When troubles come. When life is dark. When sin is rampant. When God seems silent and distant. When we are disenchanted with God or with His people. Where do we go?
Some people run away. They run away from God. They hide. They become isolated. And not only do they run away from God and others, they won’t spend a second looking at themselves with an honest eye.
I have a Pastor friend who had a tough time in his last church. He went his way and they went their way and when I asked him where he was going to worship he said that he wasn’t going to church. He was taking a break from church. A Pastor taking a break from church!!
Did you hear this one? One Sunday morning, a mother went to wake her son and tell him it was time to get ready for church, to which he replied, “I’m not going.” “Why not?” “I’ll give you two reasons – one, they don’t like me, and two, I don’t like them.” His mother replied, “I’ll give you two reasons why you should go to church. One, you’re 54 years old, and two, you’re the pastor.”
Today, in our Lenten worship, with the brilliant words of Psalm 84, we talk about not running away but running toward our great God. The Psalm begins, “How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” (Psalm 84:1-2)
We should have a deep yearning and a great desire for God and His gifts. We should yearn to be in His presence and be with His people. But that is not how it is at all times. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Burl Ives plays a character called “Big Daddy” and without any shame confesses, “Frankly, church bores me.” Little yearning.
He isn’t alone. Adam and Eve wanted nothing to do with God after choosing sin instead of obedience. When God entered the garden looking for His creation, they ran and hid. The truth of what they did was too hard to accept. They didn’t yearn for God. They didn’t yearn for His gifts, His words, even the comfort of one another. They ran. Hid. Offered excuses. But yearning for God was over.
David, who wrote about half of the Psalms, speaks about his insides after committing adultery and second-degree murder, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4)
But there is hope. God can change the heart. He can give us godly desires – really godly desires – a desire for God. But it all starts with Him – seeking us. Deep yearning is the heart of God for us. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him…the father said to his servants, ‘Quick, bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20, 22-24)
Always yearning. He sought Adam and Eve. He sought David. He sought the Prodigal Son. He seeks us. He yearns for us to be His and to know His second chance, cleansing and new direction in life. We still have a few weeks before Jesus enters Jerusalem but wasn’t it yearning that caused Him to overlook Jerusalem and say, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (Luke 13:34)
He yearns to receive us, as smelly, and stinky, and dirty as we are. Last month 18-year-old Connor Cox got a care package from his mother. In fact, he got two packages. Cox attends Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania and his mother, Connie, sent him two packages. One was just perfect. Food, sweets, lots of goodies. But the other one wasn’t so nice. It was a package of garbage. His garbage. When son called mom about this she explained, “That’s the trash you were supposed to take out when you were home over winter break.” Cox said of his mother, “She knows what to say at the exact time she should say it.” (Denver Post, February 22, 2017)
So does God. We have lots of garbage, and he receives it and says that we get the best robe, and the ring and the sandals and the party. “This son of Mine, this daughter of Mine, was dead is alive again; they were lost and now they are found.” That is His yearning. We are His yearning.
And now we have a yearning for God and the things of God. Some commentators believe that this Psalm is a word from someone who wasn’t able to get to the Temple. They longed for it, but something prevented them for being there for the holy days and the sacrifices and being in the place where God revealed Himself. “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God.” A parallel psalm is Psalm 42, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God. The soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1-2)
This Psalm is the Psalm for the home bound, the sick, the travelers, those who work on Sunday and can’t get to church, for those Christians who are imprisoned. They would love to be here. They have a desire to hear words from God, to bring their prayers to Him, to fellowship with the people of God and to receive His many gifts. They would love to receive the sacrament. They would be honored to get some black ash put on their forehead but such things are not possible. They yearn to be here.
Do we? I know you’re here physically, but when you come do you have a yearning for God to speak and heal and to make life better and different? Do you come desiring to grow? Do you come, not out of mere habit or duty, but with joy and happiness? Do you look to have an opportunity to be a vehicle of God’s mercy to someone who is also here? Psalm 84 – “Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” (Psalm 84:10)
When troubles come. When life is dark. When sin is rampant. When God seems silent or distant. When we are disenchanted with Him or His people. Don’t run away. Seek Him. Yearn for Him. The prophet Jeremiah in one of those gems from the Old Testament speaks for God, “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)
In Jesus God seeks you. From the cross. At the meal. With His words. Listen. Receive. Yearn. He yearns for you. Yearn for Him. Amen!!