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Blessings to you this day.
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Lenten Series - The Seven Last Words
My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?
Eloi. Eloi. Lama sabachthani.
For students taking notes, the title of the sermon for tonight is: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? In addition to the word, forsaken, you could also use the words, abandoned or deserted. Forsaken, abandoned, deserted. Any one of these three words is appropriate.
The text for tonight is …from the heart of King David in Psalm 22:1 and from the heart of Jesus Christ in Mark 15:34. Both King David and Jesus spoke these words from their heart.
To begin, or point l: Sometime during life, we will feel abandoned by a loved one. Please write that down. Sometime during life, we will feel abandoned by a loved one. You will also experience feelings that accompany abandonment such as feelings of disappointment, discouragement, or being down in the dumps, sadness. Those feelings may become more intense feelings such as anger and even rage.
Let me illustrate what I am talking about with four stories or situations.
First story. Feeling abandoned by a brother or sister. When I was a young boy growing up, my mother and father were have enormous difficulties with our family business and with their relationship. It got really ugly at our house between mom and dad, just about the time my older brother and sister went off to college, leaving me home alone to deal with my fighting parents. At that moment, I felt abandoned by my older brother and sister, leaving me at home alone to deal with the anger and fights of my parents. I know in my head that I wasn’t abandoned, but in my heart, I felt that my older brother and sister had deserted me, leaving me at home alone. … As time has gone by, I find many of you young people have similar feelings. When your older brother or sister leave home and things are tough at your house, you may feel like they have deserted you. Feelings are not necessarily intelligent; they just are.
Second story. Immigration and moving away. When my mother was a little girl living in Denmark, at four years old, she left the family farm and moved to the United States. My mother remembered how her grandmother stood on the banks of the sea, watching the ferry take her daughter and grandchildren away. My mother’s grandma was crying, knowing that she would never see her daughter or granddaughter again. There was sadness, disappointment, tears, and anger as the ferry boat sailed off. We have many such immigrants here in America. … Or, here in the United States, parents will move away from their children or children will move away from their parents and there are often feelings of desertion
Third story. Death and feeling abandoned. A parent gets cancer and dies young, and a little child often feels abandoned by his mother or father who died. The child’s heart just feels that way. Feelings have no I.Q. Or, the other day, I was talking with a young man. His own father had died ten years ago when he was in his twenties and this young man told me he missed his father to help him make a decision about his own marriage. His brain knew better but his heart was feeling that his father deserted him ten years ago when papa died. … Or, I have numerous friends who have been married for fifty plus years and one of the partner dies. The remaining partner often feels abandoned: “Why did you leave me to face the end of my life all alone without you?” Death often causes people to feel abandonment.
Fourth story. Divorce. I experience this situation often. Most often, a woman feels that she was abandoned by her spouse and that she is left holding the bag of heavy responsibility. I remember this friend who had more than ten children, most adopted, and her husband left her. The woman felt that her husband abandoned her with all the work and heavy responsibility. … Or in the divorce where one parent moves away, a child often feels that he or she has been abandoned by the parent, who not only left the house but left town as well.
What I am suggesting to you that most people feel abandonment during their lifetime, and there are certain normal feelings that go with feeling abandoned or deserted. Those feelings are often sadness, disappoint, anger, and even rage. These feelings are all normal and human. … These feelings have no I.Q; those feelings are not necessarily rational or intelligent. Feelings just are. Such feelings are often directed at the person who abandoned you.
Point 2: Sometime during life, we all feel abandoned by God. Please write that down: Sometime during life, we all feel abandoned by God. This happens in life, especially when tragedies happen to you personally. Let me give you some examples.
From the Old Testament, King David wrote the famous words in Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Words from King David. His words continue: “why are you so far from saving me Lord? Why are you so far from my groaning? Why do I cry out to you, but you do not answer?” King David had these feelings in his heart that God had forsaken him, abandoned him, deserted him. Why? Because of the personal tragedies of his life. King David felt this way because King Saul was trying to kill him, his enemies were trying to kill him, his oldest son was trying to kill him, his family didn’t turn out very well. David was feeling down in the dumps and he wrote: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Similarly with Job in the Old Testament. Job experienced many personal tragedies. He lost his farms, lost the animals, lost his children, lost his wife. Job lost everything. And he felt that God had abandoned him, deserted him, and Job was angry with God and even raged at God. Those feelings were all normal.
