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My Cry For Help

September 25, 2022

My Cry For Help

Preacher:
Passage: Psalm 55
Service Type:

A longtime friend said to me this week, “I now understand how people can give up and don’t want to live anymore.”

He might find his feelings expressed well in this Psalm. It is a hymn that gathers the worst of human experience and presents it as an offering to God. This psalm has been sung and recited in worship services for millennia. It has staying power simply because it describes the way most of us feel some of the time, the way a few of us feel all the time.

Here is the confession of the human soul: sad, angry, desperate, but also confident in God: that God knows our situation, hears our prayers, and comes to us in love and power; renewing our spirit so that even when we cannot sing for joy we can live in hope.

Maybe this psalm, this confession, this summary, is the truth that needs to come tumbling out of your heart today. If so, you are in good company.

I.

This is the psalm for every person sometime in life.

“I am overwhelmed by my troubles,” verse two declares. You can insert any adjective you want in that sentence: health troubles, financial troubles, career troubles, marriage troubles, legal troubles. Any of these can get the adrenaline pumping in your body. “My heart pounds in my chest,” the psalmist writes here in verse four. That experience—of the sudden surge of adrenaline—is the same the world over, throughout history. Sometimes it goes as far as verse five: “I can’t stop shaking.”  This is not anger, it is fear: fear of failure, of loss, of loneliness, of being found out, of public humiliation, of no longer having control of your own body, your own affairs, your own destiny.

This is what it means to be a person. But maybe wild animals know this kind of danger.   To illustrate this, I am going to confess something: I am fascinated by the videos of wild animals attacking other wild animals. There are hundreds of these videos on YouTube, and the most fearful to watch are these: the python surprising the alligator, the crocodile surging out of the water to attack the deer, and the lion or tiger chasing anything, everything. We put these animals in zoos to observe them and photograph them; but in their national habitat they stalk, surprise, and seize one another in that basic struggle for survival.

Too often human life is just like that. The strong eat the weak, the clever surprise the dull, the scheming seize the snoozing. “I see violence and conflict in the city” this psalmist sings in verse nine, and we say the same. For some it is the street gang, for others it is the bank sending it tentacles of fees and interest in all directions squeezing the financial life out of struggling families and businesses. “Everything is falling apart,” the choir sings verse 11 in the ancient Israelite temple, “threats and cheating are rampant in the streets.”

This weekend in Detroit, a terrible story illustrates the next stanza of this always-contemporary sanctuary song. The man came to visit his friends, and before the day was over, the husband was dead, the child was bound and gaged in a closet, and the mother and her five-year old daughter were fleeing down the street calling for help. The perpetrator of this despicable crime was a family friend, often in the house, welcomed this past Friday with open arms. Police found him cowering in the basement, according to official reports, a “54-year-old white male suspect in the basement with self-inflicted wounds who had overdosed but survived the suicide attempt.” It drew attention because the dead man was a prominent news anchor in the city.

I would not be surprised if the final desperate announcement of that professional reporter used the words of this psalm, verses 12 and 13: “It is not an enemy who taunts me…instead it is you—my companion and close friend.”

Have you ever had a friend turn on you?

It has happened to me more than once, in the ministry. A young man on our church ministry team in another city came to me and said, “It is time for you to move on.” I had picked him out of the lineup of prospective ministers at the seminary. He had been on the job less than two years. He was sure it was his skills rather than mine, his leadership rather than mine, his future rather than mine that our congregation needed. It was a sad and bitter struggle.

Verse 21 of this psalm reads like this: “His words are as smooth as butter but in his heart is war. His words are as soothing as lotion, but underneath are daggers!”

Some things never change.

II.

This is the psalm, not just for you and me, but for Jesus.

It describes his own life journey with great accuracy and sadness.

One of the great affirmations of Christian faith is this: Jesus was a man, a person, a human being. In a few weeks, we will begin the annual celebration of his birth: the baby born in a manager: weak, helpless, poor. It is a beautiful story. Some people surmise it is the most popular religious festival in the world. That is, no doubt, because it is now associated with Santa Claus. But long before St. Nick, the birth of Jesus connected with people because it is the most human of all events: a woman gives birth…while the man stands outside and waits!

