BROUGHT VERY LOW

In the Name of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen.

I know the feeling.

I know what the writer of today’s Psalm is talking about when he writes, “I was brought very low…” I know what it’s like to feel “very low”.

All of us have a tendency to talk about our emotions in spatial terms. Thus if we are feeling good, we say we are “up,” or we’re “on a high.” If we’re feeling lousy, we will say that we’re “down in the dumps.”

I imagine that these spatial metaphors are descended from an ancient way of thinking about life after death. “Heaven” was supposed to be a realm above the earth where saints and angels dwelled and good souls would find happiness forever. The ancients also believed that “Hell” was a contrasting realm beneath the surface of the earth; there, sinners would experience the depths of human suffering as a punishment for their sins.

The other texts from Scripture that we heard today give examples of one particular type of experience that brings everyone down: insult. In the First Lesson, the Prophet Isaiah writes, “ gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.”

Then, in St. Marks Gospel Jesus predicts that on the way to his death on the cross he will be insulted, like the suffering servant in Isaiah. We read that Christ taught his disciples “that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Indeed, one way that you can be sure to bring someone down is to put them down! Insult and injury go together.

In the National Football League, disrespect can actually be penalized. “Taunting” has become such a cause of conflict between players that it’s now banned.

Which is amazing it you think about it: you have men who weigh 350 pounds who are paid large sums of money to hit each other—and you need to make rules that keep them from insulting each other!

Yet don’t we understand the football players’ anger with being insulted? I can have a day where someone may tell me about a nice thing that’s happened in our church and I can see that someone else has made a new friend here. I notice a parishioner who’s doing great in a new ministry.

But then, on the same day—and this actually happened once—a visiting priest can tell me that I read the Gospel too fast! I mean-really!

I know the remark is trivial, and yet I find that the one criticism outweighs the three positive remarks. I forget the good things and focus on the bad.

Now in a rational moment I could point out to myself that no one is perfect. So I’m bound to make mistakes—and I can only learn from the mistakes if people make me aware of them.

I can also reflect that my critic doesn’t have perfect judgment either. He could be having his own bad day; he might not mean to insult me. He might be trying to help me.

Yet still: I am left in a bad mood. I could take comfort in the knowledge that feeling down is part of the rhythms of life. After all, Jesus was constantly taunted.

In today’s Second Lesson, his star disciple, Peter tells Jesus that he doesn’t like what Christ is predicting. He doesn’t want to hear that Jesus might have to suffer for the sake of God’s Kingdom. Peter is so annoyed that he takes Jesus aside and “rebukes” him!

The Bible reports that Jesus then turned and looked at his disciples, and then he rebuked Peter: “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus says. “For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Yet isn’t this a clue to how we need to survive the put-downs that people direct our way? For doesn’t this comment point to how we can deal with our bad moods?

Looking for divine help can be more rewarding than trying win the approval of our human critics. After all, the writer of Psalm 116 writes,

“Then I called upon the Name of the LORD:

O LORD, I pray you, save my life…

Gracious is the LORD and righteous; our God is full of compassion.”

The Psalmist knew that only God could draw him out of the pit of despair. Since God was “full of compassion,” he responds to our cries for help.

The spiritual technique here is, in effect, to assign our feelings to God. We let our moods out in prayer. We turn them over to God. We let God help us deal with our dark black emotions.

This is another way of following Christ’s advice and seeking “divine things.” It’s a way to look up rather than down.

Even the cheeriest soul can feel “down.” Even the most upbeat person can wonder where God is leading her. Especially when the whole world seems against her.

So however “normal” or common these bad moods are, we still need to struggle with them. I find, myself, that the traditional spiritual practice really is a help in these struggles.

After all, The Psalms are prayers. The Psalm writer who complains about being “brought very low” is sharing his depression with God.

This kind of prayer can be extremely useful for two reasons. First, often when we are in bad moods, we think that we’re trapped. Some awful thing has happened in our lives and there’s nothing we can do about it. The cutting word has already been said. The friendship is broken beyond repair.

But, in these cases, we still have an option; we’re not entirely trapped, for we can offer our suffering to God. As another Psalm says—a psalm that is often read at funerals: “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord; Lord hear my voice.”

And the second thing that we can do when we feel down is to remember that we can look up. Even if we don’t know what in the world we will do—we know that we can find help from beyond this world. The divine is more powerful than human things.

As the prophet Isaiah said in the First Lesson,

“Who are my adversaries?

Let them confront me.

It is the Lord GOD who helps me…”

Or, as the Psalm says,

“I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.

For you have rescued my life from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.

I will walk in the presence of the LORD, in the land of the living.”

We let God raise us up, and we once again enter “the land of the living”.

Amen.


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