Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"The Lord Be With You...Even When He’s Not!"

“The Lord Be With You..
        ...Even When He’s Not”

Expanded version of a message  I preached at a Community Good Friday service
North Central Pastor’s Cluster, Fresno California 

Qualifier: I never type out manuscripts for sermons, I go from brief scribbled cryptic notes; if anything. So I have tried to write in somewhat oral style; as if I had preached this whole 
thing (Right! In the seven minutes I was allotted as the third of three preachers preaching through Psalm 22 that day!)


There was a church that was not very liturgically oriented; in fact they were decidedly “low-church.” So the pastor wanted to teach his flock a bit of the richness of the liturgical tradition. He figured he’d start them out with a “win-win” that would be easy; the classic responsive that begins with the leader saying:

“The Lord be with you.”

You know the response:

“And also with you.”

And the pastor thought he’d have the congregation practice the responsive for several weeks, and then officially inaugurate it on Easter; a high attendance Sunday with lots of guests.

So every week they walked through it:

“Now when I say, ‘The Lord be with you,’ remember that you say,'And also with you.'
 Let’s practice…”

They practiced. They were primed. Pumped. Throughout the countdown weeks of Lent, they became quite prepared.

Then came the big Sunday; Easter in all its glory. Lots of guests; an air of expectancy in the room; especially among the well-trained saints knowing they were about ready to show off what they had been practicing.

So the pastor stepped up to the pulpit with a knowing smile.
 But he noticed that something was wrong with the microphone.
 So before he realized it, he said aloud just that:

“There is something wrong with this microphone.”

Well, the congregation was so primed and practiced that they immediately shot back, before they realized it, with one loud and clear voice:

“And also with you!”

There’s nothing wrong with my microphone today!

But we can’t help but feel there’s something deeply wrong with us when we are forced to admit what we have been told is unthinkable, impossible, heretical and horrible:

The Lord is not with us.

Or so it feels if we are daring enough to be honest.

I might even contend that until a Christian has said; meant; felt; prayed that unspeakable thought that must be spoken..… they may not even be a full follower of Jesus:

The One who was and is God.

The One who modeled for us how to live, how to pray, how to feel…

The One who dared enough to be honest.

The One who said, and I quote:

“God, God . . . my God!
Why did you dump me miles from nowhere?
Doubled up with pain, I call to God all the day long.
No answer.


Did you know that’s what the Almighty Jesus Christ said, felt, prayed on the cross?

No answer.

It gets worse.

Be sure you catch the condemning; the accusatory, angry, agnostic tone and tenor. The next two words must by necessity be read with all that volume and venom. If fact, the Bible specifically mentions that Jesus prayed this “in a loud cry.”
He prays on:

“And You!!

Are You indifferent, above it all, leaning back on the cushions of Israel's praise?
We know You were there for our parents!

They cried for Your help and You gave it; they trusted and lived a good life.
And here I am, a nothing--an earthworm, something to step on, to squash.
Everyone pokes fun at me; they make faces at me, they shake their heads:
‘Let's see how GOD handles this one; since God likes him so much, let him help him!’
And to think You were midwife at my birth, setting me at my mother's breasts!
When I left the womb You cradled me; since the moment of birth You've been my God.
Then You moved far away and trouble moved in next-door.

 I need a neighbor. “

This graphic and earthy (and astoundingly accurate) rendering of Jesus’ prayer from The Message translation is stunning, shattering; and yet not as devastating as the original language portrayed it. Somehow the whole scene changes, and is dialed down; is in effect censored; through standard translations such as the NIV:

 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the praise of Israel.

 In you our fathers put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.

They cried to you and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by the people.
 All who see me mock me;they hurl insults, shaking their heads:

 "He trusts in the LORD;
let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him."

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you
even at my mother's breast.

 From birth I was cast upon you;
from my mother's womb you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near

and there is no

I know.

That sounds devastating…and dangerous… enough.

But “In You!!?” has lost all of its darkness, its near-atheism, its anger. It has been prematurely resolved into a peaceful surrender. The whole tone of voice has been twisted into trust.

Way too soon.

Let Jesus be ticked. Let him accuse God.

Let him curse. Let him yell at God that he has abandoned him miles from nowhere.

Otherwise I am sunk.

