Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 16, 2001
The Psalm: Psalm 51:1-11
Sermon: "God is Present"
The Rev. William D. Oldland

The Psalm:

  1  Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;
    * in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

  2  Wash me through and through from my wickedness
    * and cleanse me from my sin.

  3  For I know my transgressions,
    * and my sin is ever before me.

  4  Against you only have I sinned
    * and done what is evil in your sight.

  5  And so you are justified when you speak
    * and upright in your judgment.

  6  Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,
    * a sinner from my mother's womb.

  7  For behold, you look for truth deep within me,
    * and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

  8  Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;
    * wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

  9  Make me hear of joy and gladness,
    * that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10  Hide your face from my sins
    * and blot out all my iniquities.

11 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    * and renew a right spirit within me.


Psalm 51:1-11

God is Present

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 16, 2001

We are all aware of the tragic events of Tuesday morning. We may even remember where we were when we first heard the news. I know we have seen the pictures of the planes hitting the towers. We have watched the footage of the towers crumbling with people still inside waiting to be rescued. We have seen pictures of the cleanup and we have heard the stories of people who were impacted by this unfathomable event.

This tragic event has impacted all of us. Our feelings and emotions have been and probably still are on an indescribable roller coaster ride. Sometimes we are in shock. We really do not know how we feel. Other times we are grief stricken. We are so sad that our hearts feel heavy and our spirits wane. Other times we are angry. We are so angry we want to lash out. We want to strike back and hurt those who have wounded us so deeply. Sometimes we are simply numb. We have been up and down on the emotional roller coaster so much we do not feel anything at all.

The pictures, the stories, and the feelings combined together hit us at the core of our being . Deep down we identify our own mortality. We recognize we are not in control of all of the events of our lives. As a result we may feel afraid and we may have some questions about God.

In response to this fear and to our questioning God I offer three things. First, I offer the psalms. Second, I offer words of hope from our Lord and Savior. Third, I offer comfort in questioning God.

Many of the psalms address the feelings of a person who has been hurt, wounded or afraid. Psalm 22 begins:

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but find no rest." The psalmist feels alone, and afraid.

In our psalm today, the psalmist recognizes his own mortality and sinfulness.

"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness, in your great compassion blot out my offenses. Wash me through and through from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin."

The psalmists understand where we are right now. They know we are hurting. They know we feel afraid. They know we want answers. They know we are coping with our own mortality. And yet, the psalmists also shed a light for us of hope. They know God is always near. From Psalm 22, the same psalmist who feels alone says,

"Yet, it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother's breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God."

We hear the same message in the words of the 23rd Psalm:

"The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his Name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me. You spread a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, and my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

The writers of the psalms acknowledge on one hand all of our pain, anguish and fear. At the same time they acknowledge the presence of God even in the worst of times. At those times when we feel hurt, at those times when we feel sad, at those times when we fell angry, at those times when we feel like we are all alone, the psalmist proclaims God is near. God is right here with us.

Jesus felt these same emotions. At one point on the cross he asks God why he has been forsaken. And yet at another point he tells the thief today you will be with me in paradise. Throughout his ministry Jesus calls the people to him. He calls the people to God. He tells them Come to me when you feel burdened and I will refresh you. When the leader of the synagogue came to Jesus about his daughter, Jesus and the father of the child heard the news that she had died. Jesus turned to the father of this child and said, "Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved." When Jesus met the women at the tomb he told them "Do not fear." We worship a God who has faced the same things we have. Jesus has faced hurt. Jesus has faced pain and sorrow. Jesus has faced the death of loved ones. Jesus has faced death itself. His words and his actions offer us hope. Whenever we feel pain we can turn to Christ for help. Whenever we feel anger we can turn to Christ for help. Whenever we feel alone we can turn to Christ for help. For in Christ we have all hope in God incarnate. We have our hope in God who came among us in the flesh and leads us to eternal life.

Even though we hope we still are plagued with our questions. Probably the most prevalent question is Why? Why did this have to happen? Why didn't you do something God? Where are you now? I want to say up front I don't know if I can give an answer to the questions of why. The unspeakable acts a person commits against another defy explanation. The tragic events of Tuesday are horrific and will be remembered always. We have the ability to love and we have the ability to hurt, maim, even kill one another. However, I believe God works through it all. One couple was supposed to be on the planes that crashed into the towers. They changed their plans at the last minute. One plane never reached its target because the passengers fought back saving hundreds of lives. Hundreds of people around the world have responded to help find people in the wreckage and help with medical skills. Money, clothing and food are pouring in to feed the workers. Lines for giving blood are long and people are waiting patiently to give. God is in all of these actions. Whenever and wherever people respond in love and compassion to another God is there. Even though we see all the good we still question and I think it is a good thing. When we question we express our belief in God. We believe God is there. When we question we express our hope in God. We want God to allay our fears and address the situation. When we question we express our faith in God. We know we are mortals and we know God offers us eternal life.

So, when we feel afraid, when we feel God is not there I offer three things. Read the psalms. Remember the words and the actions of our Lord and Savior. Finally, question God continually. Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions of God. For through the questions our faith might actually be strengthened.

May God be with the people who have died. May God comfort those who mourn. May God strengthen those involved in the care of the hurt and the wounded. May God be with us and remove from us all fear and help us find ways to respond.


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