In you, O Lord, I seek refuge

Sermon delivered by Minister Shirley Lin on 22nd April, 2007

PSALMS : 31:1-5, 15-16

31:1  In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness.

31:2  Bow down thine ear to me; deliver me speedily: be thou my strong rock, for an house of defence to save me.

31:3  For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name's sake lead me, and guide me.

31:4  Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me: for thou art my strength.

31:5  Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.

31:15 My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me.

31:16 Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save me for thy mercies' sake.

The Psalmist opened his prayer with this phrase. We see that in this Psalm, there is a desperate tone. In this Psalm, the author is crying out to God for help and deliverance. Some scholars have thought that it was the Prophet Jeremiah who authored Psalm 31. If you remember, the prophet Jeremiah did not have a very easy life. In fact, his life was constantly in danger because his prophecies were not appreciated by his people. Regardless of who authored the psalm, we know that this person was conflicted and suffering. Laments like these were often prayed during times of distress, because there was nowhere to turn, except to God for salvation.

Sometimes, we encounter these difficult situations. They can be personal or they can be communal. The happenings of this week in particular would fall under the communal category. This has been a long and difficult week for Americans. Starting on Sunday going straight into Monday, the Northeast experienced a record rain storm. According to the weather reports, the nor'easter left a huge swath of devastation, from the beaches of South Carolina to the mountains of Maine.  

The Nor’easter knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people and was blamed for at least 11 deaths nationwide, including a New Jersey man who drowned inside a car. In Boston, the wind speed measured up to 60 miles an hour. The bad news did not end there. 

First thing on Monday morning, the nation found out about a school shooting so deadly, it claimed the lives of 33 young people. A South Korean student, only 23 years old, was believed to have taken 2 guns, gone into a dorm and a school building and opened fire on the people in the buildings, systematically taking out his victims, one by one.  

This event was understandably traumatic not only for the students and their families and friends, but sent waves of horror throughout the country, even the world. Within a day, South Korea, England, Australia and other countries have responded with concern, sympathy over the tragedy, and fury that it could have happened. Yale University president sent his condolences and offer of support and aid to President Charles Steger. Even President Bush has gone to the campus. 

We live in a world full of conflict and troubles. This has always been and, as far as we know, will always be. As Christians, we look at God and we ask, “why? Why did you let this happen?”

At the same time, we question how it is a just, merciful, and loving God could break hearts so easily. And for us, it makes us wonder, what kinds of things can happen to us? 

When we were little, and we were afraid, we would run to our parents’ room and sleep with them, because we knew that no matter what happened, mom and dad would always be there to take care of us and keep us safe. Now we are in the world. We can no longer hide in the safety of our parents’ bed. Our sense of safety has been shattered, especially on our campuses and perhaps even the way we look at each other. We have once again experienced the fragility of our world. 

It is with a heavy heart that we turn to today’s reading and the book of Psalms, for both instruction and comfort. The Book of Psalms is a book that is full of raw emotions. It is not a unified composition, but an collection of expressions of different emotions. The most typical kind of psalm is a complaint, or lament, where the author is addressing experiences of adversity, asking God for deliverance. We may expect the Psalmist to be in fear and anger toward God for all their anguish and suffering, this is not the case. Rather, on the whole, the Psalms are quite full of trust.

In the passage that we read today, we see that the author of this passage was grieving. The Psalmist was coming up against his enemies, and enemies of God. He was in a precarious situation, as his enemies were terrorizing him and scheming to take his life. Despite it all, Psalm 31 is all about finding refuge in God, and trusting in God who will ultimately rescue and save us, that everything is in God’s hands, and through God, we are saved.  

The Psalmist is not only calling out to God to help him defeat his enemies, but believing that God will be able to provide for him. This is theoretically what we are all supposed to do. Depending on God, because God is powerful and will always be there for us. However, after the events of this week, we may question God’s intentions. After all, if God is our Abba, and God allows these things to happen, how can we remain safe in this world? Who is going to protect us from tragedy and sadness? 

Faith is easier said than done. This means that while it is easy for me to stand up here and say, “we must have faith! We must continue to believe in God,” there is a very real possibility that it is difficult to do that. Apathy is common among us, because it is the easiest way to deal with pain and suffering. It calls for us to shut out the world when we feel helpless, hopeless, and fearful. 

