************ Funeral Sermon on Psalm 42:11 ************


By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman


This sermon was preached on November 8, 2005


Psalm 42
Psalm 42:11
"Why Are You Downcast?"
Harriet Ykema Funeral

I Downcast
"Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?"

A couple of months ago I read through all of the psalms. I noticed that they are very honest and daring in expressing human emotions, feelings, disappointments, and anger.

Many Christians give the impression there is never a grey cloud in the sky. I call them "white cloud Christians" or "blue sky Christians." They act like they never doubt and are never unhappy. But when we look at the psalms we see otherwise. We see that unhappiness and depression and pain and sorrow were rather common in the lives of God's children.

Some would have us believe the psalms are this way because they were written before the coming of Christ. Yet, when we read the New Testament and listen to the apostles and first converts we realize they were not on cloud nine all the time either.

Why do I say this? I want the family of Harriet Ykema to realize it is okay to mourn. There is nothing abnormal or un-Christlike with being depressed and unhappy and worried at times. To be down is a common thing among God's people.

In our text, the psalmist is certainly down. He asks, "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?" There is no doubt he is a child of God. Yet, he talks openly and honestly to himself about his feelings and struggles and depression. Some people assume you have a mental problem if they hear you talking to yourself. The psalmist does not consider it strange at all to talk to his own soul. He knows, as we should know, that there are always two voices demanding our soul's attention. One is a voice of hope and the other is a voice of despair. One is a voice of faith and the other is a voice of doubt. One is a voice of joy and the other is a voice of sorrow. Even the most mature and well-adjusted Christian has both voices clamoring for attention.

The psalmist uses very descriptive words in our text. He talks about being "downcast" and "disturbed." The Hebrew word for "downcast" means "to crouch, to bow down." It is used in Job 38:40 to describe a lion in a crouched position, lying in wait for its prey; it is lying as low to the ground as it can possibly get. God's children, like the psalmist, sometime feel as low as a lion crouching in the grass. The Hebrew word for "disturbed" means "to groan loudly, to moan, to be in a state of anxiety and distress." It is used in Psalm 59:7 to describe the angry sounds of a dog and in Isaiah 59:11 to describe the angry sounds of a bear. Both a dog and a bear become highly disturbed if you stray into their territory or bother them while they are eating or threaten the safety of their young; they become highly anxious and distressed; so they respond with sharp barks. God's children, like the psalmist, sometimes feel anxious and distressed and respond with moans and groans.

"Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?"

It is normal and even expected for Harriet's family to feel this way. After all, a dear mother and grandmother and great grandmother and sister-in-law has been called from this life. Even though the end has been expected for some time already, when it happens it is always unexpected.

It is normal and even expected for the church to feel this way as well. After all, we have lost a very faithful member. Someone who tried to show up for worship twice each Sunday. Someone who would send in her checks for various church and kingdom causes if she missed a Sunday. Someone who spoke to me more than once with concern wondering if I was getting enough rest.

A couple of times I saw Harriet downcast and disturbed. As we heard from her biography, many times her life was filled with difficulty: death of her mother when Harriet was only 7, drafting of her husband into the Service for WWII, death of her husband, various health problems throughout the years. One time when she was in the hospital I visited her first thing in the morning. She was crying. Her food tray was in front of her; but she had slid down in the hospital bed so it was at nose level and she could not pull herself up; I helped her up and then she became more upset when she realized she didn't have the strength to feed herself. At that point she told me she was ready for death and she hoped she was going to die. She was tired of life. She was tired of illness. She did not want to live in a nursing home. She was highly downcast and disturbed. And she became even more downcast and disturbed a few days later when she realized she was not going to die.

"Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?"

Why does the psalmist feel this way? For some reason he could not join fellow believers in Temple worship (vs 1-4). Further, he had enemies who tried their best to make his life miserable (vs 9-10). They wanted to destroy him. They taunted him that his God was not able to save him from them. He is as desperate for God as a deer can be desperate for water (vs 1). He feels as abandoned by God as a child is sometimes abandoned by its parents. Life is empty. So, the psalmist says, "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?"

