With honesty, for healing
Passage: Psalm 130; II Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Date: July 02, 2006
Preacher: Dr Jim Moiso
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In terms of our nation's calendar, today's lectionary readings appear to be pretty peculiar. That is, they have nothing to do with July 4. In using them, we are reminded that ours is not an American Christian faith. Rather, ours is a Christian faith which manifests itself in this land, and in many others around God's world. Christians in many lands will hear the same readings today.
We begin with Psalm 130, a poem of seeking and waiting. It is both deeply personal and profoundly corporate. Its lines can only be said because they are addressed to a God who relates with steadfast love. Listen...
Our second reading. Israel was a nation in transition. No, that statement is too strong. Israel was a gathering of 12 tribes, sometimes working together or in clusters, a bit like our 13 colonies did. Because of external threats, the tribes had moved to be more cohesive, toward a more centralized government and a king. God had anointed Saul through the prophet Samuel to lead, to rule. Charismatic, attractive, bigger than life, most of his kingship was consumed in wars with neighbors.
The shepherd boy, David, had helped him. We remember the story of David and Goliath. Secretly, the prophet had anointed David as Saul's successor, for Saul had betrayed God's trust. Over the years, there developed a love-hate relationship between Saul and David. David soothed Saul's troubled spirit with music. He became best-of-friends with Saul's son Jonathan. On the other hand, David's military skills and popularity threatened Saul. Mentally unstable, finally Saul stopped battling external enemies, shifting to eliminate David.
David, very bright and cunning, repeatedly escaped. He refused to battle with the one chosen by God, his king. With his own personal army, David played a very skillful waiting game, even as Saul grew increasingly unstable.
At the end of I Samuel, Saul and Jonathan lead the army of Israel against their arch enemies, the Philistines. This was the beginning of the Iron Age. Unfortunately, the Philistines possessed both chariots and iron weapons. Israel did not. Out manned, out maneuvered, the battle was over almost before it began. The army of Israel was slaughtered, and its remnants fled. Standing on Mt. Gilboa at this father's side, Jonathan was killed. Saul died there as well.
David and his supporters were some three days distant. II Samuel begins with news of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan being brought to David. Immediately, David and all those with him mourned, wept, and fasted in grief. Their anguish was for their king and his son, for the defeated army of the Lord, and for the house of Israel.
Our reading, David's public lament, contains deep, passionate, personal reflection. Absent is anything of the opportunistic , scheming, wanabe king. One of the oldest poems in scripture, it seems authentic to David himself. Listen to its rending, heartfelt lines, public lines, corporate and personal. II Samuel.
Grieving. One of the major issues facing our General Assembly last month involved a significant loss and its accompanying grieving. In 1983, the largest branch of American Presbyterianism reunited with a smaller branch. The smaller branch existed primarily in what had been the Confederate States of America. We had been separated since the Civil War. What we in the north call "the southern church" has had a denominational gathering place at Montreat. Lush with trees and water, in a sense, it has been the southern Presbyterian family homestead for a long time. People from there speak of it with reverence. Part of that place has been the Montreat Historical Society, a repository of official records and church memorabilia for southern Presbyterians. More, it has been a place for scholarly research and a symbol of family history and identity. Two years ago, for financial, legal, and logistical reasons, the General Assembly began a process of closing the Historical Society. The committee I was on spent 10 hours this year wrestling with the implications, the fallout, the laments and complaints of the closure. We in the north and west have difficulty understanding such powerful emotional attachment to a museum. What I learned is that it is far more than a building and its contents. In this place, generations of Presbyterians have had access to their identity. To move a portion of it even to a nearby seminary threatens that self-history. But more I think is at stake. Its demise signals yet one more loss, one more death of what it used to mean to be southern Presbyterians before the reunion, when it seemed that the smaller denomination was swallowed up by the larger. Mixed with that is a piece of "old south" mentality: those northerners, those people from Louisville, are taking over even more, dictating our way of life, how we do church. We who listened, who endured hours of emotional and rational testimony, who sought alternatives, heard their agony. In the end, the Assembly confirmed the closure of the Montreat Historical Society.
My fear is that many who hurt because of this decision will not allow themselves to move to public grieving and then beyond. We do not do grieving very well as a people. We are too busy with power. We want to hold on and to maintain control. All too often, we do not allow for heartfelt grief. To grieve in this sense is to let go enough to permit the loss to surface. It is to give it words and emotions. It is to acknowledge what is being thought, and more importantly, what is being felt, experienced. Instead, I am afraid many will harbor resentment and see themselves as victims. Blocked in that pose, they will not be able to move on, nor will the Spirit of Christ be able to do a new thing among them.
More broadly, it seems to me that we Americans have a good deal of public hurt which we avoid. We do it with bravado, with "no problem," with power, with self-deception, with false optimism. We paper over deep wounds which cannot heal until they are acknowledged, opened. We have few public ways to process loss. The most visited monument on the Washington Mall is the Vietnam Memorial, half buried in the ground. We have not tapped into that national defeat, and to the horror that members of our armed forces faced upon their return, and to the continuing consequences. After September 11, the president declared two weeks of flags at half staff in mourning. Then, abruptly, they were raised, so that our enemies might not think of us as weak, the white house said. 9/11 was far more for us than several thousand people's deaths, as awful as that was. A sense of who we were also died. As a nation, we are still struggling to define who we are in a world that has changed. That loss is profound, not over in two weeks. Friends, facing deep loss is not weakness, but strength. It is also essential for our emotional and spiritual well-being, as individuals, as groups, and as a nation.
In May, I attended my daughter's graduation from seminary. What a great weekend, as people came up to me and said, "Oh, you must be Aimee's father." I loved it. Baccalaureate took place late Friday afternoon. As I sat there, with a close friend preaching, in the midst of the great joy, I suddenly realized an intense sadness. There were people missing: among them, my mother, who died ten years ago tomorrow. She delighted in Aimee, the first-born grandchild, and would have had tears of joy on that occasion. And Linda, Aimee's mother, who died five years ago this summer. My grief was for them, and mostly for Aimee. They were not there to celebrate her. I am so glad that I can be in touch with that sadness, and acknowledge it with gratitude. How terrible it would be to tell myself, "Oh, come on. They died years ago. Get over it already!" Yet, so often we do.
Friends, this day, we come together at the Lord's table. Its symbols are of grievous loss and astonishing hope. They draw us finally to the heart of God in the crucified and risen one. In him, our exposed wounds can be healed. We do not need to be stuck. A new future can open. Let us pay attention this day to the psalmist's good news: "Wait for the Lord. Hope in the Lord. For with the Lord there is steadfast love." Thank God. Thank God for such good news. Amen.