Happy Columbus Day Weekend! I hope you are all having a wonderful and restful long weekend. It’s hard to believe that fall is falling all around us. Halfway through October already? How is that even possible …
Here is this morning’s sermon – enjoy!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
October 11, 2015
It Is Okay To Have Doubts
My mom does not really like Disney movies.
“SOMEBODY ALWAYS DIES!” she will say every time you ask her about it. “Why does someone always have to die? Why can’t ‘Happily Ever After’ just be happily ever after?”
She has a point. I saw The Lion King on Broadway a few years ago and remember being a little bit horrified during the scene where Simba’s father was killed. They somehow propelled the lion up the side of the proscenium and then sent him flying down to his death. While I was certainly impressed with the technical theatrics of it all, it was so real that it actually took my breath away. I mean, what the heck? I just wanted a nice afternoon at the theater.
So I never really argue with my mom about this (because – let’s face it – she does have a point and a little bit of ‘Happily Ever After’ never hurt anybody) but I am also not sure that it is the best idea for us, as human beings and as Christians, to put on rose-colored glasses for everything in life. I do not want to be a Debbie downer or anything, but – let’s face it – life sucks sometimes. (Amen?) On some level we all have to be realistic about this; we cannot put on blinders to the realities of our imperfect world because at some point we will inevitably have to cope with tragedies and hardships; this is just life.
I think the same is true when it comes to learning about our faith and reading scripture. Bruce and I were driving up to New Hampshire yesterday and I was working on my sermon so I read him this passage from Psalms. When I finished, he looked at me and said, “Well that is depressing, why did you pick that one?”
Believe me, I had been asking myself that same question all week.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night but find no rest. (Psalm 22:1)
I would not blame any of you if you were thinking to yourself right now, “Man this is kind of a bummer; I thought I came to church this morning to hear something cheerful and uplifting. I wonder if it is too late to sneak out the back.”
The truth is; most of us do not really want to see this darker side of our faith. We do not want to hear about these haunting scriptures that imply that God is nowhere to be found; scriptures that are supposed to uphold us and sustain us and give us hope that there is light in the midst of darkness. We want hope and encouragement that things are going to be okay. We want our faith to be the driving force that is pushing us to keep going when all we want to do is curl up in a ball and escape from the rest of the world. We want reassurance – in those moments when we are crying out, “God why have you forgotten me?” – that God will never forget us.
But … I also think that it is just as important for us to have a space where it is safe to have honest doubts about our faith. We need to be able to come together and ask hard questions about where God is in the midst of our own personal heartache and tragedy. We need to have a place where we can cry out, “God where are you?” and know that no one is judging us for asking this question and that people are there loving us and supporting us as we wait for an answer.
This scripture allows us to do this.
Look, I am all about trying to look on the bright side of life, but sometimes – when the weight of the world is falling quickly upon us – we just cannot summon the courage to have a positive attitude about it all. We are reminded in this scripture that is okay to be broken; that there are moments in our lives when we will absolutely fall apart.
And that is okay.
Because in those moments – when we surrender ourselves to that brokenness – we have no choice but to just wait and see where grace will intervene. And the good news is that, in those moments, we are in good company.
The bible is not just full of delightful narratives outlining people of great faith and conviction, praising and trusting God every single moment of their lives. The bible is also full of raw and heartbreaking stories about moments in people’s lives where they experience real pain in their lives and cry desperately out to God.
It is okay to have doubts. It is okay to question God. It is okay to be angry with God. It is okay to ask, “Why me?” and “Where are you?” These questions to not make us weak; these questions make us human. While these questions do open us up to be vulnerable, they also open us up to be filled with God’s grace, hope and love in a way that can and will heal us.
As Christians, we need to resist the urge to make delineations in the bible between the “violence of the Old Testament” and the “love of the New Testament” because the New Testament does give us glimpses into moments when Jesus was feeling just as abandoned and helpless as we feel in our darkest moments.
I know that we are closer to Christmas right now than we are to Easter, but let’s talk about the Easter story for a second. There are four accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion in the bible – one in each gospel; two of them draw directly from this psalm.
In both the gospel of Matthew and the gospel of Mark, this is what happened after Jesus was crucified:
At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34, NRSV)
The foundation of our faith is not some distant God that we cannot see or feel or understand in our lives. Our faith is grounded in an incarnational love that came into our midst; a love that lived in our human world, experienced the pain that we all experience and cried out in despair when there was nothing left to do.
Jesus surrendered himself to his own brokenness on that cross and grace most certainly did intervene.
And it will in our lives as well.
As Christians, we cannot just pretend that everything is okay and ignore the real pain and heartbreak that people are experiencing every single day. Our faith is not just a Band-Aid that can cover our wounds so they disappear; sometimes our faith has to be the painful process of debriding and cleaning out those wounds so that they have the opportunity to truly heal. Sometimes having faith means feeling anger – real and true anger – towards God so that we can be drawn closer to God through the process of forgiveness. Sometimes having faith means seeking a stronger connection and closeness to God that you can only understand you need by feeling abandoned.
The psalmist goes back and forth in this passage between crying out in agony to God and proclaiming a faith and trust in God.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. (Psalm 22:2)
This scripture is very much a verbal ping-pong game between the conflicting emotions of someone who believes in God but also who feels alone and abandoned. And these words – canonized as blessed as scriptures of our faith – assure us that it is okay to feel like this once in awhile. We, too, are allowed to struggle. We, too, are allowed to doubt. We, too, are allowed to believe in God, but also wonder where God is in the midst of everything that you are going through.
It is okay.
So let yourself be human. Have doubts. Cry out, even if you do not think that anyone listening. Question the things that do not make sense. Be honest with yourself and with the people in your community of faith who can support you and love you and pray for you.
Let yourself be broken so you can allow yourself to be healed.
Thanks be to God!