Being Honest With God
Summer Series – God on Broadway
Fiddler on the Roof
Genesis 18: 1-5, 9-15
June 28, 2015
Rev. Cynthia Cochran-Carney, Willow Grove Presbyterian Church,
Scotch Plains, New Jersey
1 God appeared to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent. It was the hottest part of the day. 2 He looked up and saw three men standing. He ran from his tent to greet them and bowed before them. 3He said, “Lord, if it please you, stop for a while with your servant. 4 I’ll get some water so you can wash your feet. Rest under this tree. 5 I’ll get some food to refresh you on your way, since your travels have brought you across my path.” ….Abraham went into the tent and asked Sarah to make bread and he got other food for them.
9 The visitors said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” He said, “In the tent.” 10 One of them said, “I’m coming back about this time next year. When I arrive, your wife Sarah will have a son.” Sarah was listening at the tent opening, just behind the man. 11 Abraham and Sarah were old by this time, very old. Sarah was far past the age for having babies. 12 Sarah laughed within herself, “An old woman like me? Get pregnant? With this old man of a husband?” 13 God said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh saying, ‘Me? Have a baby? An old woman like me?’ 14 Is anything too hard for God? I’ll be back about this time next year and Sarah will have a baby.”
15 Sarah lied. She said, “I didn’t laugh,” because she was afraid. But God said, “Yes you did; you laughed.” Genesis 18: 1-5, 9-15
Our second reading comes from the book of Psalms. Psalm 22 is a prayer, of lament. Listen to the honest words of the psalmist.
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. 3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
…..11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. 12 Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; 13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. a company of evildoers encircles me. …
19 But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! …22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: 24 For the Lord did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. 25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. 26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever! Psalm 22
Clip #1 First Scene http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7V2lxFWBqfI
Remember when you first saw Fiddler On The Roof? On stage? The movie? My home church did a production. It is one of those rich musicals that has stayed with me. I wanted to start this God on Broadway series with Tevye. What can we learn from this character from the arts that informs our faith?
We can learn honest prayer. Tevye’s prayer life is a series of ongoing conversations with God, including prayers of lament. He holds his traditions close to his heart as he lives and breathes and talks with God. The book of Psalms exists today because the people of Israel used these songs, including the songs of lament, in their worship, and they sang them often enough that the psalms were remembered and recorded for future generations. This songbook of Israel contains more psalms of lament than any other type of psalm.
Honest prayers to God. For me this has been a week of lament. As I wept in disbelief about the hate-fueled killings of faithful Christians gathered for Bible study and prayer at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, I offered my own prayers of lament. As I listened to Fiddler I heard to Tevye’s honest prayers to God echo in my own prayers. He has a conversation of lament, of frustration, of hope.
What can we learn about laments? How are they structured?
Address. A biblical lament cries out to God. This is not an internally focused process of grieving, it is first and foremost a prayer, a conversation. My God My God We cry to an omnipotent God, a good and merciful God, a just God, a God who created the stars and universe and yet is as close as our own breath. God whom we know best in the life, ministry, of Jesus the risen Christ. God invites us into personal relationship with him.
Complaint. A lament honestly and specifically names a situation or circumstance that is painful, wrong, or unjust—in other words, a circumstance that does not align with God’s character and therefore does not make sense within God’s kingdom. The emotional tone of the complaint varies, depending on the type of lament psalm. It may express sorrow, remorse, weariness, anger, disappointment, or doubt. “a company of evildoers encircles me.” Complaint – honest prayers of what is on our hearts – the cancer, the broken relationship, the financial burden, the sorrow and anger about violence.
Request. A lament expects a response or an answer. It expects that God will be able to do something about the situation. Most often the request sounds like a demand: it is the psalmist’s essential heart-rending cry, God, do something! Do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Expression of trust. A lament generally includes an explicit expression of trust, sometimes woven through the complaint and request, and other times concluding the psalm with surprising note of praise. Some laments divide the psalm into two parts: lament and praise. Yet to understand biblical lament properly, we must see that the expression of trust, with all its praise and joy, is part of a psalm of lament.
Biblical lament, then, is an honest cry to a God who is powerful, good, and just—a cry that this situation is not in alignment with God’s person or purposes. It’s a cry that expects an answer from God, and therefore results in hope, trust, and joy rather than despair.
We can apply the psalms of lament to our own lives. We begin to see that biblical lament is necessary in a world that does not always operate according to God’s purposes. This was a week of lament for Charleston, for our country, for us, for me. Honest prayers to God about hate, about racism, about violence.
Genesis – Honest prayers, trust and times when it is too good to be true
In Genesis we hear that Abraham trusts God, but Sarah is not so sure. It is impossible. She laughs. Sometimes we laugh at God when a door opens, when something good happens, when there is an unexpected blessing . I felt that way when I met Jeffrey. Felt that way when we received Lilly grant for sabbatical.
Fiddler invites us to see a man of deep faith whose prayers are conversations with God.
Clip #2 Tevye praying Dear God http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8q9EIi863c
Some of my favorite quotes of Tevye talking to God.
- Am I bothering You too much? I’m sorry. As the good book says… aaahh, why should I tell You what the Good Book says?
- Sometimes I wonder, when it gets too quiet up there, if You are thinking, “What kind of mischief can I play on My friend Tevye?”
- It may sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not. After all, with Your help, I’m starving to death. Oh, dear Lord. You made many many poor people. I realize, of course, it’s no shame to be poor… but it’s no great honor either. So what would be so terrible… if I had a small fortune?
- I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?
Our Honest Prayers
Honest. Tevye is struggling with poverty, with Russian Tzar closing in, with changes in culture. He bends, he begins to see with different eyes, eyes of love. He sees his daughters differently. He keeps praying. He bends his beliefs for the first 2 daughters but when the third chooses to marry a Gentile he turns his back. There is a tragic ending to the movie. The priority of religious traditions becomes much more important to people than the commandment to love. He and his family flee to America for safety and we are left wondering what happens to them.
What honest prayers can we offer to deepen our sense of God in the midst of lament and in blessings, both individually and together? How do we pray when forces of evil seem to have power to tear communities and families apart? May we turn to God with honest prayers. May we trust in God who I believe is also weeping over Charleston, over other murders, suffering. May we open ourselves up to God of love who pierces our hearts with a deepest truth that despite evidence to the contrary, we will live into God’s promise that love will have final victory, and is stronger than hate, good will overcome evil, life will overcome death. Amen.
Portions of this series were adapted from a God on Broadway series developed by Rev. Kerri Parker for her congregation, McFarland UCC in McFarland Wisconsin. Used with permission. Read more on her blog, Tell the Stories, at www.tellthestories.us