Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
July 30, 2017
How are you? How are you doing? (go around and shake hands and ask)
How are you doing? The standard answer to that question is fine. That’s what people expect. Even when we are not feeling fine, we still say “fine, I’m good,” right? That’s what people expect to hear. One day, I was not feeling fine and after a few times answering the question, “fine,” I decided to tell the truth. The next time someone asked me, “how are you doing?” I said, “well, not so well, my son was up all night sick, I am tired. I am weary.” They said, “That’s great. See you later.”
Other times, I have watched people I know respond “fine” when I can see they are anything but. And so I ask, “how are you, really?” They look at me, carefully, considering what to say, and then the truth comes out: “Actually, I am not doing well… I am feeling very anxious… The doctors found something… My son is battling addiction and losing… I feel lost… I am struggling with my faith.” The truth comes out.
This is the Summer of Psalms—a book where we can find truth. Today’s Psalm 30 is of Thanksgiving.
If I were to ask the writer of this Psalm—how are you?
He would have said with “fine,” so fine, in fact, he starts the Psalm with: “I will extol you, O Lord!”
But, then it changes. It’s as if someone said, “how are you doing, really?”
Then the truth comes out: we read words like: Cried, help, the Pit, anger, weeping, you hid your face, O Lord, I was dismayed. The Psalmist tells the truth: He has been in a dark place, a place of sin and suffering, a place of doubt and despair, a place where answers don’t come easy and the way is not clear.
A place where he cried out to God for help. And God answered his plea.
In response, he says: “I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up.
O Lord, I cried to you for help and you have healed me, you brought up my soul from the grave.”
The next verse is: “Sing praises to the Lord, and give thanks to his holy name.”
The Praise comes, yes, but only after the psalmist has hit bottom,
after he has alone cried out in despair, after he has soaked a few pillows with tears.
The singing of praises comes after a time of trouble.
Thanksgiving comes from the depths of realizing it could have gone either way.
Sound familiar? We all know of people who have had a hard time—including ourselves.
A time when we were not sure we would make it through. It could have gone either way.
Some people make it through—they come out of the dark valley on the other side full of faith.
Others don’t. Some lose their way and leave the church and give up on believing in anything.
What makes the difference?
We find the answer in verse 5. Right after the Psalmist gives thanks to God, he tells us how:
“For God’s anger lasts only a moment, but his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
God’s anger lasts only for a moment—Like a parent, God likely has moments when he or she is angry with us, disappointed when we hurt others by our actions. We are angry with ourselves when we make the same mistake we swore we would never do again. But, God does not stay angry for long. Just long enough for us to learn valuable lessons. God’s anger lasts only for a moment, but God’s favor is for a lifetime. God’s love is eternal and never runs out; God’s grace is abundant never quits.
The key to understanding the secret of faith is found in one little word “But”.
The word “but” is used to mark a negation, to create a contrast between what was and what will be.
Sure we will make mistakes and let ourselves and others down, even God.
But, knowing that God’s favor lasts forever and that grace has the last word, we can get through the moment of anger, trusting that in time, hurt will turn to forgiveness, conflict to peace.
Weeping may linger for the night—
How many of you have had a restless night? A time when you could not sleep because you were worried and weary, sad and sorrowful, when the tears came and you could not stop them. Sometimes we have to cry…to get out our feelings, to let out the pain. Tears are healing, so let them come. Weeping may linger for a night, but joy comes with the morning.
Here’s that little word again: But. Eventually the tears will stop, the pain will subside, the heart will heal. Trusting that joy will come in the morning, we can endure the night of weeping.
This little word “but” holds the key in getting us through the night of weeping.
We know that anger and our sorrow do not have the last word. God does.
And it is a word of grace and love, hope and joy.
How are you today? How are you really? We don’t have to pretend all is well when it is not.
Let’s be honest—with ourselves, with one another and especially with God.
During one of these hard times, these endless nights, when it could go either way,
What makes the difference?
The difference is if we can say the word “But.”
We start with honestly saying how bad things are—life is hard, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
The secret is to not stop there. To go on and say,
But, things will get better. But, God is with me through it all. But, I believe in the promises of my faith.
But, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. But, the sun will come out tomorrow.
Saying the word “But” is like coming to the end of your rope, and tying a knot and holding on.
This is hard to do. But, some people make it look easy.
Sandy Stauffer has had cancer and chemotherapy multiple times. She faces each new diagnosis and each new treatment with the same strong faith and positive attitude. Many people ask me how she does it. I think it has something to do with her faith. No matter what the situation she has encountered—a challenging childhood, a broken down RV while on vacation, a lost dog, cancer—when Sandy tells her stories, she never ends them with a period, she pauses, then says, “But…”and she ends her story with faith and joy, and always a smile on her face.
This summer we are visiting “holy places” around Pittsburgh. Last Wednesday, we went to a Taize worship service at East Liberty Presbyterian Church. We sang songs of praise. We looked at the candles and the pictures of Jesus. We offered prayers—prayers that told the truth of our pain—but lifted them up to God. At one point in the service, a woman stood in the front of the chapel, with a warm smile on her face, her hands stretched out, welcoming any who would come to share a hurt on their heart. She stood there, with open arms, as if to say, “how are you, really? Bring your pain and sorrow, but in its place, you will receive grace and healing and joy.”
The Psalmist honestly admits his trials and tribulations, but realizes that God will always be faithful,
and so he ends his psalm of thanksgiving with these words:
“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul will praise you and not be silent. O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”