Psalm 44: “You have made us a byword among the nations”
We have heard with our ears, O God; Our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago.
I heard a story the other day about a woman who needed potatoes. To make potato salad. And apparently she needed a lot of potatoes. I probably wasn’t listening very attentively, because I have no idea why she needed to make potato salad – church picnic, family reunion, Paula Deen was coming for a cook-out, I don’t know. But the woman needed potatoes and had no money for potatoes which was causing her a good deal of stress. People were depending on her potato salad. And then she got a phone call from a friend who worked at the weigh-station outside of town: “there’s truck here that’s 150 lbs overweight. It’s full of potatoes – do you know anyone who might need 150 lbs of potatoes?” Why, yes, yes she did. And potatoes fell down from the heavens like manna.
At the completion of this story, another man in the room exclaimed, “isn’t it amazing how God provides? Over and over I have seen things like that – even in my own family, God provides in the most unexpected ways.” Several others in the room nodded in agreement. Not me. I’m like the psalmist – I have heard of these things, but I haven’t seen them.
Which isn’t to say that God hasn’t provided for me in other ways. Not at all. I have amazing people around me who love and care for me who have helped me and my family out in times of great need – and it was a lot more than just a heap of potatoes! But these dropped-from-the-sky events which can only be explained by the hand of God and make you gasp, well, no so much.
You have made us a reproach to our neighbors the scorn and derision of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations; the peoples shake their heads at us.
Ah, this I know. My life has become a byword. Every good thing I have done has come to nothing. Everything I own has broken or fallen apart, it seems. I haven’t spoken to many of my family members for months. A few are so horrified at my life they’ve informed me that they can’t handle talking to me. Others are offended that I haven’t taken their “good” advice for “fixing” my life. People do look at me and shake their heads. I’d love to think that God is going to swoop down and fix it all, but I’m not holding my breath. It’s not the path he has given me to travel, it seems. He already swooped in to rescue me 2000 years ago on the cross. Now, I get to walk the path of Christ, who dies without God swooping down to fix it all.
All this happend to us, though we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals and covered us with deep darkness.
Last night I laid in bed and asked God, “when?” When will he come for me? When will he remove my shame? When will he show some sign – some little bitty sign – even a sack of potatoes – to show that I have his favor. Like the psalmists, I haven’t broken covenant, I haven’t turned away, I haven’t left the path. And that path has lead into deep darkness.
Sometimes I feel like an idiot writing here. What message can I offer to anyone: “follow God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and you too can end up with a life that’s been Rebecca’d!” Then again, I suppose this has always been the message of Christianity. We’re following a man who wound up on a cross. He told us that we’d get our very own cross to carry as well. But we follow him anyway.
Now I’ve followed him so far, all I can do is hold on. God didn’t rescue his son from the cross. But he did raise him to glory from the dead. And this is what I’m waiting for. I have no reason to hope beyond the fact that God is good. I hope he is good. A resurrection has been promised to me.
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.
I have no potatoes, I have no signs or wonders to bolster me in my dark place. All I have is a promise of unfailing love. You know, the cross was a byword as well. It was the electric chair of its day; an unmistakable image of death and shame. And God redeemed even that lowly, ugly thing made by the hands of man to do evil to other men. The cross no longer means death and shame. It means hope and resurrection. It is now a byword for salvation. So, I’m putting my hope in God that he will turn my name into something associated with life and triumph. I waiting for the day that people no longer shake their heads in pity and disapproval at me, but in amazement at what God has done.