Monday, August 22, 2011

the audacity to hope

What a wonderful, wonderful sermon our pastor delivered on Sunday. Somehow I knew, when I saw at the start of service that the sermon would be on "Waiting in Hope", that I would be hearing from God.

The sermon was based on Psalm 42, a beautiful psalm I've always loved:

"AS THE hart pants and longs for the water brooks, so I pant and long for You, O God.

My inner self thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?

My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, Where is your God?

These things I [earnestly] remember and pour myself out within me: how I went slowly before the throng and led them in procession to the house of God [like a bandmaster before his band, timing the steps to the sound of music and the chant of song], with the voice of shouting and praise, a throng keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my inner self? And why should you moan over me and be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, my Help and my God.

O my God, my life is cast down upon me [and I find the burden more than I can bear]; therefore will I [earnestly] remember You from the land of the Jordan [River] and the [summits of Mount] Hermon, from the little mountain Mizar.

[Roaring] deep calls to [roaring] deep at the thunder of Your waterspouts; all Your breakers and Your rolling waves have gone over me.

Yet the Lord will command His loving-kindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

I will say to God my Rock, Why have You forgotten me? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

As with a sword [crushing] in my bones, my enemies taunt and reproach me, while they say continually to me, Where is your God?

Why are you cast down, O my inner self? And why should you moan over me and be disquieted within me? Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, Who is the help of my countenance, and my God".

In his sermon, our pastor showed the beautiful Symbolist painting Hope by George Frederic Watts. In it, Hope sits hunched on a globe, holding a lyre with only one string left unbroken. Melancholy, poignant, breathtaking -- what a depiction of hope! Sometimes in life, we too listen, listen, listen to that last unbroken string.

Watts himself had said, "Hope need not mean expectancy. It suggests here rather the music which can come from the remaining chord". But -- always this wonderful hope -- we have God. We have God!

"Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him, for I shall yet praise Him, Who is the help of my countenance, and my God".

I shall yet praise Him. Our pastor asked if we could still say this in the midst of our storms. While we're going through them, they seem terrible and unending, and we become fearful and lose our hope -- but we musn't, we mustn't! Hope in God and wait expectantly for Him!

This is from a post I'd written about those stormy "middles". I was referring to Mark ch 4, in which Jesus and the disciples took a boat to get to "the other side". A furious storm arose, and the disciples started panicking; they woke Jesus up -- He was asleep in the stern -- and He arose and calmed the storm. Then he asked them, "Why are you so timid and fearful? How is it that you have no faith (no firmly relying trust)?"

In my post, I wrote: "And then -- after the stormy "interval" -- "They came to the other side of the sea"... God is always with us, He WILL see us safely through, and we WILL come out on the other side. We just have to have faith and press on with a good, bold attitude. I need God's grace to do so, and so I ask Him for it. Sometimes it seems like God is "asleep in the boat" and we start panicking, but we have to remember HE IS ALWAYS IN CONTROL and though we are not, it is enough that we know the One who is".

That unbroken string. Like Hope in Watt's painting, we can lean in and listen to that seemingly faint music, while waiting on God, patiently and confidently. As our pastor described it, that waiting in hope is essentially looking forward to the day when you will praise God for your deliverance. And this is not something apathetic and passive, but active, and full of expectancy. Our pastor referred here to Isaiah 40:31:

"But those who wait for the Lord [who expect, look for, and hope in Him] shall change and renew their strength and power; they shall lift their wings and mount up [close to God] as eagles [mount up to the sun]; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint or become tired".

Trust God to bring you above your circumstances, to strengthen you and sustain you. Wait expectantly! God is faithful! Seek Him passionately, and, in the meantime, give others hope -- God will deliver you, in His time.

"My soul, wait only upon God and silently submit to Him; for my hope and expectation are from Him.

He only is my Rock and my Salvation; He is my Defense and my Fortress, I shall not be moved.

With God rests my salvation and my glory; He is my Rock of unyielding strength and impenetrable hardness, and my refuge is in God!

Trust in, lean on, rely on, and have confidence in Him at all times... pour out your hearts before Him. God is a refuge for us (a fortress and a high tower)" (Ps 62:5-8).

While listening to the sermon, I thought of something I'd read by the late Anglican Canon T. D. Harford-Battersby:

"I cannot say that I have never for a moment ceased to trust the Lord to keep me. But I can say that so long as I have trusted Him, He has kept me; He has been faithful".

Interestingly, the American pastor Jeremiah Wright was inspired by a lecture on Watts' painting to give a sermon in which he said, "With her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God... To take the one string you have left and to have the audacity to hope... that's the real word God will have us hear from this passage and from Watt's painting" (from Preaching Today, 1990).

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