When tragedies happen, our faith is shaken. Even if we know in our minds that we must stay strong and faithful, we cannot help but question how it is possible for the world to suffer so. For many of us, we say, “enough is enough.” We turn off our news broadcasts, stop reading the internet articles, and we stop thinking about it, because it was yesterday’s news. There are, of course, people who dwell on it, but we are tired of it. 

So we turn off the TV, navigate away from the website, and go on our every day lives, because we have our own problems to deal with; problems that are more real to us than something that happened far away to people we do not know. In order to live without apathy, we must learn to lament, which is what the Psalmist has showed us today. 

Change is not always possible, but it is always possible to offer up our sorrows and hopelessness up to God. However, we must not shy away from these events. We must remember that real people are suffering, even if we do not know them. It takes true courage to face our troubles, to be able to deal with it, and to reach out to others in support and comfort. 

This is something that Americans do particularly well. In times of tragedy, Americans unite together to comfort and bring solace to each other. When we think of the polarizing differences in America, we might wonder how this can happen. It is America’s strong faith that contributes to this phenomenon. They reach out to each other in times of crisis, because we are all one family in Christ. 

Even the Koreans and Korean Americans have united to make a difference for the victims’ families, and gathering together to pray and fast. When we read the words of the Psalmist praying and praising God for deliverance from their enemies and thanksgiving to God for protecting them, we know that despite the bad, the Israelites have continued to be faithful, even in the midst of their situation. 

We know that the Israelites were in a place where they were suffering, and they wanted to both ask God for deliverance, and to affirm for themselves that they are still faithful. In times of suffering and tragedy, they turned to God. In our suffering and our tragedy, we, too, turn to God. It is my belief that God does not cause pain and suffering. Rather, God sees that suffering, like our parents would, and cries with us, and holds us while we cry.  

Therefore, when we are holding tension and stress, we could offer it up to God, asking Him to hold us through our difficult times. But we cannot simply wash our hands of the problem. When a event like the massacre comes up, we must ask ourselves who we are as Christians. As Christians, we are called to live above and beyond everyone else; to be the light in the darkness, because we know the truth. 

In times like these, times of suffering and strife, what more can we do? “Let your face shine upon your servant,” writes the Psalmist, in verse 16.  

Like in our earthly relationships, we cannot always depend on our parents when things take a turn for the worse. At some point, we must also work hard for ourselves so that we can provide protection for ourselves and for those we love. And we are able to do this because we have been heavily influenced by our parents, so are we influenced in such a way by God. Through Christ, we are transformed so that we are better than we were before we knew God, and it is through God’s favor that we can stand up without fear. 

Even though we cannot see God physically, we still have something that is available and sustains us. God has given us a network of support as well as calls us to support others. We must not neglect our friends and acquaintances out of fear uncertainty, but rather be supportive even when we don’t know what to do. We have all been guilty of being judgmental or being absent when someone really needed our support and love. 

We need to look out for our brothers and sisters and love our neighbors, reaching out to those who are troubled. People are quick to jump on the gun control bandwagon, in some ways because it is easier to control guns than to admit that we’ve failed. We have failed as mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and friends, who have let our fear of mental illnesses rob us of our compassion. 

It is estimated that half of the students in college are mentally depressed. It is scary to think of what someone suffering from deep depression goes through every single day, but perhaps if we can be more cognizant of those around us, letting go of our own feelings to look out for someone else’s. Maybe all that this boy needed was one friend, one person to listen and affirm him. Even if that is not the case, we can continue to reach out to those around us, because this was an important part of Christ’s ministry, as well as a big part of the Christian Community. 

This is why we have fellowship and lunch after every service. We are called by God to care for others, to love one another as ourselves, even our neighbors. And to continue to sustain us, we look to God, as the Psalmist did, having trust in God and faith that God will be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me because God is indeed my rock and my fortress, and will lead and guide me. (Psalm 13, 2b-3)  

Let us be united as one, as people of God, to care for all His children, to be brave in the face of trouble and comforting in times of suffering.