The book of Psalms is the largest book in the Bible. It is comprised of 150 songs (“psalms”), poems, and artistic musings toward God.
In one interesting study, researchers examined the book and attempted to assign a theme to each psalm. They found that of all the psalms, 60% included themes of praise and 40% included themes of lament. This group then studied Presbyterian hymnals. They found that 85% of hymns included themes of praise and 15% included themes of lament. This group also completed a study of the top 100 contemporary worship songs based on CCLI. They found that 90% of contemporary songs included themes of praise and 10% included theme of lament.
Are you sensing a theme?
As a culture and as a church, we are moving away from the practice of lament. This is a mistake.
A lament is a prayer of pain toward God.
When we experience brokenness, hurt, heartbreak and death, lament means to share these feelings directly with God. Many times we try to stuff the feelings of pain within us and put on a happy face. Perhaps we try to ignore our feelings and distract ourselves from the pain.
It is time to recover the biblical practice of lament. It is time to turn to God and express our pain.
Today, I am in a state of lament. Bishop Franklin Lowery of Gold Hill Missionary Baptist Church died of a stroke on Sunday afternoon. He was 62 years old. Bishop Lowery was a leader in the Denver community. He was integral in creating a network of churches that are committed to working against systemic racism in America. He was a man of faith and integrity, deeply loved by his family and by his congregation.
I have been the pastor of Unity Presbyterian Church for two and a half years. Shortly after I arrived, Bishop Lowery and I went out to lunch. We talked about work, family, our hopes for Denver, and where we sensed God at work. In the middle of lunch, Franklin declared, “I’ve got an idea! We should hold a joint worship service. Your church and my church! And it should be on Pentecost!”
He was enthusiastic and full of passion for a merged worship service. I was too! I heartily agreed with the concept and we began our planning. It was agreed that Gold Hill would host the service. Out of nowhere, Franklin said, “And I want you to preach at it!”
I was surprised and humbled that Franklin would invite me to preach at his church so quickly. This is the type of man he was. He cared deeply about forming a bond between our churches and about spreading God’s good news throughout Denver. He did not have to be in the spotlight as long as the work of God was being done.
Several months ago, Bishop Lowery sat down with me to record an hour long interview. The premise: how do we, as a church and a world, move forward after the murder of George Floyd? I called Franklin a week after that interview. He said that the interview had reached many people online. Since the interview, not a day had gone by that a pastor of a church didn’t call him to learn more about what their church could do to fight racism.
Franklin was known in this community as a person who could lead change with compassion and vision. He spoke truth with love and served God faithfully for many years–and therefore earned the trust of this community.
Today I offer Psalm 6 as a lament to God as we mourn the loss of Bishop Lowery.
Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?
Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
Among the dead no one proclaims your name.
Who praises you from the grave?
I am worn out from my groaning.
All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.
My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
they fail because of all my foes.
Away from me, all you who do evil,
for the Lord has heard my weeping.
The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies will be overwhelmed with shame and anguish;
they will turn back and suddenly be put to shame.
God, hear our prayers. Let us work together to continue the work of Bishop Lowery in the Denver community. Let us raise our voices of anguish to God for a man we deeply miss.
This Sunday we will continue our series on experiencing the presence of God.
“See” you on Sunday.