Wednesday, July 18, 2007

We make our beds...

This was the morning sermon preached on July 8, 2007 (Proper 9, Year C)

We make our beds and then we lie in them. And yet, there is grace.

You have watched us reap all that we have sown;
We went through fire and through water,
Yet You have brought us through our pain and
Into your dwelling place.

That’s what the Psalm teaches us. The Psalmist – whoever he was, King David didn’t write this particular piece of music – is remembering what God has already done for the people to whom he sings. But this wasn’t just a one time thing – the Psalmist is succinctly describing a cycle of the Universe, and using metaphor to do it.

Now, the Psalmist may have been writing about any number of national or cultural difficulties – he may have been talking about the escape of the Israelites from Egypt, he may have been talking about the national upheaval in the not entirely smooth transfer of power from King Saul, the first king of Israel to King David, the second and most beloved king of Israel, against whom all other rulers were ever compared, and found wanting. The Psalmist may have even fast-forwarded through history here, and have been talking about the period of exile – when everyone who was anyone in Israel was forcibly displaced and made to be refugees in Babylonia – they didn’t take the poor people, mind you, just all of the politicians, priests, craftsmen, merchants, and anyone else who might have been necessary to the maintaining of a society, plus all the physical wealth. The Psalmist might have been singing about that time.

Regardless of what exact memory the Psalmist was trying to evoke for the people to whom he sung with his metaphor, there’s a point that is very clear here for us, and would have been terrifically clear to the people of Israel. This idea that we’ve reaped what we’ve sown. We’ve made our bed, and now we’re lying in it.

It’s an idea that, regardless of what cause to which we might attribute those historical events, the people themselves clearly understood the situation as one that they walked into with their eyes wide open.

Surely, we can identify with this.

Now, I don’t need a show of hands for this one, but who here has done something you regret? Or, perhaps, neglected to do something? Think on that for a moment. It could be large, it could be small, it could be something that happened yesterday, or earlier this morning, or twenty years ago. If there are several things to choose from, just for the moment pick one of those.

Now that you have that one thing in your head, think about the fallout from that incident. This may or may not be something you’ve ever done before, but indulge me and try it out. What happened in your environment around you because you did or didn’t do what you remembered? How did other people react? Think of it like a cause and effect chain of events. Where there effects you didn’t realize at the time, but only came to understand later, or even, now?

Now, for some of us, this moment that we regret may have had a happy ending, so to speak. It turned out okay anyway, or no one was hurt, or we went through the pain and were forgiven – and then forgave ourselves. For some of us, this moment of regret may not have had a happy ending. It was just one instance in a long line of similar ones, and still nothing has changed, or people were hurt because of that moment we regret, and there has never been forgiveness – either we have never forgiven ourselves, we have never accepted the forgiveness of others, or we have never actually received forgiveness from them.

It’s no light matter, these little regrets of ours. These little regrets, that sometimes, are not so very little after all.

And in addition to personal regrets, individual regrets, we may have regrets as a family, or as a group of friends, because moments in which we regret our words and actions aren’t just limited to how we act as an individual. When we’re in a larger group, our power to do and to be grows exponentially. Look, for instance, at how cruel teenagers can be to one another, in groups, whereas one-on-one their behavior is usually quite different. If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, just go rent a movie – Hollywood has an entire sub-genre devoted to the nastiness and meanness of adolescents, in groups, and they’re not just making it up.

But lest we start to unduly vilify teens, let’s think of even larger groups – bigger than family and friends. Let’s think of… government. Let’s think of Buffalo as a region – full of lawmakers and law enforcers, full of non-profits and for-profits, full of public schools and private schools, colleges and universities, full of citizens of every stripe and age, as well as foreign nationals and ex-patriots from many lands.

Think of this, even as I read out again that portion from the psalm.

You have watched us reap all that we have sown;
We went through fire and through water,
Yet You have brought us through our pain and
Into your dwelling place.

Please note that this reflection of reality that we find in the Psalm doesn’t end on a note of pain, or suffering, or regret. Let me repeat that. The Psalm – not this portion, not the work in its entirety – doesn’t end with regret. And neither should we. Because regret isn’t the last word – perhaps in a world where there is no God, no compassionate Beloved who created us and cares for us and inspires us, perhaps regret would be the end – but we don’t live in such a world.

We live in a world where there is grace.

Now, grace is kind of an old fashioned word, as well as a woman’s first name, but in this usage, the “Grace of God” means that whether or not we think we deserve it, we are capable of receiving love, forgiveness and blessing, even in our worst moment, even in our darkest hour.

Grace is what the psalmist was talking about several thousand years ago when this piece was originally sung out to groups of people.

Grace is what we have all experienced at one point or another or maybe over and over again whenever someone forgave us, even though we’d hurt them, whenever someone loved us anyway. And we have been the living out of Grace ourselves – every time we forgive, or love – the light of the Beloved, the light of God shines out of us in those moments.

But more than just specific incidences, Grace is that underlying presence of God – Grace means the presence of blessing in our life, as well as the invitation of blessing. All good things.

Imagine that – all good things. This is Grace.

And so, we have those moments we regret; we have the cause and the effect that can be so painful and so detrimental – whether we consider it just on our own personal level, or on our regional, or national level – and then, we have Grace, which is not a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, but rather is the ability to heal the breach, no matter what the cause, no matter what the effect.

Think about that with me for a minute. God’s Grace helps us, allows us, enables us, inspires us, to heal the breach. The breach within ourselves, the breach between us and the ones we love, the breach in the communities in which we live, the nation in which we live, the world in which we live.

You have watched us reap all that we have sown;
We went through fire and through water,
Yet You have brought us through our pain and
Into your dwelling place

That is cause for hope.

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