Lent 1, March 13, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, the Rev. Paul Moore
Psalm 32, is a psalm of thanksgiving for the joy of forgiveness. It is very fitting for Lent, very fitting for the first Sunday of Lent. Let us consider for a moment 4 themes reflected in the Psalm, ideas that contrast or complement one another.
Water: In this Psalm water is both good and bad. The psalmist speaks of his unrepentant state as being dried up as in the heat of summer. The heat of the Middle-Eastern sun is like the heat of west Texas in summer. Ugly as it might seem, think of a desiccated animal on the side of the road in west Texas. It lasts forever because not even the buzzards and the raccoons will eat it, but it doesn't do anything any good, either. It just lays there as a constant reminder of death. This is the effect of unconfessed sin. It dries up the soul, it cuts one off from happiness and freedom. It alienates and desiccates and leaves one feeling empty and useless. And the pain of it all is intended to drive one to confession.
Because of God's mercy and forgiveness, then the psalmist claims God as his hiding place, because of the flood of relief and joy known in forgiveness, therefore, the psalmist says, the faithful (those who know what forgiveness is and means) will make their prayer to God. When the great waters overflow they shall not reach them. We have seen images all week of the flooding along the east coast and mid-west; people whose lives and homes have been devastated not by too little water, but by too much. Where cars should be driving boats float, where kids should be playing people are being rescued. Too much water in the Bible is a symbol of chaos, death and destruction, all the opposites of the joy, life and reconciliation of forgiveness. Those who seek forgiveness come into a quality of life that puts the problems of life in their proper perspective. Those who know the forgiveness of the Lord will not be swept away by the issues of daily living.
Forgiveness: Guilt is one reality, forgiveness is quite another. Guilt alienates. The psalmist writes, “When I held my tongue my bones withered away.” The implications later in the psalm are that the relationships of the unforgiven guilty person are forced, like a horse that but for a bridle would not stay near its owner. It is a fitting image. Who wants to be with one who groans all day long?
Notice, however, that God has not left the sinner, for His hand is heavy upon him. What God wants more than anything else is reconciliation, as Michael Card sings, "Love will fight us to be found." If guilt alienates, happiness belongs to the forgiven. It does not belong to the one who has the trophy wife, or the Lexus or high-ranking husband, or the 6-digit income, or all the toys of life, but to the forgiven. Why? Because we were made for community, and none of the above will bring one into community by itself. Offense alienates and brings sorrow, but forgiveness reconciles us into joy.
Speech: Silence may be golden, but sometimes speech is divine. Atahualpa Yupanqui, one of my favorite Argentine singers, has a song whose title translates, "I Rage at Silence." In it he describes in beautiful, haunting lyrics just what keeping silence has cost him. It cost him his rights, it cost him opportunities and beautiful chances, it cost him love. It cost him, in the end, the richness of life itself.
Truly, for every time I wished I had held my tongue I have two in which I wished I had spoken up, or said more than I did, or remembered to let someone know some piece of important information, some element of a situation they needed to know, but more importantly, what the other person meant to me. My late brother-in-law gave one of my sister's sons one of the greatest gifts a man can give. He died very unexpectedly one morning after sending the boy on an errand. The last thing he said to him, as he always did was, "I love you." Moments later, with the boy out of the house, he collapsed and died...and these are my nephew's final memories of the man he most admired in life. How much more, then, shall we speak up to God, tell God just what has not been said, tell God about the ugly truth, the buried garbage, and the rotten core. How can one know forgiveness if one has not first owned the truth of one's sin?
Community: Alienation is our unforgiven state, community is our reconciled home. There is a recurrent theme throughout these meditations. God wants to be in relationship with us. Why? Because God is the God of community. God is perfect community within the godhead, God created the world and us to be in community with Him, and the issue with the world is precisely the alienation that occurs when we violate our relationships, first with God, then with one another, and also with the rest of creation.
When there is alienation the only remedy, the only medicine for the sickness of our radical, existential loneliness, the only cure is forgiveness. Therefore Jesus came, therefore we are enjoined to seek forgiveness, therefore we are commanded to forgive others who have wronged us and work to rebuild the community lost with God, with each other and with the earth itself.