I want to tell you a story this afternoon about my friend I’ll call Ralph. One night I got a
call he was in the emergency room. His heart was failing and he couldn’t breathe. Once I made it
to his bed, I could see his face. He was pale, white as the sheets on his bed, and his eyes were
wide behind the mask that was loudly forcing air into his lungs. I saw something I’d never seen
in him before—panic. I felt afraid, watching his fear. Ralph was such a strong person, but there
he lay trembling. After he got stabilized, I left the hospital, still shaken.
I came back the next day to see him, and he was alone. Instead of greeting me with his
usual wisecracks, he was quiet. We exchanged pleasantries. Then Ralph went on and on,
explaining how his body was too weak to move, his brain too fuzzy to think, his stomach churn
with terror, how he was in absolute agony. And the same fear in the room last night was coming
back to his face.
I didn’t know what to say. I felt panic surge through my veins too, but then words
tumbled out of my mouth, coming not from me but from God who looks out for me—“I think
God is with you here in this hospital now. I think God is hurting with you.”
Then I added, “I want to read some Scripture to you that’s been helpful to me in tough
times.” I promise you, that wasn’t my idea. I don’t have many good ideas or wise words, but the
Holy Spirit helps us when we don’t know what to say.
I read Psalm 131, and we were silent, and the panic in his face drained away, and my own
heart began to slow down. “That was a good one,” Ralph said, “a real good Scripture. I’ve got to
remember that one. But I’m ready to go to sleep now.” Through experiencing this psalm, the
worry that was shackling us both turned to peace, a peace that gave him rest after an anxious and
sleepless night before, a peace that I have carried with me since.
Sometimes stress piles up. Sometimes terrible things happen for which there are no good
words. Sometimes fear grabs ahold of us. Sometimes questions eat away at our spirits, questions
to which there are no complete answers this side of eternity.
The book of Psalms is full of these cries of pain. Psalm 22, which Jesus quotes while he
is hanging on the cross, says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Psalm 130, the
psalm before our Scripture reading today, says, “Out of the depths I cry out to you Lord.”
It is never wrong to cry out to God. But I believe God also brings us to times where, as
Psalm 131 says, we can lay down “great matters,” questions and fears and struggles. We are
always God’s children. Some times we will be crying children, other times we will be still and
sleepy, at peaceful rest. I believe Ralph and I found that sort of peaceful rest in that hospital room.
I want you to hear the words of Psalm 131 that were a light to Ralph and me in that dark
anxiety. Can someone who feels led read the scripture for us? And as our reader reads for us, I’d
like for you to close your eyes, to try lay down any stress you might be experiencing, and to
imagine yourself as that child on God’s arms.
What does it mean to be a child of God?
It means that we’re forgiven.
It means we have a family, that we are brothers and sisters
That we are sanctified and set apart.
That we want to do the best we can to do better.
That even when we mess up, we can look forward to the coming kingdom.
That we are protected.
Psalm 131 ends with a call to hope, one based not on ourselves but on the God who
already claimed us as beloved children.
So you are wrestling with doubts and questions? Child of God, a time is coming when
you will be able to lay them aside, and know deep spiritual rest in the arms already gathered
So you are facing danger, fearful for the safety of your body, mind, or spirit? Child of
God, your heavenly Mother and Father’s arms are all around you, will never stop embracing you
in this life or the next.
So you are sick of being judged, exhausted by labels and masks you have worn too long,
or stumbling under a heavy weight of shame for your past? Child of God, fear rejection no
longer. You have been welcomed into spiritual family—a heavenly Mother/Father God, and
brothers and sisters in Christ with whom you will sit at God’s table forever.
As most of you know, each time we worship we have a benediction, a final blessing, that
goes like this—Whose child are you? God’s child! Those words are so very important. Those
words are a stand we take against shame and fear and judgment that tricks us into thinking we
are alone and unworthy.
But like the old spiritual says, If anybody asks me who I am, tell ‘em I’m a child of God!
Because you are God’s child, you have a hope money can’t buy and nobody can steal,
that won’t expire, run out or grow old. A hope that lasts forevermore. Rest in your heavenly
Parent’s arms, this day and always. Amen.