Sunday, November 9, 2014

“Yes, But . . .” (Psalm 78:1-7)

I think that one of the deepest desires of all human beings is the desire to be trusted . . . the desire to be believed.  After several years of being a part of a committee, putting in my time, and doing miniscule tasks to prove my loyalty, I was finally given the opportunity to head up a big project.  Wanting to do my best and to prove my worth to the rest of the committee I worked diligently to research the problem and come up with the best solution . . . and, then, I presented it to the rest of the committee.  They listened intently, shook their heads in approval, and even made statements of affirmation to the solution I offered.  They all said, “Yes . . .”

“. . . but!”

What followed the “but” were questions and challenges . . . alternative solutions . . . and, then finally a whole different direction to the issue we were dealing with.  All the while my presentation and solution was flushed down the toilet despite being told “yes” . . . flushed by a single word, “but”.  After years of working and proving myself to this group of people to earn their trust . . . actually desperately wanting their approval and acceptance as being one of them . . . I was torn down to nothing.  All that hard work and nothing to show for it with no more standing or status than when I first begun.

I have never liked the phrase, “Yes . . . but . . .”  It is a falsehood giving the pretense of trust and acceptance followed by a total lack of trust or acceptance.  It is shooting ducks out of the water.  It leaves the one receiving it wondering what in the world just happened . . . one minute they love and trust me, the next they blow me out of the water.  I believe that no one appreciates relationships built on “yes, but”.

This morning our scripture reading comes from the Book of Psalms.  This psalm is what is called a “teaching song”.  The purpose of this psalm is to teach the people a truth or fact or story about God . . . to help the people understand their relationship with God.  In the few verses that we heard this morning we are only getting a glimpse of what is being shared . . . only getting a teaser.  To fully appreciate and understand the psalm you really need to read the whole thing.

The psalmist asks the people to “hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.  I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from old—things we have heard and known, things our fathers have told us.  We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.”  In other words, the psalmist is telling the people to “listen up” and then proceeds to recount the history of the people’s relationship with God from the beginning of their time as the “children of God.”

The psalmist regales the people with all the wonder and miracles of their relational journey with God.  How God freed them from their captivity . . . led them through the wilderness . . . provided for them in their time of need . . . constantly taking care of them and getting them to where they are now.  To the listener it feels like a roller coaster ride . . . one minute up, the next minute down.  Like a thriller in which the action builds, the end seems immanent . . . and God always rides in at the last moment to save the day.  This is the story the people listen to and they cannot help but to embrace the graciousness and power of the story . . . the graciousness and power of God.  God always comes through . . . this they can agree upon . . . BUT!

But . . . they are tired.  They are tired of the roller coaster ride . . . tired of the last minute rescues . . . tired of being brought to the brink of disaster and being whisked off to safety.  The story, God’s story and their story, is emotionally draining . . . they can see the presence of God throughout it . . . and, they want to fully embrace it . . . but, man are they tired of being put through the wringer.  Dutifully they affirmed the words of the psalmist and then non-chalantly expose their true feelings by adding the word . . . “but”.

Yes . . . but . . . with these two words the people expose the fact that they are not fully trusting of God or God’s role in their lives.  Despite the psalmist’s belief that God gives to each person a path in life to travel and that God will continually provide for that journey . . . and that he wants us to fully embrace that belief as history has proven it . . . the people still whine and complain about God and God’s actions in their lives.  Yet, the psalmist also understands that it up to the people—collectively and as individuals—to make the choice as to whether or not they are going to fully trust God or whether they are going to grumble and complain the whole way.

As the children of God we are allowed to question God . . . allowed to ask God the hard questions . . . allowed to seek clarification . . . allowed to challenge God.  Shoot, the Book of Psalms is filled with such questioning throughout it . . . laments in which the people cry out for understanding of the injustices and hardships of life they have experienced.  I think that we all feel that in our relationships with God we have the ability and the right to question God.  I think that we do it all of the time.

Yet there comes a point in all of our lives when we either have to make a decision and follow it or quit spinning our wheels.  The proverbial “either use the pot or get off of it” sort of thing.  At some point in our journeys of faith we have to fully embrace God and trust . . . learn to trust God.  History and stories have proven over and over again that God has our best interests at heart . . . that God loves us and will provide for us . . . that God always comes through.  True, it might not always be in the ways that we want or expect, but God comes through.  But, we have to remember that God’s ways are not our ways; nor is God’s wisdom our wisdom. 

So it is that the psalmist this morning throws out a challenge to the people and to us to listen . . . to listen to the stories of the journey of faith . . . to listen to the stories of God’s presence and action in the lives of the children of God.  To hear once again of God’s love and grace . . . God’s provision and direction.  To listen and to consider . . . once again . . . whether or not God deserves trust . . . complete trust. 

We know the stories . . . we know of God’s presence . . . know of God’s love and grace in our journey.  The time has come to embrace our stories, to embrace the truth, and to let go and trust God.  It is time to let go of half-affirmations of faith . . . time to let go of the “yes, but” statements.  God wants to be trusted . . . wants to be accepted . . . wants to be embraced . . . wants to belong and be a part of our lives.  Anything less is nothing but a “yes, but” . . . you either do or don’t.  God is banking on us to do the right thing.  Amen.

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