II Hope
What does the psalmist do when he feels this way? How should Harriet's family handle unhappiness and depression and pain and sorrow? How do you handle being downcast and disturbed?

First, let me suggest how not to deal with this. Do not paste a smile on your face just because someone thinks there ought to be a smile on your face. Putting on a happy face when you aren't happy doesn't make sense. Somehow the dishonesty comes through. Though a frustrated and unhappy Christian does not attract people to the Lord, a phony Christian ends up doing more damage to the cause of Christ.

Some people try to handle unhappiness and depression and pain and sorrow by changing their surroundings. They move to another home or city or state. They buy new clothes. They get plastic surgery. They suddenly become fitness freaks. Or, they eat and drink and be merry and abuse drugs and alcohol. Do I need to tell you that this is no solution either? How can substance abuse or credit card abuse get rid of unhappiness and depression and pain and sorrow?

Some people respond to unhappiness and depression and pain and sorrow by being full of self-pity. They are forever complaining to those around them about how hard and miserable life is. They sit in their pile of rags and have a pity-party. I trust you realize this is not a healthy response either.

So what does the psalmist do? The psalmist continues to talk to himself. He continues the conversation he started earlier. He allows another voice to speak, a positive voice, a voice filled with the riches of God's promises. He says, "Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God."

The psalmist is like a lady whose missionary husband was killed by the very people he had been sent to evangelize. Some years after his death she remarried. Then her second husband became sick and died after a trying illness. She wrote about the experience and the struggle of faith she went through. She asked, "What do you do when your whole world comes apart?" Her answer: Sit down and take stock to see how much of your world is still intact. She would go through the Apostles' Creed line-by-line.
"I believe in God the Father ..." That has not changed with the death of my husband. God is still there. He continues to be my Father. He continues to love me.
"I believe in Jesus Christ ..." Christ's work on the cross and the grave still applies to me. I can still look forward to everlasting life and the resurrection of the body.
"I believe in the Holy Spirit ..." He is still working within me. I am still part of a loving and caring church.
I don't know this lady's name. I don't even know if she is still alive. But I do know she had a good method of dealing with unhappiness and depression and pain and sorrow. She turned to God and Christ. That's the only response that really works when you are downcast and disturbed.

Many years ago a submarine was rammed by another ship and quickly sank off the Massachusetts coast. Although rescue was impossible at that depth, a diver was dispatched to determine if there was still life aboard the disabled vessel. The diver placed his helmeted ear against the sub's hull and heard a faint tapping sound. Carefully he made note of the dots and dashes and decoded the following question: "is...there...any...hope?" With great remorse he slowly signaled back: "Hope...in...God...alone."

I think we all realize that is what Harriet did. A couple of weeks ago I visited with her. She started to talk about how she hated being in a nursing home. She couldn't have a decent conversation with anyone. She couldn't get anyone to play cards with her. Suddenly she stopped and said, "How awful to say this when God is so good. You must think I am terrible." I told her she just proved she wasn't.

"Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God." Harriet knew that someday she would be in the presence of God. Harriet knew that someday Jesus would call her home. Harriet knew that someday she would join the multitude that no one can count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb (Rev 7:9). She knew that hers was victory in Jesus.

How do you handle unhappiness and depression and pain and sorrow? How do you handle being downcast and disturbed? Do you put on a phony happy face? Do you lose yourself in drugs and alcohol and things? Do you have a pity-party? Or, like Harriet, like the Psalmist, like that missionary's wife, do you put your hope in the Lord?

Let me tell you not everyone can hope in the Lord. Only those who have been washed in the blood can put their hope in the Lord. Only those who believe in Jesus can put their hope in the Lord. Only those who know Jesus as their Savior and King can put their hope in the Lord. As for the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, the idolaters, and all liars their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Rev 21:8).

Let there be no mistake about it life is not always a bed of roses. Bad things do happen to good people. We all suffer times of unhappiness and depression and pain and sorrow. The question is, how do we respond?

The psalmist stakes out where he stands and what he does. "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God."
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