24th Sunday in Ordinary Time September 16, 2018
Scripture readings – Job 1: 6-22 & Psalm 137
Sermon: “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord”
I want to begin with a very, very personal question to each of you: This morning, would it be hard to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord?” In fact, if I asked you to say it right now, would it be hard to do, knowing that we didn’t get the loan to construct our new church building, knowing that we won’t get to move in early next year, knowing that all the beautiful stuff we have in storage will have to remain there for the time being?
Would it be hard to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” today other than to pronounce just pronounce the words well?
When anyone is sad, it is often very difficult to praise the Lord. Whenever any of us is upset, troubled, frustrated, sad, resentful, or just plain old MAD, it is difficult to praise the Lord.
When I was a reading teacher, I was always on the lookout for what I called “good pronouncers.” These are children who can read very well orally; this is not necessarily an indicator that they understand anything they are saying aloud. They might be good readers or they might be good pronouncers – or they might be both. If you are upset in any way, and you are asked to praise the Lord, it is sometimes difficult. Your praise might be just pronouncing.
And yet…and yet…it is perfectly okay to feel that way! It’s not just human nature…it’s okay.
As we read from the Psalms, be aware that there are three major groups of Psalms:
- Hymns – these are easy, joyful to read and say. These are the ones that fall softly, joyfully, and easily on our ears.
Think of Psalm 95: “O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.” That’s a great psalm, and I’ll bet many of you smile when you say it, especially our choir!
- Thanksgiving – either from an individual or from a corporate group. These are just plain polite. If the Lord blesses us, we thank him. Easy to do, easy to understand, easy to teach to children.
Think of Psalm 118: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.” Or…
Psalm 124: “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.”
Pretty easy to also say or sing these psalms because they are full of praise and full of love and full of thanks.
- Laments – These are the hard ones…they include the Psalm that we heard today, Psalm 137. Listen to just the beginning: “By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.” This is a psalm that brings an ache to your hearts if you can imagine those captive Israelites who were taken from their homeland as slaves by the Babylonians. They remembered Jerusalem, their beloved Temple, their homeland given to them by the Lord when Moses led their ancestors out of Egypt a thousand years earlier. They had earned the right to lament, especially the older ones who had grown up with that glorious Temple!
I spoke with a friend of mine last week who just arrived at a small rural church about an hour from here. She is going to officiate her second funeral at this church in a little over two months of serving this church. The first one was for a sweet old man who had lived a very long time and finally died of old age; I can imagine that church lifting their voices to praise the Lord for the long life and good work of that sweet old man. But the newest one is for a 14-year old boy who died of an extremely aggressive form of cancer; in this case, I can’t imagine lifting my voice to praise the Lord. I would choke on the words, and they might ring offensively in the ears of those who will be present in that very crowded church for his memorial service. I can, however, imagine lifting my breaking heart and lamenting to the Lord in my pain and my loss on behalf of that young man’s parents.
Laments are perfectly okay. In times of pain and suffering, laments to the Lord, crying out to the Lord, are perfectly acceptable. Laments are cries to the Lord to also see and remember our pain that we are feeling at that moment.
What is NOT acceptable are the other things that sometimes come up. Tell me if you’ve ever heard any of the following statements:
- “God didn’t want you to have that.”
- “If only you had prayed harder (and properly), that wouldn’t have happened to you.”
- “God always has a plan.”
- “You are being punished for some sin that you committed. Confess your sin and the Lord will forgive you and will be merciful to you.”
- “Someone sinned and this is the punishment.” (Read John, chapter 9 if you think this is true.)
To all of these statements, and to any others that might be casting around your head or your heart, I say to stop. Reread the lesson of Job that was introduced to you today. Job is a righteous man who did NOTHING wrong. In fact, Job was so very good that even the Lord himself pointed him out to Satan. That’s a pretty good man. Yet when the test came, and Satan took away Job’s blessings – and even when it got worse and Job’s wife begged him to “Curse God and die!” – Job would NOT do it.
But would you blame him if he did?
And even more…do you think the Lord wouldn’t forgive him? Do you think the Lord would be so angry that he would bring down even greater curses on Job? I can’t imagine how much worse it could get for Job, but I also don’t want to imagine that.
Job had earned the right to complain, to cry out, to lament.
And perhaps, so have we.
So now we all face a series of hard decisions. We’re going to talk about it all immediately following our worship service today. Perhaps I am trying to “preach the problem” before we talk.
But it is vital to remember – especially in difficult, emotional times – that the Lord is always ALWAYS with us. This is not because we are better than anyone, or holier than anyone, or more righteous than anyone, or more deserving than anyone – and especially it is not because someone in our midst SINNED!
The Lord is with us because we are His. He cares about each and every one of you, He cares about me, and He cares about our congregation, our church, our mission, and our purpose for being in this area. I am absolutely convinced of that.
So, we can lament. We can cry out to the Lord, and we can ask, “Why, Lord? I don’t understand! Why?”
I will not push you to sing or to shout: “blessed be the name of the Lord.”
But we should if we possibly can.
In our pain and our loss: BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD.
In our sorrow: BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD.
In our confusion, our hesitancy, our lack of a clear plan: BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD.
In our daily work today, tomorrow, the next day, six months from now, and in the midst of whatever may come: BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD.
I declared to you, Heritage, whether you can smile or whether you have to wipe tears from your eyes:
BLESSED BE THE NAME OF THE LORD.