Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

Text: Psalm 28:1,2,7
Don't refuse to help me when I pray. If you don't answer me, I will soon be dead.  Please listen to my prayer and my cry for helpÖ. You are my strong shield, and I trust you completely. (CEV)

Lord, help me when I pray

This week we heard of the rescue of a young American soldier from the hands of the Iraqis. We witnessed the relief and joy of her parents. They were so happy that everything had turned out so well. What we didnít see, however, were these parents while they waited and worried about their daughterís fate. Was she dead? Was she badly wounded? Was she being badly treated by the enemy? I donít know if they are Christians or not, but if they are they must have spent a lot of time appealing to God to bring their daughter back home safe and sound.

What about the families of those soldiers who are still missing? We can hardly begin to imagine the anguish of those parents as they call out to God to save their child, and still they havenít heard any news.

This kind of distress is like that of a mother whose teenage daughter had suddenly vanished. There seemed to be no explanation. The police feared the worst. With tears flooding her eyes, she sobbed, "I don't think I'll ever see my daughter again. She's only 17. Why can't they find her? Why doesn't God help me?"

It's a rather frightening experience when it seems that God doesn't help us, that he's gone into hiding, that he is silent.

For Jim and Sue the silence of God was unbearable. Their six-year-old son lay in a hospital bed with terminal cancer. "What is God doing?" Jim sobbed. "What has our son done to deserve this? Why is God cutting short the future of this bright little boy? Why doesnít he do something to get rid of his cancer?" A short while later the little boy died. The parents were devastated. They had prayed so much for his healing, in fact, the whole town had been praying. But nothing was heard from God.

Is God silent? Thatís a very real question.
Itís certainly real for the Christian lying on a hospital bed of pain and not finding any relief.
It's very real for the person worried about finding a job and looking after the family and finding no solution or answer.
It's the question that haunts even the person who knows the compassion and the love of God.

Is God silent? Why doesn't he intervene in my life? What's he doing up there while Iím going through agony down here wondering what it's all about? Where are you, God, and why do you seem to be silent?

There was an occasion a long way back in history when people thought God was silent. They cried to him and didnít get an answer. They groaned and nothing happened. They prayed and he seemed deaf. In fact, instead of helping them in their trouble, their troubles seemed to increase. I am talking about the people of Israel when they were captive in Egypt. In spite of their prayers, their groaning and their crying out to God, the king got tougher, they were made to work harder and harder, their children were killed. They suffered for years and years as slaves of the Egyptian pharaoh.

But then it happened. God rescued his suffering people and led them out of the misery they had been experiencing as slaves. But we need to note, God doesn't rescue them by abolishing evil. In fact, God lead his people out of suffering and misery of Egypt into the misery of the desert. Evil will always be with us in this world but we note God is always with his people. This is the thing. He doesnít abolish hardship, but he stands with us in the midst of evil.

There are times when we can see the hand of God clearly at work in our lives.
A miraculous escape from a car accident.
Healing after surgery.
The birth of a child.
The never-failing love of a spouse or a child.
Forgiveness for something you believed was unforgivable.
The unexpected help and care of a neighbour.

It is in contrast to these memorable and momentous times in life where it is easy to see God's hand at work that the silence of God is almost deafening. Why doesnít he step in and intervene to make life a bit more pleasant and everything run a bit smoother as he has done on other occasions? Why is he delaying? The little girl in the bed next to Jim and Sueís little son recovered. Why couldnít God do that for their boy? Why does it seem that God is ignoring us?

If you're at your wits end and you're crying out, "Where are you, Lord? What are you doing? Why don't you hear me?" let me hasten to tell you that you're not the first to feel that way or make that cry. The Psalmists of old made the same cry.
In Psalm 83 we read: Our God, don't just sit there, silently doing nothing! (v. 1 CEV) 
In Psalm 6 the writer is sick and prays: "Give me strength; I am completely exhaustedÖ. How long, O Lord, will you wait to help me?" (v. 2 TEV)
In our text today the writer pleads: "Please listen to my prayer and my cry for helpÖ. If you don't answer me, I will soon be dead".
 
Jesus himself called out from the cross, using the words of Psalm 22: My God, my God why have you forsaken me? At a time when God could have rescued Jesus from his enemies in a spectacular way, there is not a Word of God and only the jeering of the onlookers can be heard.

Parents of those missing soldiers may be disappointed in God's answer to their prayers, or perhaps seemingly lack of an answer. The mother of the teenage daughter may not get her daughter back. Our prayers for healing may not result in the health we had hoped for. Our prayers for world peace have not been answered the way we would have liked. Jim and Sueís prayers for their son didnít seem to have any effect saving their son.

When we are in trouble I wish it would be as simple as praying to God for help and he supplies the help and the healing that we asked for. I believe that God does supply us with just what we need but it may not always be what we had prayed for. God can see the bigger picture. He understands what is best for us and those whom we love. His wisdom about what is good and bad for us far exceeds what we think is the best.

And what is also abundantly clear is that God never abandons us. His love for us is beyond any superlative that we could find. And because he loves so perfectly and purely there is no way that he could deliberately cause us harm. The psalmist in the end is able to make this fantastic confession: "Lord protects and defends me; I trust in him. He gives me help and makes me glad" (TEV). It's obvious the writer didnít understand everything about God but this one thing he did understand and that is he was able to trust the Lord who is his shield and strength, his protector and defender. This gave him comfort and help in even the worst situations.

And what is more, in the crucified and risen Jesus God is saying to us, "You are my special child. I shall always be your God. I love dearly; I have paid the price for you. I will not abandon you now when the going gets tough. I am your shield and strength".

In all of this one thing is sure. It is impossible to try to fathom why God acts or fails to act only by observing life or analysing the events that make up our lives. Only those who take God seriously discover him at all. There is no other way.

All this you can only grasp with a faith that looks beyond the grief, the dying child, and the pain, and trusts God that he knows what he is doing. Take God seriously when he says: Cast all your anxiety on me because I care for you (1 Peter 5.7).
Take God seriously and say: "Yes, I'll do just that. I worry about tomorrow, and about next week. I worry not only for myself, but also for those whom I love. But for once Iím going to give up reading my daily horoscope, and instead let you work things out, God. I want you to get me through tomorrow and next week. I want you to be my rod and staff when I pass through the valley of the shadow of death; and in my darkest moments when I cannot see where I am going because of all the troubles that press in around me, your guiding hand will continue to guide me and give me the comfort of your presence."

Taking God seriously means taking God at his word, giving him the chance to act as he has promised. When our fists are clenched or our hands hang down we can receive nothing. We must reach out and ask but in doing so take God at his Word.
Maybe we need to ask like this:

"Lord God,
be with me in my anxiety,
comfort me in my loneliness.
Let me discover that,
in all good times and bad,
in all the high points and frustrating times of my life,
it is your hand that reaches out to me,
shepherds me along, bears my burdens,
strokes my brow in times of trouble,
and makes death easier by cradling my head...
In this way the great silence surrounding you will be broken
and you will suddenly be with me."

Not for one moment, do I want to pretend or give the impression that life is simple and easy. There will always be groaning and tears in this world. That we know all too well. But we know that God is not cold or indifferent to our tears. He has broken the silence. He has spoken to us and told us clearly of his love and care for us in his Son Jesus. This is God's big YES for us in the midst of life's agonies. If he is for us who can be against us?
Nothing, absolutely nothing, Paul tells us in the letter to the Romans. It doesn't matter what may come into our lives, God is always there beside you, he never deserts you, "there is nothing that is able to separate you from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39).

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
6th April, 2003
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com 

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994 
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