2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16, Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20
The Rev. James M.L. Grace
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Several weeks ago, a friend of mine from seminary, fellow priest, and die-hard Chicago Cubs fan, visited Houston when the Cubs played the Astros at Minute Maid Field. He had dinner at our home, and I drove him, and his two children back to their hotel downtown. It was about 10 PM, and we were in my car driving down Texas Avenue.
We stopped at a red light on Main Street, and police car on Main crossed the intersection and turned right into a Metro Light Rail train that was heading in the same direction. Crash! Glass and metal sprayed in different directions as the police car and the train collided. Immediately after the collision, there was a moment where people looked around at each other with this look of “did this really just happen?” on their eyes.
People got out of their cars, took out their cell phones and started videoing the wrecked car. For a moment I was afraid, as I saw people walking toward the police car. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. The passenger door of the police car opened, and the officer climbed out, unharmed, but clearly shaken, brushing broken glass off his shoulders and head.
I and others approaching the car were afraid he was hurt, or worse. We were relieved he was okay. Immediately other police cars pulled up, and the officer went into the company of other officers. And we got back in our cars and continued to the hotel.
For me it was a primal experience – the shock of the collision, the fear the officer was injured, the relief that he was okay. Most of us have experienced a feeling of shock, or even a moment where we feared our life might be taken from us, only to have the reassurance that it was not yet our time.
I believe that this feeling of shock comes close to that what the author of today’s psalm, Psalm 30, might have experienced. In the psalm, the author writes these words: “O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.” We don’t know the circumstances around the person who wrote those words in the psalm. We don’t know what kind of near-death experience he or she had.
But it is obvious to me that whatever it was, it made a profound impact on the author. In one of my classes on the psalms in seminary, our professor, Dr. Cook, described to us that in ancient Israel there were deep water wells, or pits that people likely fell into. We’re talking fifty to one hundred feet in the ground. Some made it out, some did not. Perhaps for this reason, the water well, or “pit” as described in the psalm became associated with total loss, even death. I believe archeologists have discovered human skeletons at the bottoms of these ancient wells, suggesting that the experience which the author of the psalm describes was tragically real.
And it continues to happen today – how many of us remember in 1987 watching the news as police, firefighters, and other volunteers worked to rescue young Jessica McClure who, as an infant, fell deep down into a well in Midland, Texas? While we may not all have fallen deep into the bottom of a well, fearing for our, life – most of us can probably hit some kind of “bottom” in our lives, where we felt alone, abandoned, forsaken, left in the dark. Raise your hand if what I’ve said applied to you – it does to me. Great! Isn’t relieving to know that church is not a country club for people who have it all together and live perfect lives, but rather a hospital for broken people like you and me? The gift of that dark place is that for many of us, it is through abandonment, pain, and humility where we come to know God most intimately.
“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.” Again, powerful words here spoken by someone who was blessed enough to be brought low, to be humbled, to be broken. Because the gift of being broken is that brokenness is where you learn to have true joy. Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness happens when you get what you want, and then wears off over time. Happiness is fleeting. Joy is what is produced when you trust God. That’s what happens when you choose to place your life into God’s hands. You just become joyful.
You still suffer, you still feel pain, you still get frustrated. But because you are at a place where you can put your life into God’s hands and you know that even though life doesn’t make sense now, it is in God’s hands. In the end, everything will be okay.
What a gift. What a tremendous gift that even when we fall deep into the pit, when we bottom out, God is there waiting to pick us up. I close with a brief poem John McCreery, entitled “There is no Death”
There is no death! The stars go down
To rise upon some other shore,
And bright in heaven’s jeweled crown
They shine for evermore.
Time is no death! The dust we tread
Shall change beneath the summer
To golden grain, or mellow fruit,
Or rainbow-tinted flowers.
And ever near us though unseen,
The dear immortal spirits tread;
For all the boundless universe
Is life – there are no dead!