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Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Sometimes pain is so deep and strong that it is very difficult to express it or even acknowledge it. Yet, we are welcomed to open our hearts, to grieve, and even to express our anger before God. Such honesty is invited in prayer as God accepts our pain in all its fullness and rawness. In such freedom to grieve, healing can begin.

Focus Scripture: Psalm 137
Prophet Jeremiah’s warnings of doom came true in 587 BCE, when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem. The walls fell, the temple was destroyed, the Davidic dynasty came to an end, and the leading citizens were taken to Babylon as exiles. The depth of their sorrow can be felt in Psalm 137, an expression of lament. This psalm was written either during the exile (587–539 BCE) or shortly after the people had returned to Judah. The psalm is brutally honest, and expresses despair and anger before God without fear or shame.

The Hebrew exiles gather at the “rivers of Babylon,” perhaps a stream or canal of the Tigris or Euphrates rivers. Being in a strange land, they are homesick. When they remember their lives in Jerusalem, it is painful. Yet, it would be even more devastating to forget. If Jerusalem were forgotten, they would lose their identity. In remembering Jerusalem, the exiles are longing for their geographical and spiritual home.

The captors torment the exiles, taunting them to sing “songs of Zion” (v. 3), which were only to be sung in Jerusalem. Zion was the mount on which the temple was built and was a holy site. Psalms 46, 48, 76 and others are “Songs of Zion” that proclaim the greatness of Jerusalem, which was to be protected and defended by God always. So, asking for “songs of Zion” rubbed salt into the wound of Jerusalem’s destruction.

In an act of defiance, the people hang up their harps and refuse to sing. This action is about being in control of one’s freedom to choose one’s response. Austrian psychiatrist Victor Frankl, who was incarcerated in Auschwitz, wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

The exiles choose not to sing, but they choose to remember who they are and who God is. They pray for God to “remember” (v. 7) and to share in their pain, just as God shared in the pain of the Hebrew people when they were slaves in Egypt (Exodus 3:7).

Verse 9 is shocking, yet speaks something very important. Such cruelties have been witnessed and suffered by the exiles. At the heart of this verse is the need of the victims to have others understand and acknowledge their pain. Rather than taking the matter into their own hands, they take their anguish to God for understanding and healing, being honest with God about the depth of their feelings.

Being confident in faith, we can turn freely to God in all situations. Lamentations 1:1–6 personifies the city of Jerusalem weeping bitterly in the night, mourning what it has become. In the words of Lamentations 3:19–26, the people turn to God in the midst of grief – praising, trusting, waiting. The writer of 2 Timothy 1:1–14 remembers Timothy with gratitude and joy, recalling his sincere faith and offering encouragement. In Luke 17:5–10, Jesus teaches about faith as the awareness of God’s power, our relationship with God, and doing what is expected of us.

God is open to all that is deep within us – things we may fear, be ashamed of, or be embarrassed about. We are free to grieve. It is from this place of honesty that faith is born and the desire for healing finds its home. What might help you to find the time to open yourself to God? What has prevented you from being completely honest with God? What might be possible when God heals your wounds?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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