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Sermons

“My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?”

4/9/2014 Ecumenical Lenten Series. The text of this sermon is taken from   Psalm 22.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Of all the people ever born, of all those who have found themselves betrayed, denied, forgotten and handed over to enemies, the one person we would never expect to utter these words is Jesus.  Yet, physically beaten, nailed upon the cross, and with a crown of thorns digging into his head and people shouting insults all around, Jesus cried out in the words of the Psalmist.   Jesus felt what any of us would feel.  Jesus did what any of us would do when suffering such physical, emotional and spiritual anguish.  He cried out to his Father in heaven:   “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Why have you left me all alone?

As Jesus utters these words, the very son of God and the savior of the world, is truly human.  Jesus Christ, our redeemer, the one who willingly fulfills his Father’s will so that we might be saved, feels abandoned even by God.  In those critical moments before his death, our Lord Jesus Christ experiences what it is like to feel hopelessness and despair.  So, he speaks the 22nd psalm so that all may shudder at the suffering that is thrust upon him.

“Here, hanging on the cross, is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He had grown up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.  He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself… And while still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat.”  (adapted from a sermon by Dr. James Allan Francis in “The Real Jesus and Other Sermons” ©1926 by the Judson Press)

Who among us would not wail about the injustice of it all?  Who among us would not feel the depth of emotion welling up inside of us until we could contain it no longer?  Who among us would not lament over what is happening?

The words of the psalm seem fit as Jesus finds himself alone, stripped naked upon the tree and mocked by those who watch him die.  In his suffering and anguish, Jesus connects to the Psalmist who pours out his soul, his desperate soul, to God, giving God a laundry list of all the things he is facing and feeling, and all the dangers that surround him.  In the midst of pain, the Psalmist seeks two things:  for God to remain near to him, and for God to deliver him from danger.   The Psalmist desperately wants God to act and to change the situation – to save him from all the horrible things he is facing. But what he seeks more than anything else is for God to be near.  And that is what Jesus wants in his hour of deepest need…Jesus wants to feel the presence of his heavenly father as he draws his final breath.

In the midst of our trouble, our despair, our anguish, most of us just want God to fix it.  We seek God to solve the problem, like Bill Cosby in his rendition of Noah’s ark.  In it, Noah is loading the animals onto the ark, and God calls out to him: “Noah!” “What?” Cosby snaps back, displaying his frustration about the whole ark ordeal… God says: “You’ve got to take one of those hippos back and get another one.” “What do you mean? Why do I gotta do that?” “Well you got two males there.  You gotta take one back and get a female.” A frustrated Noah replies: “I’m not doing that! You change one of them!”

Most of us are like that.  We want God to fix the problem.  We want God to call down His power and change things instantly and miraculously.  But our greatest need remains the same through the generations.  From the Psalmist to Jesus to you and me – our greatest need is for God Himself – for God to be present with us during crises… for God to support us when all our support systems fail.  God is not the celestial Santa Claus, on whose knee we sit and ask for all the things we want and then off we go and wait for Him to deliver.  God is God.  Even if God seems distant and answers seem light years away, God hears our prayers.

After crying out for God’s presence and deliverance, the psalm takes a really sudden and drastic turn.  The pain of a mourning cry evaporates as the last half of the psalm is full of praise, full of optimism, full of witness.  It is as if, all of a sudden, the bell begins to ring and the Psalmist finds comfort and hope as he remembers who God is, what God has done, and what promises will be fulfilled.  So, the somber tone shifts from the depths of despair and the feelings of forsakenness and abandonment by God, to joyfulness and worship.

As Jesus cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he is without a doubt quoting the entire Psalm.  He is claiming the words, both those of lament and those of praise, for himself.  And he is making them his own.  For, in the end, the final verses read:  “To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.”   And these words, spoken by the Psalmist and recorded years before the birth of Jesus to a peasant woman, only seem to make sense after Jesus has defeated death – that is, after Jesus emerges through the suffering, through the horror of the cross, to victory.

Through Christ, the psalm takes on new meaning and new hope emerges.  That hope, found on the cross and spoken by a dying savior, comes to us in our darkest hour.  For, at some point in all of our lives we have cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”   At some point in our lives, we will feel alone.  It may happen when someone we dearly love dies, when we find ourselves facing a battle we never wanted to face, or when we’ve been humiliated and made to feel small.  Sudden accidents, financial ruin, terminal illness, and all the difficulties we experience in our lives, can leave us reeling.   There are thousands of circumstances that can leave us with a sense of forsakenness—when God feels conspicuously silent and absent.  But, for those who are walking through dark valleys, there is comfort in this psalm and in this story of Jesus’ agony on the cross. In those times, we can pray to Jesus Christ, because he knows what we are experiencing and facing, as he’s been there.

In the words of Ylvislaker’s hymn, “Borning Cry,” we can rest assured that God does not abandon us, but is presence with us throughout our lifetime.  This hymn is written as if by God himself:

I was there to hear borning cry, I’ll be there when you are old,

I rejoiced the day you were baptized to see your life unfold.

I was there when you were but a child with a faith to suit you well,

in a blaze of light you wandered off to find where demons dwell.

When you heard the wonder of the Word, I was there to cheer you on;

you were raised to praise the living Lord, to whom you now belong.

If you find someone to share your time and you join your hearts as one,

I’ll be there to make your verses rhyme from dusk till rising sun.

In the middle ages of your life, not too old, no longer young,

I’ll be there to guide you through the night, complete what I’ve begun.

When the evening gently closes in and you shut your weary eyes,

I’ll be there as I have always been, with just one more surprise.

I was there to hear borning cry, I’ll be there when you are old,

I rejoiced the day you were baptized to see your life unfold.

So, my friends, it is with the words of the Psalmist, the cry of Jesus from the cross, and the poetry of a hymn writer that I am closing out this Lenten series on the “Songs of Lent.”   I’m not closing it out this year with a catchy little joke or a glorious illustration.  Instead, I am closing out this year with a full dose of reality.

For the truth is this:  each of us has faced or will face at some time in our lives a crisis or two which will have us crying out to God.  Each of us has, at some point in our life, felt forsaken.  Each of us has prayed and wondered why God seemed so distant and silent.  Each of us has suffered loss and each of us will face death.  But know – in all these moments –we can pray to the one who sympathizes with us, the one who can say with conviction, “God didn’t forsake me, and God hasn’t forsaken you.”  And I, for one, am thankful that our Lord understands fully and completely what it is like to feel forsaken.

So, let us follow the example of Jesus on the cross – let us be honest before God.  If we are feeling like he is far away, the question “where are you Lord?” is acceptable to God.  God isn’t going to get mad at us if we ask it.  When we feel God is distant, the cross reminds us that Jesus has been there too.  Jesus felt the same stuff we do.  So, like Jesus, in our doubt and despair, in our feeling like God is far off, we can find comfort by remembering who God is, what God has done, and all that God has promised.  For God will come near again.  Through the sacrifice of Jesus we can rest assured that God will save, forgive, and deliver us.  Amen!

 

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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