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05.03.20 Together in Spirit Psalm 42-3, Ephesians 3.16-21 Sermon Summary

by on May 4, 2020

Some people come to the church expecting it to be uplifting all the time. They say the rest of the week and the real world is already too discouraging. The church is about “good news,” right? But how can we understand “good” unless we acknowledge “bad”?

Jesus came to proclaim “good news to the poor,” and taught that, “blessed are the poor in spirit.” It is where we are poor that the good news is good, and it is in our poverty that we experience the blessing of God.

Psalm 42-43 (originally one psalm) speaks of being “downcast.” Here is a person in touch with his poverty of soul. He is like Moses, Elijah, and Jeremiah—heroes of the faith who all experienced being downcast. Jesus himself tells his disciples, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38)

Being downcast in soul is like watching a deer desperately searching for water in the desert. “My soul thirsts for God,” reports the psalmist. This burning awareness is more obvious after a long absence, after an extended deprivation. “Day and night,” we’re told the psalmist waits. It is long enough to draw the attention of his neighbors who ask, “Where is your god?”

Such extended seasons may not happen often. Last year a friend said to me, “I’m concerned for you, and I have been for a while.” “When did you start,” I asked. “A couple of years ago.”

How long would it take for you? How many “days and nights” would pass? How long before you couldn’t fake it anymore? How long before it becomes obvious to your friends that your soul is cast down?

Many of us feeling cast down right now. We are experiencing deprivation on several fronts. Social distancing keeps us from our friends and families. Limits to our physical activities deprive us of health. And spiritually we have given up corporate worship in our sanctuaries.

In these circumstances we remember better times. Like the psalmist, we remember worship together. “As I pour out my soul, I remember going to the house of the Lord, with songs of thanksgiving.” We used to have our Sunday routines. I would see you situating yourself in the sanctuary, greeting people, reading the bulletin, maybe marking the hymnal. We would hear the organ and watch choir and instrumentalists. Together we would sit and stand. And we would share communion.

These deprivations have made us thirsty. It has been “days and nights.” It has been long enough for people to notice. I hear it in your voices. I see it in your faces. I read it in your emails. Remote worship doesn’t really satisfy. We can’t look into each other’s eyes. We can’t hear the richness of the music. We can’t give and receive.

Our souls have been cast down. Other deprivations have cast our souls down also. At the end of the day you may ask yourself, “Why am I so easily frustrated? Why do I feel unsettled? Why have I been so impatient?” The reason is that our souls are downcast. We are experiencing an impoverishment. And then it becomes real: Christ came to preach good news to the impoverished.

In Federico Villanueva’s book It’s OK to Be Not OK he writes, “The good news is that you don’t have to pretend you are not [OK]. Like the psalmist, you can actually say, ‘My soul is downcast.’ It’s OK to be down. It’s OK to admit we are down. Most importantly, it’s OK to come to God when we are down – especially when we are down.” (p. 21)

How do we come to God when our souls are downcast? There are commonalities, of course, but for everyone it’s a little different. For me, I return to liturgical prayer. I find in the liturgy reliable words from the church’s past to help me in the present.

During this down time I have included the words of Martin Luther who lived through plagues, societal upheaval, and church transformation. In Jesus, Remember Me I read these words of Luther: “When a heart is in doubt, it may very quickly be driven to blasphemy and despair. This is why St. Paul so frequently exhorts us to have full assurance, that is a firm and immovable recognition of God’s will towards us, which gives us assurance to our consciences and steels them against doubt and unbelief.” (p. 17)

And so alongside Psalm 42-43 I read Ephesians 3:16-21. And I make four observations that help me during this time when my soul is downcast. First, it is out of God’s fullness, Spirit, and “glory” that God responds to us. There is an abundance in God that cannot be exhausted by our need.

Second, God’s response to us strengthens and indwells us. And the substance of God’s response is that we are loved. Third, this is a mystery. It is beyond head-knowledge. This comfort is God-given. It may be prayer-sought, but it must be believed. It can’t be known by conventional means but by faith alone.

Finally, the hope we receive from God is church-wide and multi-generational. So often our troubles focus our attention on ourselves. Ephesians reminds us that life includes struggles and it is not just about us. There is hope in other places. There is hope in other times.

If your soul is downcast you are not alone. You are in good company. Be honest about it. Ask why. Tell God about it. Be not ashamed of your poverty, for it is in deprivation that God’s Word comes to us. Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor. Hope in God, for we shall again praise him.

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