Pentecost – Proper 6
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10,13-15; Psalm 32, 11-14; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
While I don’t have a formal “bucket list” – a list of things I would like to do before I kick the bucket, I do have somewhat disorganized list of things I would like to do before I dies. Nothing on the list is eccentric, but there are a few things on it, one of which I actually was able to cross off the list over ten years ago.
That item was a pilgrimage, not to someplace like Jerusalem, Canterbury cathedral, but nevertheless a place noted for its profound spiritual depth: Las Vegas. Yes – the Las Vegas – home Caesar’s Palace, and so many other casinos and hotels. While my wife and I were there, we went to the MGM Grand to see the musician Tom Jones. While attending a Tom Jones concert might not be on your bucket list, it was on mine.
So we went, and Tom Jones appeared in all his sequined glory, much to the delight of everyone in the audience. He sang his hits including “It’s Not Unusual” and after Tom Jones blew his final, sweaty kiss to the audience and bid us good night, I knew that I had witnessed something laughably cheesy, but also kind of endearing in its own unique way.
See music – whatever form it takes – whether choral, country, or Vegas lounge, has a way of lifting our spirits in a way words often fail to. You know how you feel when you hear a song you like? You feel good, you are transported to a time in your life that you associate with that song that was positive and fun.
I think that is one reason why music is woven throughout the Bible. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the book of Psalms, a literal collection of one hundred fifty songs written for a variety of circumstances and occasions. Psalm 32, the psalm we just said together a few moments ago, is called a “Maskil,” a word which means that the psalm has something very special to teach. The obvious focus of this psalm is joy of being forgiven. The joy of having a burden lifted off your shoulders. That’s a special message – one so special, it is found all over the Bible.
How many of us today are carrying such heavy burdens. We hide it well. We dress them up, we put on a smile while inside we feel we are falling apart. We have lost our song. The author of Psalm 32 writes: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” These are the words of someone carrying a heavy burden, someone clearly in desperation. Something has happened to them – their life doesn’t make sense to them anymore, they are lost, they are confused.
We have all had this experience of the rug being pulled from beneath our feet, where we are left there on the floor wondering if God cares, or is even listening. We have all felt the heavy burden of our secrets and our lies, and that burden can become so heavy, and yet we don’t even notice it, because slowly the burden just got heavier over time ever so slightly, not too much for us to notice, but enough to push us down.
The truth of Psalm 32 is in the following verse: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” Can you imagine the sense of relief the author of this psalm felt when they finally admitted: “You know God, I have really messed things up lately. In fact I have done such a good job of messing things up that I wasn’t even aware of it. It is only when you relieve the crushing burden from my shoulders that in the absence of that weight, I feel so remarkably light.”
Have you ever felt that? Have you ever only realized the heaviness of a burden you carried around until after it was lifted from your shoulders? I had an experience of this years ago while hiking the Grand Canyon. Since it is a canyon, you begin the hike from the top, and you hike down first, and then at some point turn around to begin your climb out of the canyon.
While on our hike back up the trail and out of the canyon, we would stop periodically for water breaks. I was carrying a daypack, and while drinking water from a bottle, my older brother very quietly would unzip my backpack and place a rock about this big in there, and zip up the back pack. It wasn’t too much for me to really notice, but it was enough for me to think to myself “wow, this backpack sure isn’t really getting any lighter. Oh well, maybe it will feel lighter later.”
My brother did this each time we stopped, probably about four or five more times, until at our last stop near the end of the trail, I said “Okay, what is going on with my backpack, why does it feel so heavy?” I opened it, saw the rocks, immediately knew it was my brother, and took all the rocks out. When I put the pack back on my shoulders – oh my goodness – how light it felt! The slow building, heavy burden, was instantly lifted from my shoulders, and I felt like a gazelle going up that trail with all that weight off my shoulders.
That’s the secret this Psalm imparts on us. While the music that went along with it is long since departed, the truth remains. We often don’t know how heavy our burdens are until we feel the lightness and peace from giving them to God. That is what this altar is for. It is where we bring our weariness, our brokenness, our burdens – every week. That altar is there so that you can leave those things there. God is always ready to receive them. We come to the altar with our burdens, our heaviness, we present them to God, and what does God do? God gives us a gift – God gives us food and blessing for our journey. That is our song – it always has been. A perpetual song we sing of God’s mercy, and the freedom we feel when we release our burdens to God, and they float into the ether, like the florets from a dandelion go out into the sky on a windy day, rising, our burdens rise to heaven. AMEN.