The words of Psalm 42 invoke a distinct picture for those with grieving hearts: 2My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? 3My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?” 4These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. 5Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation 6and my God.
My sister-in-law called us yesterday in utter tears. No family member was hurt. No friend was in an accident. No job was lost. She had just found out the sale of her church home of the last 12 years had been made final and her congregation was going to be displaced. Not by her choice. Not even by her congregation’s choice. It was a decision made by the technical owners of the property. Though the congregation had worshiped there for 63 years, they did not technically own the actual property. The affiliated district (a district I currently serve in) had deemed the time appropriate to sell the property to a developer for a significant profit.
To be honest, the move has absolutely confused me. I love my sister-in-law and feel her pain, yet I also know the men and women in the district who made the decision. I am burdened deeply and truly at a loss for words. As I am not a district official, I am not in a place to fully understand or accurately comment on the thinking behind the move other than I do not agree with it. Yet, my present vocation is as a parish pastor, and, among other things, a brother-in-law. As pastor I am familiar with heartbroken people who have had tears for their food day and night. Right now, my sister-in-law is one of them. My vocations often call me to prayer.
To be sure, her soul is cast down. Without question, it is filled with turmoil. This is the church that fed and nourished her after she went through a significant traumatic event in her life. This is the church where she met her husband. This is the church where their child was baptized. This is the place where for the last 12 years she, her family, along with numerous other members, and countless university students went to “the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival,” wherein they were faithfully discipled through regular confessional Lutheran Word and sacrament ministry.
Now, to be sure, the Psalmist reminds us who it is we are to thirst for—2My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? It is the Lord, His living Word, and His Sacraments for which we are to thirst. Thus, we understand that buildings and adornments are secondary. But one can’t help see how the Psalmist provides a specific description and a sacred location—the house of God—for where that occurred for him.
Confessional Lutherans have a similar affinity for sacred space. Holy things go on there. Sacred rites are enacted. Elements are consecrated. Marriages are blessed. Sins are forgiven. Grace is given. Christ is proclaimed. Hope is proffered.
Being tangibly oriented creatures there is an understandably deep connection of the sacred space to the sacred gifts and the sacred gatherings of God’s holy people.
And whenever anything sacred is torn from us, we grieve, we lament, we mourn, and we hurt. But as they are prone to do, the Psalms often give expression to our pain: 3My tears have been my food day and night…
For everyone who has eaten them, you know that tears can taste terribly bitter—a reminder of the circumstances bearing down upon us. In my sister-in-law’s congregation there are many tears. And I fear that in my district there is now a bitterness that will go beyond the taste of tears. Sadly, there is much division. There is much strife. There will be more tears. I hurt for my District. But there are Psalms for this, too. Pray them boldly with me.
In the end, I do not know the burdens or challenges of being a district official, not sure if I would want to, but I do know those of a pastor, (and, among others, those of a brother-in-law) and I know that where there is bitterness and hurt, divisions and strife, heartache and grief, the Psalmist reminds us where to place our trust: Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation 6and my God.
To be sure, it is not always easy. It never is for sinners. While on the cross, Jesus cried out words of the Psalter (Psalm 22:1) reminding us of the absolute bitterness and strife that he bore for every sinner, so that in Him “the dividing wall of hostility” might also be broken down (Eph. 2:14). And when Jesus left the tomb empty, He left us with a sure and certain hope.
Therefore my plea is this: Let us not destroy the Church, or churches, or one another; 9And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:9-10).
This, too, is the mission of the Holy Christian Church.