By Bob Hiller –
Has the Church forgotten God? I know it sounds like a strange question. The Church is supposed to be a place where all our efforts and energies have to do with God. But sometimes I wonder what would happen if we in the Church truly stop to think about the God with whom we are dealing, or perhaps better said, the God who is dealing with us. Let me give you an example.
A few years back, I was at a pastor’s conference where our main speaker was presenting on the Psalms. If I recall, one morning our schedule consisted of the Psalms study, an address from our district president concerning the district’s budget, and then a break for lunch. For that day’s study, we focused our attention on Psalm 44. If you haven’t read it recently, I’m not too surprised. It is likely the bleakest of all the Psalms. It starts out confidently enough in verse 1-8, as the Psalmist reminds God of how he and his people have trusted in God, believing the great stories of salvation passed down from their fathers. The Psalmist confesses His faith in God’s saving work.
So far, so good. Everyone is smiling and agreeing.
Then, in verses 9-16, the Psalm takes a rather dark turn when the author accuses God of rejecting and disgracing his armies. The Psalmist begins to recount the plight of his people, and for six straight verses (9-14) places the blame on God! “You have rejected us…You have made us turn back…You have made us like sheep for the slaughter…You have sold your people…” and so on. Then, as you get into verses 17-22, instead of acting like a good Lutheran and confessing that he is getting his just deserts, he begins to defend himself and his people to God: “All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant.” And finally, in the utterly terrifying closing section (vs. 23-26), the Psalmist cries out: “Awake! Are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!” (vs. 23) And in conclusion, “Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!” (vs. 26). To help us wrap our minds around the Psalm, our teacher showed a video clip from a movie about the Holocaust in which Jews in a concentration camp began to argue over whether or not God had abandoned them. The point was made: the lamentation we find in Psalm 44 is alive and well throughout the world today.
The Word of God wrecked the room. The wise and seasoned pastor along with the smart mouth vicar were all silenced in the fear and awe of a God who can seem so absent at times. Pastors were mentally fleeing to the nail-pierced hands of their risen Lord, but they needed someone to place Him in their ears. These men of God, haunted by God’s silence in His own Word, needed to hear of hope. We needed to rend their garments and cry out for mercy on behalf of those who were suffering such terrifying divine silence. We needed the Lord’s consolation. Psalm 44 gave us what Gerhard Forde calls God not preached. We needed God preached. We needed Jesus.
Instead, we moved on to receive an hour talk about the district’s business.
Now, this is not going to be a blog railing on the district. They had a schedule to keep. How were they to know that God was going to use a preacher to hammer us with Psalm 44? (Though, one wonders if such a schedule reflects how we think about the power of the Word…) It does trouble me that everyone in that room just seemed to mentally change the channel and move on to the next show. There was no weeping. There was no repenting or lamentation. The Word of God had been given its allotted time. There was simply more practical work that had to take place. We all put our business hats on and discussed how our finances were going to save or end our district.
And we forgot about God. The Psalmist was terrified that God was absent, asleep as it were. We were comfortable with Him going to take a nap. I’m not saying that we need to have time for business in the life of the Church. Of course, this is necessary, but it is secondary. And if God’s Word has just shattered the room like a wrecking ball, perhaps it is time to pitch the orders of the day for prayer and reflection.
As I reflect on that day, I can’t help but think about how the Church ought to view its role on Sunday morning. Scattered sheep gather after a week in which they have struggled to see God in anything. Conflicted marriages, stressful jobs, parental failures, fearful politics, lonely living, falling into that same old sin…again. Sheep gather as they’ve prayed about such things all week to a God who seems to be ignoring them, or is asleep, many suppose. Those sheep have endured too many days of God not preached.
But on Sunday, God is wide awake! There Jesus stands with those nail-pierced hands ready to embrace the fear-filled sinner. From the mouth of the preacher, Christ announces that He has bent His ear and heard your cries and responds with a Word of absolution! He has seen your wandering and your plight and gathers you to feed you with His body and blood. In the worship service, God is not silent! He is there, quite vocally, to heal, to forgive, to love, and to serve. His steadfast love the Psalmist longs for is there for you. There, God will not be forgotten!
Unless, of course, you have more important business to attend to.