As are you.

I must fully embrace, pass through, pray through ..and feel through that Scripture; that  psalm…uncut…before I can…in a way that is not cliche, contrived, and.indeed denial…find a mature and wrestled-through-the-crucible confidence in God’s sovereignty.

We quote Romans 8:28 too tritely and too soon.

We quote Psalm 23, and post it on on our refrigerator doors, slap it on our bumperstickers; without its context and its immediate predecessor in the Psalter.

We cannot have Psalm 23 without this Psalm we have been quoting:

The devastating, glorious Psalm Twenty TWO.

The one that starts not with a resolute “The Lord is my shepherd,”

But with a ruddy “Yahweh has dumped me.”


“I’ve got nothing left to give,” the professor said.

Several years ago some other pastors and I had responsibility for a pastors retreat. We decided to bring in a deep, profound, distinguished man of God; a professor renowned in the field of spiritual formation.

We were busy pastors, some of us bordering on burnout; we badly needed retreat…and training in the meat spiritual formation .

So there was indeed a huge hunger and holy hush in the room, when after weeks of waiting, the respected PhD, whom we were thrilled had said “yes” to flying out the 3,000 miles from his seminary to enlighten our relatively small but serious group, opened his mouth that first night.

Bibles and notebooks in hand , we leaned forward to receive what the master would say; what gleanings the guru had studied and prayed hard to impart.

His opening line broke the silence, the mood, and all the “rules” of grad-school-level Spiritual Formation 701:

“I have nothing to give.”

“Excuse me?,” I am sure we all collectively thought.

He continued, oblivious to our headscratching; indeed not even acknowledging the question marks hanging over us.

“I almost didn’t come. I almost cancelled, but I figured this retreat was booked, and I had better keep my commitment.

You see, the other day, I woke up to my wife saying ‘I’m leaving you.’

And she did.

I was so distraught that all I could do was immediately, and in a daze, drive the thousand miles to my best friend’s house.

When his wife answered the door, she could only manage: ‘How did you know?’

‘Know what?, I asked.

‘He just killed himself!’

I could only jump shellshocked into my car, drive all those miles back home..

..To find my house had been struck by lightning and burned to the ground.”

The question marks over our heads were gone.

He matter-of-factly concluded:

“So all I could do is keep my commitment and make this retreat where you want me to teach you spiritual formation. I’m sorry if I’ve made the wrong choice in coming; if I’m wasting your valuable time and money. I am here to teach spiritual formation, and maybe I can do that…

The only problem is I’m not sure I have anything left to give..

All I know is that somehow..

.God is still good."

That was the most profound lesson and lecture in spiritual formation that I have ever received.

As you can tell, I remember every word of that opening lecture.


“God, God, my God! Why?...

No answer. Nothing.”

Jesus prayed that.

“And You, God…Traitor!”

“I’ve got nothing left, and it’s Your fault.”

“To think You were there at my birth!!” Jesus cried out.

“I need a neighbor.”

My God, My God, Why oh Why have you forsaken me?

One translation is daring enough: “Where the hell are You, God?”

I mentioned that all this seemingly blasphemous prayer was a prayer Jesus actually prayed.

Indeed he did.

On the cross, of all places. Jesus owned, recited, and prayed Psalm 22.
Incarnated it incredibly.

You don’t remember Him praying such a long prayer? You only remember the “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” part; the opening salvo?

Your memory serves well. But I am probably preaching to the choir to remind you (Note: here I turned to the choir, and laughed that I was now literally preaching to the choir) that in biblical days, when a Jew quoted the first portion or line of a Scripture, it implied she or he was quoting and implying the whole passage.

The opening verse stood for the rest.

But they had no atomized verses; they visualized only sections; memorized only passages.

There were no “memory verses.”

So much so that to quote one part of the passage implied an acceptance and implication of the theme and flow and content…. and emotion….of the entire thing.

In a way, this is not much different than if I were to say as a rhetorical device in this sermon, “For God so loved the world…” you would understand I would mean imply all of what we have memorized as “John 3:16.” You would fill in the blank. But how many know John 3:15 and John 3:17 from memory?

That’s what I thought.

“Our Father who art in heaven….” I know you know, and can finish. that prayer without a cheat sheet.