King David and Job felt that God had deserted them.
It is not only people in the Old Testament who feel that God has abandoned them. Many contemporary Christians also feel that God has abandoned them. For example, young Elie Weisel experienced the silence of God when his family was burned in a German concentration camp and he felt all alone in the world and forsaken by God. Another example, last night on television was the sixth month anniversary of the terrorist bombing of the Trade Towers in New York. As the second plane crashed into the Tower, thousands of people were looking up and shouting, “My God, my God, what is happening? Where are you? What is going on here?” In enormous horrific tragedy., people felt abandonment, desertion and being forsaken by God. They were overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, confusion, anger and rage at what they saw.
Knowing that people experience that they are abandoned by their loved ones and that they are abandoned by God, it is with these feelings that we approach the Gospel story for tonight.
Point 3: The setting for tonight’s sermon. The setting was Golgotha, the place of execution right outside the walls of Jerusalem. It was Friday, the day after Passover. The text tells us that Jesus on the cross for three hours, from twelve noon to three o’clock.
The sky turned dark and black, the darkest day of human history, and so did Jesus’ heart. It was three o’clock on that Friday afternoon and Jesus was coming closer to his death. The Bible tells us that Jesus cried out with a shrieking shout. His voice wasn’t quiet and soft like the first three words. You could barely hear him pray, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus spoke gently to the thief on the cross: Today you will be with me in paradise. Jesus spoke in subdued tones to his mother and his best friend beneath the cross. And then, Jesus reached into his soul and shouted to the heavens at the top of his lungs, in almost a scream, so the Greek tells us: Eloi, Eloi, lama sabach-thani. The words are in Aramaic, his native tongue. Eloi, Eloi. My strong God, my strong God, why have you abandoned me, why have you deserted me, why have you forsaken me?
Point 4: What can we learn from Jesus’ cry to God?
The first thing we learn is this: it is OK to have feelings and vent those feelings of abandonment, as Jesus did on the cross. To feel the pain and sadness of being abandoned by God is normal. That is the way God made us, to feel such feelings and to vent such feelings. It is OK to feel depressed and abandoned by God.
King David certainly did, when people wanted to kill him. He wrote those classic words in Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? King David was a devout believer in God and clung to God and was loyal to God, but he also felt depressed and abandoned by God and he vented his feelings to God. If it was normal and acceptable for God’s King David to feel his feelings and to vent his feelings, and he was the best king in the whole Old Testament, it is certainly normal and acceptable for you and me to feel the same way.
Job certainly did. Job is the most famous person in the Old Testament who is known for his suffering. Job suffered more than any other person in the Old Testament, and he, too, felt abandoned by God, deserted by God, forsaken by God, and he shouted his laments and anger towards God.. That was part of humanness, to feel that way, and it is part of our humanness to feel that way as well. It is OK to feel like Job.
Jesus certainly did. Jesus was the very Son of God, the heart and mind of God in the flesh, and in the moment of the deepest darkness of the land and the deepest darkness of his heart, Jesus felt that God had abandoned him and he shouted his feelings to the heavens. This reveals that Jesus was fully human, and when we have those similar feelings and vent those feelings, that reveals that we are fully human as well. It is OK to feel like Jesus.
So when you have such feelings that God has abandoned you, and you vent those feelings, remember that you are in the good company of King David, Job, and Jesus the Son of God. When you personally lose a loved one due to death or divorce or them moving away and you feel sadness, disappointment and down in the dumps about your situation and you cry out to God with your feelings, remember that this is OK. King David did it. Job did it. Jesus, the Son of God, did it.
When we lose a father or mother, or brother or sister, or child or grandchild, or experience any tragedy in our personal lives, we often feel a silent abandonment by God. It is OK to feel that way. David did. Job did. Jesus did. We often do.
