Title: "Hey there God, Remember Me?"
Pastor: Dr. William S. Barnes
Scripture: "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?" Psalm 13:1
After a sermon I often hear you say, "Bill, you were talking directly to me today." My response to why that happens is that after you have visited worship at least three times my efficient tech team here at St. Luke's secretly places hidden cameras and microphones in your homes, cars, boats, and even your golf carts. I would guess you are probably most worried about those hidden mics in the golf carts, but don't sweat it, there's always a lot of God talk going on every time I listen in. Not exactly your typical Sunday School God talk, but God's name does get used a lot.
No, the real reason you think I am talking to you directly is because I trust in the commonality of life. I figure if certain things and questions are an issue for me, they are probably an issue for you. That's why I say, "I just preach to myself and let you listen in." My wife Kim can vouch for that. But besides having to listen to myself week after week, who preaches to me? Who is it who makes me feel like my thoughts have been read? Well, it's not one person, but a whole collection of them: the writers and struggling believers of the Bible: women, men, teenagers, children, preachers, prophets, sinners, saints, the godly and even the ungodly. Again and again the scripture speaks with an honesty and grit that lets me know that my struggles and challenges are the struggles and challenges of a family—the family of God, and that God as our loving parent completely understands what we go through day by day.
Who here has not felt the pain of what seemed like God's busy schedule or poor memory when you were in trouble or need? How much more direct and honest could the scripture be today?
How long, O Lord
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
One of the reasons I love reading the Psalms is that so many of them start right where I am. Did you know that when Jesus said from the cross "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" that he was quoting the opening verse of Psalm 22? In his agonizing death, with enemies all around him, he too apparently found the psalms to be a place where his deepest feelings were honestly expressed.
I am willing to bet that there is not one of us here today who has not felt forgotten by God during a time of gut wrenching distress or pain. Last night I read the news report about the 3 boys in Camden, New Jersey who had been missing since Wednesday. They were found in the trunk of a car, where they had suffocated. One of the fathers actually made the awful discovery and had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital. Can you begin to imagine how many times the parents and friends of the lost boys asked the same question of God? "How long?" "Are you still there?" "Do you remember us?" "Do you remember the boys?"
The search continues for the Natalee Holloway, the college woman who disappeared in Aruba, but the search ended for Brennan Hawkins, the boy who was lost in Utah. He somehow survived and is now reunited with his family. How do we make sense of these things? Does God have a good memory for some and a forgetful one for others? When we try to give God all the responsibility for matters of life and death, lostness and discovery, blessing and disaster, we find ourselves in a theological dead end every time.
My own father died from lung cancer at age 64, just ten years older than I am now, but over the course of my ministry I have seen hundreds of persons beat back even the most aggressive cancers. Did God remember them and not my Dad? Did God hear some prayers better than others? I can't believe that. And Jesus does not expect us to believe that. He told his own followers, "In this world you have tribulation. Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." Yeah, right, good cheer. How do you ever get to that point? Simply by trusting in the steadfast love of God and rejoicing in his salvation.
Every psalm I can recall that begins with an anguished cry of apparent neglect ends with an affirmation that God's love is sufficient for anything we face and that we need to claim it. Furthermore, there is a compelling case always made for salvation. Do you remember the Biblical definition of salvation? To save is to heal and make whole. Salvation is not a season pass through the pearly gates, it is the ongoing work of God in Jesus to heal us and make us whole. That work transcends death. It must, you know, because everyone who is physically cured of something eventually dies anyway. The ultimate healing, the final healing is the gift of being made completely new. The old passes away and all things are made new. But in the meantime, in the in-between time, God's healing work is already present. When we think we are most alone and most forgotten is oftentimes when God is most present for us.
I want you to think about times in your life when you at first thought God was oblivious to your situation, but now you can see how God's healing power was at work in you and for you. (Personal sharing followed by anointing for healing.)