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A Song of Hope

Updated: Feb 14


“A Song of Hope”

a message by Dr. Bruce Havens

based on the theme: Love that Heals

Coral Isles Church

February 6, 2022


Psalm 138

1I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;

2I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.

3On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.

4All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth.

5They shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.

6For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.

7Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.

8The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.



Someone once asked, “Is it realistic to have faith?” Let’s be real about that. A lot of people would say no. The atheist would say what has God ever done that you can prove God did? The believer who has been hurt by a faith community or disappointed by their expectations of God would say no. The scientific sort might say everything in science disproves the Bible’s claims.

The writer who asked the question if having faith is realistic compared “realistic,” to “optimistic,” and “pessimistic.” He said, “To some folks, that description might seem far too weak. For faith, they would say, ought to be optimistic. There is indeed something to be said for a confident and hopeful trust in God; however, most of us are wary of a facile optimism that leaves no room for wrestling with the bad things that befall us. On the other end of the spectrum, having a pessimistic faith surely proves inadequate as a desired goal for Christian experience.”[1] He goes on to urge those of us preaching on this Psalm that we read to focus on the realistic approach of this Psalm as we preach on it.

First off, let’s set our context. Last week Rev. Lisa LeSueur shared the vision of being a WISE congregation. The acronym WISE stands for Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, Engaged in relation to widening our welcome to those who are dealing with mental health issues or with people in their lives who are. She shared her own journey as an LGBTQ+ woman in relation to faith and the church and how difficult her journey was, marked by mental health issues. I appreciated her bringing such a powerful testimony to us and for us.

I asked her to do that so that I could spend this month reflecting on the connection between our faith and issues of mental health that to me are essentially issues of spiritual health. I believe we cannot divide what is spiritual from the mental, physical, relational, and whatever other parts of life you want to name. To me the spiritual realm encompasses all the others. In that sense I agree with the author I quoted at the beginning: faith is realistic because it deals with every aspect of life.

But he is also right that there is a temptation to veer from realistic faith to a Pollyana-like positivity of optimism that denies the reality of our pain and suffering as human beings. And there are far too many examples of a pessimistic faith path that preaches we are nothing more than mere worms, sinners rightly grasped by the closed fist of an angry God. Neither can help us be a WISE church.

The Psalm we read this morning speaks to me of a realistic faith because it is neither naively optimistic nor painfully pessimistic. I hear the writer speaking truthfully about life. The core verse for me is this:

7Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.

There is much more to this Psalm and I want to walk us through it, but this is the core. I believe this phrase is the reason the writer composed this song. I say song, because as you know the Psalms were and are the congregational hymnbook of the Jewish people. The Psalms were and are sung in worship from thousands of years ago when they were written even unto today. The fact that they are speaks to the realistic voice with which they sing. They speak honestly about all of life – it’s joys, it’s pains, it’s trials, and it’s triumphs. And at the center of it all is a God they believed was WISE: Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, Engaged. And so I hear this as a song of hope.

Here's the problem, and let’s still be realistic about our faith. As Rev. Lesueur pointed out, many, if not most folks struggling with mental health issues don’t feel as if they belong in church, they are afraid of being judged, of being unworthy, of being less than perfect. And that is a problem. Church for too long has talked about the perfection of God and of Christ while failing to preach more about the Good News that Christ revealed God’s nature as one of welcoming, including, supporting, and engaging with all of us who are imperfect.

I believe the writer of the Psalm has a realistic understanding of God’s relationship with us:

1I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;

2I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.

3On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.

Did you hear that? “On the day I called you – God – answered me, you increased my strength of soul.”

I love that because it tells me this God we proclaim doesn’t turn away from us in our imperfection, in our brokenness, in our suffering. And it promises that this God can and will “increase the strength of” our souls.

When we struggle with the pain and suffering of mental health issues we need a God who can hear us the day we call and answer with strength for our souls. Whether it is a mild bit of the blues or a devastating dose of depression, whether we are dealing with the gray grief of loss, or the totally destructive war zone of PTSD or bipolar schizophrenia we need a God who is WISE.

The Psalm writer knows a God who, “though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; … and believes that, “7Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.” I have long understood the Bible, and particularly the Psalms, when it uses the language of “enemies” or of “foes,” to mean not just a human but situations and forces and disasters that are not necessarily caused by a particular person, or nation, or army but all of the obstacles that come up in life that qualify as “trouble.” The God the Psalm writer proclaims is one who “stretches out … the right hand of deliverance.”

Now, before I become guilty of the kind of cheap optimism that glibly says, Oh, if you just had enough faith all your problems would go away,” or that falsely prophecies that if you just give more money to the church God will reward you with every financial blessing you can imagine, let me pause and strive to be realistic.

I don’t believe everyone who suffers – even people of great faith – always feel like God answers them and lifts them out of their problems the very day they call out. I don’t know why. I wish it were not so. I could do the “preacher math” that says, “Oh, a day in God’s time is like a thousand years to humans.” No. But I will also be realistic and say, I still believe that the God the Psalm writer sings about is real. I believe in a God who is a WISE God. And I want us to be even more intentional in understanding and opening the door for people who need to be part of a faith community like this, but didn’t know we exist.

I believe this congregation is already welcoming, inclusive, supportive and engaging of those who are hurting. I say these things because I believe that is in our DNA as a church. Our Open and Affirming status isn’t just about an individual’s sexual or gender orientation. I want us to simply be aware how often people feel they cannot come to church because they are hurting and it isn’t because of anything we have done or said. It is because of who they perceive God to be and that God is a very different God from the one most of us know. But I also believe we can all grow in our awareness and understanding of how to widen our welcome to those who are longing to know a church like this.

What I pray is that we will all know that, like the Psalm we read this morning, we have a song of hope to sing. Our song of hope is one that says “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death [itself] I will fear no evil, for God is with me.” I want us to sing a song of hope for those who have been hearing dirges and who have sung the blues with no relief to sing:

8The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.”

It is this verse that I think prepares us for the sacrament we are about to celebrate. I think the same attitude of “I’m not perfect so I can’t partake in communion” that causes some people to stay away from worship is at work. Old theologies that emphasized our unworthiness have limited God’s invitation to meet him at the table. I love a God whose table has room for the broken and the imperfect because that is all of us. This is no table prepared for the perfect. It is a feast for the fallen, nourishment for the starving and the glutton, hope for the one without hope. This table was prepared not for an exclusive clientele who can afford the entry. It is for you and me and for the people even we don’t think deserve it because we have a WISE God and our God has a steadfast love that endures forever. So, believe it or not, yes, you are invited to this table to taste and know the goodness of that steadfast forever love, so that you can sing the song of hope that someone else needs to hear, so they too can come to the table and find strength for their souls. AMEN.

[1] James K. Mead, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2013.

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