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  • Rev. Drew Stockstill

Are Your Wonders Known in the Dark?

September 4, 2022 Rev. Drew Stockstill

Psalm 88

As kids, we use to play a game called “Sardines.” We’d play it at sleepovers and church youth group. It’s kind of like Hide ‘n Seek, except instead of everyone hiding and one person seeking, one person hides and everyone tries to find them. If you find them, you join them in their hiding place. It keeps going like this, everyone looking for a single hiding place, and when they find them, packing like sardines into the hiding place until one person is left looking for all his friends. I loved playing this game. I knew, while alone for a while in that dark room (I had a great hiding place in the choir room behind the robes) I knew that I would be found, people were looking for me and they wanted to join me and I wouldn’t be alone in the dark for long.

Imagine a game of “Sardines” where one kid hides and then none of his friends try to find him. Maybe he set out to play the game without telling them, so he’s hiding but nobody knows he’s somewhere alone in the dark. Or maybe they trick him, they let him go hide they just leave him alone in the dark while they play without him. He’s alone in the dark and uncertain if anyone truly remembers him or knows he’s

missing. Is anyone coming; does anyone care? That’s a terrible feeling.

It’s a terrible thing to be in any kind of pain, but especially a pain that isn’t obvious to others: depression, emotional pain, spiritual pain. But we all experience this at times. We all go through seasons like this, whether we call it depression, being blue, maybe overwhelmed, sad, anxious, or stressed. We all have had these feelings, and I know there are folks here today, folks listening online, who right now are hurting on the inside. Maybe you or somebody you know right now feels like that kid alone in the dark, feels like a part of them is unseen, unknown, like you’re hiding in plain sight. People see you but they don’t see your pain, they don’t know what you are really going through.

Beloved, I want you to know, right now, you are not alone. God sees you, God is with you in that place, and God can lead you to the light because there are people in your life, people God has put in your life, who want to be there with you and for you. I want you to trust me on that, and we’re going to spend some time over the next three weeks talking about why I know it’s true – it’s true that God sees you and loves you where you are even with what you are feeling. It’s true that there are people who love you and don’t want you to feel like you have to hide, and it may not seem like it today, but there are better days ahead. Don’t give up. Have faith in God. Keep hope. Live.

National Suicide Prevention Week begins today and September is Suicide Prevention Awareness month. Suicide is something that has touched all of our lives. Maybe it’s something you’ve dealt with personally, or maybe someone close to you died by suicide. And if not, everyone here knows someone who has lost a loved one to suicide. The suffering and pain that contributes to suicide and the suffering and pain suicide causes in the lives of survivors is something that should not have to happen alone in the dark. My hope is that you can find encouragement and hope in these sermons, or share them with someone. And my hope is that whoever listens will also feel empowered and called by God to help someone who may be struggling.

I want you to have the understanding and tools to give hope, to maybe even save lives. We all have a role to play. So, this week we are beginning a three-part sermon series called Faith. Hope. Life. I’m borrowing that title from a national organization called the Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, who I have worked with in the past. They reached out to me a few years ago after I wrote an Op-Ed for Penn Live about the need for churches to be a place of healing for those with suicidal ideation. I wrote that piece after a woman came to our church one Sunday after worship experiencing a mental health crisis. We sat and talked and I felt the Holy Spirit encourage me to ask her if she was thinking about ending her life. She said she was and that she had a plan. And so, we were able to get her the help she actually came to our church seeking. If there’s anything the church should be known for it’s that: a safe and trusted place with people who are hopeful and equipped to help.

You know, some people think the church is a place for people who have it all together, a place where everyone is chipper and living their best lives as they follow Jesus’ Way. But that’s not the case here, or any church I’ve ever been to and when you look at Jesus’ way, well, his way was filled with people who were looking for help in the darkness of whatever was going on in their lives. The gospel says Jesus went about all the cities and towns, he went into places of worship and those who came to him had every kind of sickness and disease (physical and mental illnesses). Jesus’ presence spoke to people who were hurting and he stirred hope in them, he made them hope for a life beyond their suffering. Church for Jesus wasn’t filled with shiny happy people holding hands, it was filled with people who couldn’t hide their pain and trusted him to help. The gospel says he saw each and every one of them, and when he saw them he had compassion for them.

When I say that anyone who feels alone in their pain, isn’t really alone, it’s because I believe the gospel – that Jesus who saw every single hurting person in the crowd sees those who are hurting today. If you’re in pain today, Jesus sees you. If someone you care about is suffering today, you can tell them, they aren’t alone, they aren’t unseen – Jesus sees. And what Jesus sees he cares about, he has compassion for. The church is more like a hospital than a social club. It is a place where we can come to admit we aren’t all right but we want to be made well. Christians are called to be like Christ, to see, welcome, and help. You can help by being someone whom others can trust to be real and raw with, you can help by asking someone whom you think may be struggling or at risk, and asking them if they are thinking about suicide. If they are, help them get the help they need. There is a new Suicide Prevention Hotline – 988. Call it with them. You can also text 988 if texting is more comfortable. Take them to a hospital. You can be someone who asks, cares, and helps.

