This week we are moving forward in our sermon series for October--a series that we've entitled "Haunted." I shared earlier how I began thinking about this series some time ago when I was reflecting on the various counseling sessions I've done over the years with people in crisis. Almost all of those people had something in common: They were haunted by something in their past--regret, doubt, fear or hurts.
I started thinking about how so many of us are haunted by the our past, and how much that affects the way we feel about our present situations and how it can also ruin our vision of the future. But it's difficult to let go of some of these powerful, negative emotions. They can haunt us terribly and in some cases can keep us just a step or two away from falling apart.
And so we've been coming back to a very simple and profound truth throughout this series--a truth that is life-changing and transformative for those who are haunted by their past. YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE HAUNTED BY YOUR PAST IF YOU TRUST THE ONE WHO HOLDS YOUR FUTURE. In other words, if you are courageous enough to put your faith and trust in God and believe that God does actually have a plan for your life that is meant for your good--you can be set free from the things that are haunting you.
Today we're going to spend some time talking about hurts.
There is a fantastically melancholy song by the band R.E.M. called "Everybody Hurts." The lyrics go something like this: If you're on your own in this life/The days and nights are long/When you think you've had too much of this life to hang on/Well, everybody hurts sometimes/Everybody cries/Everybody hurts sometimes/And everybody hurts sometimes.
It's actually a pretty uplifting song--just melancholy. And it highlights something that is true for each and everyone of us. Everybody hurts. Every person in here today has experienced hurt in their life--we've been wounded, let down, disappointed, betrayed... or worse.
It's that moment with that person who did that thing that just wrecked us.
When I first started in ministry I served a large Presbyterian church in suburban Chicago as the Director of Youth Ministries. I go the opportunity to preach a couple of times, which was no small feat for someone who hadn't even finished seminary yet. I was the first person in the church's 150 year-old history to not stand behind the pulpit when I preached. I didn't know any better. I also encouraged the crowd to say "amen" a time or two, as you can imagine. When I was done preaching on both occasions the congregation applauded--at two difference services with over 800 people in attendance.
But there was this one woman who wasn't happy. She wrote a letter to the Session accusing me of trying to turn them into Baptists (as if) and trying to feed my ego by eliciting a response from them. She also made note of the fact that the congregation applauded--which apparently was her thing, anytime anyone applauded anything she made a note and complained to the Worship committee.
When I read the letter she wrote accusing me all of the things she was accusing me of doing--I was deeply hurt. It let the wind out of my sails. It tarnished what had otherwise been a very affirming experience.
Years later when I was serving a small church not far from here as an Associate Pastor I was leading a growing and thriving youth and family ministry, but soon found myself subjected to a campaign of lies, gossip, false accusations and other assorted wonderful-ness by a church member who decided that I was the devil incarnate.
And then there was the couple who I thought were close to me who abruptly left the church, refused to tell me why and then began to actively try to recruit other people to leave the church with them. I found out later that their reasons for leaving and what they believed about me were completely false, but they never bothered to share them--they preferred to just try to hurt me instead.
These are the kinds of things that you don't easily forget. Even now I still feel the pain of them as I share them with you.
But these hurts are pretty tame compared to the hurts that many of us who are gathered here are carrying around with us. Some of us are haunted by things that we can't or won't share--hurts that are so deep that we don't think we're ever going to be completely free of them.
Maybe there's someone here today who has been betrayed by a loved one. It might have been a spouse, who cheated on you--broke your heart and left you wounded and breathless. Perhaps it was a relative who stabbed you in the back so ruthlessly that you still can't believe it happened. Or a close friend, who betrayed your trust and shared with others things you told them in secret.
Maybe there are some here today who have suffered severe disappointment. You were passed over for a promotion that you knew you deserved, but it went to that guy who hadn't even been with the company that long. Maybe life hasn't turned out the way you thought it would, and that realization has left you haunted. Or maybe you were hurt by a church in the past--or a pastor.
There could be some here today who have suffered abuse--physical, emotional or even sexual. Maybe the person who hurt you was a loved one that you trusted. You've been carrying this hurt around for a very long time--it haunts you like nothing else ever could. It feels like it will never go away.
We don't have to live this way. We can be free of the things that are haunting us--our regrets, our doubts, our fears and our hurts. Jesus told his followers that he didn't come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. He also taught that his mission was to set people free from the things that were haunting them, enslaving them and keeping them from being the people that God had dreamed for them to be.
One of the many things we learn in the Bible is that the things of earth will pass away, but those things that are of God's kingdom will last forever. The hurts that we've experienced, the pain, the haunting feelings that plague us are not eternal--they will not be present in the kingdom of God. Because there will come a day when all things will be made right, when God will wipe away all tears, when there will be no more sorrow, pain or haunted feelings... period.
