Have you ever heard a homily on a Psalm in Lent? I thought so – me either. I can’t recall one I’ve ever heard. I preach Psalm sermons, but can’t imagine I have in Lent. Growing up as a Baptist, I learned Psalms, but not about Lent. We didn’t need to observe Lent, since Baptists gave up all known pleasures, year-round, years ago. All of this is to say today you get one – a Psalm sermon in Lent.
Scholars believe our Psalmist could be David. He’s on the run, pursued by King Saul or Absalom, David’s favorite son. Someone close to David wants him dead – and that’s enough to put anyone on the run. If we listen within ourselves, we may become aware we are on the run from or toward something – usually God. With David, in our dry, desert and deserted times, we welcome God. David remembers, of all things, times at worship – in church, when God’s power and glory became palpable. That is enough for his desolation to dissolve and remember God in this poem. David recalls God’s loving-kindness – better than life itself. It’s like a banquet buffet of the finest foods and drinks – filling his hunger, slaking his thirst. If fear or anxiety awakens David in the night, he meditates – remembers: “You have been my helper – my protection, and I rejoice.” Listen closely to this image: David brings God into his intentional consciousness, God, whose nature, he prays, is to clutch us and protect us. Into nights of anguish and insomnia God lurks in the shadows saving us and with us, whether we realize God is there or not. Truthfully and sadly, God often seems silent or absent in the moment. It’s terribly hard to muster up a little rejoicing in the midst of fear. The poet’s picture is clear: God never loses his children, any of us. God is with us.
But do we experience God in such a way? How can we know we are really experiencing God when we feel thankful and rejoice? How do we know when we think we have a sign from God in the night, that it’s not indigestion, or wishful thinking? I don’t know. But humbly let’s admit there’s a lot of reality we neither know nor observe, including God’s ways.
People who are dead certain they know everything about God scare me. Think about athletics. I have a hard time believing God favors one sports team over another, yet we still petition the Almighty on behalf of the Packers, Brewers, Bucks, Badgers or Eagles. Athletes attribute success with certainty that God’s intervened, but failure – are they on their own, or does want to teach them something in failure – they never thank God for that. But maybe God care. Doesn’t God carry larger burdens than sports, like wars, inner city violence, starving children in our midst? Yet if we believe Jesus – and have faith enough, can we move mountains? He says so. With enough faith, could we win the lottery, or find a dream job, or get God to heal our loved one? We believe in something. And most of us keep praying even when we get no sign God is listening, or gives us what we want.
And that begs David’s questions and answer – what or who satisfies our deepest longings, slakes our desert-dry thirsts? Who do we call in night’s anguishing darkness? What do we really long for? For David – it was God, even in the dark night when David could have used some help – at least a little sign. Recalling God’s presence and in the past can help us experience God in the present. What do we really long for? Maybe it’s like theologian and pastor Carlyle Marney once said: “These are moments to ask God to fix our ‘wanters,’” recalibrate our desires. Sounds like a Lenten moment to me. Those who are strangers to God – to worship, prayer, scripture, hymns, end up with short-term memories, unable to carry the heavy luggage of faith in tough times.
Our longings – times we are most anxious and scared, times of crisis, when know we need to be forgiven, times we are lost – hungering to hear God’s will – some sign, times we feel grateful, times when bad memories awaken, times when we don’t know how or what to say to God – maybe in our longing we realize it’s really for God – if we just pay attention. Trusting God – even when don’t know or when we doubt is enough, not a consolation prize when prayers go unanswered.
Prayer means we talk with God about what we care for – for God cares for us. We may ask, “Why did this happen? What could I have done and didn’t? What am I doing wrong? Why am I being punished?” We ask and probably suspect we won’t get our questions answered. That is not our deepest longing. We just want and need to be heard, to have a God we trust with our hurts and fears, to know the Divine is with us, even if we don’t know for sure. To imagine God hears us, knows us, in charge of us, and loves – that can be a faith healing. Pray in trust, even without certainty, and don’t wait to pray until all doubts are resolved. Prayers in desolation are acts of faith.
Longings open us to God, and what greater gift can we ask for – but God, the Spirit’s gift to trust even when we don’t get what we want – or hear no answer at all. Isn’t that the prayer we really are trying to pray – God is with us? Hang in there – keep praying: “O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you.” God is there – faithfully giving us what we know not yet how to ask. Keep praying and seeking.