Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
It was the worst day of his life.
The iron bands of grief gripped him
so tightly that he could not breathe. They squeezed … and squeezed …
The questions came unbidden. “How?!
How could this happen?! Why did this happen?! What did I do to deserve this?!
How could God let this happen to me?! How could God DO this to me?!” They raged
within his head like a tempest, tearing at the foundations of his life.
The pain broke his knees and he
There were no answers … only
There was no light … not even a
glimmer … just the darkness of despair.
It was the worst day of his life.
Until the next day.
The next day he awoke to the
realization that it was real. It was not just some horrible nightmare that
invaded his life the day before.
The pain was still there.
The emptiness was still there.
The darkness seemed darker somehow.
He sank deeper …
Sadly … tragically … for some of
you, these words are too familiar, too raw, too real. You have been there. The
images … the feelings that they evoked were not just words on a page … they
were your experience. Perhaps they still are.
Know that as I wrote those words, I
held you in my heart. I hold you in my prayers.
We do not know what the author of
Psalm 42 was going through. We do not know the circumstances that prompted him
to write those words. We do know that his pain was deep and crushing.
When we hear the opening lines of
the psalm, the words may conjure a scene out of a Disney movie. We see a sweet
little deer peacefully lapping water from a stream. How lovely. How
However, that is not the scene that
the psalmist is painting. The deer is in distress. Deer typically do not pant.
A panting deer indicates an animal that is desperate, near death. So rather
than the Disney movie trailer, we have to imagine an animal running for its
life across the hard scrabble terrain. The creature makes its way to the wadi …
the spring … after evading some threat, some danger. It is gulping water hoping
to preserve its life.
That is the image that the psalmist
was communicating to his listener. Those are the lyrics for the song that he
was singing. His soul was like that deer … on the edge of death, gulping water.
Reaching … straining … hoping to survive.
Of course, the ancient Hebrews did
not have the same understanding of the soul that we have today. The reality is
that the soul is something that is pretty hard to put our finger upon. Soul may
mean something different to each of us. The word that he used was nephesh.
It means breath or spirit. Nephesh is the animating life force.
We know that the human body can go for several days, even a couple of weeks
without eating. We know that we can go for a couple of days without drinking.
But we cannot survive more than a handful of minutes without our breath. Our
breath is our life.
The psalmist’s nephesh … his
breath … his very life called out to God.
They say that there is a hole within
the heart of every human being. They say that the hole is a God-shaped hole and
that only God can fill it. It is in every heart. Not just the Christian heart,
or the pious or faithful heart … every heart.
may not realize that the hole is there. The hole seems to be filled by other
“gods” … their jobs, vacations, expensive toys. The hole is filled with treasures
and pleasure, busyness and entertainment. They are happy and fulfilled … until
they are not. They do not realize that the hole is really empty until the chaff
is blown away.
know about the longings of the human soul. We know about the emptiness. We
understand the longing for God. We understand the nephesh crying out for
psalmist is far from Jerusalem. We do not know if he is actually a great
distance away, or if he just feels as if he is a distance away. Jerusalem is
the place where you meet God. It is the place where God dwells. Jerusalem is
one of those “thin places” where heaven and earth come together. Our faith
tells us that God is everywhere. But the ancient Hebrews believed that the city
on the hill … Jerusalem … was the home of God. It was the center of their life
and faith. It was the place of pilgrimage. Going to God was a physical
experience, a physical act.
was keeping the psalmist away from Jerusalem. It was as if he was in exile. He
remembered Jerusalem with a deep love. He remembered the worship and the
festivals. He remembered being there … being with God there … and he longed
desperately to be there again.
can understand. When I travelled to Israel, I had the opportunity to spend a
few days in Jerusalem. There is definitely a special energy there. You could
feel it walking through the narrow alleys of the old city. You could feel it in
the people. You could feel it at the Temple Mount, the Western Wall. People
were worshipping, praying, chanting. I touched the wall and saw the thousands
of pieces of paper shoved in the cracks, each one containing a prayer. To be
sure, one does feel the Presence of God there.
