Psalm 137 CEB
Below is the transcript of the sermon. If you prefer reading, please at least listen to the scripture.
This week means a few things to me.
* It is world Communion Sunday. I love communion. Personally, it is the symbol in in the Christian faith I connect to the most.
* It also broke my ankle three years ago, almost to the day. I can remember the congregation I worked for had this step to get up to the pulpit. I would have to jump the step every Sunday with my crutches.
* Finally, my sister has been doing some digging and it has dug up the old feelings I had buried. Our recent conversations and our Psalm tie together. See, for about a year to a year and a half, we lived in a very broken home. My Dad and Mom divorced. My mom won custody but she was an unfit mother. It is sad to say that. She wants to believe she was super-mom. She was most definitely not. She married an abusive drunk and spent the child support on alcohol and a vintage truck. So much happened in that brief time. I can encapsulate it in one sentence. As children, we lost weight during that time, and I have struggled to socially connect ever since. My sister and I have chosen two different ways to deal with that time. I have begun to bury. My sister, she dug up. That is what she did this past weekend. She dug everything up. She asked questions, she visited gravestones and previous places we used to live. She sat with Dad's attorney from years ago and looked through the court records. The only thing she hasn't done is engage my mom. She is the 'least of these' we read so much about. As ministers, my sister and I, we struggle because we know this. We struggle because we are dealing with a situation where we were damaged by our mom and we know mom needs our love. Believe me, there are times I hear this Psalm and I think about my exile in a small bedroom in Missouri with the only release was school. Today I am struggling. I am struggling personally, and with a culture that doesn't know what to do with us, any of us.
We live in a culture where we don't like broken. We don't know how to deal with it. It is much easier to relate with the new, and healthy. Advertising is one of the biggest culprits. Through commercials happiness is found by throwing away the old and discarding the broken. This is counter to our nature, because if you were to go shopping today for anything from shoes to furniture, it wouldn't be difficult to find products that have been aged or distressed. We want well worn seasoned products. We just don't know what to do with those products when they break.
Sadly, the same is often true of people. Society does not know how to deal with broken people. No, I'm not talking about cuts, bruises, and broken bones. I'm talking about broken souls. Souls cannot be fixed with ointment, casts, and titanium pins.
Oh, we love fixed people who were once broken. Everyone loves a good story about the homeless man who became the millionaire or the drug addict who turned his life around to become a famous preacher. A prodigal son of sorts. (I mention these two examples because they are real. I just sited The Pursuit of Happyness and the son of Billy Graham, Franklin Graham.) Still, we don't like the messiness of a broken person. Broken people are often shunned by society. As a defense, of sorts, broken people cover or hide their brokenness. This doesn't solve their woundedness and could make the situation worse.
We are a culture who likes to hide things. We hide our trash and bury our secrets. When I think of hiding things I think of Disney World. They have a whole system of underground tunnels just so they don't have to show people emptying the trash or delivering goods. The park looks perfect because everything messy is done underground.
So this is what can be so distressing about Psalm 137. The pain, the wounded and brokenness is not hidden. It is right there for all to read. This is not a happy Psalm. Not here.
Historically speaking the Babylonians conquered Israel and took the elite and well to do back to Babylon. This was standard Babylonian practice. Leave a people in their land and they might rise up. Take them out and they stay oppressed. The voices of this particular Psalm were probably the Levites. They were known for being the temple musicians. It was probably written after the exile was over and the Levites had the opportunity to reflect and write songs about their experience. They were not expressing empty anger. According to the Psalm, the Babylonians had asked them to sing a song of Zion. Songs of Zion were specifically meant to be sung in Zion. Whether the Babylonians knew it or not they were pouring salt into the Israelite wound. In particular, there are some Psalms of Zion that would have deeply hurt: Psalm 48 for example. “The city of our God: God makes her secure forever.” Well, at the point in Psalm 137 they knew God's temple was not going to last forever because it was already destroyed. It would have hurt to sing such a song to the very people responsible for tearing it down. The Babylonian request to sing a song would have come across as a taunt. Still, it is difficult to hear that last: “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock.”
If we ended right now we would all be in a bad place. This is a Psalm about a bad part of the Israelite history ended in a rather terrible way. What can we do with this? I suggest we turn to Luke 12:3. “Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” As I was reminded earlier this week, this verse can be very uncomfortable. We tend to be a bit more honest in private. We say things we might not want the world to know. Luke 12:3 suggests nothing, even our dirty laundry will be hidden. I will admit, I'm a little intimidated by that. But, there is a good side to this verse I am sure few think about and it relates directly to Psalm 137.
The voices of the broken and sick are often muted or are not loud enough for society to hear. Sometimes those you have been spiritually wounded or are spiritually sick choose to remain silent for fear of the stigma attached admitting they might not be well or whole. Luke 12:3 becomes something beautiful and glorious for these people. People who are afraid to speak out loud and whisper: I am hurt. I am in pain. I am angry. God wants, no, needs those voices to be brought out of the darkness and into the light. Not so they can be reprimanded, but helped.
See, acting on vengeance in the world is clearly wrong, but that is not what this Psalm is about. This Psalm is about being the ears to someone's voice. God loves us in our pain too. God wants us to find wholeness so we can celebrate making it through the darkness into the light. Psalm 137 reminds us we need to be open to hearing the pain and woundedness of others. It is that simple. Sometimes just listening can help someone on the road to wholeness.
Today is World Communion Sunday. Congregations all over the world are celebrating communion today whether they are like us, and partake every week, or have communion every quarter or only on special holidays. Communion is the symbol for today's scripture. Jesus gave us the perfect symbol. The communion table is broken and made whole again. Jesus took brokenness and redeemed it. He took a bunch of broken people around a table and made it OK to be broken. (Acceptance of our brokenness is part of the healing process.) Jesus took on brokenness to the extreme and came through on the other side. But brokenness had to exist for the the healing to exist. Today we celebrate our brokenness instead of throwing it away. Today we allow ourselves to be open instead of buried. We do this because God taught us love, and sometimes love is just an open ear.
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