by Pr. Kathi Johnson
Associate Pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas, and the founder and curator of Digital Gathering.
Below is the text from the homily I preached on the first Sunday we live-streamed our worship without a congregation present. My text was primarily Psalm 13, with a reference to Romans 8.
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How long, O Lord? the psalmist cries. And I’ve cried this, too, so many times in my life. I’ve cried out – I’ve even screamed: How long, O Lord? in my times of deepest distress and sadness, in times when I was walking in the valley of the shadow of death.
How long, O Lord? the psalmist cries. She feels…forgotten by God. She feels as though God is hiding from her. She is enduring pain and sorrow day after day. She is weary of her enemies always having the upper hand. How long, O Lord? she asks – look on me, answer me. Where are you?
How long, O Lord? the psalmist cries, and this is our cry, too: especially now. How long will we have to live like this? How long will we face fear and sadness each day, every day – fear and sadness so close that we could kiss them – if it weren’t for social distancing. How long, O Lord? How long will we be in our homes and not in our churches, our workplaces, our schools, our restaurants and bars, our other public spaces, our gatherings larger than ten? It feels like this might last…forever.
How long, O Lord? the psalmist cries, and this is our cry, too.
We don’t know the answer. We have projections from health professionals and government officials and all kinds of people on the internet, but we don’t know the answer.
And so, we do what people of faith have done for millenia. We do what we can to live our daily lives as faithfully as we can – and in our time and place, that looks different than it has before. In our time and place, faithful living means keeping space – keeping distance – so that we can protect others. In our time and place, faithful living means paying more attention to keeping things clean. In our time and place, faithful living means that we give up normalcy to embrace a new normal: one that feels strange and feels distant but that will give us the greatest chance to get through this somehow. To me, anyway - it feels like damage control.
In this psalm of lament, like the other psalms of lament, the writer struggles with what feels like God’s absence. And in these times of lament, it can feel as though the absence of God will continue on…indefinitely. How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? To the psalmist, this time of deep distress and pain feels like it is going to last an eternity.
The thing about the psalms of lament is that they reach a critical point, eventually. They reach a point where the psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness. You can almost see them turn a corner in the psalm, and the mood of the psalm changes:
How long, O Lord? I don’t know, but I put my trust in your mercy.
How long, O Lord? I don’t know, but my heart rejoices in your saving help.
How long, O Lord? I don’t know, but in the meantime, I’m going to sing and praise…
Because the goodness of God isn’t dependent upon how I’m feeling. And the love of God isn’t, either. The goodness and love of God just…are. Which is why Paul’s words to the church in Rome are so very important for us to hear and remember right now, in this time of global crisis:
I am convinced – Paul writes – that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And so, my friends, right now may be a struggle, it may be deeply challenging to us as individuals and to us as a society. We may have to draw upon strength we don’t even know we have not only to care for ourselves but especially to care for others. We don’t know exactly what lies ahead.
Thank God, then, that God’s love doesn’t depend on us. Thank God that God’s love doesn’t depend on how we’re feeling, or what we read in the news. Thank God that – even in this time of distancing, this time of separation – thank God that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In this time, and in whatever place you find yourself – God loves you. For how long? Forever.