March 13, 2022 ~ Second Sunday in Lent ~ “Roll Down Justice
Rev. Beckie Sweet
Pastors are often asked by people to share with them our favorite scripture passage. Honestly, my favorite scripture passage changes day by day. My favorite for the day is often based on what I am experiencing that day, and what I need spiritually. There are days when I am looking to scripture for words of hope, or reassurance, forgiveness, salvation, comfort, joy, calling, direction, and the like. And while we have a breadth of passages contained in the canonical scriptures, more than half of those I have named over the years come from the Psalms.
I love how the Psalms show us as a people of faith that we can bring everything ~ our joys, our sorrows, our hurts, our angers, our frustrations, our wanderings, our celebrations, our gratitude ~ everything to God in prayer and song, and God is not going to get upset. Rather, what the Psalms teach us is that by doing this, by bringing to God all of who we are and all of what we are experiencing, we grow more deeply in our relationship with God. We begin to understand what it means to be in community with one another within God’s care.
Faith always has been about sharing all of our humanness with the God who created us. Bringing it all to God, rather than trying to hide behind a false veil of perfection, shows how much we trust God and long to be in community with God.
Psalm 13 is a lament. It is a song of grief and frustration. It is a song offered by someone who is overwhelmed. And in that state of desperation, the psalmist feels far removed from God and God’s blessings. The psalmist offers verbal reassurance that all the hate, all the hurt, all the brokenness is not what God intended for us as Beloved Children of God. With every naming of the hurt which fills our world, Psalm 13 simply wonders “how long will all this bad stuff happen?” “How long will it be until unfailing love and salvation become the song of the day?”
Unlike other Psalms of Lament, in Psalm 13 we are not told explicitly what evils the psalmist is wrestling with. It is as if the psalmist composed this psalm with the intention that it could fit any of the most challenging circumstances in each believer’s unique journey through the ups and downs of life and faith. We all need to know that God is here, with us, loving us, sustaining us. We need to trust that God will again act to redeem the people. And yet, we lament, How long, how long, how long?!?!
That’s what makes this Psalm so appropriate for today? We each will have individual circumstances which necessitate the question “How Long?” How long will I have to endure these medical treatments? How long will I endure this pain? How long will my child struggle? How long will I live in poverty? How Long?
But we also have the broader circumstances for which we ask, “How Long?” How long will systemic racism legalize discrimination against persons of color? How long will it be acceptable to destroy the health of the ecosystem? How long will the way people love one another or discover and live into their sexual identity be called unacceptable and incompatible with Christian teaching? How long will we tolerate the bombing of innocent people and the hostile take-over of their homeland? How Long?
Whenever I think about justice I think about our baptismal vows and their current language. We are asked: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin? Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
By the 4th Century, the church had instituted a powerful symbol of the transformation of candidates for baptism away from evil and toward good. Before going into the water, people would face the direction of the west, the direction of the setting sun, and renounce evil. Then they would turn away from that direction to face east, the direction of the rising sun, as a sign that they were leaving the forces of evil behind and facing the light of God in their lives. In so doing, we affirm that we have the freedom to turn away from all kinds of evil, and that we put our trust in God, and keep our sights and efforts focused on God, as we move forward.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had three general rules for living lives of faithfulness to God: Do no harm; Do Good, Draw closer to God through prayer, reading scripture, fasting, and worshipping God. Bishop Easterling’s prayer poem said: “May we come to understand that absence is not always enough … the absence of evil is good, but the presence of righteousness perfects what is good.”
In our prayerful laments, we need to figure out when our silence means that we are doing harm. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor who was arrested and imprisoned for his outspoken opposition to Hitler said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
In Psalm 13, the psalmist moves through the lament to a place of trust, rejoicing, singing, ACTION. The faith story of those who have gone before us teaches us that while we can take any emotion or experience to God in prayer, we should not wallow in our lament. But rather move through the lament to faith-filled action. Our faith story teaches us that God is still at work in this world, bringing about love, bringing about grace, bringing about God’s justice for all of God’s people. We live in a world filled with both hurt and hope, and yet we believe that we have the promise that the reign of Christ will come to fruition on earth as it is in heaven.
We can offer up a prayer which is both one of lament and one of hope as well because as a people of faith, we know that our God will not stand by and allow the hurt and the hate to be the end of the story. Let’s accept the invitation Psalm 13 is extending to us, an invitation to center ourselves in the presence of God, even when it appears within our limited vision that God is absent. Let’s offer prayers of hurt and hope to cleanse our hearts, to cleanse our souls by bringing everything we feel in this traumatic, frustrating, violent time to the One who heals brokenness, softens hard hearts, and even saves sinners. May we keep before us the light of Christ, the vision of God’s Shalom, the abundance of the Spirit’s gifts. Thanks be to God. Amen.