SERMON ON PSALM 4 April 29th 2009
Answer me when I call, O God of my right!You gave me room when I was in distress.Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?3But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself;the LORD hears when I call to him. When you are disturbed, do not sin;ponder it on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices,and put your trust in the LORD.There are many who say, "O that we might see some good!Let the light of your face shine on us, O LORD!" You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound. I will both lie down and sleep in peace;for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.
I’m all for our weekly psalm when it raises the issue of a good night’s sleep.
And I say that there is nothing better for a good night’s sleep than waking up one morning discovering a poisonous snake on your bedroom floor. Don’t look for that little nugget in the psalm – it isn’t there, rather it happened to me. But the psalm will have something to say about it before we are done.
Sometime in the 1940’s or 50’s the Brown Tree Snake slithered its way as a stowaway on some ship to the beautiful island of Guam and then with no natural enemies present did what snakes do best – it multiplied and ate everything that it could find and fit into its mouth. Current estimates are that there are 13,000 of these slithering six foot climbing pests per square mile on Guam and I am here to tell you that it only takes one to test the strength of your heart early in the morning.
With two weeks left on the island, where Piper and were both stationed during the early 1990’s, Piper got up to take a shower while I slept on. Christian, not yet two, was asleep next to me. All of a sudden our stray and somewhat attitudinal cat walked into the room an went ballistic. He began growling and hissing and attacking Piper’s bathrobe that lay on the floor. Still half asleep and the room nearly dark, I lifted up the robe and beheld a 3 foot agitated brown tree snake keeping a close eye on me. I screamed for Piper who dashed out of the shower grabbed Christian and then returned for the cat, who was determined to face off against this threat to our home even though the snake was likely already delighted to see that cat was on the menu for breakfast. I yelled to Piper to find me a weapon, anything, while the snake seemed even more agitated that we had removed the cat from the room. Piper returned with a mop and I proceeded to attack the snake like I was hitting for the fences. Enough adrenalin was coursing through my body at this point that I shattered the broom against the wall and proceeded to pummel the snake until it was very very dead. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep that well until we left the island for home. It appeared that the snake had climbed up to the roof and then came down one of the exhaust vents and into the house. At night from then on I wandered around checking every dark corner. It was far worse than the time I found a living scorpion in the closet of an apartment that I shared with two roommates in Orlando and spent the next dozen nights with a flashlight checking every closet before I went to bed armed with a pair of scissors. Could you imagine lying in bed at night wondering if that tickle on your foot was just your imagination or something far worse…?
As I said, I’m all for our weekly psalm when it raises the issue of a good night’s sleep.
We’re not talking pills here or natural supplements, or a nice cup of decaff herbal tea or warm milk. Nope. Counting sheep. Not necessary.
The psalmist declares that he or she will lie down and sleep in peace.
Now that is something to ponder.
Well on this Sunday when we will participate in the Rite of Healing I think that we recognize that an awful lot can keep us up at night. Not only health issues, but fear and anxiety – or a dose of good old fashion worry. The brokenness of our lives or other people’s lives. How many parents in this room have stayed up at night waiting for their children to come home?
I am not naive enough to suggest that a perfect faith leads to a perfect night’s sleep, even if there was such a thing as a perfect faith. But here’s the thing: What the psalmist invites us to do is to face the question of our distress and trust in God rather than in fear, to turn to God rather than fall prey to sin; to allow the triumph of God’s joy to rule in our hearts, rather than our own uncertainty.
It is intriguing that The Psalmist declares that by trusting in God we can lie down in peace and the very gift that Jesus delivers to the disciples in Luke’s Gospel this morning is the gift of his peace, but they struggle with it. Their fear and doubt go hand in hand. Look, we’re no different. By and large, we possess serious issues of trust when it comes to our faith. I am not saying that we shouldn’t care about the things that keep us up at night – the things that birth our fear and anxiety. But there is a difference between not caring about them and letting them consume us. There is a difference between facing the reality of our lives alone and in faith believing that whatever we face in our lives we face with God beside us.
It says in to Paul’s letter to the Philippians: The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Last Sunday I spoke about what it was like for a 15 year old to witness the deterioration of his parent’s marriage ending with his father leaving. Another thing that might keep one up at night is the knowledge that after a painful four months in which one learned to blame, to be clouded by bitterness, even to hate, that the subject of those feelings would be returning. Coming back to work things out. Make another go of it. My first inclination was to fold my arms in defiance. He might be coming back, but he would be my father on my terms. When I was ready. My rules.
I wish that I could tell you that that very night I gave it all to Jesus, the pain and the fear and the doubt and slept in peace for the first time in nearly 9 months, but few things are that neat and tidy. To begin with, Jesus and I weren’t exactly on speaking terms at that point. Both the Psalm and the Gospel reflect the mixed bag of our faith journey – how faith and doubt as unlikely cousins as there ever will be, seem to be together far too often in us. The patience of God to receive our faith and doubt, our refusal to trust, even our muteness when we know that our hearts should be crying out to Him, is amazing t me. But just as Jesus trusts disciples full of both faith and doubt, themselves, with the task of telling the story of God’s grace, God accepts us as we are and is always at the task of inviting us deeper into his peace, his rest, his joy, until at last that day comes or not for each of us. God is faithful, even as we struggle to be in our own faith.