Hurt and Hope

If you are following along on the read through the book of psalms plan during our sermon series on Psalms, then you are probably somewhere around Psalm 22 today/this week. Consider with me briefly a few verses from the beginning of this famous psalm: verse of hurt and hope.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
    they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

Psalm 22.3-5 (NIV)

Reading a little more will make one things clear: David trusts that God did great acts of deliverance in the past; David feels like God is not acting to deliver him in his moment of despair.

When ‘Faithful’ Hurts

The memory of past faithfulness comes up in the midst of present torment, of uncertainty, of pain. Allowing for poetic license on the part of David, things at the point of his life Psalm 22 reflects on must have been pretty low. The nations gathered against him, friends turned out to be enemies, enemies turned out to be stronger than expected. He feels as helpless as an emaciated, skeletal body going into the Octagon to fight MMA with the heavyweights.

Two reflections come up. First, this Psalm feels so true to life. We feel the punch of crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22.1). We know the times when sure hope of deliverance are distant memories, obscured behind the enemies, mountains of muscle, who are poised to rip us limb from limb.

Second, the language in this Psalm of desperate uncertainty and pain felt so literal for Jesus, as his enemies conspired against him, as the Roman soldier MMA-heavyweights tore his skeletal body apart.

Hope and Rescue: Past, Present, Future

What value is the hope and rescue of the past in such a time of present despair?

That is a fair question to ask and one which, we can only trust, our lives will force us to wrestle with again and again and again.

Psalm 22, like so many other psalms, completes the journey from past hope to hope for the future. While aspects of Psalm 22 are unique because of the way that it foreshadows Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection, the journey David travels in this Psalm is a familiar one.

The past gives way to the present which gives way to the future. In the verses we began with, we see the eye of longing gazing back to the past where things worked. Where God proved to be a deliverer in the time of difficulty. Reciting this history is not an intellectual exercise; reciting this history is a prop for faith. Sometimes no more than a flimsy prop for flagging faith, but a prop nonetheless. For when our eyes look around and see nothing but enemies and oppressors, failure and defeat, problems too great for us to deal with, where else shall we turn?

The Journey to Praise

The journey which Psalms teaches us to walk again and again is the journey back to the great acts of God. The journey back to God’s faithfulness in our past. And, in walking this journey, God cries out, sometimes forcefully, sometimes with a plaintive plea, “Hold on! The rescue of the past will be true again. Hold on!”

Reviewing God’s past faithfulness is not for the purpose of mocking our present pain, but of restoring our hearts to hope-filled praise. To praise for a God who became flesh to take on the tortures of humanity—and so much more—delivering hope to any who will join him “in the midst of the congregation” praising God (22.22).

The church and the hope of the world

On the off-ramp from the Christmas season, reflect on Christmas and hope. Christmas is a season of hope. The season where we remember the hope of the world. And that’s refreshing.

In a discouraging time recently, hearing about someone I knew who has done damage to the church, I heard a message of hope. A message noting that the church is not the hope of the world; Jesus is. The church exists to be a witness to the hope of the world, even when that witness is imperfect.

The church as a stained sign

There’s a lot going on and there’s been a lot going on in the church. By the church, I mean First Baptist Church, yes, but more broadly the church gathered within we’ll just say America. This last year has been a rough one when it comes to negative news (most often justly deserved) about many churches, Christian leaders, and Christian institutions. Institutions which aim to point towards Jesus, yet in the same gesture ended up pointing toward fallenness.

There’s ample evidence and testimony that the church fails in many ways. That people within the church fail in many ways. That the church presents a very disunited front to the world regarding social issues, political questions, and even often on questions of morality and ethics.

At best, the church is a stained sign.

Hope beyond the church (and through it)

But this Christmas season I am reminded to be hopeful. I’m reminded to be hopeful because hope is not found in the church. Hope is found in the church’s savior. Jesus is hope Incarnate come to the world.

And so as the church wrestles with all kinds of issues—sexual abuse, abuse of power and prestige, how to deal with charismatic leaders who lead for their own good rather than the good of the church, the quest to stay in control, infighting (and outfighting), the role of the church in nationalistic visions, with this that and the other thing—we can at least take hope and remembering that the church isn’t God’s salvation program.

The church is not the hope.

The church is a testament to the multifaceted wisdom of God (Ephesians 3.10-12).

The church is a testament to God’s grace.

And the church is woefully and sadly imperfect.

We could dwell on those imperfections forever and never run out of faults to highlight how the church today and in the past fails at living up to its mandate of being like Christ. We could point to so many ways where the church, and the people in the church, profess to know and follow Christ and yet live lives that run against the grain of who Christ is and what he did. Indeed, it takes very little creativity, insight, or effort to come up with ways that the church and people within the church fail.

And that’s sad. And it’s appropriate to be sad over the failures in the church. And yet, we must remember that the church is not Jesus; Jesus is not the church. While Jesus and the church are intimately related and God deeply cares about the church being like Christ, in the final analysis, the church and Jesus are not the same. The church is saved by Jesus. The church is rescued by Jesus. The church is founded upon Jesus.

Jesus is the hope…and the church needs to grow

This Christmas season, I’m reminded that it’s not in the end my responsibility to explain or atone for or justify the various failures and struggles in the church. Jesus came to take care of that. That is far to heavy a burden for me, or anyone else to lift.

This Christmas season, I’m reminded that it is my responsibility to follow Jesus, to walk upright, to pursue godliness, in short, to live in the hope which Jesus brings so that hope is evident to everyone in the world. We might say, it is our responsibility to try to not add more stains to the church than it already has. But remembering that a stainless church—if that could even be achieved—is not the hope of the world; Jesus is.