Tuesday, October 02, 2007

When All Hope is Gone, Sad Songs Say So Much

"By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion!'

"How could we sing the LORD's song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy."

"Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem's fall, how they said, 'Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!' O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Blessed shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! Blessed shall they be who take your babies and dash them against the rocks!"
- Psalm 137 (NRSV, adapt.)

This week's lectionary features Psalm 137, which can be difficult to preach. Any Scripture passage, after all, which seems to approve of infanticide and/or genocide will likely run into some hermeneutic difficulties.

I have to say that it's one of my favorite psalms. Why? Certainly not because I give approval to its violent curses!

I love Psalm 137, which refers to the Babylonian Exile, because it gives me permission to be angry at times and sad at times. Few things annoy me more than a continually happy Christian. Life can sometimes stink; sometimes, life is painful and makes us angry; sometimes, life is so painful, we want to cry. Psalm 137 gives us permission to go through these moments of agony.

It's important to note that these moments aren't permanent; the Jews did return to Jerusalem after their sojourn in Babylon was completed. We must try to remind ourselves in the "low times" that sooner or later - perhaps when Jesus returns - we will find peace, joy, and restoration. But...there is a time to sing the blues.

These ideas bring to mind a great song by Bernie Taupin and Elton John, written in my youth...

"Guess there are times when we all need to share a little pain
And ironing out the rough spots
Is the hardest part when memories remain
And it's times like these when we all need to hear the radio
'Cause from the lips of some old singer
We can share the troubles we already know

"Turn them on, turn them on
Turn on those sad songs
When all hope is gone
Why don't you tune in and turn them on

"They reach into your room
Just feel their gentle touch
When all hope is gone
Sad songs say so much

"If someone else is suffering enough to write it down
When every single word makes sense
Then it's easier to have those songs around
The kick inside is in the line that finally gets to you
and it feels so good to hurt so bad
And suffer just enough to sing the blues

"Turn them on, turn them on
Turn on those sad songs
When all hope is gone
Why don't you tune in and turn them on

"They reach into your room
Just feel their gentle touch
When all hope is gone
Sad songs say so much"
- Lyrics Bernie Taupin, Music Elton John
© 1984 Big Pig Music

5 comments:

Greg Cox said...

Is that your text for the week? Confronting those difficult texts can be great not only for you but for the congregation too. But you know that.

Keith McIlwain said...

Yeah, that's my preaching text for World Communion Sunday.

It's easy for me to fall into the trap of always focusing on the Gospel lesson, so I make a concerted effort to preach from the NT, OT, and Psalm when the Spirit directs; it helps keep me honest.

Brett Probert said...

Good stuff, and a really neat way of looking at a Psalm I've always loved since playing the part of Jesus in my high school production of Godspell.

Chris said...

Thanks Keith...I'll pray that your words are "sung" with conviction, prmise and hope.

Roda Zone said...

I hope your sermon rocks on Sunday