would love to go back, but my desire cannot compare to the longing in the
psalmist’s heart or soul. My nephesh does not cry out for it.
psalmist feels as though the world is mocking him. He feels as though he is in
danger of being completely overwhelmed. He is lost in the depths, not in the
depths of the sea, but by the forces of evil. He is feeling lost … drowning …
overwhelmed by whatever terrible circumstances he found himself in.
psalm is a prayer … a plea … a lament. The words both question God and appeal
to God. In the depths of his despair, he feels as though God has abandoned him,
and also recognizes that God is his salvation and his hope.
psalmist knows what he is lacking. He knows his need. He understands his thirst
for God. God can set him free. God can bring him home.
have to say that my understanding of the psalmist’s plea is more academic than
personal. I can read and understand the words. I can imagine what he is
feeling. But I have never felt what he was feeling. I have been fortunate in my
life. My soul has not experienced that same degree of devastation. I can say
that I have not felt my soul crying out for God from the depths of the pit.
I have had difficulty. Yes, I have struggled at times. Yes, I have suffered
loss. But I feel like Jerry Seinfeld in the episode of his sitcom, the one in
which everything comes out even. He threw a twenty dollar bill out the window
of his apartment and then later in the day found a twenty dollar bill in the
pocket of his jacket. So far in my life, everything has worked out.
we know that there are people for whom that is not the case. We are a long way
know that there are twenty-one families in Uvalde, Texas whose worlds were torn
asunder that fateful day at Robb Elementary School. We know that there are
grieving parents all across the country mourning the loss of precious, innocent
children killed senselessly.
know that there are thousands of families in Ukraine grieving the loss of
family members, friends, and entire communities. They run for their lives
fearing the next attack from the army of a twisted madman.
as we celebrate Pride Month, we see renewed attacks upon the LGBTQ+ community.
We see individuals threatened and assaulted simply for being who they are. They
are made to feel as though they are less than, stripped of their humanity,
reviled and rejected.
we recognize Juneteenth, we know that generations of our neighbors suffered
under the yoke and lash and the sin of slavery. We know that their grandchildren
continue to struggle under the burden of systemic racism.
know that women continue to fight for their rights.
know that generations of families struggle in adject poverty. They cannot break
the cycle of economic disadvantage.
evils of this world can easily overwhelm. We have heard the mockery, we have
heard the taunts, “Where is your God now? If your God is so great, why are so
many people suffering?”
like the psalmist who remained faithful in the face of those who mocked him, we
remain faithful. In the midst of the darkest days, when we feel as though we
are at the bottom of the deepest pit, we know that there is hope. Our hope is
our God. God is our salvation.
as we struggle, our throats parched and dry, struggling to breathe, we remember
that God is faithful. God is steadfast and true. Our faith calls to mind the
darkest day … the day that Jesus hung upon the cross. In his pain, and also his
faith, he whispered, “I thirst.” He called out to God, “I thirst.”
those two words, he teaches us that those who understand their thirst are
blessed, because it is precisely that thirst which brings us into the Presence
of God. Those who realize that their emptiness can only be filled by God will
call out, will seek his Presence. Those who thirst will be satisfied.
faith calls to mind that Jesus also revealed himself to be “Living Water.” He
is the one who draws us closer to God. He is the One who satisfies our thirst. He
is the One who will sustain us.
God is ever faithful, ever true. God loves us even when we believe that we do
not need it, or deserve it. God does not abandon us even when we do not
recognize God’s place in our lives.
our days are sunny and bright, we may not readily see God’s Light shining. We
may not even look for it.
when our days are dark, God’s Light is our hope. When we are overwhelmed, God
will see us through. When it seems as though Jerusalem is far off, God will remind
us that we are in the holy place wherever we are.
you are in your life, know that God is near.
your trials or struggles, God is your hope.
are God’s Beloved. Amen.
Congregational ChurchUCC, SACO MAINE12 BEACH STREET | SACO, ME 04072207-283-3771