“The Lord is my shepherd….” I know you know the rest of that as well as you know the answer to “The Lord be with you…”

“And also with you!”

So the reason we three preachers are “also with you” today , and are preaching through Psalm 22 sequentially, is to help us all remember or realize that there is no doubt that what Jesus the Jew was doing on the cross as he recited what we now call Psalm 22, verse 1. He was praying…uncensored…the entire glorious, gory, gutsy, God-forsaken Psalm.

True, only the first line is mentioned as having passed his lips in the gospel accounts;
But there is no question that he was saying not just “I am the Messiah, and I am fulfilling this ancient Scripture,” but…“I am praying, I am feeling, this whole rugged, ruthless Psalm. Psalm 22 uncut.

Everyone around the cross who was versed in Scripture knew what he was quoting, and thus suggesting: the entire emotive Psalm was his liturgically-correct prayer that day; agnostcism, angst and all.

Whether or not he literally verbalized aloud from the Place of a Skull every “verse” of that psalm (which is possible, perhaps probable, as we will see), or just was able to utter
and sputter the blunt first line.. .it’s microcosm and thesis statement…. the effect;and affect; is the same.

Jesus Christ, Lord of the Universe felt …

Abandoned, betrayed, used.

Agnostic. Angry.

Hear this explosive good news: You are allowed to feel that way…on Good Friday, or any day it fits.

“Jesus, I know You’re looking out for us…”

So the prayer started. So far; so good.

“…but maybe Your hands aren’t free.”

Excuse me?

It gets


“Wake Up, Dead Man!”

A man once prayed, felt, this devastatingly honest prayer.

He even was bold and honest enough to include a four letter word as he was reminding the Lord how messed up his life and world was.

“Is there some order in all of this disorder? Is it like a tape recorder? Can we rewind just once more?”

Tell me you have never felt something like that.

Let me phrase it another way: All who have ever felt something like that; please be seated.

Ah, that’s what I thought.

This prayer is a cheerful little worship ditty, put to music and recorded under the title “Wake Up Dead Man.” It’s based on another psalm we’d be tempted to excise and excuse: 44. Written and sung and prayed by Bono of U2.

“Yes, Bono’s a believer. I know him and have even worked with him on mission projects,” the famous evangelist strongly told my friend and I.

He continued to address my friend’s question about Bono being a professed believer and using such “salty language. ” Tony Campolo, the evangelist (a Baptist , no less), shot back unapologetically, “Sometimes our language is not salty enough.”

No, parents, I am not asking your kids to swear in prayer or Sunday School.

But letting Bono break the barrier for us; maybe you can finally admit, however colorfully and candidly, what you may actually fear saying aloud even more than a four-letter word: that…like Jesus!...I still haven’t completely “found what I’m looking for.”

I am allowed to; in fact commanded and called to, at times; feel and taste the same.

With or without the salt of the psalter.

Surely you have noticed that many psalms begin with inscriptions, denoting for example that they are to be put to music for liturgical and prayer use. Sometimes even naming the tune it was to be set to is named. Have you ever noticed the suggested tune title to the Psalm 22? The psalm Jesus prayed…uncut...on the cross? It rings amazing, sounds ridiculous…and makes perfect prophetic sense.

It’s…you could never guess this, but look at it yourself in your Bible:

“Doe of the Morning”

Excuse me?

Doesn’t that title conjure up the happiest, most peaceful serene scene imaginable? What’s more beautiful than a doe? Or uplifting than a new morning?

What gives, O God?

Can you imagine a melody by that title as anything else but upbeat, uplifting? And maybe in God’s…and the psalmwriters…ironic and irenic sense of holy humor, it was! And maybe it was. Some of U2’s most droning laments lyrically are set to very positive music and major chords. This is not denial; or an attempt to hijack pain and make it land prematurely as unfettered joy. It’s acknowledging irony, faith and doubt as a package deal…especially while hanging on crosses. Jesus, no doubt in more excruciating pain anyone in history endured it all, Hebrews 12:2 claims, because of the….fill in the blank… set before him?



“Doe of the Morning”? On Good Friday? Go figure.

I have a hard time living, singing, praying in the beautiful tension, dreadful and healing paradox, and ruthless reality.

Picture “My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me” sung to the tune of “This Little Light of Mine”?!

