June 9, 2021
Rev Stephanie Parrott
Central UMC Knoxville
Tennessee Valley District
Psalm 741 O God, why have you rejected us forever?
Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?
2 Remember the nation you purchased long ago,
the people of your inheritance, whom you redeemed—
Mount Zion, where you dwelt.
3 Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins,
all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary.
4 Your foes roared in the place where you met with us;
they set up their standards as signs.
5 They behaved like men wielding axes
to cut through a thicket of trees.
6 They smashed all the carved paneling
with their axes and hatchets.
7 They burned your sanctuary to the ground;
they defiled the dwelling place of your Name.
8 They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!”
They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land.
9 We are given no signs from God;
no prophets are left,
and none of us knows how long this will be.
10 How long will the enemy mock you, God?
Will the foe revile your name forever?
11 Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!
12 But God is my King from long ago;
he brings salvation on the earth.
13 It was you who split open the sea by your power;
you broke the heads of the monster in the waters.
14 It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan
and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert.
15 It was you who opened up springs and streams;
you dried up the ever-flowing rivers.
16 The day is yours, and yours also the night;
you established the sun and moon.
17 It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
you made both summer and winter.
18 Remember how the enemy has mocked you, Lord,
how foolish people have reviled your name.
19 Do not hand over the life of your dove to wild beasts;
do not forget the lives of your afflicted people forever.
20 Have regard for your covenant,
because haunts of violence fill the dark places of the land.
21 Do not let the oppressed retreat in disgrace;
may the poor and needy praise your name.
22 Rise up, O God, and defend your cause;
remember how fools mock you all day long.
23 Do not ignore the clamor of your adversaries,
the uproar of your enemies, which rises continually.
DevotionTonight’s evening news showed videos of the devastation in the Middle East. All this week the two sides have been bombing each other. The scenes are horrific. People are dying. Innocents caught in the crossfire. War is devastating and shows just how broken we are.
Our Psalm today is written after the nation of Israel had experienced one the most devastating events in their history as a nation. The Babylonians, under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar, had taken the capitol city of Jerusalem. They tore down the walls, ravaged the city, destroyed, and burned the Temple (2 Kings 25:8-21). Jerusalem was the city of God, so the significance of the devastation for Israel was huge. The Temple was built as the dwelling place for presence of God. And then…war, destruction, the loss of sanctuary. Tonight, I saw much of the same. Families’ homes gone. Children dead. No safe place to turn. No place to find peace and sanctuary.
Psalm 74 is one of Lament. The psalmist is crying out to God and pleading with Him to remember His people in the midst of this destruction. But this lament, this prayer, also displays a deep trust in God. God has been faithful before and now the psalmist pleads with God to be faithful again.
In many ways this psalm is a model for prayer in times of despair, when all hope seems gone. Our psalm begins with a plea for God to remember them. We all know the feeling – when God seems to have turned his back, looked away, left us alone. The writer takes his frustrations, his pleas, and his anger to God. Our prayers often start with this – God, please! I need you! Where are you? Why have you allowed this? The psalm gives us permission to take all our feelings, even those of anger, doubt, and frustration to God.
Then he speaks in honesty of the situation they find themselves in. We often get ourselves in messes. Some of our own doing. Others, just situations that we happen to fall into. For the Israelites, the situation is one of their own making. Their sin, their rebellion, their own rejection of God’s teachings. The psalmist feels that God that is refraining from coming to their defense as a means of punishment. When we find ourselves in deep messes, our prayers turn to pleading for God to intervene. We cannot defeat or fix the situation ourselves. We need divine intervention. We need to feel God.
But then we remember God’s faithfulness. The psalmist is reminded of all the things God has done. How God has destroyed the monsters and enemies in the past. How God is the creator of all – that the sun and moon, that day and night, all belong to him. We can find assurance of God’s faithfulness when we remind ourselves in prayer of who God is, of all God has done, and that God is still present and in control.
In C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, he tells Wormwood to not be deceived. “Our cause is never more in danger that when a human, … looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and (yet) still obeys.” In the midst of evil and destruction, when God seems to have vanished and we feel forsaken, we are called to take it to God in prayer. To trust and obey. Trust in God’s faithfulness and obey his command to “humble ourselves and pray.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
Psalms of lament can be the words we pray when we have no words in these times.
PrayerTonight, my prayers are for all the innocents in the Middle East. Those in the midst of destruction and devastation. For those who feel that eye for an eye is the only way forward. For those fighting to save lives. I pray for God to intervene. I pray for the God who reigns over all to bring about peace in what seems to be a peaceless place. I trust and rest, assured of God’s presence; for there is nothing else I can do. May the people impacted by violence everywhere feel and know that God sees, God knows, and God is present and acting. May we be open to ways we can be the hands, feet, and voice of peace. Amen