Sermon 19 October 2014: “Songs of Lament”

Text: Psalm 51:1-12

So today was one of those two sermon days – a baptism at St. Andrew & a tough week at Holy Communion. But the text fit for both occasions….sort of. The background story was David & Bathsheba (the presidential sex scandal of the OT) and Nathan’s calling it out publicly. Not really a story when you’re baptizing a little baby or dealing with tragedy. But Psalm 51…..That works. So here’s your two sermons.

St. Andrew:
So today’s text was supposed to be the story of David and Bathsheba. But I decided against that because I didn’t think a story about a sex scandal was appropriate on a day we’re baptizing a sweet little baby. Psalm 51 probably works better, right? Nothing really scandalous or inappropriate in it at all….but if you listen to the words carefully…there’s just something about them. Listen again: “Have mercy on me…wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, cleanse me from my sin. Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” There’s just something about those words. Something…raw, brutally honest. Both plea and prayer. Both shame and longing. Both brokenness and hope.

Now maybe you don’t hear that….words don’t always carry emotion with them. Sometimes words need something else….like music.

I sung the Enter the Worship song, “Pieces,” which was written in the spirit of Psalm 51. You can listen to it here.

The Psalms were the “music” of the times….and Psalm 51 is one of those songs, known as a song of lament. Lament also means mourning, sorrow, grief. I hope perhaps singing for you this morning conveyed that sentiment. The writer of Psalm 51 is talking about those moments….times where reality crashes down hard, and they almost break us, and we wonder if there will be ever be a time we’ll experience anything good again.

Jane*, John*…..I think about your story….how Grace* came to be in your life through the process of adoption. And being adopted myself, I know that the road to adoption for so many parents that choose to do so is often a hard one, filled with a lot of tough moments, moments of sorrow, of grief, of lament…moments where you wonder, if there is a way forward….any way you’ll experience the wonder and joy of being a parent at all. But Grace is in your life….a precious gift, a gift you didn’t earn, a gift that did not come solely by your own efforts. And it’s why adoption is such a wonderful image of baptism. Baptism is a gift….a precious gift from God, a gift none of us earn, a gift that does not come solely by our own efforts. This gift of eternal life in Christ comes to us a gift of grace….God claims us as his own. And today, God claims Grace as his own….as a child of God.

And that’s going to be significant for her in her life…..because as hard as you might try as parents, Grace is going to experience hard realities of life. Difficult ones. Moments where she’ll wonder if there’s any way forward….if she’ll experience joy and hope in her life again. Try as you might to protect her, there will be songs of lament in her life as well. And it’s in these moments, there will be a story to tell her. It’ll be the story of her baptism day, the day God adopted her, and in Jesus Christ, in each day forward, God will renew her life, make things new, offer a new way forward….forged not in failure or shame, but in the assurance that she is a beloved child of God.

And you as parents are not alone to tell her that story….because the story of her baptism is also the confession of each and every baptized person….it is the confession of the church universal. The church, the community of faith, the Body of Christ…..it will tell her this powerful story of Jesus and his love…that transforms us. Washes us clean. Makes us new. And even when the story of God’s love is too hard for Grace to believe….the church will be here to tell it, and to embrace her and you as parents and really, all of us so that our faith might be strengthened. And words like Psalm 51, songs like the ones I’ve sung today….Grace, you, me…all of us….we don’t stay there. That isn’t our song.

A new song is written. Written in the waters of our baptism, in the love and grace of Jesus Christ, in our identity as Children of God. Alleluia. Amen.

*names changed to protect privacy.

And at Holy Communion:
Psalm 51 beings with a title: “To the leader: A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone into Bathsheba.” The writer of this Psalm is trying to capture David’s sorrow and repentance, after the prophet Nathan calls out his sin – taking the wife of another man as his own and sleeping with her, and having that man killed to cover it up. But Psalm 51 is also a song…as all the Psalms are. It is a Psalm of lament, meant to convey great sorrow and mourning; of grief. Maybe we don’t get that when we just simply read the Psalms. So I thought I’d offer a little something to help us really understand what a Psalm, a song of lament, is about.

I sang the Enter the Worship song, “Please Don’t Forget.” You can listen to it here.

I guess I’m having a hard time today…..because the story of David’s moral failure, his sin…..this isn’t the sermon or message that we need to hear in light of all that’s happening in our little family of faith. In the past 3 weeks, we’ve had one death each week. Jack*, youngest son of Jane Smith* passed away after a heart attack. Mike*, Jan Davis’* father, passed away in declining health that comes with age. And this past week, Mason’s* oldest son passed away, suddenly, without warning. And I know also that we’re coming up on anniversaries of lost loved ones. All I can say is this: I know people are hurting in our little family. They are hurting. We are hurting. And such loss often leaves us empty, suffering, joyless, alone.

And I’ve wondered this week: how does this story of David and Bathsheba, and Psalm 51 fit in light of what we’re all feeling? Is there a message, a Word from God for us? Does it even fit at all? And then I thought:

What does it mean to have faith in such moments?

For David and his situation, faith looks like a lament. It looks like a plea to God in the midst of his sorrow, his mourning, his grief. And while David’s situation is nothing like ours – David was the cause of his suffering – we can identify with those feelings, feelings that come when we experience the tragedy of death in our lives.

Faith is a cry to God in our sorrow, our mourning, our grief. It’s a plea for God to do what we cannot do for ourselves. Faith is asking God to wash us; to make us whole. We ask God to restore and renew our spirits, to bring joy and hope and gladness into our lives again. And in the midst of tragedy, that kind of faith – a shaken faith – is perhaps enough, because it is still faith just the same.

And for God, that’s more than enough.

Because the God who hears David’s lament, who hears our lament is the God of the covenant. It’s the God who frees, who protects, who provides, who delivers. It’s the God who transforms, who heals, who makes things new. It’s the God who came down into our lives in Jesus Christ so that we might not be held captive by things such as death and the tragedy of it. It is the God who in Christ Jesus washes us each day in baptismal waters, renews our spirit, and restores the joy of salvation to our lives through the Holy Spirit.

And that takes time. It took the Israelites 80 years to realize. It took the disciples 3 years to realize the gift of Jesus that came in the resurrection. And in mourning the death of loved ones, in my own experience, I know that takes time…more than we care for some days. But we don’t spend that time alone. God assures us of his everlasting presence, and God gives us the gift of the church – the family of God. As we spend that precious time lamenting, pleading, searching, and healing……the church is where we do that. The church is the community that surrounds us, supports us, consoles us, and is faithful for us in those times we feel we have no faith….it is the community that tells us the story of Jesus and his love, so that we might know nothing can separate us from the love of God. And it’s in telling this story…..and in our embrace around those that are hurting, something happens to those songs of lament. God changes us, transforms us, washes us clean, makes our spirits new…and those songs of lament turn into songs of grace, of hope, of thanksgiving….those songs begin to be songs of life again.

But for today, we simply sing our songs of lament, our songs of faith. And faith, no matter how thin or shaken it may be, is all that God requires. In Christ we have a promise….and so indeed, we mourn. We grieve. We lament as a sign of faith, knowing that God is with us, and hears our cries….and in Christ, God will bring a new day, a day “when all things will be made new,” a day “where there are no more tears.” Amen.

*names changed to protect privacy

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