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05.17.20 When the Road is Long Psalm 13 and Philippians 1 Sermon Summary

by on May 18, 2020

The road was long for Abraham and Sarah as they travelled to Canaan and waited for a child. The road was long for Joseph when he was sold as a slave to Egypt and waited for the fulfilment of his dreams. The road was long for Moses when he hid as a fugitive and later when he crossed the desert. The road was long for Anna the widow of eighty-four who was one of first people to recognize the redemption that came in Jesus.

The road was long for the Samaritan Woman who was passed around in marriage and now finds herself walking back and forth to the water well. The road was long for Paul from his baptism in Damascus to his martyrdom in Rome. The road was long for Jesus as he went healing and teaching through Galilee then taught in Jerusalem on his way to the Cross.

And the road is long for us today. Where is this all leading? And how long will it take? “How long, O Lord?”

“How long, O Lord” is a four- word summary of faith. It is honest about our experience. It looks to God for deliverance. “How long, O Lord” is the shortest form of lament. But is lament faithful? The answer is yes.

Lament is faithful because it is trusting and true. Lament (1) trusts that God sees us and is listening. It (2) trusts that God cares and is loving. Lament (3) trusts that God is just, and it (4) tells the truth about suffering—either our own or that of others. And lament (5) remembers that God is all compassion because God’s suffering is exhaustive.

In all these ways, lament is faithful, and we need look no further than a passage like Psalm 13 to verify that it is. “How long, O Lord” is the shortest form of lament. Lament is faithful. So “How long, O Lord” is a four-word summary of faith.

But how do we go from Psalm 13:1-4 which states, “How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?” to verses 5-6 which say, “My heart shall rejoice in your salvation, I will sing to the LORD”? How do we deal with our impatience?

For many of us, there are two primary areas of impatience. The first is highly personal. We’ve been at this Christian thing for a while, and yet we are still struggling with temptation.  (The theological technical term for this is “sanctification.”) Then there is our impatience with regards to society. We see injustice and societal tribulations—the ways our societies fall short of the Kingdom ideals—and we grow impatient.

The Apostle Paul, usually writing from prison, often faced an uncertain future. He was one who may have asked, “How long, O Lord?” Consider the opening verses of Philippians.

There are two strategies Paul uses to combat his impatience. One is looking ahead to the harvest. The other results from the Philippians’ “sharing in the Gospel.”

First, what does it mean to look ahead to the harvest? Reaping a harvest comes only after a long process. It actually begins when one keeps the seeds from the last harvest. Then one has to prepare the ground for planting. After one plants the seeds of the new season, one endures watering, weeding, and waiting.

Harvesting fruit takes time. But it is the promise of the final outcome, what Paul refers to as “a coming day of Christ,” that gives the Christian hope. Paul’s confidence in this promise is certain, because “God is faithful to complete the work that God has begun”—no matter how long it takes.

Pauls’ second strategy for dealing with impatience is the “sharing in the Gospel.” He gives thanks for the Philippians’ sharing “from the first day until now.” (1:5) This sharing is not just “belief” or “accepting Christ.” In the third chapter Paul says, “I have suffered the loss of all things in order that I may gain Christ . . . Join in imitating me.”

For Paul, “sharing in the Gospel” means solidarity in suffering. Paul doesn’t know the outcome of this imprisonment. Will he be released? Will he be punished then released? Will he be martyred? And how long will the imprisonment last? Paul does not know, but he knows he’s not alone. The Philippians share in the Gospel with him.

With this in mind, we see that what Paul writes to the Philippians he is writing to himself. He is assuring himself and them. And it applies also to us today. “[Christians are] a people of future glory and at the same time, of present suffering. We are simultaneously a people of the cross and of the resurrection. We have already within us the firstfruits of eternity, yet we bear in our bodies the marks of suffering.” (Villanueva, Federico G. It’s OK to Be Not OK p. 74).

As in the Psalm, Paul asks the question, “How long, O Lord?” And so do we. We await the day of Christ, when we will see growth in our personal spiritual lives, when we will see our societies better resemble the Kingdom of God. But any day could be day of Christ, and so God must be working every day.

And since God always working, we have to remain open, flexible, and teachable. And we also have to be constantly discerning. Paul prays that we will, “grow in love, knowledge, insight, and discernment” of what is best.

This is how we get to Psalm 13:5-6 from verses 1-4. We (1) keep the Kingdom promise in view. In the meantime, we (2) “share in the Gospel” with others. We (3) practice discernment. And we (4) trust God’s timing and God’s hidden work.

With time we will arrive at Psalm 13:5-6, which says, “I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” These verses remind us—and they remind God—that until it is answered, our question remains: “How long, O Lord?”

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