Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Continental Divide of Grief: Sin, Forgiveness, and Steadfast Love

It is hard how closely intertwined love and passion are with sin and brokenness. How bound the beautiful can be with harm and the terrible. It is hard that by one person’s inability to hold boundaries, so many are harmed and hurt and left in a valley of confusion. If we didn’t have passion would we know love? Would we know hate? The violation, the abuse, are almost predictable. The lies that surround it so too.

A recent study suggests that most people who participate in a congregation of any religion in America, these people say they seek out religious practices to be closer to God. Sometimes I think that we think that means that we only want safely distributed warm fuzzy feelings. We want God at a safe distance until we need something beyond ourselves. We want God to tell us we are moral and good, despite the replay review. I'm not sure that many of us really want a prophet appointed by God to come tell us how badly we've messed up, and how much we need to turn around and repair our lives. Yet biblically, that is (part of) being closer to God.

Other research shows that a lot of us we want to feel like a tender sweet sheep snuggled on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd. We want Jesus to share with us abundant life, but what we don't expect, what we may wish to fast forward through, is when Jesus looks at us and tells us we've understood it all wrong. Where Christian-ness has not taken hold it is not because it is easy. Easy is easy. Moral therapeutic deism is easy. Where genuine Christianness doesn't take root is In its holy challenges and the us-not-me demands. Christian-ness is love and humility, and anything else isn't about Jesus Christ.

But it is the kind of love that holds up a magnifying mirror. It declares judgement of our worldly system that we want to feel secure in so much that we turn a blind eye from the cruel truth of its power. Jesus' life and death and resurrection exposes the lie, demands that we look at the truth of the system. That it is born in and fed by violence violent language violent actions much worse than clutch and grab.

I wanna believe that the world is good to the core. And I want to believe that the evil and malice are just random spilled bags of trash across an otherwise glorious scene. What following Jesus shows me, again and again, is that my disneyfied lenses might have it upside-down. The dark mean broken licentious lying murderous world may be a more pervasive dark thing than I can take solace in. It is this darkness that Jesus comes to. It is to this storm that God's prophets that speak to. This is where disciples serve and the space in which apostles teach. Faith with Jesus is hollow if it is reclining in marshmallow clouds of saccharine perfection. Faith is faith when it is knee deep in the imperfections and muck of the world.

It seems that this faith IS a streak of beloved light in the darkening scene. It seems that kindness and mercy are the strands of hope. Our Psalm today is one that I (and you may) know very very well I hear and say it year after year at the multiple Ash Wednesday services. We are far from Lent, but we are always also in a time that is Lent and Easter and Christmas and Advent all at once. This sense of time that isn’t linear is a core piece of practice of the Christian life. Confessing, lamenting, regretting, turning around and claiming the light, recommitting to this light in the sacraments of bread and wine are our altar call.

Yet for all it’s alleluias, the very nature of this path assumes the failures and the lostness. Psalm 51 has been for a very long time associated with exactly the scenes in 2nd Samuel we heard last week and this week. These almost NSFW scenes of David ‘s powerful lostness and his breaking over half of the commandments and having a convicting prophet sent to him by God. A prophet who says this is it. This is the continental divide of a screw up. This is why the path ahead is a trail of terror and tears. 

What's interesting is that the Psalm certainly speaks to that story, but the Hebrew scholar can see that it's playing with language from another episode of grievous sin from the episode of the golden calf. While God’s people are wandering in the desert and get tired of waiting and make up their own golden cow gods to worship. So much easier than all this beloved community nonsense. Easy is easy. As much as this violent crisis with David and Bathsheba, and its aftermath, is considered to be on par with being cast out of the Garden, one of the things that is always getting us in trouble is idolatry. The million lights of Times Square, the upside down devotion to the wanting what other nations and people have. The choosing to take the easy route rather than the one of steadfast love.

The best I can tell God is a God of grace and love and mercy and forgiveness in the midst of constant disappointment and frustration. The Psalm translation we read says God’s core emotive action is loving kindness. But the better translation is that God’s core emotive action is steadfast love. It seems that God is made of steadfast love for you and for me and for David and Bathsheba. And dimwitted disciples in the company of Jesus. God stands ready to forgive and guide us into paths of justice and grace. God stands ready to welcome us home when we are lost and cruel and selfish. God stands ready to forgive and to hold before us the names and realities of our victims.

I choose Christ and life together in Christian community because I cannot approach this darkness all by myself. We need a sacred community One that stretches very far back through time and stretches into the future to people I can't even imagine We need a life together that is a beacon of truthfulness about who we are and the violence we do And a life together that is rooted in the steadfast love of God. One turn is rarely just one turn. Turning from God’s way leads to heartbreak and bloodshed. The cover-up leads to terrible news conferences Which are a shame and lead to numbing and doubt. I thought I knew what was what and it turned out I had no idea.

Would we be mostly free from sin and error and falsehood if we all lived alone on desert islands, well perhaps? At least the second two-thirds of the commandments would be less of a necessity But we are not human solos we are humans in community. There is no i without the u and the us. So how we live together, how we trust the you and honor the dignity of all the fragments of us-ness, that is the sacred story. One that is both a scary horror and a romance and a comedy and an exciting adventure. Every time we think we have it all figured out… God comes in with steadfast love and straight up challenge and calls us to turn to God and to each other with steadfast love.

August 5, 2018
Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey

(one of the sermons that i realized afterward had several riffs on a buffy episode.)

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