SERMON:  “My God!  My God!  Why?” 

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

Psalm 22:1-15

Mark 10:17-31

 

Prayer

Gracious God: May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts, be acceptable to you, Loving God, here in this moment.  We believe that you are a Still-Speaking God, and we pray that you might speak to us now.  We pray this is the name of your son, Christ Jesus, who is and always will be both rebel and divine.  Amen.

 

My God!  My God!  Why have you forsaken me?

My God!  My God!  Why?

My God!  My God!  Why… Cancer?

 

Cancer sucks.

 

The reality is that cancer happens to real people.

Cancer happens to real people, individuals with complete and complex lives.

 

Recently, a near and dear friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer.

 

And if it was just the cancer, then maybe I could have coped.  Maybe he could have coped.

 

But this cancer happened in the life of a man who was complete and complex.  He has his own characteristics; he is a person with personality, a person with personality characteristics that are both complete and complex.

 

I honestly had just assumed that God, in Her infinite wisdom, would somehow give my friend a reprieve from his addiction and his anxiety, in those moments of his atrocious illness.

 

But, you know, he gets cancer, and the disease of addiction doesn’t stop.  In fact, the disease of addiction gets fed.  His addiction gets fed by all the narcotics that are being pumped into his system, because of the cancer.

 

And then, the mental illness doesn’t stop either.  And the mental health issues are exacerbated by all of these medications, with all of their side effects.

 

And there I am, trying to be a friend.

 

But I am not just a friend who is there for a friend with cancer.  I am a friend with my own complete and complex life.  I am a friend that is in recovery, struggling to be around him, as his addiction and his anxiety are so active.

 

Cancer sucks.  Addiction sucks.  Anxiety sucks.  And all three together, well, all that really, really sucks.

 

And in the depths of his despair, as I witnessed his desperation, as I was powerless to fix either him or his problems, I cried out on his behalf.

 

I cried out: “My God!  My God!  Why have you forsaken us?”

 

Today’s Hebrew Scripture from the biblical book of Job, this scripture questions the concepts of our omni-God.  If God has all the power and is perfectly in control, then God is the ultimate provider of pain, the divine bringer of torment.

 

And so out of the depths of Job’s despair, Job complains to God.   Job assumes that the real issue lies not in the omnipotence of God, in the perfect power of God, but for Job, the real issue lies in the assumption of the omnipresence of God.

 

Job concludes that God must be absent.  This angers Job.

 

And so in this scripture, Job complains of the perceived absence of God.  

 

He declares: “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; 9 on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn* to the right, but I cannot see him.”

 

Job asks, “God, why are you absent?”  It is as if Job is crying out, “My God!  My God!  Why?” 

 

This is the exact prayer that is provided to us by today’s psalm.  “My God!  My God!  Why have you forsaken me?”

 

The bible is full of examples of creation complaining to Creator.  This is a holy tradition of all of God’s people.  Just consider the Exodus story, how it is full of creation’s complaints to the Creator.

 

We complain to God, in those moments when we need God’s help.  Again and again, throughout the Psalms, we see this long tradition of God’s people, complaining to God, challenging God to wake up and act on their behalf.

 

Theologian Jon Levenson refers to this practice as “liturgical activation.”  Through our prayers of complaint to the Divine, we are calling God to action!  Through our liturgies and through our prayers, we are encouraging God to act on our behalf, and most importantly, to act in our favor.

 

In those moments of our darkest despair, we often shake our fists at the sky, angrily questioning our God.

 

Perhaps we question the power of God.  Perhaps we question the omnipotence of God.  We ask God, “Why?”  If God has all the power and is perfectly in control of everything, we must ask God why.

 

Or perhaps we question the presence of God.  Perhaps we question the omnipresence of God.  We ask God, “Where are you?”  If God is absolutely everywhere, absolutely always, why is it that God seems so achingly absent?

 

We cry out: “My God!  My God!  Why have you forsaken me?”

 

But how is all this related to our gospel lesson for today?  What might our lectionary really be suggesting?

 

For we are also provided with a gospel reading for today, a gospel reading that urges us to follow in the footsteps of Christ. 

 

Follow in Jesus’ footsteps?

 

But I thought that out of the depths of our despair, we are called to pray protests to God?

 

“My God!  My God!  Why have you forsaken me?”

 

But, these are words that even Jesus cried out.

 

These two propositions from our lectionary, to prayerfully protest and to follow Jesus, these two petitions only make sense together when we consider that Jesus also spoke prayerful protest to God.  To prayerfully protest to our God is, in fact, to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

 

Prayerful protest.  This is precisely one of the many component of Jesus’ own relationship with his God.

 

So, Yes!  Follow in Jesus’ footsteps!  Get angry at God!

