The Lord is Near

The Lord is Near (A Sermon for Proper 16B)
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church (Keller, Texas)
The Rev. Alan D. Bentrup
Psalm 34:15-22
August 22, 2021

How old were you the first time you experienced a broken heart? For me it was the spring of 1992 and I had been going steady with a cute girl in my class for a really long time by middle school standards: two whole months.

I was crazy about her.

But on a Friday afternoon that May a friend of hers handed me a note right before I got on the bus…my first “Dear John letter”…letting me know that we were breaking up. To make matters worse, she and her family were moving.

I mean, what kind of parent makes their middle school kid move?!

I was devastated, and remember the combination of hurt and anger I felt as I lay on my bed into the night, staring at the ceiling…

Maybe you’ve noticed that we’ve been reading through Psalm 34 these past three weeks.

Psalm 34 is one of the few times in the Psalms where David includes some introductory material. David introduces this particular psalm as one written when he was driven away. He was scared, ran for his life, and was alone.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Like David, we know what it is like to be scared and feel alone.

Like David, we know what it is like to be brokenhearted.

We’ve lost jobs. We’ve lost homes. We’ve lost relationships.

We’ve buried friends. We’ve buried family. We’ve buried children.

Eighteen months ago this week the world shut down. Y’all gathered here for worship one week, and then the next week we all started figuring out what it means to live and work and worship in unprecedented times.

The kids of our communities are starting school, and this will be the third straight year that students and staff and teachers have to figure out how to be safe, how to learn, and how to be kids during a pandemic.

This week, we’ve seen the news stories of the poor, huddled masses of Afghan refugees, yearning to be free. And we’ve heard from service men and women who served in Afghanistan, who feel lost and alone.

Like David, we know all too well what it is like to be scared and feel alone.

Like David, we know all too well what it is like to be brokenhearted.

But listen to these words from Psalm 34 that we’ve all said these last few weeks…

“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth…”

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me…”

“O taste and see that the Lord is good…”

“The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous…”

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted…”

When our hearts break, when we feel the most alone, we are not alone at all—the Lord is near.

Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus drew near to the brokenhearted—bereaved widows, lepers, sinners, tax collectors, adulterers, prostitutes, mothers and fathers whose children were dying or dead, the deaf and the blind, the lost and the hungry, the rejected and the outcast—Jesus continually drew near to the brokenhearted and showed grace and mercy and compassion and love.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted…

Now I’m old enough to know that life with God doesn’t mean a life of sunshine and rainbows. I’m not pollyannaish.

Bad things happen. Bad things have happened to you, and bad things have happened to me.

And when those bad things happen, it’s only natural to question. Where is God? Who is God? Why would a good God allow this?

We’re not the first ones to ask those questions. Just read the rest of the Psalms. Read Job. Read anywhere in the Bible where folks yell and scream and curse at God because they feel lost and alone and brokenhearted.

The 50 cent word for that is “theodicy,” a defense of God’s goodness in the midst of evil.

Here’s the thing: there is no defense. There is no answer, at least that I’ve found.

Scripture doesn’t ever really give us an answer to the question of suffering. Scripture is full of stories of bad things happening to the righteous and the unrighteous, however we’d define those groups. Scripture is full of bad things happening to people that love God.

We’re not promised a life free of suffering. We’re not promised a life free from heartbreak.

But God does promise to draw near.

My week was bookended by burials. One was for my mother-in-law, and the other for somebody I didn’t even know. But, both times, I was struck by the words of our burial liturgy. Even the notes in the prayer book offer hope in the midst of heartbreak…

(Read from page 507)

We are not promised a life free of heartbreak. We’ve all been there, and we’ll all be there again.

But we are promised that God is with us. We are promised that Jesus Christ has overcome death and sorrow and heartbreak.

We are promised that the Lord is near.

At the end of our burial liturgy, the priest comes down and stands next to the body. I think that’s symbolic of all of us standing in the midst of heartbreak and sorrow.

And in that moment, we get to proclaim this truth…perhaps the most true thing in our entire prayer book: “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”

Today may the Lord draw near to the places in our hearts that are broken, bringing God’s healing grace and mercy and compassion and love.

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.