Sermons on Psalms
As Christians, we stand at the gate of our own Jerusalem each time we peer into our own souls, into that holy city where God resides within us. The process of making our hearts ready to receive the holiness of Christmas is one of cleansing ourselves from distractions, purifying our souls from the darkness which creeps in occasionally, forgiving others and ourselves, and releasing our reliance upon ourselves. This is our Advent work, so that when we awake on Christmas morning, we will be ready to receive the Christ child into our lives, again and anew.
I remember a lot of that morning. I remember all of the staff in the rector’s office, huddled around a small TV, some of us pacing, others of us sitting with our heads in our hands, others of us drastically trying to reach family members who worked in the Pentagon. The priests began gathering their prayer books to plan the funeral mass they would offer at noon that day for the victims. From this place of utter darkness, smoldering despair, utter disbelief in the depravity of humankind, and an abiding sense of the presence of evil which was consuming my soul, I walked out into the bright blue autumn sky. It was beautiful and it was memorable. It was a day you would have loved to be sitting outside, turning your face, like a sunflower, into the sun, soaking up the goodness and grace the world offered. The contrast of this scene to the events we witnessed inside that morning on TV was stunning and revelatory: there was still light in the world that even the worst of actions could not extinguish.
We want there to be a seamlessness between God’s Word and our very being, and to do that, we need to sit with, study, and know with our heart, God’s Word.
Some say that the psalms serve as mirrors for our souls, for just as a one looks into a physical mirror to see one’s outward state, when we read a psalm, we can often discover our inner state. When we hear the psalm today, perhaps we can hear it as an invitation to more deeply examine when, where, and how have we been moving toward God, and when, where, and how have we been moving away from God.
This image of God as our rock and refuge is prevalent in our psalm today. The psalmist implores God to be his strong rock, a castle to keep him safe, affirming that God is his crag and stronghold. I understand what that means after my scary traverse in the canyon last year. I understand the importance of finding a crag to hold onto, I understand the protection offered to me by that sturdy rock. I understand how much I wanted the rock I was hanging onto to be permanent, not permeable, to be solid and un-moveable. This is the God I also want and need, especially in times of trial.
Disorientation is really hard. It’s uncomfortable. It makes our heart hurt. It shakes our beliefs to the core. All that we have believed had been true is suddenly not. It’s what the psalmist wrote about and it’s what we experience in life over and over again, if we’re honest with ourselves. The prosperity gospel tells us all these things are bad, and yet the gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that in each of these moments, resurrection is possible. And that’s the difference between what the psalmist experienced: if it’s bad, it must mean God is absent and needs to be reminded to pay attention and us, as Christians, who will say, if we are disoriented, if we are experiencing something that appears and feels very bad, then God is present and is inviting us into something new. This is a huge distinction. Reorientation, not the previous state of orientation, follows disorientation in the Christian faith
Whereas it is true that we could never win this case God has brought against us, the exercise was never about winning or losing or justice or punishment. It was always and will only ever be about God’s love for us – about mercy, about opening the pathway for us to be back in right relationship with God. This is what the judgment of God looks like: mercy, love, forgiveness, and an invitation to wholeness. When we declare our Confession of Need today, we will say, “Compassionate God. We confess our weaknesses and our need for your strengthening touch.” Our weaknesses: our forgetfulness of God and each other, and our need for God’s strengthening touch. This is what God desires to give us, to touch us with God’s holy strength, and to make us whole.