. It means extending hospitality, even when there is risk. It means entering into relationship and trying again, even when we’ve been burned. It means welcoming people, even those who we’ve been told we should fear. It means moving beyond patterns of fear and separation and trusting a new way, in God.

It is not easy. Embracing this kind of trust in God is vulnerable and courageous work. And, it’s what we’re called to. “Be not afraid” doesn’t mean “there’s nothing to be afraid of”; it’s not dismissive. It’s more of a, “Yes, it’s terrifying. This whole thing is magnificent and terrifying. And we will still choose to trust God. We will be honest and we will still choose love.” As the psalmist ends, “[We] wait for the Lord;” we live with courage and we trust in God’s guidance.


Past Sermons