The second thing we learn tonight from Jesus’ word is this: even in the worst situations o life, we are to cling to God with both hands as Jesus did. Even in the worst situations of life, we are to cling to God with both hands. Please underline and emphasize: with both hands. Let me explain. For me, the best sermon on this text was written by Charles Spurgeon in 1872. Charles Spurgeon was one of the greatest preachers of all time, living in London, England, in the late 1800s. Spurgeon said that in Jesus’ darkest hour with darkness all around him and within him, Jesus still clung to God with both hands. His left hand said, “My God.” His right hand said, “My God.” Eloi. Eloi. My God, my God, was Jesus clinging to God with both hands in the midst of this horrific situation. Jesus clung to God with all his might during the darkest hour of his life.
Spurgeon went on to say that it is easy to believe in God when life smiles on you, but it is much more difficult to believe in God when life frowns on you. It is easy to believe in God when you are wearing silver slippers and the path is smooth and easy; but it is much more difficult to believe in God when your feet are blistered and the path is rocky.
Sometimes, life can be incredibly hard. In the worst and darkest day of human history, Jesus still clung to God with both hands and held onto God. We are to cling to God in our darkest days.
And what are the darkest days of human history, when the sky was blackest?
Was it 200 million people killed by Hitler, Stalin and Mao during World War II? Was that the darkest time of human history?
Or the 137,000,000 people killed by the Black Plagues in the 6th, 14th and 17th centuries?
Or the 100 million people in southern Africa infected with the AIDS virus by the year 2005?
Or the 25-30 million people killed in the United States in 1918 by a flu epidemic after World War I?
Or when six million Jews were exterminated in gas chambers during World War II?
Or what the worst day of human history?
When there was more than 23,000 casualties in one day in the battle of Antietem, during the Civil War?
Was it September 11th when 3,000 civilians were killed in one hour?
Was it the day that the Son of God was executed?
In all of those horrific tragedies, we are invited to do what Jesus did in that darkest hour: Jesus clung to God with both hands, crying out to the heavens, shouting his despair, “ My God, My God, both hands grabbing God, where are you? Why aren’t you here to protect us?”
So on God’s Friday, you find Jesus clinging to God with all his power, with both hands, and at the same time, shouting his inner feelings up to God.
We are invited to do the same. Cling to God with both hands and shout our inner feelings to God in the highest.
The third thing we learn from Jesus’ word on the cross is that these are not his last words. The drama does not end with his depression and emotional exhaustion. “Why have you forsaken me?” These are not his last words, not his final words, not the end of the story.
King David wrote the 22nd psalm, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me.” But he also wrote the next psalm, the 23rd psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.” The 22nd psalm was not his last word.
Job complained to God when he lost all his possessions, his family, everything. He railed against God in his anger, but those were not his last words. He also wrote at the end of his book, “I know that my redeemer lives.” Job’s feelings of abandonment were not his last words.
So also with Jesus. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” Eloi. Eloi. These were not his last words. His last words were “It is accomplished. It is finished. It is done.” He also said, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Easter always trumps Good Friday.
Similarly, there is a quotation. “I believe in the sun when it is not shining. I believe in the stars when I cannot see them. And I believe in God when I cannot hear him.” Those words were inscribed in a ghetto in Poland in World War II.
One of my dearest friends has experienced untold heartache in her life. It took years but her eyes finally have life and happiness in them again. I am so glad to see her eyes smiling again after all that she has been through. God’s healing always triumphs over tragedy. Easter trumps Good Friday. And God can and will heal you of every disaster that befalls you.
It was three o’clock on Friday afternoon. Jesus had been hanging on the cross for three hours on the darkest day of the year. Suddenly or slowly, his voice penetrated the skies with a sheik and he cried, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.” My strong God, my strong God, why have you abandoned me.” And those were not his last words from the cross. Amen.
Biblical Responsive Reading
Litany (read responsively)
Leader: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Psalm 22:1-2, 10-11
C: Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? Do not forget the helpless. You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, Psalm 10:1, 12b, 17
L: How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me. Psalm 13:1-2, 5-6
C: I say to God my Rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?" My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, "Where is your God?" Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:9-11
L: Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression? We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground. Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love. Psalm 44:24-26
C: From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" -- which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling Elijah." Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save him." Matthew 27:45-49