Restore us, O God
A reflection on Psalm 80
Watch ’You are not forgotten’ with Sarah Bessey
We’re in this time of Advent, of waiting, of being expectant. And part of advent is this idea of
Lamenting the brokenness we see in the world around us (and in ourselves), and petitioning God to break in and do something! Lament is not something we talk about often. Our worship, our prayers are polite … telling God what we think God wants to hear, rather than the truth about our situation. To lament is to cry: “God where are you? God would you come and do something!”
Just as Sarah shared in the video, there are moments in life when it seems like everything is crashing down around us. We find ourselves in the wilderness of life. She talks about her heartbreaking experience of repeated miscarriages, asking the question: “Have I been forgotten? … God where are you?”
While our experiences vary, we are all doing this life thing together. It may be a health diagnosis, either you or a family member or friend, a marriage increasingly estranged, anguish over being single, a dying parent, a break-up, another break-up, chronic physical pain, a vocational crisis … not feeling satisfied with your work, patterns of addiction and shame, financial troubles, fear of scarcity, separation from kids. This life presents its fair share of hardship. Things don’t always go as planned.
And so, like Sarah, we lament. “Have I been forgotten … God where are you?”
Our lament may not only be a personal one, but an ecclesial lament. As a church, lamenting for the church. For it’s decline and it’s increasing separation from the wider society. “God where are you in all of this?”
Our nation too has cause for lament and mourning. My own country Northern Ireland – a country fractured by religious and political differences – still struggling to find it’s way forward in unity. I ask: “Where are you God? How could religion cause so much hatred?”
Let’s turn to the Psalms – the songbook of the Bible. Its pages are full of declarations of hope and trust in God. But there are many Psalms that speak of sadness and longing, maybe even anger toward God. Psalm 80 is one of those Psalms. One scholar wrote that it is almost as if the Psalmist was yelling at God!
Give ear [listen up, pay attention!] O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth / before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us! / Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. / Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? / You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. / You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves. / Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. /You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. / You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. / The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches; / it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River. / Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? / The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it. / Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, / the stock that your right hand planted. / They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance. / But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. / Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name. / Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Let’s paraphrase the Psalm:  God you’ve called us your flock, and you are our shepherd – help us! We could use a little guidance, a little protection right about now.  God we are the vine that you have planted and you our gardener – save us! We’re dying out here and we need your tending.  God, you are our covenant – come back and act like it!
This Psalm certainly evokes a different feeling than say Psalm 23 or Psalm 39 … “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” No! It is: “Have we been forgotten … God where are you?”
A brilliant thinker and theologian called Walter Brueggemann wrote the following in a book called, The Message of the Psalms:
“The use of these ‘psalms of darkness’ may be judged by the world to be acts of unfaith
and failure, but for the trusting community, their use is an act of bold faith, albeit a
transformed faith. It is an act of bold faith … because it insists that the world must be
experienced as it really is and not in some pretend way… But such a faith is indeed a
transformed faith … faith in a very different God … who is present in, participating in,
and attentive to the darkness, weakness, and displacement of life.”
In other words, we are enriched when we stop pretending. When we experience the world as it really is, and bring before God our longing for things to be set right. Because things aren’t right … the world is fractured.
The Psalmist writes that the people are living on “bread of tears” and have only “tears to drink”. What an image. But amid the tears of a displaced people, and the frustration that they might feel toward God, the Psalmist cries out: “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” This is the heart beat of the passage. On three occasions the Psalmist cries: “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”
Restore our world, our nation, our communities, our neighbors, our families.
In Paraguay, there is a little town situated on top of a landfill (which may be the ultimate expression of chaos). But these people in the town look at all of this trash, all of this chaos and they can’t help themselves.
Watch ‘Landfill Harmonic’
This is what God does. He takes the broken things of our lives, and re-imagines them, and invites
us to re-imagine them. He takes the broken things of our lives, and creates music where there was none
previously. This is the plan of God in our world. To set things to rights. But it doesn’t stop there. Oh no!
We are invited to partner with God in this work of seeing the tattered and broken things, re-imagining and restoring them.
This is the work of God. The Psalmist cries out “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” Though it is a cry from the wilderness, this is not merely a cry of despair, but a cry mingled with trust and hope. Hope that the God “who was, who is and who is to come” will act and move in our lives and in the world once again.
In the video we watched at the start, Sarah was asked “Would you hope that all things would be made new?” She answers: “I think that it’s too late that all things will be made new. Because I have seen too much newness. I have seen too much new life and new birth and too much longings and things restored and wholeness happening for me not to see that this is God’s heart.”
In the face of weariness, frustration and brokenness. This is our prayer.
“Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”
David McCrea / Stockholm Life Church