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Lost and Found, from suffering to praise

By Hilary Wenzel


This lesson is based on Psalm 22: 1, 19, 23-24, 30-31


I want to confess a couple of things:


First, we’re in Lent…and I’ve always been a little reluctant and rebellious about Lent. When I was a kid, my Catholic friends would talk about what they were giving up for Lent. Somehow this would help them be better christians...to suffer for Jesus. Wasn’t it enough, I thought, just to try to be a better person? And when even younger, I remember crying so hard in a Methodist Good Friday service that my mother took me out of the sanctuary. I thought it was bad enough that people would kill Jesus, let alone that it might be part of God’s plan.


Secondly, I haven’t spent much time with the Psalms. There are so many, and their images often seemed to come from a different culture and time from mine. And I heard them in a male voice. I didn’t relate… or I related only in part…with the exception of The Lord is my Shepherd.., 23rd psalm.


So the good thing is being here with you at First Church for some years has helped me grow in understanding and faith, in this loving community. And I thought it was time to get over myself and take up this Lenten challenge.


The full lectionary passage for today is the Praise conclusion of Psalm 22 - verses 23-31. I chose to pare it down and link it to David’s anguished opening lament to God. This way, we really feel the power of resurrection coming out of a very dark place.


I encourage us to spend time with the whole of it this week. One resource I found (beingbenedictine.com) reminds us to read this prayer with 3 layers in mind:

What it meant as it was first prayed / by the psalmist, congregation;

How it hints at the life of Christ / how Jesus would have prayed it,

How it applies and how we can pray it now in our own lives.


As a new reader, I was struck by how many of it’s verse images appear directly in New Testament accounts of Jesus’ passion and victory, from the opening cry… My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?....to

mocking scorn, and

piercing hands and feet, and

dividing garments and casting lots for clothing…

Then pivoting to praise from all the ends of the earth,

and all the families of the nations

and their descendants…

to tell of His righteousness and what He has done.

Much Christian theology and commentary has focused on this aspect of the psalm for Lent and Easter.


I want to view Psalm 22 from a different angle… from the view of prayer and response to prayer.


A couple weeks ago, Jodi and Eric shared Jesus’ instruction about praying alone to God, from Matthew (6: 5-6)... the point being that when we pray unobserved and unheard by others, there is less chance we will posture or filter ourselves to God. But that level of self truth sometimes needs a catalyst, a crisis, and we may even wail and groan. We may struggle to recollect or trust other moments of God’s assurance.

Once we have emptied ourselves, though, we can be still… and wait on God…we can be present to Presence. Perhaps more than hope or trust or belief restored, we can feel known by this Presence and reunited with this Presence, affirmed by this Presence.


Is this what happened with David? Did he finally get in touch with this Ground of his being? Did the experience so revive and energize him that he immediately vowed to lead his people in Praising God and prophesying the same for future generations of the world? It does seem right to me to worship together in public Praise from this standpoint.


Last week, Cathy spoke with us about turning points - times in our lives when something we experience or understand changes our lives. She reflected on Mark’s baptism account of Jesus (Mark 1: 9-15). Jesus rises from the water and God affirms his true identity as the beloved child in whom God is well pleased. Jesus immediately goes into the wilderness to begin living out his calling and ministry.


I had a turning point in response to prayer once in my life. Our family was young, but I wanted a work life outside the home…, something that would contribute financially and would contribute to my sense of identity and self worth. I had 2 degrees, but certainly didn’t think I’d lived up to my potential. I was trying to decide about going back to school for either teaching or nursing.


Our family was on vacation across the country when my brother called that our father was in the hospital with an emergency hemorrhage. He’d call again if I needed to come home. That was a very long night, and I prayed hard that my father would be alright. I bargained that if he recovered, I would choose nursing. He did recover, and later on that trip I found a small volcanic stone that in some way confirmed my choice of direction. It was a milk white cross through the center of a black basalt bed. It fit my palm like it was molded there. It was the perfect worry or prayer stone. I kept it for years until I gave it to a patient it might help.


As members of First Church, we are all praying, individually and together. We are certainly at a turning point. Know this. We can open our hearts to God and find rest and encouragement along our way. We can know that we, also, are beloved children of God. We can rejoice and sing praises for what God continues to do in and through us. In the middle of Psalm 22’s Praise verses is this exuberant blessing..”May your hearts live forever!”


Amen!


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