But as those who follow Jesus, we are called to live like that day is already here. Which means seeing things as they are. Naming them for what they are. The things of this world are temporary, not meant to last, not eternal. Hurt has no place in God's kingdom. Nothing on this earth lasts forever--even our pain.
Psalm 30:5 gives us some incredible insight into why it's so hard for some of us to let go of the things that have hurt us--and what it looks like when we finally do. It reads: For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
I've come to understand something during my years of ministry: Our image of God typically informs the way we handle our hurts.
A close reading of Psalm 30:5 presents two images of God--two ways of seeing how God is working in the world. There is a way of seeing God that is grounded in the negative--a view that has dominated much of conservative, evangelical Christianity for far too long. The God of this point of view is overwhelmingly angry, vengeful, judgmental, and who never, ever, ever forgets the smallest slight, sin or transgression. This God is ticked off and can't wait to punish.
There is another way to view God, however. We can see God as overwhelmingly loving, forgiving, merciful, forgetful when it comes to slights, sins and transgressions and who is entirely gracious. This God is grieved by our separation from Him and will do anything to change it.
Psalm 30 chooses the latter view. God isn't entirely sweetness and light. After all, we wouldn't want a God who wasn't incensed by injustice, man's inhumanity to man, terror, war and the like... We need God to weigh in on the side of good. But the Psalmist in Psalm 30 indicates that God's "anger" is only for a moment. His favor, on the other hand, lasts a lifetime. We may very well experience hurts in our life. We will be wounded. Things will happen that are not just, sinful, full of evil and sometimes those things will land on us by no fault of our own.
But they don't last. The God who is overwhelmingly love, who is overwhelmingly on our side wants desperately to show us favor. We will weep over the our hurts--but only for the night. Joy, resurrection, new life, freedom comes in the morning.
Now all of this might sound good to everyone, and maybe some of you are starting to feel like this is good news. But I know there's someone here who is asking, "But what can we do to be free from our hurts?" "I need some practical guidance here."
I kind of see two things that we need to do when we have been hurt.
First, I think we need to Consider the Source. This comes back to our view of God, and our understanding of how the world works. It's easy in the midst of being wounded to want to find someone or something to blame. We might very well blame the person who hurt us, and that's completely natural. But many of us also directly or indirectly blame God. Sometimes we blame God and then turn on Him or turn away from Him. Sometimes we blame God and then immediately begin to blame ourselves--"I must have done something to make God angry... I sinned... I am not a good person..."
In the Old Testament book of Job the main character Job loses everything in the first few paragraphs of the story. In the story Satan unleashes an onslaught of terrible tragedies. Job loses his wealth, his security and then eventually his children. He sits down to mourn all that he's lost and says the following: "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Job directly connects all of his loss to God. He does it subtly and in a very holy and righteous sounding way, but nonetheless he blames God for his calamity--even though he refuses to say anything bad about God. We discover later that Job curses the day he was born, wishes that he were dead, and wallows in a fairly intense session of self-blame and self-pity. Eventually God shows up in the story and basically tells Job, there are no answers sometimes---thing just happen. You have no idea the intricacies of my plans--you... aren't... me.
In the book of Jeremiah we have one of my favorite verses, "For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans not to harm you but to give you hope and a future." God is not overwhelmingly angry. God is overwhelmingly loving.
God is not the source of evil. God is not the source of pain. Consider the source.
Second, you need to Envision A Hurt-Free Future. Once you have considered the source of your pain, and you realize that God doesn't want you to spend your life haunted by it--it's time to do something different. Ask yourself, "What would it look like if I wasn't haunted by this any longer? What would it look like if I was free from my pain? What would it look like if I moved on and let this go?"
This is an inherently hopeful act. I would daresay it's defiantly hopeful. Because when you are in the middle of feeling hurt, it's hard to envision a future where you aren't feeling that way any more. But if you are serious about trusting God, and believing that God really does have your best interests at heart, then you need to take the next step and trust that the future God has for you is filled with hope.
At the end of the book of Job, everything is made right. Job is set free from the hurts that he experienced when he learns to trust God implicitly. Job's fortunes are restored, he has more children, there is restoration and resurrection all around him. The story ends with this line, "The Lord blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the former part." There is no way that Job could have imagined that such a thing was possible when he was sitting on the ground in ashes, dressed in a sack, feeling sorry for himself. I mean even the guy's wife told him "Curse God and die!"
What is it going to take to get you to change your eyesight? What is it going to take for you to be able to see the truth about yourself? About your future? God is not the source of your pain. God isn't angry at you. God doesn't want you to continue living a less-than life that is defined by your past. You can be free from even the most deeply wounding hurts that have happened to you.
But it's going to take an act of trust, a leap of faith. It's going to take a step toward a God who has your best interests at heart.
You don't have to be haunted by your past hurts if you trust the One who holds your future.