The Message, June 19, 2022: "Our Hope"

The Message, June 19, 2022: "Our Hope"

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
June 21, 2022


“Our Hope”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Psalm 42

            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 collapsed.

            There were no answers … only questions.
            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 picturesque.

            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.

            Some 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.

            We 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 God.

            The 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.

            Something 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.

            I 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.

            I 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.

            The 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.

            The 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.

            The 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.

            I 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.

            Yes, 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.

            However, we know that there are people for whom that is not the case. We are a long way from Jerusalem.

            We 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.

            We 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.

            Even 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.

            As 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.

            We know that women continue to fight for their rights.

            We know that generations of families struggle in adject poverty. They cannot break the cycle of economic disadvantage.

            The 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?”

            Just 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.

            Even 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.”

            With 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.

            Our 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.

            Our 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.

            When our days are sunny and bright, we may not readily see God’s Light shining. We may not even look for it.

            But 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.

            Wherever you are in your life, know that God is near.

            Whatever your trials or struggles, God is your hope.

            You are God’s Beloved. Amen.


Congregational Church