Every element of birth—you make the list—could be said of Jesus. He was born just like you and me. He was a baby, a boy, a man, with all the moods and manners of life, with all the urges and impulses that have pushed you around while you were growing up and growing old, with all the trials and temptations that have undermined your determination to be what God wants you to be.

An early apostle described Jesus this way, as recorded in the book we call Hebrews: “he understands our weaknesses for he faced all the same testings we do.”

All the same testings: when I wrote that word “testings” in my manuscript, the computer program flagged it, underlined it in red, alerting me to the fact that it was not found in the digital dictionary. Maybe so: my computer may not know the word, but I do, you do! We know what testings are, don’t we?

A testing is when we want to get even with somebody who did us wrong.

A testing is when we can keep the money rather than turn it in.

A testing is when we keep quiet when those around us are berating a person who is not part of our group, an outsider, a stranger.

We know what a testing is. And Jesus knew all about testing. Our documents, these gospels we treasure and read, describe in rather stylized manner the testing of Jesus. He went to the wilderness, alone, the story goes. Three times Satan, the evil one, offers him a choice.

“Turn these stones into bread’—work a miracle, wow the crowd, become a celebrity. Jesus said No.

“Jump off this temple ledge,” Satan said, “the people will be impressed and come flocking to you.” Jesus said No.

Finally, Satan said, “follow me,” presaging the message of Jesus himself. Jesus said No.

In all the ways we are tempted to undermine faith, hope, and love, Jesus was tested. Even in that moment when his friends turned against him—Judas, who betrayed him, and Simon Peter who denied him, and each of us who ignore him—as this song describes—Jesus was faithful, calling out to God for help, living with hope even when it was impossible to sing for joy.

“I am trusting you to save me,” Jesus said in so many words, echoing the last verse of this temple song. Or as verse 16 reads, “I will call on God and the Lord will rescue me. Morning, noon, and night I cry out in my distress and the Lord hears my voice.”

Jesus prayed this prayer, and so can you.

III.

What line of this hymn speaks for you today?

Maybe it is the opening line, “Listen to my prayer, O God.”

Maybe it is this confession, “I am overwhelmed by my troubles.”

Maybe it is this desire to escape, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove. I would fly away.”

Life is not easy. It is not always easy to sing for joy and live with hope. Too often, we want to shout a curse rather than sing for joy. Too often, we are tempted to live with regret rather than live with hope.

What is tempting you today?

Disgust at a friend for turning on you?

Despair at a reversal of fortune?

Depression at the circumstances that have interrupted your plans?

Repeating this psalm helps to drain out of our souls all these unholy habits.

Reading this psalm helps to counter the cruelty of these common curses.

Remembering these words, and remembering the life and struggles of Jesus, and remembering the testimonies of others who have survived the worse life has to offer helps to keep our feet on the solid ground, keep our eyes on the celestial city, and keep our souls singing, “On Christ the solid rock, I stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

I knelt this week in front of my house and surveyed the weeds that have overtaken the flowers I planted last spring. I had a small hand shovel, a trowel, and a small set of clippers. One by one, weed by weed, I went to work: digging here, pulling there, clipping when I needed to, and time and again scooping it all up and throwing it into the barrel. My knees got sore; my hands got dirty; my fingers were, more than once, pricked by the stickers I did not see.

But my soul was happy. Inch by inch, bush by bush, weed by weed, I was pushing back the chaos that had overwhelmed all that I had planted with such hopes. You know that feeling, don’t you? It is the dirty work of daily devotion, of doing what is right in the small things of life believing that God will send the sunshine of love and the rainfall of delight, and give the increase, the beauty, the righteousness of the life well lived.

It is the story of the human and fallible staying in touch with the divine and dependable to produce what we all want, a spirit that sings for joy and a soul that lives in hope. Or in the words of this psalm, “giving our burdens to the Lord so that our God will take care of us.”

Amen

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