Pastor Diane Schmitz
October 15, 2000

Silence is golden. Children should be seen not heard. Don't make a sound. Don't rock the boat. Don't make trouble. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

A couple arrives home after a long day at work. The wife notices her husband seems out of sorts. She asks, "Is anything wrong?" "No," he replies. "Everything is fine" and he turns on the TV and watches it for several hours as he does most nights. She longs to believe everything is fine but she knows it is not. She is weary of a relationship that seems so often to be a one-sided engagement. But fear of conflict and life-long reinforcement to be "nice" hold her back from insisting it be different.

A woman walks aimlessly through a grocery store continuing to wrestle with the bad news she heard from her doctor last week. A friend of hers walks by her in the aisle: "Hi, how are things going for you? The woman plasters a smile on her face and says, "Oh, pretty good - how about you?" Her ears ring with an often-repeated family slogan: "Don't complain - there are always people worse off than you." And so she keeps silent and hold backs the turmoil churning within her.

A father's child is diagnosed with leukemia. Everyone around him is amazed how well he is coping with the news. "George must have a deep faith," someone says, "he is being so strong and level-headed about this." In the quiet of the night, George lays awake for hours staring at the darkness; tears rolling down his face. But, in the daylight he tries to "be a man" about it.

A church community is shocked to find their pastor has been sexually abusing one of the parishioners. The pastor leaves, the community decides the best thing is to "move forward" and let the past be past. The church newsletter focuses on all the things about which to rejoice and there is no more said about the deep wound now living in the congregation.

In the midst of these stories are aching hearts, disillusionment, trembling fears, and deep grief. In these stories of silenced dialogue and restricted encounters there are lost opportunities for healing, reconciliation, and transformation. There are words not spoken here; words deemed too disruptive, too depressing, too negative, too complaining. These are encounters that diminish healthy and whole relationships because the truth is not spoken; honest feelings are not honored, and there is no place made for despair and anger to be expressed. These are not unusual stories but they are important ones to listen to for they remind us that in the midst of our pain we have too often become a silent, passive people. Who we have become affects how we relate to our God as well as to each other. Too often we have become silent before God.

"My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?" cries the psalmist in the lament read this morning. The Israelites knew a truth we have learned to ignore. Life can often be hard and unfair; it is right that we should be angry, frightened, and despondent. It is right that we should express those feelings. Listen again to the psalm: "All who see me mock at me; I am scorned by others, and despised by the people. My heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast. Oh, God, why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?" The Israelites had an ongoing relationship with God; a covenant in which they trusted and believed. Their God was an alive and active part of their lives. When they could not make sense of life they turned to God and railed against the injustice they experienced in their world. They expected God to matter in every dimension of their life.

Today, along with remaining silent in our relationships with others, we have silenced our laments towards God and in so doing, have diminished our possibilities for authentic engagement with the very Source of our Being. We readily give praise and glorify God; such praise has also become a safe, comfortable and known way to approach God. But, when despair tumbles into our lives, we often draw silently into ourselves and grieve alone. This despair can be very personal but it also can be global despair at what we see happening in our world. Our frustration with injustice may often be directed at other people or organizations but how often do we cry out to God demanding that the situation be changed.

Crying out to God does not mean we abdicate personal responsibility for what happens in our life and the world; it means that we acknowledge there is a Mystery in the universe that supports life over death and we are invited by our faith to call upon that Holy Mystery for help and guidance.

I invite you to join me in a present-day lament to God. When I raise my arms while saying a phrase, please join with me in repeating it.