 

A Professor of mine, Rabbi Rachel Mikva, she suggests that even when we are talking bad about Torah, at least we are talking about Torah.

 

Perhaps even when we are yelling at God, at least we are in communication with God.

 

Yes.  Follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

 

In two of the three synoptic gospels (Mark 15:34 & Matthew 27:46), Jesus cries out what has become known as “the cry of dereliction.”  He cries, “My God!  My God!  Why have you forsaken me?”  “Eloi!  Eloi!  Lama sabachtani?” 

 

Within two of the gospels, Jesus cries out this cry of dereliction, this deepest cry of desperate despair. 

 

“My God!  My God!  Why have you forsaken me?”

 

One of my favorite professors, Doctor Ted Jennings, suggests that this prayer is a holy prayer.  He suggests that this is the most sacred of all prayers.  This is Jesus’ prayer.

 

Jurgen Moltmann, in his book, “The Crucified God,” Moltmann suggests that, “Jesus died crying out to God, ‘My God, why has thou forsaken me?’”  Moltmann continues, saying, “All Christian theology and all Christian life is basically an answer to the question which Jesus asked as he died.”

 

I adamantly believe that all of theology, and ALL of theology, not just Christian Theology, but also Judaism, and Islam, and Buddhism, and Hinduism, and the Indigenous Traditions, again I say, ALL of theology seeks to know the answer to the ultimate question.

 

Where is the Divine in the midst of human suffering?  In his embodied humanity, Jesus asked this same exact question.  Where is God in the midst of human suffering?

 

Two of the gospels offer these words of Jesus.  “My God!  My God!  Why have you forsaken me?”

 

But there is also another synoptic gospel, and I think that it is within this other gospel that we might find an alternative possibility for this particular prayer.

 

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus does not cry out this cry of dereliction.  Instead, Jesus cries out, “Into your hands, I command my spirit.”  Similar to the words of the Third Step prayer from the Narcotics Anonymous 12 Step Program, Jesus speaks the prayer, “Take my will and my life.  Guide me.  Show me.”

 

In the gospel of Luke, as Jesus dies hanging on the cross, Jesus turns his human will and his human life over to the care of God.  He does this, knowing that God cares, knowing that God cares for him.

 

Maybe this is the alternative to the psalm’s prayer of deepest despair.

 

Maybe the answer to the ultimate question lies in us turning our wills and our lives over to the care of God.

 

From the depths of despair, from the depths of desperation, after we cry out the cry of dereliction, perhaps we must surrender.  Perhaps we must turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.  For only then can we truly trust that God will care for us.

 

In the shadow of the issues that Job brought forth about the omni-assumptions of our God, I have reached this conclusion.  Regardless of how much power God does or does not have, regardless of how much presence God does or does not have, all that is irrelevant, because in our moment of deepest despair, in our moment of darkest desperation, there is nothing left for us to do but to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, to surrender to God’s love and grace, to believe that God will care for us.

 

This is our only other option. 

 

I can’t control cancer.  I can’t control my friend.  I can’t control his anger or his anxiety or his addiction.  In fact, I am often powerless over the unmanageability of my own life.  I often don’t know how to control my own anger or my own anxiety or my own addiction.  I can cry out, “My God!  My God! Why have you forsaken us?”  And after I cry out, the only way that I can truly feel relief and peace, is in that moment when I finally surrender myself, and my loved ones, to the care of God.

 

“Into your hands, I command my spirit.”

 

To follow in the footsteps of Jesus?

 

Maybe we really need to expand our understanding of what it means to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  Maybe to follow in the footsteps of Jesus is to have this unique and special, intimate relationship with God where, like Jesus, not only do we celebrate God, not only do we praise God, not only do we honor God, but like Jesus, we also angrily question God, we also protest to God in righteous indignation, yelling at God for the injustices and the unfairness that we perceive.

 

Maybe to follow in Christ’s footsteps is not just to be with God in the intimacy of God’s goodness, to have faith in God’s goodness, but maybe to believe in God and to be intimate with God is to be with God in the uncertainty, in the intimacy of our own sorrow, in the depth of our own despair, in the depths of our pain.  Maybe to truly follow in Jesus’ footsteps is to be with God, even then, in those moments, to be always in intimate relation with God, just as Jesus was always in intimate relation with God.

 

Maybe to follow in Christ’s footsteps in about more than we might have assumed.

 

Prayerfully protest towards God, in those moments of your despair.  Prayerfully surrender to God, in those moments when you need release.  Whatever your need, whatever your want, whatever your emotion… Just pray.  Always pray.

 

And let us pray now:  Gracious God, we pray to you from the depths of our despair, and we pray to you in our desperate moments of surrender.  Be with us in our moments of darkness, and surround us with your much needed light.  Amen.