Message for August 23, 2020
Text: Psalm 5
The psalmist (who, in this case, is believed to be King David) says: Lord, in the morning you hear my voice. In the morning I lay it all out before you. Then I wait expectantly. – Psalm 5:2
Often, when the Psalms are read in worship — and I’ll admit I do this myself sometimes — there are verses that are omitted because they don’t sound very nice. Those of us who participated in the Wednesday Zoom Bible study a couple months back learned that there are set forms for different psalms — ways the Hebrew poetry is meant to go. A psalm of thanksgiving has one form, while a psalm of lament has another. There isn’t rhyming in Hebrew poetry — rather, the structure comes in the repetition of phrases and ideas — but skipping a part of a psalm is akin to pulling out the lines that rhyme in a song or a limerick in English. Imagine, for instance:
Roses are red, violets are blue
Sugar is sweet.
There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, ‘It is just as I feared!
Have all built their nests in my beard!
That second one is part — the first, second, and fifth lines — of a famous limerick by Edward Lear, who was considered “the father of limericks.” From my editing, you get the basic gist of the poem, but it’s not nearly as silly (limericks are meant to be), nor as elegant, as if you were to read the whole thing (look it up here).
Cutting out pieces of psalms (though not silly) has a similar effect, a lessening of impact — and we tend to do this with those psalm forms that include unpleasant parts, particularly those that express anger, frustration or despair about “enemies.” And one thing that gives psalms their power is the way they express the depth and fullness of human emotion and experience, “laying it all out” before God.
My brothers and sisters, we are going through a time of trial unlike any that we have ever experienced. Between pandemic, economic and social upheaval, and now the threat of fire, many of us have been stretched to the breaking point — and I know that there are other personal, physical, emotional, and relational challenges facing lots of us on top of these things. (I’ve been hearing from you and holding these stories in my heart.) And I want to urge you not to edit your prayers. Know that many, many others are suffering — but know that your suffering also matters, especially to God.
You might find that the Psalms provide excellent words to guide prayer.
In the morning I lay it all out before you. Then I wait expectantly.
Aided by the Internet, and the popular Bible Gateway website, I did a little search on the word “wait” in the Bible. I was reminded of Noah, on the ark, who sent out a dove, and then waited seven days, repeating this twice more before discerning that the waters of the great flood were indeed receding. I was reminded of the story of the freed slaves in the wilderness, who were told to wait while Moses went up on the mountain to talk with God, and who, in their impatience, went astray. I was reminded of many instances of “waiting” in battle situations — waiting in ambush, waiting as a strategy — in the stories of Samson, Samuel, Saul and David. I was reminded of Jesus’ parable about ten bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom, and of his command to the disciples to wait for the Spirit that came at Pentecost. I was reminded of Paul, who in his letter to the Romans declares that all creation is waiting for God’s glory to be revealed, and God’s justice to happen and we are to wait with it, in hope, and to act in faithfulness while we wait.
In the Psalms and in the prophets, as well as in the New Testament, waiting is a stance of faith. Waiting is not easy, and it does not come naturally to us. It’s so tempting to second-guess, and to let doubts plague us as we wait. There can be such a thing as waiting too long — though this often happens when we allow fear to paralyze us, rather than listening for God’s voice. When we wait in trust and hope, listening and looking for God’s signal to act with boldness in the face of fear, then waiting takes on a healing power, making us ready for whatever might come next.
There is a lot of waiting being asked of us right now: waiting for a word about a fire evacuation, a COVID cure, an election, the outcome of a medical treatment or test; waiting for schools and churches to open. We are listening to the voices of those who have waited far too long for justice, and hearing the call to act where it is possible for us to open the doors for change. It is not easy, but we put one foot in front of the other, listening as we go, waiting in hope, acting in faithfulness and courage. May our forward steps be deliberate, thoughtful, prayerful, connected with God and with one another. May we lay it all before the Lord anew each morning, expectant, real, and faithful.
Would you pray with me:
Holy God, in this time of waiting, help us to be faithful. Help us to listen closely, and to draw deep from the well of your grace. Help us to stay present, not looking too anxiously and too far ahead. Help us to stay hopeful. Help us to stay connected, to our neighbors and to those who need to know your grace through us. Help us to be courageous, ready to respond whenever and wherever you call us to act for mercy and justice. We pray in the healing and powerful name of our Lord Jesus. Amen.