Hear again Psalm 22 in the Message:

“God, God . . . my God! Why did you dump me miles from nowhere?

Doubled up with pain, I call to God all the day long. No answer. Nothing!!”

Now set it to the tune of “Shine Jesus Shine”.

Ridiculous? Perhaps. Revelatory? Just maybe.

Bono, as you know by now has been, sometimes rightfully, accused of being too real and rough with his language, prayer and theology. So you won’t be surprised to hear him say in an in interview which we’ll now listen to (Now, don’t worry…no salty words ahead, but don’t let your musical preference trip you up so you miss the point; he may be overstating, but he is speaking truth in love to say):

"God is interested in truth, and only in truth. And that's why God is more interested in Rock & Roll music than Gospel... Many gospel musicians can't write about what's going on in their life, because it's not allowed ..If you can't write about what's really going on in the world and your life, because it's all happy-clappy... Is God interested in that? I mean, 'Please, don't patronize Me! I want to go the Nine-Inch-Nails gig, they're talking the truth!"

-Bono, audio here

Jesus Christ prayed, at least implied, the whole gamut of emotion in Psalm 22.

So can we.

If we are interested in truth, and only truth…wherever it takes us (look at cross).

The account of Jesus’ dying words in John actually could be made to infer that Jesus did in fact pray aloud the entire Psalm…or at least the first and last line… to give context and contour, no matter how real...and really troubling...the fullness of what he was experiencing.

Jesus, as John tellingly tells us, cried out the famous words…the “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” line “in a loud voice.” Then it is relayed that someone offered him a sponge with wine vinegar. (Matthew, not John, notes that Jesus had said “I thirst.) Then a fascinating, intriguing fact that only John highlights: “And then, after receiving the drink, he cried out again in a loud voice”
(emphasis mine). This second crying out has puzzled Bible readers for years: What did he say? Was it anything audible? Was it the “eighth saying from they cross”, just one that never got transcribed?

There is actually a chance that we know exactly what he cried out that second time.

With the help of John.

The mentioning of the wine vinegar sponge being lifted to Jesus is immediately followed…not in Matthew, but only in John… not by Jesus offering up a generic loud cry. Jon alone tells us exactly what Jesus said. I’m reading it now; watch this: “The wine was lifted to his lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said…..

‘It... is…. finished.’

"With that , he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

So according to John’s journal, the literal last words of Jesus were not a helpless “My God, Why…” but a hearty “It is finished.”

Three words which are strikingly similar to the literal last words of Psalm 22.

Look at them. One version even translates the last line of Psalm 22; “It is finished”

Many scholars recognize the similarity in the structure of the Hebrew (of Psalm 22)
This last line is usually rendered something like in the NIV “He (God) has done it.”

Jesus’s cry on the cross, “It is finished” doesn’t specifically mention God having done or finished something; so we often assume it means “It is finished…I, Jesus, have finished the saving act of dying on the cross.” That of course, is true and key. But in the Greek language grammar, it may well be what we call a ”divine passive”…a sentence that doesn’t specifically mention God, but implies it. Like we might say “Someone is watching out for you.” Or “I was touched.” So it may be “It is finished; God has done it.”

The last line of Psalm 22 may have been the last line of Jesus on Friday.

He may have forced himself, as he was dying, to say and pray aloud

.....sing aloud...
                                  the whole thing.

Did you ever wonder why Jesus said “I thirst” right in the middle of dying? Maybe he was right in the middle of a long Psalm, but he knew he had to get it all said.

For our sake.

Again, whether or not Jesus literally prayed the first line only, the first and closing line (a common framing technique in Bible days, a framing device, an “inclusio”), or the entire psalm, the message is the same salty one:

“I feel this whole psalm. My guts are literally being wrenched. I wonder why God is doing this to me. But I am sensing it will work out; that God is finishing something.”

Maybe there are “does of the morning” visible from Golgotha; from Good Friday after all.

Or to quote Tony Campolo again; from his most celebrated sermon refrain. Who knows it?
 “It may be Friday…”

                                                                                              “…but Sunday’s coming!”

Maybe Jesus prayed Psalm 22…all of it…as a way of saying “It is painful, but it is finished. Yet I can only wrestle my way to resolution and full faith in the Father and the future by facing the forsakenness and  Abba-abandonment that I feel in my heart…and body..is even more real.”

