Sermon March 3, 2016
Psalm 32 and Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
“Waiting on You”
I am fascinated with the Psalms and appreciate the opportunity to dig into them a bit this season. I love paraphrases of the Psalms. I will often read several different versions of a Psalm just to expand my viewpoint. I still remember a program for my youth group when I was in high school. The leader told us to write Psalm 23 as a reverse paraphrase. It was interesting how the Psalm came to life for me as I wrote the opposite of its meaning. When we completed that, she had us write Psalm 23 in our own words. Having studied the Psalm from its contradictory meaning, I was better prepared to write it in my own words. My friend, Christine Robinson, wrote the Psalms in her own words several years ago. Christine is a Unitarian and her writing often gives me a new lens to understand and embrace the meaning of the Psalms. Here is Psalm 32 in Christine’s words:
“Blessed are those who have made peace with the past
with all they have done and left undone.
Blessed are those who have found the courage
to inventory their failings and missteps,
who know their weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
Blessed are those who have heard a word of forgiveness from those they have hurt—and those who have felt the accepting love of God.
When I tried to soldier on
to deny the past and always be perfect,
I hit a wall, I dried up like a dirt road in the summer’s heat.
I had to open my heart—to myself, to others, and to You.
I had to forgive others and take in their forgiveness of me.
I had to let go of being perfect so I could forgive myself.
I had to open it all to you and feel your peace.”
We spent a long time on this Psalm in text study this week. We talked about the meaning of confession and forgiveness. We talked about the freedom that can come from those acts and we acknowledged our discomfort with them as well. We don’t practice confession very often in worship. I don’t think I have heard it here, but in other settings I have heard people complain that confession is just groveling in sin and they have no interest in doing that.
The flip side is hiding from the things we have done that we feel guilty about. Frank Warren is a collector of secrets. In 2004, he printed 3,000 self-addressed postcards that were blank on one side. He asked people to share a secret they’d never told anyone before. He handed them out on the streets of Washington, DC. It wasn’t long before he began to receive postcards from around the world. Warren says the saddest thing he’s learned is that the secrets aren’t the greatest burden. It is the energy we put into concealing them and the barriers that develop between us and other people, as well as barriers within ourselves when we try and keep things hidden. (http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=377506467)
In our family, we work on saying, “I’m sorry. I blew it.” We practice taking responsibility for our actions. Sometimes that is harder than others. But it is important in the life of any relationship. We need to find a way to work through things rather than looking for someone else to blame. We need to take an honest look at ourselves. Part of the healing for any of us is to confess when we blow it.
Frederick Buechner says, “To confess your sins…is not to tell anything God doesn’t already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the bridge.” (p. 15, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC)
Louis Newman is a Jewish Ethicist who talks about hiding and running from our sin means we are in bondage. Freedom comes when we run toward our transgressions. He describes repentance as hitting the reset button. The Jewish faith sets aside a holy day for this. It is called Yom Kippur. It is no mistake that it falls two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Repentance leads to a fresh start. It is so important to understand our blind spots. It is the work of a lifetime. (http://www.onbeing.org/program/louis-newman-the-refreshing-practice-of-repentance/transcript/7934)
I have talked before about the freedom and honesty found in 12 step groups. These groups often meet in churches. Rachel Held Evans says, “At its best, the church functions much like a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people come together to speak difficult truths to one another. Sometimes the truth is we have sinned as individuals. Sometimes the truth is we have sinned corporately, as a people. Sometimes the truth is we’re hurting because of another person’s sin or as a result of forces beyond our control. Sometimes the truth is we’re just hurting, and we’re not even sure why.”
“The practice of confession gives us the chance to admit to one another that we’re not okay, and then to seek healing and reconciliation together, in community. No one has to go first. Instead, we take a deep breath and start together with the prayer of confession.” [Prayers of confession] “remind us that we’re all in need of healing and grace…They give us permission to start telling one another the truth and to believe that this strange way of living is the only way to set one another free.” (Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, p. 67-69)
In the Gospel lesson, we see a father with two sons. One son has blown it and comes home to ask forgiveness. He doesn’t expect to be restored to the family. He is hoping to find some food and shelter as a hired hand. He has ruined everything and brought dishonor to his father. There is no way he will be taken back in as a member of the family. The father welcomes the son home and warmly embraces him. The older son has been faithful. He has done everything right. But he can’t accept that the younger son is embraced as beloved. He believes one must earn love and a place in the family. The father in the story wants both of his sons to understand that he loves them no matter what. His love is not about who they are and what they do. When they acknowledge their need for healing and grace, each of the sons can find freedom. One son knows he needs it. The other one cannot see it.
Nadia Bolz-Weber reflects on it this way: “Lent is about hacking through self-delusion and false promises. We trudge through the lies of our death-denying culture to seek the simple weighty truth of who we really are.”
“This is not a season of taking up self-denial, it’s a season of relinquishment. We let go of all the pretenses and destructive independence from God. We let go of defending ourselves. We let go of our indulgent self-loathing. Like the prodigal son, we then begin to see a loving God running with abandon to welcome us home…The Psalmist says that God delights in the truth that is deep in us. The truth…Therefore there’s no shame in the truth of who we are; the broken and blessed beloved of God. ” (Why I love Ash Wednesday and Lent part 2: Death)
The Psalm and Luke show us a God who is waiting for us. God isn’t interested in our perfection, but wants to be in relationship with us. It does require an honest, open showing up on our part. Perhaps that is why we gather each week…to remember that God is waiting on us. We gather to worship a God who does not ask us to hide any part of ourselves. We discover that God loves us and always welcomes us home. We come to the table to bring the parts that we are proud of and the parts we want to hide. Here we are loved, embraced, and fed to carry that same love and forgiveness into the world.