Home > Lectionary Reflections, Youth Ministry > Lectionary Reflections (June 29th, 2006)

Lectionary Reflections (June 29th, 2006)

Psalms of lament have a special spot in my heart.  It’s not that they have ever been especially import in my own devotional life, but I have seen the power that teaching the lament Psalms can have in people’s lives, especially in the lives of youth.

Today’s lectionary reading features Psalm 80, which is a classic lament Psalm:

“Restore us , O God: make your face to shine upon us…” (v. 3)

“How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?  You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.  You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors, our enemies mock us” (v. 4-6)

“You have transplanted a vine from Egypt; you drove out the natios and planted it” (v. 8)

“Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick it grapes?” (v. 12)

“Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself.  Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.” (v. 17-18)

The Psalmist here spares God no mercy in his critique, as he charges God with having forgotten and forsaken his people.  This Psalmist even recalls to God all that God has done for Israel and asks “Why if you have done all this have you now abandoned us?”

Why have these Psalms been so powerful for me in youth ministry?  Freedom.  Too often we and therefore our youth have a “spy in the sky” image of God – a God that is distant, and detached, looking down at the world with disapproval, and punishing bad people and rewarding good ones.  To many of us, the words of the lament Psalms seem at best impious, and at worse downright blasphemy.  Yet, they had an important role to play in the liturgical life of the nation of Israel based on their presence in the book of Psalms.

What I have observed on a few occassions in the incredible freedom and empowerment youth felt when I introduced them to the lament Psalms.  Suddenly, they could really tell God exactly how they felt they had been treated and knew that they were not the first to do so.  Suddenly their faith became a real relationship in which they could express their honest and heartful displeasure with God.

What is interesting about today’s pairing is that it is paired with Romans 5.

” Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5, TNIV)
I actually used this text during one of the first sermons I ever preached the summer I was interning in Montrose, CO.  Paul’s take on suffering would seem to question to lament tradition.  While the lament tradition would seem to extol the virtues of telling God how it is, Paul encourages us to glory in our sufferings because ultimately they produce hope.  What an interesting word – hope.  More on that latter…

The key to understand how to balance Psalm 80 (and the rest of the lament Psalms) with Romans 5 is to recognize that different people are at different points in their lives.  I know people who when faced with suffering immediately are ready to talk about taking joy in them, while others never get to that point and need the lament Psalms to keep their faith alive in times of trouble.  The good news is that both Psalm 80 and Romans 5 are in the bible.  As a pastor, it is my job to discern whether the Lord is telling me to encourage the person to lament, or pointing them to take glory in their sufferings and hope.

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