As you have heard the whole flow of Psalm 22..you have walked through all that Jesus felt on the cross..what started in abandonment and anger traveled to confidence and faith.

But it never would have arrived without its doubt.


I fear that many Christians are walking time bombs.

We have been told, even if between the lines, that we should never question God, doubt God, or admit our feelings, even our anger. Enter our emotions. Take up our crosses and admit our Psalm 22 days…even if everyone else in church is having a happy clappy Psalm 23, Romans 8:28 day.

It could be that until we realize…emotionally…that we have nothing left to give, we have nothing to give.

That is a lesson in spiritual formation worth receiving.

Such might even be the only path to Sunday coming.

There is a simplicity on the other side of complexity that is deeper, wider, and the very beginning of faith and resurrection.

Eugene Peterson, translator of the Message Bible we have been using, has an amazing book on the Psalms called “Answering God.” It’s about the Psalms as a prayer book..uncut. In it he maintains, “Anger is not to be sublimated; it is to be prayed.” And he is a Presbyterian! (Note: look teasingly at the Presbyterian pastors on the platform)

My pastor in college was such a strong preacher, but true to his style he hardly ever told a joke in a sermon. So passionate; so convicting and dynamic a preacher was he. (And he was a Methodist!) He was so phenomenal and engaging that he never had to tell a joke. I still remember the time he tried to throw in a light-hearted reference: “Sometimes I feel like Roger Dangerfield; I get no respect.”

I’m still not sure he realizes that the only reason we laughed is that he said “Roger,” when the comedian’s first name was “Rodney.”

Eventually this great preacher found a great joke that worked wonderfully. He preached it around the world. Here it is:

Wilbur wakes up in the morning, and stubs his toe on the bed.
“God, Why me?” he cries out.

Wilbur goes out to start his car….it doesn’t start.
“God, Why me?” he asks.

He finally gets to work..and gets fired!
“God, Why me” he screams.

At which point the sky finally splits open, and the divine silence is broken, as the voice of God booms down:

“Well, Wilbur… There’s just something about you that ticks me off!”

In a delightful twist, years later, after telling this joke literally all over the world, Pastor Al told it, and told it well, at a men’s retreat at which there was…against all odds, for the very first time anywhere...a member of the church I was pastoring...named …you guessed it: Wilbur!

We are all Wilbur.

We have all felt that, prayed it, though likely never aloud…as we hear it’s not allowed.

Hear the good news: it’s allowed to say that aloud. In church.

If Jesus can say it from a cross; surely we can say it in church.

We fear fear to face the…albeit false… feeling that God is ticked off at us; we fear facing the flipside; what seems an even worse offense: We are ticked off at God.

If we are, I mean since we are; we are in good company.

I’ll bet even Pastor Al has felt fleetingly like that.

Like most pastors do on Monday.

“It’s Sunday, but Monday’s coming!”

Every Wilbur in the word has felt a version of that.

Let alone Jesus.

It may feel like one thing after another. Like the poor man I am about to tell about; .this story..unbelievably… is no joke; totally and tragically true.

Brace yourselves and imagine this.

One day when this humble believer and farmer was enjoying an innocent family party; a messenger came to the door with the message: “Your cattle, and all your ranchers, have been killed…I’m the only one who survived!”

And while this messenger was still speaking, another arrived and knocked on the door with more news: “Fire from heaven just came down and killed all your sheep and shepherds. I am the only one who survived!

While this second messenger was still speaking, a third came to the door: “A mighty wind just descended on your house and killed all your children. I am the only one who survived!”.

Do you feel that? Is that you?

To which the man…one named Job, you may recall…replied:

“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.”

BUT not before he (we dare not skip verses, remember?) he tore his clothes in remorse, and morning.

Got honest.



He may have even felt the absence of the omnipresent God.

He might well have succumbed to his wife’s advice (“Curse God and die!”) if he had not been righteous and real enough to know and work the secret.

The secret the spiritual formation professor found via a frighteningly similar three-chaptered experience.

The secret Jesus used and utilized as he prayed Psalm 22…uncut…on the cross.

The only other option to being honest is to lie.

