About this Sermon
Mark Schaefer
Wesley Theological Seminary, Psalms Service
November 15, 2001
Psalm 79

For all its size, New York City is a relatively easy city to get around. Straight north-south running avenues intersect with straight east-west running streets, forming a perfect grid. Perfectly orderly. You’ll be fine, so long as you stay north of Washington Square.

Once you cross Washington Square, you’re in Greenwich Village, and things don’t make as much sense there. No, in fact, once you get into the Village, or SoHo, or Chelsea, Tribeca, the Lower East Side, Chinatown, and the Battery, you’re in a jumble of angled streets and alleyways–an inheritance of our Dutch and English colonial days–of an era less driven by urban planning and rationalistic design.


Yet, seasoned New Yorkers would tell you–you can’t get lost so long as you have the Twin Towers as a guide. They tower over everything and when you see them you know which direction the southern end of the island is and you can orient yourself.

It’s not so easy to find your way in lower Manhattan these days. A very visible landmark is missing. It’s hard to find your way–it’s even hard to find the city. A month and a half ago I went to New York, and on the drive home, as I crossed the Verazzano Narrows bridge, I strained to see the City. I couldn’t make it out–I couldn’t tell where Brooklyn ended and Manhattan began. Without those towers, it is all very disorienting.


We’ve been feeling a lot of disorientation lately since September 11. Prior to that, God was in his Heaven and all was right with the world. No longer. Our ideas about our national security, about the stability of our society, the safety of our travel and the soundness of our commerce–all lie in a pile of rubble, still smoldering from the fires of terror.

How familiar did so many of the portions of the Psalm we just heard sound? I don’t know about you, but the words “They have poured out their blood like water all around… and there was no one to bury them” evoke terrible and familiar images in my mind. We know this kind of disorientation.


It does not take airliners toppling skyscrapers to disorient us. Sometimes disorientation comes in much, much more personal form: the death of a loved one, an illness, the loss of a job, a fiancée who calls off an engagement, a spouse who asks for a divorce. Visions of the future that were once possessed now lay in ruins and you struggle to see the way. Plenty of people were experiencing this disorientation long before September 11th. Plenty of people will be experiencing this disorientation long after the nation has moved beyond that terrible day.


So great is our need for orientation that we are uncomfortable–almost embarrassed by disorientation. Liturgically we ignore Psalms of Lament. Hymns seem to be meant for praise, not for sorrow. But who among us could not recognize their own voice among the voices crying out in that Psalm? And I bet we even feel particularly un-Christian for having voiced or felt sentiments like that. If anything, a Psalm like this reminds us of a truth the Children of Israel understood well: in order for a faith and experience of God to be whole, to have shalom, it must embrace all of the human experience. Can we fully be in relationship with God without being willing to share all of our feelings in worship–even our feelings of sorrow, rage, frustration, pain; our feelings of disorientation?

Will we try to rush ourselves through this phase–seeking new certainties? Latching on to easy answers? Wanting to seek resolution? Wanting anything but having to take the long difficult road from sorrow to renewal?

Or will we acknowledge that we will not all travel that road at the same pace? We here in this chapel are not all in the same place yet. Some of us take longer than others to move out of this disorientation. You needn’t look further than this pulpit to find someone still struggling with disorientation. We are not all going to come out of this at the same time or at the same speed. There are many of us who will be looking to the horizon, seeking those towers to orient us, for a long time. Many of us will be joining with the Psalmist for a long time to come, asking, “How long, O Lord?” How long…

The Text

Psalm 79

0 ¶ A Psalm of Asaph. 1 O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins.
2 They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the air for food, the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth.
3 They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.
4 We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us.

5 ¶ How long, O LORD? Will you be angry forever? Will your jealous wrath burn like fire?
6 Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call on your name.
7 For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.

8 ¶ Do not remember against us the iniquities of our ancestors; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.
9 Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake.
10 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes.

11 ¶ Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power preserve those doomed to die.
12 Return sevenfold into the bosom of our neighbors the taunts with which they taunted you, O Lord!
13 Then we your people, the flock of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.

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