The Message, October 10, 2021, "Never Alone"

The Message, October 10, 2021, "Never Alone"

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
October 12, 2021

“Never Alone”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Psalm 22:1-15

            “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?! Why have you abandoned me?!”

            They are familiar words. We know them well. We hear them every year during one of the most meaningful and poignant worship services of Holy Week … Maundy Thursday. We hear the pain in Jesus’ voice as he utters those ancient words:

            “Eloi! Eloi! Lama sabachthani!”

            “My God! “My God! Why have you forsaken me?!”

            The words are a familiar part of our Passion narrative. They roll easily off of our tongues. Even more … the feelings evoked by the words are well-known to us. We may not want to think about them, or admit it, but there are likely instances in our lives when we have felt these words deeply and desperately.

            I often think that there are no more heartbreaking words in all of scripture. They speak to pain that we may be experiencing deep within our hearts and souls. They speak to pain that we may wish to bury … hide away from the light of day.

            But they are more than words of grief and grievance, they are also words of hope. They are words of release … and relief.

            The psalm is a cry for help. It is a plaintiff plea. It asks for deliverance from a present danger or difficult circumstance. The psalm does not address a minor irritation or inconvenience. This is a life-threatening, life-altering event.

            The psalm does not address a specific situation or an actual circumstance. It was composed for liturgical us. The psalm is to be used in corporate worship. It is designed to give individuals a poetic and liturgical location. It gives us common ground for our plea. And it gives us permission to pray for help. We can lift up the worst of days to God.

            The animating illustrations were metaphors for the pain that we suffer. The psalmist was not likely being trampled or gored by the bulls of Bashan. He was not being torn apart by lions. He was not being attacked by dogs. His village was not being pillaged and burned by barbarians.

            But he may have felt as though he was. And he was speaking to those parts of us that feel that way as well. He was speaking to those moments when we are so terrified that we feel as though our innards are melting away and pouring out of us. He was speaking to our corporate pain and to our individual and very personal struggles.

            The psalm reminds us of poor, old Job. Job had lost virtually everything … his wife, his children, his health. He wanted nothing more than to drag Yahweh God into court for questioning. Job wanted to see God face-to-face and confront God directly.

            “Yahweh … where were you when I needed you most?! Where were you when I lost my wife? Where were you when I lost my children?! Where were you and WHY did you allow this to happen to me?!?! Why did you afflict me?!?”

            We know that Job was a man of faith. The book is a testament to the strength of his faith. As it turned out, his faith was the one thing that he did not lose. And it was out of his faith from which he called out and railed against God in fury.

            This prayer walks that same tightrope. It is a desperate cry for help. It wonders where God is in the midst of the pain. But it is spoken from a place of faith.

            “My God, MY God … why have you forsake me?!”

            Not … “hey, nameless powerful being,” or “hey, my neighbor’s God.” It was, “MY God.”

            The word “my” indicates that there is a relationship with God. “You are the God of my parents, the God of my grandparents. They called out to you, and you answered their prayers. I have known you from my birth. I have known you since I was laid upon my mother’s breast. Where are you now?!”

            Part of the desperation comes from the closeness of the relationship. There may be no greater pain or disappointment than when those whom we love the most betray us or fail us in some way.

            “Oh God, I have known you all of my life. You knew me even before I was born! You chose me, you chose my people. But where are you now? When I need you the most?!”

            My guess is that some of you have felt these, or similar, feelings at some point. You have gone to church faithfully, you have attended worship, you have heard all of the stories and testimonies of this powerful and faithful God. You have heard people share about their answered prayers. But then you found yourself saying, “What about me, God?! What about my prayers?!”
            You may have wanted to be like Job. You may have wanted to haul God into court and question God face-to-face. “Where are you, God? How can you let this happen to me?! How can you do this to me?!”

            You may have felt as though you were being mocked. Mocked by those who threw your faith in the face of your pain. “Where is your God now? A lot of good all that church stuff did for you!”

            You may have been mocked by the pious, self-righteous who compound your pain by questioning your faith. “Well, you brought this on yourself, you know. If you have been more faithful, then this would not have happened to you. If you had prayed more faithfully then you would not have suffered this tragedy.”

            Perhaps you felt and heard the ugliest of mockery, “You are not worthy of God’s care or attention.”

            You may have felt mocked by fate itself. Just as it seemed as though you were emerging from a tragic event, you suffered another, and then another. Every time the wound began to heal, it was torn open again.

            And you may have called out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”

            Or, you may have been embarrassed or ashamed to hold those feelings. Maybe you believed that your faith was weak and insufficient, just like they said.

            That is why this psalm is so important. It gives us permission to lift our pleas up to God. It gives us the space within our faith to be angry about our circumstances.

            Our pain is real. Our anger is righteous.

            We might prefer to be trampled by the bulls of Bashan … than to lose our beloved spouse.

            We might prefer to be torn apart by lions … than to watch our children struggle with cancer.

            Losing our health or our independence may feel as though we are being attacked by dogs, or our village is being pillaged by barbarians.

            We feel helpless against such powerful and merciless foes. We may feel as though we have no hope.

            I nearly drowned when I was ten years old. It happened not far from here. I was at the beach in Ocean Park. There was a storm off the coast, and there were warnings about riptides and undertows on the news. However, ten-year-old boys do not usually pay attention to that. Ten-year-old boys also do not question why there were hardly any people on the beach that day. Ten-year-old boys put on their swim masks and jump into the huge waves.

            Well, it did not take long before that ten-year-old boy was in big trouble. The waves kept knocking me under and the riptide was pulling me farther and farther from the shore. I was struggling to breathe but got hit by wave after wave. My mask had filled with water. I was desperately waving at the people on the shore, but there were only a handful of them. It became clear to me that no one was going to come. No one was going to help. No one.

            Until someone did. A young woman who was trained as a lifeguard came after me. I did not even see her coming, she just grabbed me and brought me to shore. I do not even know who she was. I did not even ask her name. But she was there.

            This psalm reminds us that even in the midst of the most difficult days, God is there.

            “My God, MY God! Why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus offered those words as he hung on the cross. “Eloi! Eloi! Lama sabachthani!”

He knew better than anyone that God had not forsaken him. He knew that God had not abandoned him. He knew that God was there. But still … he uttered those words. He spoke from his pain and offered that prayer.

God was with Jesus on the cross. God was with Mary in her pain and anguish. God was with the disciples in their fear and doubt.

And God is with us.

God did not create the world as a place in which God would constantly be asked to intervene. God did not intend the world to be a place in which God would have to stop people from doing horrible things to themselves and to each other.

We might prefer it if the world was such a place.

Did you see the movie “Bruce Almighty”? Jim Carrey’s character railed at God and suggested that he could do a better job at being God than God. So, God gave Bruce the opportunity. You may recall the scene when Bruce sat at the heavenly computer and attempted to answer the one and a half million prayer requests, only to find out that they more than doubled. Then Bruce took the short-cut and just said “Yes” to every prayer … and the world descended into chaos.

As much as we might wish it, God does not prevent evils and pains and struggles from attacking us … or those whom we love. God does not manipulate the events of the world in that way. But that does not mean that God is not present.

God is present in the pain. God is present in the struggle. God is faithful. God is with us as we make our way through offering healing and protection to our spirits, consolation to our souls.

Who are we in comparison to the greatness of God? A worm? A speck of dust?

No. We are the Beloved children of God. We are significant beyond measure. Our troubles and adversaries may be formidable, but God is greater.

My God, MY God, is near.

Your God, OUR God, is near. You are never without hope. You are never alone. Amen.


Congregational Church