And we who mistakenly fear that allowing our occasional agnosticism, almost atheism, and anger to surface and verbalize itself aloud, is a sin nearly unpardonable; do well to remember what sin it actually was that did indeed cause God to literally strike someone…..two someones..dead.

“Well, Anananias and Saphira, there’s just something about you that ticks me off!” if you will.

They lied.

Like I do when I violate Scripture, and reality itself, by jumping to the happy clappy faith-formula before embracing and even celebrating the redemptive depth of honest anger and passionate prayer. Doesn’t God know what you’re thinking anyway? Might as well be honest and say it; pray it!

This is not a touchy-feely anger therapy; though there may be value in that.

This is just being honest enough to tell…and pray…the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you, God.

Put that in your Christian songbook and smoke it.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard the lyric; I had to do a double take before I embraced it. It was an upbeat Matt Redman song; I bet you know it. “Blessed be the name of the Lord....” That part sounds good and kosher and evangelical…if not happy-clappy.

But the next line did me in: “You give and

take away! Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

But as you know by now, it’s just quoting Job.

And Jesus.

Walter Wangerin writes in novel “The Orphean Passages,” of a pastor who got up to preach on Good Friday, and suddenly realized the gravity of all Jesus went through on what we call Good Friday, and thus…. couldn’t say a word.

Sometimes we have to stay in Friday, even if it feels Sunday is not coming.

I wrote in my journal after reading how affected the pastor wasL

 “Do I love or know Jesus?”


One last clue and evidence could clinch the argument that Jesus literally prayed aloud all of Psalm 22 on the Good Friday tree. We have heard how he definitely quoted the first verse; we have provocatively proposed that he also prayed aloud the last verse. How many realize that a biblical writer also says clearly that Jesus quoted Psalm 22, verse 22, obviously in the middle of Psalm 22?

I’m not making this up; It’s Hebrews 2:12, which says:

“Jesus says,

‘I will declare your name to my brothers;
in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.’"

Your footnote will call attention to the fact that this sentence, which Hebrews 2:12 says that Jesus says, is Psalm 22:22.

But does anyone remember Jesus saying that?

When, where, why does he say that?

It’s nowhere in the gospels.

The context is unclear.

So the jury is out.

One obvious and overlooked theory is …

He said it…literally….on the cross.

Especially if he prayed liturgically the whole thing from memory as we have suggested is possible.

How could he pray something so downright optimistic while nailed, bleeding, thirsting, choking, dying?

Makes perfect sense, as does a later verse in Hebrews (12:2)…remember?…which sheds incredible light on all this: “Jesus endured the cross, despised it’s shame for the….joy (!) set before him!”

How is that possible? He must have seen the doe in the morning, the light at the end of the tunnel, the prize that made it all the Godforsakenness and pain of the torture stake worth it.

What in the world was the joy that got him through?

Namely, you! Even me!

I dare to believe he loves us that much!

That’s why you have Hebrews 12:2 in the Book.
Insert your name: “For the Tom set before him; Jesus endured the cross and despised its shame”

That’s why Psalm 22 ends so astoundingly upbeat, seizing such faith in the future…all while bleeding to death.

Ironic and intentional. As the footnote to this section in the NIV Study Bible says, “No psalm or prophecy contains a grander vision of the scope of the throng of worshippers who will join in the praise of God’s saving acts.”

Grand vision…from the cross?

In fact, let’s pick up at Psalm 22, verse 22. Remembering this is the conclusion of the radically emotional angry burst and blare at God. This is the other end of “God, God, My God, why have you rejected me?....” Remember Hebrews tells us Jesus said this, too:

 I will declare your name to my brothers;
in the congregation I will praise you.

 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

 For he has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.

 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows.

 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
they who seek the LORD will praise him--
may your hearts live forever!

 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,

 for dominion belongs to the LORD
and he rules over the nations.

 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him--
those who cannot keep themselves alive.

 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.

 They will proclaim his righteousness
to a people yet unborn--
for he has done it.

Even from the cross, he knew it was finished. God has already done it.

Such was the vantage point of the rugged cross, somehow. Such was the vista from hell.

He said all this, shamed and naked.