O God, our God
Why have you hidden your face from us? Why do you turn away from the horrors from which our world suffers?
We have believed the stories of old; we have trusted in your presence active in the world
But now we feel betrayed; now we feel forgotten.
How long God, how long? (Repeat)
Forces of darkness seem rampant in our world; violence kills daily.
Children do not have enough to eat; they starve to death while adults play their political games.
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer; health care and housing are only an ideal for many.
The earth groans from abuse of her resources; our water is contaminated, our air is not healthy to breathe.
How long God, how long? (Repeat)
Our enemies surround us; those who seek to hold power over others are everywhere.
We are like confused sheep, lost and wandering; we know not in which direction to go and so we are led by those who would prey upon our disenchantment and disillusionment for their own gain.
Weariness shapes our days; our bones ache with the heaviness of ongoing despair.
We feel betrayed; we feel forgotten.
How long God, how long? (Repeat)
Our own personal lives are a blur before us; everywhere there is rushing.
We seek to fill our lives with action; we hurry to fill our lives with things.
We dare not slow down and feel our emptiness; we are frightened by the possibility that we lack meaning in our lives.
Our faces assume a fašade of normalness; we smile as our insides are wrenched apart by sadness, loneliness, anger, and hopelessness.
How long God, how long? (Repeat)
We are beset by sickness and aging; we are terrified by the changes occurring within our bodies.
Loss and grief in our lives seem to be unending; we cannot see beyond the pain and darkness.
Our world is changing so quickly we cannot keep up; we fear we will be left behind.
We fear some of the changes will be life threatening instead of life giving.
Our churches are faltering; people kill in the name of religion; faith seems to be in short supply.
Our hearts are in anguish within us; the terrors of our days threaten to extinguish our very lives.
How long God, how long? (Repeat)
Do not forsake us, O God. O God, do not be far from us.
Make haste to help us, O God, our salvation.
We are weary from our crying, our throats are parched from lack of living water
Our eyes grow dim with waiting for our God.
We call upon you for you will answer us, O God.
You, God, are alive and active in our world; we trust in you. (Repeat)
Incline your ear to us, hear our words.
We remember that you have brought us out of exile before; your name endures to all generations.
In you our ancestors trusted, they trusted, and you delivered them.
You, God, are alive and active in our world; we trust in you. (Repeat)
You have regarded the prayers of the destitute; you have listened to the widowed, the orphaned, the prisoners, and set free those who were doomed to die.
We call upon you with our complaints and know you will hear our voices.
You, God, are alive and active in our world; we trust in you. (Repeat)
You laid the foundations of the earth; the heavens are the work of your hands.
Bring us out of our prisons that we may give thanks to your name.
You are our help and our deliverer. O God, do not delay!
You, God, are alive and active in our world. We trust in you. (Repeat)
You show us the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy.
We believe that we shall see the goodness of God in the land of the living;
We wait for God and are strong; our hearts take courage
You, God, are alive and active in our world. We trust in you. (Repeat)
Blessed be to God for God has heard the sound of our pleadings.
Depart from us, all you thoughts of hopelessness, for God has heard the sound of our weeping.
God is our strength and in God our hearts trust.
You, God, are alive and active in our world. We trust in you. (Repeat)

God does not desire a silent, complacent partner. God, who has put passion within us, desires that we express ourselves fully and authentically. God may know what's in our heart but sometimes we don't until we give active expression to it. In that giving of expression we can give to God our troubles; we can relinquish them in a way that makes room for healing and new possibilities. In our shouted anger we can release the tight hold we have on hurts within us so our energy may be more effectively directed in righting injustice, making changes in our lives and in our world that embody the vision of a loving kingdom. When we remain silent in the face of injustice; everyone suffers. When we hesitate to name our grief; our lives became a Pollyanna platitude and status quo endures.

Our bold expression of disappointment and grief builds upon itself and leads us to action. We are no longer confined by the weight of our hopelessness. We are no longer held back by passive acceptance of our situation. We truly become co-creators with God, co-creators of a world that affirms life and does not tolerate injustice. We remember we are not alone; we no longer give up because our efforts alone are not enough; we trust in the power of God working through us to bring about real change.

Our reading from Hebrews this morning reminds us that the Word of God - in all its diverse expressions - is living and active in our world stripping away layers of falsehood under which we try to hide. We are "naked and laid bare" before God. What mixed feelings that brings up. A part of us wants to stay hidden and yet to be completely known is a deep hunger of the human soul. It is our desire to freely express all of who we are to a God who can receive and accept that in all its messiness and complexity.

This passage exhorts us to approach God with boldness, so that we may find help in time of need. It does not tell us to approach God only with praise. It is dangerous to infer God's "throne" is only a place of praise and yet we sometimes get that message because our worship services seldom give space to laments. If we leave lament out of our communal worship we risk creating a place where hard issues of justice seem like improper questions to raise to a God with whom we have primarily a relationship of praise.

Our relationship with God and our relationship with others are intertwined. If we silence ourselves in our communications with others, we are likely to silence ourselves in communication with God. If we dare not address God with speech that demands redistribution of power and changes in the status quo, we may find ourselves living in denial and pretense about our world - a response which sanctions social control. Addressing God in risky ways acknowledges we do believe God is transforming, able to affect and impact difficult change in our world.

I invite you to become acquainted with the lament psalms in the Bible. They give us genuine covenant interaction because both parties have a voice. Read them aloud and feel their power. Boldly risk engaging deeply with God. Cry forth your own lament. Open yourself to the possibility of transformation that comes with such acts.

Most importantly, believe in the power of God to transform our lives and our world. Know that hope is always alive in a person who turns to God and asks, "Why?" Give energy to that hope. Approach God boldly. Amen.