Most people will do anything for their children. For example, many adults
put forth a tremendous effort for Vacation Bible School, youth mission trips,
and Sunday school. Twenty years ago, I never imagined how many Beanie Babies
or paint ball supplies I would purchase. Who could have guessed the number
of trips to Chuck E. Cheese simply because Junior loved to go? Parents pay
for weddings, college, and braces. We bail the kids out of jail, pay for counseling,
and even buy their first and second cars. Moreover, we do things for our children
gladly. If you are a parent then you know: We will do anything for our children.
The fact that we love our children so desperately gives a particular pathos
to today’s lesson.
We fear this story. Of all biblical stories, this is a story that we
can hardly imagine. The preachers who glibly suggest that “unless you have
the kind of faith that Abraham displayed on Moriah, then you do not have real
faith,” miss the mark. These preachers fail to appreciate the natural love
that parents have for children. Few of us can ever understand the depths of
this story, but Mrs. Gregory helped me understand.
I regularly went to visit her because she helped me learn something that
I never want to experience. On my first visit, Mrs. Gregory told me she was
91 years old. When entering her house, she sat me down in the front room.
She made no attempt at conversation and so I chatted away and listened to the
rhythmic tick-tock of her hall clock. Then, after about thirty minutes of my
talk and her silence, I stood to leave. With authority she commanded me to
sit – and so I did. After a long time she then said, “All three of my adult
children have died before me, and although my friends tell me long life is a
blessing, I assure you preacher, it is a curse. I don’t need to hear you jabber
away. I need you to sit here while in my mind I argue and fuss with God.”
I replied, “Yes,
ma’am, I’ll sit.” I sat as silently as old Calvin Coolidge. No noise passed
through my ears except that infernal clock. Finally, she said, “It is all right
now. You can say your little prayer and get along.” She and I spent many long
afternoons like that one. She helped me understand her special burden. She
was a person who lived the fury Psalm 13. (read
13 begins with a series of rhetorical questions. The Psalmist asked these questions
not so much for an answer, but rather to make a statement. From the Psalmist’s
perspective, Yahweh causes the petitioner’s predicament. The Psalmist experiences
disorientation when God is absent. Life appears as a bundle of tribulations
and the Psalmist holds Yahweh responsible. It may shock us in the pietistic
tradition that a prayer could produce such outpourings of anger toward God.
If we carefully read the individual lament Psalms, however, we soon discover
just how angry a pious Jew can be when addressing God. Without relationship
there exists no anger. The screaming and wrath toward Yahweh suggests that
the prayer is serious about his relationship with God.
A good contemporary illustration of this vehement outpouring toward God
comes from the 1994 Academy Award winning film Forrest
Gump. In this film Lieutenant Dan Taylor loses both his legs in
war and refuses to live. When a hurricane arrives off the Louisiana coast,
Lieutenant Dan lashes himself to boat’s mast and dares God to destroy him.
God spares Lieutenant Dan, however, but the scene in which he shakes his fist
and blames God for his predicament is similar to the substance of Psalm 13.
There are times
in life when it overwhelms us. Not all of us are capable of always putting
a happy face on our circumstances in life – nor should we! Jews prayed to God
their lives – for better and for worse. They never seemed to hold anything
back. We can pray like this too. We can be confident that our God, who sacrificed
his own son as Abraham almost did, is a God who accepts all our rage and frustration.
After we vent our hostility, however, we will find God still there-a God who
loves us even more than we love ourselves. Perhaps, God does not care so much
about either the quality or quantity of our prayers. God’s primary interest
is that we continue to struggle with this marvelous thing we call life. Life
is, after all, God’s most precious gift to us. (David
Sermon brief provided by: David N. Mosser, Pastor of First United
Methodist Church in Arlington, TX.