Sunday, August 06, 2017

Sermon: Psalm 6 How long, O Lord?

Picture the scene. You’re heading out somewhere, and you’re ready to go. But you can’t go yet, because someone else isn’t ready. And so you sit and wait. Or you pace up and down the hallway. You jangle your keys. And you think to yourself... how long?

Or you’re out shopping, and you stand outside the shop. And you wait. And you wait. And you think... how long?

Or you’re on the phone, and you hear the recorded message: ‘Your call is important to us. Please wait while we try to connect your call with the next available assistant.’ So you hear the same piece of music time after time after time, and you think... how long?

How good are you at waiting? You see, it’s one thing when it’s something small like waiting for someone else to get ready to go out; or someone to finish trying on shoes or clothes in the shop. Or maybe you’re asking ‘how long?’ will this sermon be? But sometimes waiting is even harder to do. The ‘how long?’ cry is even more urgent.

Perhaps you’re in the middle of a ‘how long?’ situation at the moment. You desperately need God to do something, to change something, to intervene, but it seems like he’s doing nothing, that he has forgotten about you, or that he doesn’t care about you.

That’s the very situation that David finds himself in as he writes Psalm 6. You see, David didn’t just sit in his nice cosy office, writing bits of poetry. No, he is living through these situations, his psalms are from his experience, from his anguish, so that he cries out: ‘How long, O Lord, how long?’ (3)

Now maybe you’re not in this ‘how long?’ situation right now. Things are going ok with you. Listen up - because we don’t know when we will find ourselves in one of these situations. For you, and for all of us, Psalm 6 can be like the Scouts motto - be prepared.

Why was it that David cries out, ‘how long, O Lord?’ Well, we see his anguish in verses 1-3. Whatever it is he’s going through, he feels that the Lord is rebuking or disciplining him. God has brought about this situation in order to discipline him. But look how he prays it - ‘O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.’ David isn’t saying, don’t correct me, or train me, or improve me - but just don’t do it in anger or wrath.

Hebrews 12 picks up on the discipline of the Lord - always from God’s love because it shows we are God’s children, always for our good that we might share in his holiness. Sometimes we go through situations that God uses to bring us to himself. Our dependence grows when we come to the end of our tether.

David seeks mercy and healing from God - ‘for I am faint... for my bones are in agony.’ Everything about him is weak and sore. And so he looks to God for mercy, and for healing. In fact, it’s so bad that ‘my soul is in anguish.’ (3) No wonder David asks, ‘How long, O Lord, how long?’ This is his anguish.

But then David moves on to his argument. You might remember that last week we saw five reasons why we should pray. Well this week, David lines up his arguments, the reasons why God should answer his prayer.

Now I wonder if that sounds a bit strange to you. Does it sound like we’re meant to bargain with God? Or argue him into submission? Convince him with a strong argument? But we see something like this all the time in the Bible. Here’s the request, and here’s the reason why you should do it. So what are David’s reasons, his arguments?

‘Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me BECAUSE of your unfailing love. No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from his grave?’ (4-5)

So there’s the request - Turn (it’s as if God has turned away from him, and so he wants God to turn back to him). Deliver me and save me. And the reasons? 1. ‘Because of your unfailing love.’ Imagine that a parent makes a promise to their children. On Tuesday we’ll go to the zoo. Then on Tuesday morning, the zoo trip doesn’t look like it’s happening. So the kids start up with ‘but you promised!’

That’s what David is doing here. God, you’ve already promised your unfailing love to me, so please show it by delivering me. David puts faith in God’s faithfulness. That’s reason 1. You’ve said, God, and so I remind you of your promise.

And reason 2: ‘No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from his grave?’ Now this isn’t David saying that this life is it, and there’s nothing beyond. The rest of the Bible shows that this isn’t true. But what David is saying is that if he dies, then God will have one voice less in the earthly choir. God’s earthly praise will be diminished, and so God should save him and deliver him, keep him alive in this situation.

David presents his arguments - I wonder if we thought about the things we prayed for, could we give reasons why God should answer? As if when we pray, we imagine God replying with why should I do that? Perhaps it would spur us to thoughtful prayers, reflecting on what God has promised.

Next, in verses 6-7, David details his agony in greater detail. Here’s how his anguish is affecting him. He is worn out from groaning. Even the effort of complaining is too much. David also says that he has wet his bed - but from tears. ‘All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.’ He’s in this agony of anguish. It’s no wonder that he’s crying out to God, ‘how long, O Lord?’

But then suddenly, the Psalm changes in verse 8. He has mentioned how his eyes fail because of all his foes. All of a sudden, he now speaks to them. ‘Away from me, all you who do evil.’ They may have been tormenting him, but now he sends them away. Why? ‘For the LORD has heard my weeping. The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer.’ After his anguish, his arguments, and his agony, God has answered his prayer.

Because God has heard his weeping, his cry for mercy, and has accepted his prayer, then verse 10: ‘All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace.’ God will indeed act according to his unfailing love to deliver and save.

So if you’re in the middle of the Psalm, if you’re in the place of tears, if you’re still crying out to God, how long, O Lord - then keep looking to God; keep crying to him; verse 8 will come. It’s not that the Lord is deaf; that he can’t hear. In his own good timing he will save.

And we know this not just because David says so, but because Jesus knows so. You see, in our Gospel reading today (John 12:27), Jesus says that he is in anguish (cf v3) - ‘Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.’ Jesus was already in anguish by chapter 12, as he faced the agony of the cross. Even before the nails were driven into his hands and feet, Jesus was in anguish. Just think of him sweating drops of blood as he prayed in Gethsemane.

He endured that agony for you. He was saved through death, was raised to new life, and he offers us this hope, this unfailing love, this certainty of answered prayer. All who put their faith in his faithfulness will be saved. But Jesus will also say at the last, ‘Away from me, all you who do evil’ (cf Matt 7:23).

To be an enemy of Jesus is to be ashamed, dismayed, and disgraced. But for those who love him, there is answer, salvation, and endless praising of the one who loves us with an everlasting love.

Anguish, argument, agony and answer. David shows us how to pray, and why God should answer our prayers - and how God will answer our prayers. Let’s pray.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 6th August 2017.

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