Circling Back To Hope

Psalm 42-43
Ordinary Time
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Tears filled her tired eyes. She had spent a couple of weeks making all the arrangements for her parents to go back to Ohio with a caregiver, and then her mother was hospitalized. Complications, cancelled flight, changed plans to include a heart procedure in Cleveland, Ohio. I’m speaking of our friend, Diane, who with Bill, had hoped to be with us at Peace longer this summer. Life caring for elderly parents is stressful. The enemy is disease, the relentless falling apart of our bodies.

At the other end of the age spectrum we have the roller coaster adolescent years. One day everything’s great. Sun is shining, friends are cool, school is tolerable. Next day everything’s terrible. Teachers were mean. Practice was awful. Friends betray a trust or parents embarrass. The enemy is insecurity and the collection of other insecure people, trying to grow up together.

An adult couple enjoyed a delicious dinner. The after dinner movie was stimulating. The after movie conversation was interesting. The after conversation drinks were relaxing. The after drink activities were fulfilling. Same couple – different night. The dinner was punctuated by critical comments. One person dozed through the movie. Bedtime was interrupted by a toddler with an earache or a teenager, who is not home by curfew. Argument ensues about how to handle the toddler or the teen. The enemy is exhaustion, the pressures of adult life, and the challenges of living in loving, forgiving relationship.

The circle of life. Some days, some months, some years are really frustrating. And I haven’t even mentioned the really hard stuff – death, debilitating disease, dangerous drinking and drugs, divorce, disabilities. And what about deep debt, deadly oil spills, dead-end job searches, depression, despair over dieting, disrespectful debates.

Some of you talk to yourselves. We all do, really, either in our heads or aloud. So what is it that you say? What you say matters a lot.

The psalmist has a running conversation with him or herself, saying, “Why are you so down and out? Why are people tormenting you – driving you crazy, making you think there is no God. Note to self: Remember who God is. Have a little hope. Soon you’ll be praising God again.

We’re going to read these two psalms together because they really are one unit. So when we come to the repeated dialogue with self, I invite you to read it with me. It will be clearly marked.

NRS Psalm 42 As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? 3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, "Where is your God?" 4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. 5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help 6 and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. 7 Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me. 8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. 9 I say to God, my rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?" 10 As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, "Where is your God?" 11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
NRS Psalm 43 Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; from those who are deceitful and unjust deliver me! 2 For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you cast me off? Why must I walk about mournfully because of the oppression of the enemy? 3 O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. 4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God. 5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

I can remember reading this psalm from the old red hymnal as a kid and reciting these very lines. They mean more to me today because of their ring of familiarity. “Hope in God for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.” Words have a powerful way of shaping our reality.

When my dad was facing life-treatening surgery for the second time in his retirement years, I faced the fact that he might die. I remember driving alone from Montgomery, AL, to Durham, N. Carolina. I began to sob and so I started singing hymns and spiritual songs. At the top of my lungs I sang those songs as if the sheer volume of it all would drive my fears away. I think it did. He died several years later in this month of June, but by then I had done some of my grieving early. Those extra years beyond cancer diagnosis were a gift before the stroke which took him.

Let’s sing the psalm now and put these reminders to self in the right part of our brains, as well as the left. Let’s take this hope into our hearts as we sing the mournful tune of “Go down Moses”

Sing Psalm 42 &43 by Hal Hopson. O why are you cast down, my soul? Wait for the Lord. O why such grief, my inmost heart? Wait for the Lord.

Labyrinths help us to journey to the center of our deepest self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who we are. So with this pair of Psalms of Judaism, which we read as Christians, believing Christ was in the beginning with God.

The journey begins with water, the symbol of our baptism and our union with Christ. There is the water of our tears, our suffering with Christ, and the water of chaos, calling us to depend on Christ.

Water in your life can serve as a labyrinth, reminding you of your need for God. Every time this summer as you feel desperately parched and fill your glass with water, give thanks for the one who quenches your deepest thirst. When you stand under the shower head, with water flowing over to wash and refresh your body, think of Christ who marked you on your head as God’s beloved child and washed your soul.

As you pass over the Skyway bridge, think of the God who can calm the storms, who may cause you (or allow you, if you prefer that notion) to pass through raging waters in which you will not drown, but have opportunity to grow all the more dependent on God, so you may sing songs of praise even in the dark of night of the soul. As you stand on the beach to watch the ebb and the tide of the ocean, think of the steadfast love of God which never stops rolling in to wash over you, forgiving and restoring you.

A life of faith is a labyrinth of going deeper and deeper, even as we pass by familiar paths, circling back to hope. The psalmist finds hope in remembering the good times, the mountaintop experiences, surrounded by friends and family, in the procession of the faithful. The remembrance is especially significant now that sickness or something prevents him from going the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Our joyful, remembrances sustain us with hope when loneliness and despair creep in and we find ourselves saying to our souls, “Why are you so bummed out? Why are you so restless and afraid?” And we remember the answer, “Hope in God. For I will circle back to praise the Lord, my help and my God.”

What I find most fascinating about this psalm is that it encourages us to hope in God, while never ignoring the situation of hopelessness. We are encouraged to hope in God, and we wait for that hope to arrive. Hope in God. Come on, remember all the good God has done. But then wait for hope and lament to God. Hope is not immediate. We are circling back to hope, coming round to praising God. There may be some mournful days, when there are no songs. We do not hop from mountaintop to mountaintop. The valleys are in between.

And when you are in the valley, when people are looking at you, and you see them wondering, “Why can’t she pull it together? Isn’t she a believer? I thought he was a church-goer? Why isn’t God helping him now? I mean, look at his messed up life?” “Where is your God?” remember that your hope and your help are in God. In Bible times, suffering was often understood to be a sign of God’s absence or disapproval. But the whole book of Job and many of the Psalms, not to mention Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians and our Call to Discipleship from Romans 5, help us to counter that thought. Sometimes in our day people consider all the bad things in the world a sign that God doesn’t exist or doesn’t care or isn’t involved in our lives. And that can be discouraging to those of us who are hanging on to faith in troubled times.

But these psalms remind us that the discouragement and hope are a normal part of the journey of faith. In the labyrinth of life, we circle back through grief as we pass by significant dates and memories. We sometimes circle back to failures in areas of life that we have battled and are still weak, but by God’s grace we can circle back to hope.

And today and every Sunday we circle back to worship, to labyrinth through our faith again, remembering who we are, as the beloved children of God. We circle back to hope, knowing we are baptized into Christ’s life and his death, suffering to grow strong in endurance and character, eventually making our way around the labyrinth of life to the deepest place of hope in God, where no one can rock our secure faith in God.

We are traveling to that deep place of faith, the holy hill of hope tested by suffering, where nothing can separate us from the love of God, , who circled this life with us in Jesus Christ and who promises to lead us round the bend to our final home.

On Christ, the solid rock we stand. All other ground is sinking sand. Circle back through the maze of your particular struggle to hope, and as you do, find hope rising up in you.