Sermon, May 1, 2016 ‘Mayday!’

Psalm 70-71:3

Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow – The Three Essential Prayers, Riverhead Books, 2012, pps, 6,7,14,15.

This guy’s in trouble.  This psalm, this song to God, is no mere melody.  It’s much more like a desperate cry for help.  I’m not exactly sure what’s wrong.  I don’t know if people are literally trying to kill him, or if their intention is to end his life, his livelihood, his sense of self, as he knows it.  But he’s desperate.  

Have you ever been desperate?  Are you feeling desperate this morning?  You’re in good company.  This person, crying out to God, is one of God’s own.  He, or she, is a child of God, just like you and me.  This person recognizes God, names God, turns to God, in their desperation.  Just like we do.  Even when we may not acknowledge God at any other time, we call to God in distress.  Someone’s got to be there.  Someone’s got to listen.  

“‘Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!”  It’s always repeated three times, so it won’t be mistaken for any other call.  It’s a distress signal, to be used in life-threatening emergencies, primarily by aviators and mariners, but police and firefighters use it, too.  In 1923, a senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London, Frederick Mockford was asked to think of a word that would indicate distress and would easily be understood by all pilots and ground staff in an emergency. Since much of the traffic at the time was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, he proposed the word "Mayday" from the French "m'aider", a shortened version of "venez m'aider" (meaning "come and help me"). This replaced the Morse Code  …---… “SOS” [Save Our Souls] call.   

In her book, ‘Help, Thanks, Wow – The Three Essential Prayers’, Anne Lamott speaks about the importance of truth.  Of coming to the end of ourselves, and realizing we have no other recourse but to call for emergency aid.    

“My belief,” she says, “is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God.  If you say to God, “I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,” that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said.  If you told me you had said to God, “It is all hopeless, and         I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,” it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real – really real.  It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.  So prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light.  It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold… Light reveals us to ourselves, which is not always so great if you find yourself in a big disgusting mess, possibly of your own creation.  But like sunflowers, we turn toward light.  Light warms, and in most cases, it draws us to itself.  And in this light, we can see beyond shadow and illusion to something beyond our modest receptors, to what is way beyond us, and deep inside.”    

I love what Lamott has to say about courage… it takes courage to ask for help.  And it takes humility.  Do you remember this song?  

When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody's help in any way
But now these days are gone I'm not so self-assured
Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors

Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being 'round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won't you please, please help me? Help me, help meeeeee….

Help! was written mainly by John Lennon at his home in Weybridge.  Lennon said, “When Help! came out, I was actually crying out for help. Most people think it's just a fast rock 'n' roll song. I didn't realise it at the time; I just wrote the song because I was commissioned to write it for the movie. But later, I knew I really was crying out for help. So it was my fat Elvis period. You see the movie: he - I - is very fat, very insecure, and he's completely lost himself. And I am singing about when I was so much younger and all the rest, looking back at how easy it was.”  [1980]

Whether it was John Lennon composing a song, or a psalmist setting a piece to music, they are both calling out “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday!”  Anne Lammott: “There’s freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won’t be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parents, or your career; relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing.  This is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past.  It’s exhausting, crazy-making.

Help.  Help us walk through this.  Help us come through.  It is the first great prayer.

I don’t pray for God to do this or that, or for God’s sake to knock it off, or for specific outcomes.  Well, okay, maybe a little… I pray.  Help.  Hold my friends in Your light.” 

George Fox, toward the beginning of his travels, writes this in his Journal: “When I myself was in the deep, shut up under all, I could not believe that I should ever overcome; my troubles, my sorrows, and my temptations were so great that I thought many times I should have despaired, I was so tempted. But when Christ opened to me how He was tempted by the same devil, and overcame him and bruised his head, and that through Him and His power, light, grace, and Spirit, I should overcome also, I had confidence in Him; so He it was that opened to me when I was shut up and had no hope nor faith. Christ, who had enlightened me, gave me His light to believe in; He gave me hope, which He Himself revealed in me, and He gave me His Spirit and grace, which I found sufficient in the deeps and in weakness.  Thus, in the deepest miseries, and in the greatest sorrows and temptations, that many times beset me, the Lord in His mercy did keep me.” 

We don’t cry “Mayday” from a safe place.  We don’t call out for help after we’ve reached the shore.  When do we need rescue, restoration, relief?  When we’re in the thick of things.  When we’re lost.  When we’re in darkness.  And that is where we find God.  Right where we are.  As we cry out to God, we discover that God has been calling to us.  God’s capacity for companionship is not one that avoids trouble, but one that moves with us in times of trouble.  God’s capacity for love is not one that falters, but one that chases us, finds us, and even outruns us – welcoming our true selves home.   

John Lennon prayed this:
Help, I need somebody
Help, not just anybody
Help, you know I need someone

Thomas Merton prayed this:  "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."

John Lennon’s prayer.  Thomas Merton’s prayer.  The psalmist’s prayer.  What is your prayer today?  Perhaps it begins with the simple word “Help.”