Don’t look at me! I’d like you to meet Jesus!
I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.
All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it. (Psalm 22:22-31 ESV)
If God last walked on Earth as Jesus, why has he left it so long to make another appearance? Some people think that’s simply too long without turning up – even if only a little bit – do a few miracles – get the crowd cheering again, that sort of thing. As you might imagine, I’m not a fan of that thought – largely because I don’t regard God as absent, while I grant you that I don’t see him.
I listen to numerous podcasts on my travels – numerous ones on religion – and there does seem to be a moving away from ‘certainty’ to the journey – the destination is less important than the search for meaning sort of thing. The idea of revelation is lessened as we search for
understanding and apparently religious truth and faith is what we finally say it is – we’re not to be told what to believe but we discover it. Now religious thought has boundaries – and can be very prescriptive about thought, word, and deed – but this search for meaning through discussion where
the Bible is regarded as just an aid not even a guide and certainly not the source and norm for all spiritual truth, just leaves us, in my view, with conjecture and theory – the outline of God but no substance. Faith these days, it seems to me, is more doubt than anything else because apparently ‘you can’t know for sure’!
Forgive me this tiny rant but I can’t know for sure what will happen tomorrow! I can’t know for sure that the 106th car I pass on my way to Coventry won’t serve into me. I can’t know for sure that Charlotte will come home. I can’t know for sure so much of life but I get on with living and knowing and doing because I put trust in all sorts of things – the sun rising tomorrow, the driver of the other car wanting to stay alive too, and Charlotte not doing a runner because she loves me. I live by faith in so much of my life day to day and I haven’t even started talking about God! So I don’t see why the religious have to pussyfoot around living and life choices, around sin, and around God. State your belief, know why you believe – yes, that’s very important!, and then live. What the other person does is up to him or her but at least he or she knows where you stand!
Between our first and second reading today in Lent we hear part of a psalm – and the psalmist knew where he stood – in the midst of the congregation – and he had something to say – I want to praise the Lord. Praise is specifically when we tell others about God and how and why we think he is good or wonderful or loving. Sure this is faith – it is the psalmist’s faith – I am thankful to God because he has not hidden his face from me, he has heard my affliction, he heard my cries – and the implication is that this not the first time I cried out – my ongoing cries – and now I’m telling you [the congregation] he has helped me.
Most of you know that I’m not a great fan of personal testimonies – the ones that seem to almost have a formula – I was a sinner [give lots of details – why do they always seem to be drugs and bad lifestyle?] – then God entered my life [something spectacular happens] and look at me now – and now you too can know that God is real [because of my experience]. Unless, I’m convinced that my personal experiences of faith, of struggle, of answered prayer, the things I regard as miracles could really help you, I’m going to be pretty circumspect because when you’re struggling with faith or spiritual issues, you want to be pointed in the right direction – and human beings (Christian or not) have an incredible knack of pointing at
themselves – look at me! – when they should be pointing at God.
The psalmist doesn’t give us the details that changed his lament into thanksgiving. He just continues to praise God and to point out to the assembled congregation that God is indeed real as evidenced by the fact that he fulfils the vow he said he would if God helped him. And I wonder how many prayers have been said whereby people have made a bargain with God, made a vow – it was their choice to do so, God doesn’t command them first that they have to do something for him first – but then having made a vow or promise gone and ignored it after God has indeed acted and the person is no longer complaining? In this case the psalmist is fulfilling his vow – and then telling people not so much the details of why but simply that God is worthy of praise to the ends of the earth, that he should be worshiped, that we can’t stop death from king to beggar – no one can keep themselves alive – yet God has acted righteously – that’s what we know – we haven’t deserved it – and this message needs to be told to the next generation – … it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.
If this message would be said and heard as often as God has acted then the idea that God needs to show up and make an appearance because he has been absent the past 2,000 years wouldn’t arise. However perhaps there has been too much God talk which really points the finger at people – look at me – and like people crowding around a TV news reporter – in front or behind – wanting to be the centre of attention – so perhaps God has been pushed to the background in a lot of God-talk. When we subtly talk about ourselves, when we are humble or successful for Jesus but really want to be noticed, then when we sin, when we’re accused of hypocrisy, God is further pushed out of sight as people concentrate and rage against religion or religious people and get another excuse to keep God far away.
However if we own up to our situation – but still not with a look-at-me-then-and-now attitude – we will show people two essential truths – two things that don’t change within the Christian religion – two things that will help the onlooker cope with hypocrisy – and that is, ‘I’m a sinner’ no ifs ands or buts, no excuses, I sin and struggle with it – and ‘God is gracious and loving’ even when I’m going through my cry for help, my complaint, my shame – God is still good and he is always helping, even
when I feel he isn’t, when I feel that he’s abandoned me. I know this message isn’t easy – just as it is hard to point God out accurately when talking about ourselves – I am a sinner and God acts righteously towards me even though I don’t deserve it. Yet it is in the act of praise and thanksgiving that gets the world to take a second look – why is this person who used to complain, who was a pain to be around, who was ashamed of his behaviour – now praising and thanking God?
The Christian has faith in God. Not just any God. Not a god of our own creation or imaginations. Not a god made in our image. No – in the one who began this psalm – Psalm 22 of which we’ve only heard the last part – the thanksgiving part – but it begins, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!’.
Only as we follow the man who said those words on the cross can we know God – and have someone to complain to – yes, life can be tough and horrible whether we do it to ourselves or others make it that way for us – and have someone we can thank. Sin and misery and death don’t have the last word after all. There’s an empty grave to testify to that – as well as millions of disciples who say, ‘Don’t look at me! I’d like you to meet Jesus. I know for sure you need to meet him and he loves you!’
- Psalm 22:22 - 31