How Great Thou Art
The Rev. Laurel Hart
Scripture: Psalm 77
Life has been a little rough lately in lots of quarters and psalms of lament such as Psalm 77 are one of the great gifts of the Bible. Last week I learned a high school friend had to make the difficult choice of which cancer treatment to undergo so she might extend her life a few months but still enjoy some quality during this limited time. Then I received an email informing members of a prayer chain to which I belong, that Andrew, the adult son of Fr. Rick Bullock former Rector of St. Luke’s, has begun treatment for lymphoma. And the news about our own daughter-in-law’s battle with cancer is not good. My husband is at the ER right now being treated for what the doctor says is a heart problem. Refugee children are being held in inhuman condition by a branch of our federal government, some members of our state legislature can’t seem to play in the sandbox like good little boys – and did I mention the ongoing tensions in the world caused by the ego in the big White House. I guess it bears repeating, life has been a little rough lately. The 10 year old who has come to reside in our house for the foreseeable future has been doing a great job of calling out my character defects and short-comings. Seems like this great-grandma can get frustrated and be short of temper sometimes; but fortunately we do share hugs and laugh with each other also. Life has been a little rough lately. We been holding family meeting, as we ease into this new living arrangement and the other members of the household have complained that as chairperson of the said meetings, I’m not always following Roberts Rules of Order. I do like to get my own way – it makes somethings shall we say “less rough”.
When I read the psalm for today, I could really relate. I have been crying out to God lately and wondering if I’m being heard at these times. I’m willing to bet most here present have had the same experience and feelings of helplessness on certain occasions now or in the past. Verse #2 was a reminder of the recent hours of sleeplessness I’ve experienced because of fear and worry – when the brain wouldn’t or couldn’t stop going in unending circles of unpleasant thoughts. I like everyone to open the PB to page #693 and let us read together the verses which were skipped today by our lectionary in the earlier reading. I thinking reading these additional verses give us a greater sense of the psalmist great distress.
In our own despair during hard times, is so easy and temping to succumb to self-medication like comfort eating, drinking, drugs, shopping or any of the many less than healthy habits we human being turn to when we’re hurting emotionally or scared about the unknown future we can’t seem to control.. But isn’t crying out as the psalmist does an expectation that God is present? The writer or writers of this psalm have an underlying certainty that this lament matters to God. And we’d like to think, to belief, to have the faith that it does.
Then beginning with verse #11 the sadness and self -introspection of the writer makes a shift to a ritual of divine remembrance – recollection becomes a meditation in which the psalmist listens for the sounds of God. This hymn of lamentation quickly turns into a hymn of thanksgiving and praise. The psalmist begins to recall all the wonderful gifts and blessings that have been given and chooses to praise God for this abundance. We are reminded again of the way in which God led the people of Israel to freedom and the many promises that God has made and kept.
There can be times when it is very difficult to see God here, right now, with us, through our struggles and moments of despondency. Feelings of abandonment and despair are real and heartbreaking when a person is in the mist of emotional pain. This psalm gives us permission to articulate personal fears and doubts - faith can and does co-exist with doubt. Sometimes we just want to share with another person and to vent out loud – not looking for sympathy and certainly not asking for advice - but just asking for an ear to listen as we unload our burdens.
Where have you found God during the most challenging times of your life? Ponder on that question in the coming days. Think of it as preparing in advance, putting something in piggybank for the future, it may help to connect the next time life gets rough. Because we all know life has its ups and downs.
Comfort can and does come from prayer and reading of the daily lectionary. As Episcopalians, we have our wonderful liturgy, the weekly celebration of the Eucharist when we come together as community to worship and share. There are so many ways we can keep ourselves grounded, one method is to practicing gratitude. It can keep us mindful of those things that are good, encouraging us and giving us hope. Some people keep a gratitude journal, writing each day two to three things they are thankful for or when they felt a strong sense of God’s presence. This practice can be particularly helpful during times when God can feel so far away – when life is rough.
So in closing today, I’m going to ask your indulgence to share something which brings me comfort – playing music. I’ve asked Amy and Kathy to join me in playing a hymn – I’m pretty sure it’s recognizable.
How Great Thou Art
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder Thy power throughout the universe displayed Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee How great Thou art, how great Thou art Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee How great Thou art, how great Thou art! When through the woods, and forest glades I wander And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee How great Thou art, how great Thou art Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee How great Thou art, how great Thou art! And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing He bled and died to take away my sin Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee How great Thou art, how great Thou art Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee How great Thou art, how great Thou art!