I’ve talked with people who feel a lot of shame about what they are going through. I talked to a young man once who didn’t feel like he deserved to complain about his pain because he said others had it so much worse. He didn’t know why he was suffering, he just knew he was in pain and he felt shame about it. He felt pressure to put on a happy face, to be successful, not to admit his pain and weakness.

Several years ago, I sat with a high school lacrosse player we’ll call Jamie. Jamie was in this kind of pain. On the outside, he had it all together: a popular athlete, handsome, smart, good family, but at a youth event, he confided in me the depth of his internal pain. He was hiding from everyone, hurting himself, ashamed he didn’t have a good reason for it. He didn’t want to burden his family. He was suffering and going under. Jamie was convinced because I was a pastor, I was going to try to cheer him up and he was ready to fight off every attempt. He was committed to his anger and pain. Of course, I wanted him to feel better, but I wasn’t about to give him a pep talk. I listened mostly. Then I asked him if I could share a psalm with him. He rolled his eyes, but said, “Sure. But I know what’s in there,” nodding at my Bible, “nothing that’s going to help.” I read Psalm 88. It’s the only psalm in the Bible that has no word of obvious hope in it; no clear statement that it will all work out. It might seem like a strange thing to read to someone who already feels that way but I read it.

O Lord, God of my salvation, at night, when I cry out before you, 2 let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.

3 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. 4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I am like those who have no help, 5 like those forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.

At this point, Jamie was leaning in. He wasn’t expecting something so raw, he was expecting something inspirational, but he wasn’t ready to be inspired, he needed to trust first, trust that he was really seen, really understood. The Psalmist was doing just that. That something like Psalm 88 is part of God’s word shows us God knows how we feel and wants us to feel we can be honest with ourselves and with God without being ashamed. I went on.

6 You [God] have put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep. 7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah

8 You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a thing of horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; 9 my eye grows dim through sorrow.

The psalmist accuses God of causing his pain. God isn’t the source of his pain, but God is strong enough and understanding to let us put the blame on him if we need. If I can’t figure out why I’m in so much pain, God says to us, “Put it on me. Blame me.” The Psalmist rages at God accusing God of punishing him, making him a horror to his friends. “You overwhelm me with all your waves.” He feels like he’s drowning in pain. Like Jamie, he was going under.

Every day I call on you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you. 10 Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise you? Selah 11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave or your faithfulness in Abaddon? 12 Are your wonders known in the darkness or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

13 But I, O Lord, cry out to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. 14 O Lord, why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me? 15 Wretched and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am desperate. 16 Your wrath has swept over me; your dread assaults destroy me. 17 They surround me like a flood all day long; from all sides they close in on me. 18 You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me; my companions are in darkness.

At Eternity's Gate, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

I closed my Bible. Jamie was weeping. I sat with him, my hand on his back. I said nothing while big heaving sobs came out of him. Martin Luther once said, “I did nothing, the Word did everything.” Finally, he looked up and said, “That’s me. That’s what I feel. God knows.” God knows. A thousand pounds fell off of him in that moment, because he knew he wasn’t alone in the dark. God’s Word showed up for him to tell him that what he feels is real, and valid, and he doesn’t need to be ashamed, he doesn’t have to cheer up or be inspired. For those who are suffering, it’s often enough to simply know that you aren’t crazy nor are you alone. The internal pain, depression, and darkness don’t make you a weak person and it doesn’t make you a bad Christian, it makes you a person, and your God (who suffered such pain in Jesus, in the garden before his death) God wants to hold you with your pain, and then to help lift it off of you and welcome you out of the dark.

A couple of years later I was at a big youth conference and I saw Jamie. He was in college and he was chaperoning a youth group, and he was beaming. He gave me a huge hug, he talked of his journey out of the dark, the change that happened that day, and now he’s walking with young people in their own journeys of faith.

The Psalmist asks God, “Are your wonders known in the darkness?” And then Jamie became the Psalmist and the reply that I didn’t hear, but which I saw, and which I have seen over and over again, is Yes! Even in the darkness, even when you think there’s no hope…there is, God will work wonders even in the dark, wonders of faith, wonders of hope, wonders of life. And you can help reveal them, you can give hope, you can show the value of life. Amen.

Suicide Hotline: Text 988

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