Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 26: Guest Sermon by Kelvin Spooner

Praising God in Times of Distress  
On Psalm 13

Note: Elder Kelvin Spooner is our Seminary Intern this summer. He is also Vice President of the historic Elmendorf Reformed Church of Harlem. Kelvin will be preaching most Sundays this summer.
Giving honor to God who is the head of my life; to Pastor Meeter, the shepherd of this flock in the Body of Christ; to the Consistory and Great Consistory of Old First; to all the members and guests gathered here today: Thank you for the opportunity to worship and fellowship with you this summer.  Standing in front of you in this cathedral-like setting felt a bit overwhelming the first time I walked through the doors, but the words of welcome and encouragement that I have received from you has decreased some of my anxiety and I look forward to working with you this summer.
As you know, I am a seminarian at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary and your pastor, Dr. Meeter, is one of my professors and now he is one of my mentors. I know that I will learn much from his vast experience and knowledge.  Preaching every week this summer is a new experience for me, but by the grace of God, He will give me a Word to share with you that reveal the glorious wonders of our heavenly Father, the grace and mercy of the Son, Jesus Christ; and the movement of the blessed Holy Spirit in our lives.  I pray we will learn and grow in spirit and truth together as we take this journey side by side over the next two months.
Prayer - God of grace and truth, without you I can do nothing as I ought.  Clothe me with your Sprit, that with joy and reverence I may lead the worship of your people and worthily proclaim the gospel of your love to the glory of your name; through Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen.
This morning I want to speak on the topic: Praising God During Times of Distress based on Psalm 13.  Distress is a human emotion that all of us experience during the course of our lives.  When we are distressed we are at a low place in our lives.  When we are distressed we sense, feel, and experience grief, suffering, pain, anguish, agony, and misery.  We hear and read about, on a daily basis, of how people are distressed. I can only imagine the distress of the families who lost their loved ones in the pharmacy store massacre in Medford L.I.; or the distress of the families of the young man killed recently right here in Brooklyn for bumping in to another person at a party.  Most, if not all, of us have experienced distress over the loss of a loved one.  But distress occurs not only when we experience the pain of death, but in many other situations in our lives.  The tough economic times we are in has caused many people to lose their jobs and left wondering how they will make ends meet (I was one that lost my job because of it, but thank God, I was able to find another one); broken relationships in marriages and in families, and sickness (both physical and mental), are just a few of the areas that can cause much distress. When we look biblically, the story of Job is a heartfelt story of a person in great distress that suffered tremendous personal tragedy. (If you are unfamiliar with the story of Job, I encourage you to read it. It is a fascinating book in the Old Testament). And our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ experienced the greatest distress of all by allowing himself to be nailed to a cross for our sake.
It is during these times of distress that we may wonder: How do we pray when our hearts are broken?  When the events of our lives have turned us upside down and God has done nothing to prevent it?  How can we pray when we are angry with God?  When the One in whom we’ve put our trust no longer seems trustworthy?  These questions have been raised for centuries and to find some answers we can look to the Psalms.  I have heard it said, Dr. Meeter, I think I might have heard it from you, that the Psalms is the hymn book of the Bible.  The Psalms are the voice of the people collected over several centuries, of ancient Israel.  It is the poetry of the Hebrew people and it vividly expresses individual and collective thoughts, emotions, and feelings in their living, in their worship, and in their relationship with God.  And their voices may certainly apply to our thoughts, emotions and feelings in our living, in our worship, and in our relationship with God today. 
In this hymn book of the Bible there are many different kinds of songs, there are songs of praise, there are songs of thanksgiving, there are wisdom psalms, liturgical psalms, and royal psalms.  But the type of psalm we will examine today is the song or prayer of lament, which Psalm 13 belongs to.  A lament is a complaint, an objection, and a protest of what God is, or is not doing in our lives.  During times of distress we question or get angry with God.  I remember a couple of years ago, a dear friend of mine passed away.  He was a person I knew since high school and we are/were about the same age.  He was a devout and mature Christian who was an inspiration to me.  He thought he had the flu but was diagnosed with cancer in February of that year.  By December of the same year he was gone.  Why did God take away this devoted husband this ambassador for Christ?  It did not make sense to me and for a while I became angry with God for taking my brother in Christ away.
The psalmist in Psalm 13 was experiencing his own anguish and this psalm reveals three themes to us of how we can praise God during our times of distress.  The first theme contained in (vs. 1, 2) reveals to us and allows us to know that during times of distress we can show our disillusionment and disappointment to God (We can let God know how hurt, upset, angry we may be).  The psalmist asks God four times, “How long?” How long will you forget me?  How long will you hide  your face from me?  How long must I bear this pain?  How long will my enemy be exalted over me?  Each successive complaint becomes more harsh and intense.  The psalmist is crying out to God from the depths of his soul.  No holds, barred; no holding back.  No hiding how he truly feel.  In our times of distress we must open our hearts and be completely honest with God with what is on our hearts and what we are feeling.
The psalmist in (vs. 3, 4) calls on God to answer him.  It is not a passive petition but an active one.  We do not know the problem or situation that the psalmist is facing but he is not asking God to resolve the problem, he is expecting God to fix the situation. When we are open and completely honest with God we may petition Him for a response. Psalms 5 says it best, “Give ear to my words O Lord, consider my sighing.  Listen to my cry for help my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”  In our times of distress, we can make our requests known to God, lay them before His throne of grace and wait in expectation, in anticipation, knowing He will respond.
In (vs. 5, 6), the psalmist suddenly shifts from anguish to praise.  His attitude changes from complaining to God to complimenting God; he moves from the language of protesting to the language of praise.  The text does not reveal if the psalmist’s particular problem is solved, but the text does reveal a number of aspects about the psalmist’s relationship with God.  First, the psalmist trusts God.  Trust is all about being dependable, trust is about being reliable, trust is about having confidence in, and the psalmist is confident in God. He knows that he can depend on God. Second, the psalmist knows that God’s love is steadfast. Steadfast love is God’s unchanging love, steadfast love is God’s unconditional love, steadfast love is God’s unending love, and steadfast love is God’s everlasting love.  Third, God has saved the psalmist and God has rescued him, which is a cause for celebration. The thing about distress is that it happens not once, not twice, but several times over the course of our lives. Fourth, the psalmist knows that God has been good to him in the past and God will always be good to him. Fifth, the psalmist understands who he is and who he belongs to. He addresses God personally by calling him “my God”. They have a relationship. They have history. They talk to one another. And we have that same opportunity. I love the way our Heidelburg Catechism, in its first question, What is your only comfort, in life and in death, frames for us to whom we belong: That I belong-body and soul, in life and in death-not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation.  Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
In our times of distress, we can praise God because He desires for us to be totally open and honest with Him; we can lay our requests before Him and wait in expectation; because of His steadfast, unchanging and unconditional love for us, we can be confident that He will respond, rescue, remain at our side no matter what pain, suffering or anguish we may be experiencing; and we can go to God because we belong to Him, in body and in soul, in life and in death.
To Him who loves us and freed us from our sins by His blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Rev. 1:5-6). 

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