I don’t have much to say regarding this sermon. I wrote it, I preached it, no one threw anything. I consider that a win.
Later this week, I hope to have something up regarding the proposed budget for The Episcopal Church. In the meantime, you should read this.. (Actually, read everything he’s written. He’s a smart guy, and I still owe him for patching up my small, international incident with the Russian Orthodox when I worked in the Ecumenical office.)
Anyway: sermon. Here!
March 4, 2012
Lent 2, Year B
Psalm 22: 23-30 (whole psalm)
Disney World, Disney Land, has some of the strictest rules regarding their workers and performers of any workplace in America. Up until this year, men could not have facial hair of any kind– and now, only neatly trimmed mustaches. Women may not wear obvious earrings, or obvious makeup, or nailpolish at all. Employees may not ever point; they may only guesture with two fingers or the entire hand. Characters may not speak at all, and they must not ever appear outside their designated ‘land.’
Above all, no one should ever do anything to ever disabuse any visitor that this is, indeed, the happiest place on Earth, inhabited by giant friendly Mice.
The illusion is always complete; the employees are even called cast members, and being with the public is called “being on stage”.
And it works– Disney is crazy-successful.
Lots of people really like to travel to Florida and California and have a wonderful, magical, paid-to-be perfect experience.
But, as great as Disney is, it’s not what you might call authentic. Granted, the giant mouse wearing clothes gives that away, as does the singing lions, but so does the relentless cheeriness.
Humans are never that happy all the time. We are not. And despite the refrain of “God is good, all the time,” neither are Christians.
Once you have gotten over your shock, I direct you to the psalms.
If you have ever experienced an emotion in your life, behold! It is in the psalms.
Have you been happy? Psalm 150: which details all the many and sundry ways you can praise the Lord– on the harp, on the timbrel and lyre, each verse staring with Praise him!”
Feeling angry and vengeful? Psalm 109: in return for my love, they accuse me. May his children be orphans! May his wife be a widow– may creditors seize all he has!
Even th bargaining stage of grief is covered! Psalm 88: do you work wonders for the dead? Will the dust praise you? Is your steadfast love declared in the the grave, or loving kindness praised in Sheol?
Essentially, every human emotion is expressed in the psalms. For every feeling you have that you can’t find good God-words for, there’s a psalm. A record of someone’s dialogue with God that you can listen in on and steal if needed.
And today’s is a good example.
You might not have realized it, but this is Psalm 22. That psalm we will get a lot of use out of in about a month or so, come Holy Week.
It starts out with a full lament– the one that should sound familiar, the one that Jesus echoed on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ”
From there, the writer laments the many afflictions that have befallen him, crossing into tortures. Wild dogs of Bashan surround me, i can count all my bones, my mouth is dried up like a potsherd.
No only is this person feeling abandoned by God, he or she is suffering physical and emotional agony as well. This is as low, as awful as you can get. No Disney castle to be seen.
But it is authentic.
Who among us as not had at least one moment of feeling alone, and abandoned? Who among us has not had a moment of feeling fury, anger, jealousy, or any of those less- than pristine emotions that fuel our humanity?
The psalms give voice to all of that– not just our pretty emotions, our nice feelings, and everything “proper and correct.”. They talk about the human experience when it comes to a relationship with God. Sometimes we get angry at God. Sometimes we get jealous of God’s seeming favor towards someone we are sure is a horrible person. Sometimes, in our pain, we want to call for God’s wrath upon the heads of our enemies. Sometimes,we’re convinced God has left us for dead.
All of this is a part of being a person of faith. A person of faith, now– we get into big, big trouble whenever we confuse our human, messed up impulses with God’s. [Just because I think it is a great idea to smash babies doesn’t mean God does.]
But see where the writer of Psalm 22 ends up. After the lamenting, after a bit of bargaining too, the writer ends with the song of praise we heard today. My praise is of him in the great assembly.
And not because of obligation, or duty. Not out of empty routine, or because it’s what’s expected, but because this is the God who hears the cry of the poor. This is the God who has listened to everything that has come previous, and answered. This God isn’t scornful of the painful emotions of abandonment or agony, this God doesn’t expect Disney-fied worshippers– this God wants to hear it all from his people. The good, the bad, the indifferent. And God doesn’t hide his face from any of it.
That’s the sort of God we have here in the Psalms– that’s the sort of God Jesus shows us in his life, and especially on the cross. Not a God to hide from, or pretend towards, but a God who wants to hear everything we deal with.
So, thanks be to God, who has lovingly made us as human beings, not cartoon characters, and expects nothing less from us.