That’s right, no mater how many paintings of Jesus on the cross with a strategically placed loincloth…don’t believe it. He almost surely died, and prayed this for you, dressed like most all crucifixion victims: naked. If a person to be crucified was to be stripped of their dignity, they had to be stripped, literally! Remember earlier in
the psalm (verse 18) his clothing is gone!

Many of you will remember that the sudden memory that Jesus was naked on the cross empowered Corrie Ten Boom to endure and submit to forced nakedness in the Ravensbruck concentration camp.

So you see this amazing visionary faith in the future…and in us…is not just wishful thinking; not the power of positive denial.

It was the radical optimism that is only won and wrestled through to praying in pain, naked and shamed, spit on; admitting and visiting anger and pain , so it can all be morphed into untold joy.

And we can’t get there without praying the whole Psalm..uncut. The joy comes is collective..did you notice how everything hinged on verse 22 when the pray-er imagines himself surrounded by the encouragement of the worshipping faithful. That’s why we are gathered across race and denomination today..to Pray collectively and corporately..the whole Psalm.

The brother in Afghanistan who narrowly escaped with his life; under death sentence for his faith in Christ, is a chilling reminder that in recent years, over a hundred thousand Christian believers are killed every year, somewhere around the world, just because they are Christian. In countries like Sudan and Indonesia. This year, believers have been literally crucified due to their allegiance to the Crucified One. Their stories are inspiring. But one of my favorite such testimonies happened in ’55.

That is, 1555. In England.

Thomas Hauker, brave Christian, was slated to be burned at the stake the next day; all for his relentless faith in Christ.

A friend of his begged, “Thomas, I have to know if this thing; this Christian faith you have; is real.

Will you do me one last and huge favor? Tomorrow, when you are burning on that cross; right before you die…if the pain is bearable and your faith is still alive…will you simply clap your hands? Then I’ll know if it’s real. I beg you, Thomas.”

Thomas Hauker agreed.

The next day, the fires were lit. Hauker was placed on the stake like his Lord.

After awhile his hands were completely burned…even fell off.

The crowd gasped.

But they hadn’t seen anything yet.

Thomas Hauker had to keep a promise.

His friend watched, horrified yet hopeful, as Thomas raised his hands…better yet his burning wrists…and clapped them loudly and firmly together.
Not once.

Not twice.

Three unmistakable and unforgettable times.

Thomas Hauker’s friend could only say..and pray:

“I know that it’s real.

I believe.”

I can’t pretend to know all that you have been through, or are going through now.

Maybe like my professor friend…your spouse has walked out, your best friend has been stolen; your house or your dreams struck by lightning or circumstances and gone.

It could be that like Job, your possessions and family have been ripped away.

It might even be that like Jesus, your only prayer is:

“Why, God?”

And it may well be that Sunday is not coming until we feel and temporarily believe that it is not.

Lament not lamenting.

Life is hard. It’s sometimes hell.

Might as well be honest.
Jesus was.

But remember, he prayed the psalm through to its outrageously hopeful end.

Sunday came.

I hesitate to tell the end of one of my previous stories, because unfortunately I can’t promise an equally happy ending.

Remember the spiritual formation professor? Wife left? Best buddy dead? House destroyed?

Some years later, I heard he was happily married. You might guess to who.

To the wife of his best friend, the one who killed himself.

I can’t promise and identical ending to your story.

But I can promise one thing.

You can make it.

This thing is real.

It works.

And someone who is not yet saved will be saved because they’re going to witness you clap your spiritual hands…not in some happy-clappy farce; remember your hands may be burned….

Your wife or husband may have walked out. Your best friend or best plans may have killed themselves. Your house; your life; your dreams may have burned to ash.

You may have no fingers; no hope, little faith left.

But you have earned the gift and grace of “persisteverance” through praying the full gospel; the full Psalm 22 . Before Psalm 23.

What’s the worst they can do: kill you?

You are indestructible until the will of God is accomplished for your life!

Everything God allows always has something to do with someone’s salvation.

Someone in your life is about to say to the Lord, because of you and your honest faith:

“I know this thing is real.

I believe.”

Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

The Lord be with you!

(motion for congregation to respond with:)

“And also with you.”


  1. Oh my, You both (God and Dave) must have known how very much I needed to "hear" this sermon God Bless you, Pastor Dave!

  2. Me, too, St Anne,,,and you can preach it from experience!


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!