A Time to Weep: I’m a Victim
Calvary Baptist Church, D.C. |:| March 8, 2011
Good Morning. I’ve been here 83 days now and each one has brought its own adventure and left me with plenty of memories. But no matter how many memories I create here I will never forget my first day. I was excited and ready for this adventure. Everything was all sparkly and new … that was until I had my first supervision meeting with Amy.
She informed me that I would be preaching during Lent and sent me the scriptures for the Sunday I was to preach. Still a bit naive about what I was getting into I read all four scriptures and immediately knew which text I DID NOT want, Psalm 35:1 – 18. Wondering if I would be choosing the text I’d be preaching on or if Amy would I emailed her to which I found out, I was preaching in a series called “A Time to Weep” and my text was, in fact, the dreaded Psalm 35: 1 – 18. As this information sunk in I was inspired by the Psalmist and began lamenting against Amy. Nothing too severe, just for her path to be darkened and maybe fall into a pit … something little like that.
Don’t worry I’m not still lamenting against you. That is, not since my experience with this Psalm was liberated by Reggae. As strange as it may seem it’s true. It’s not unusual for Reggae to redeem things for me. When I hear those rhythmic patterns and the hypnotic effects of percussion and guitar melting together I can’t help but be transformed.
It might also have to do with a small fascination I have with a legendary Reggae band, Bob Marley and the Wailers. You may have heard their song Redemption Song, the lyrics go… “My hands are made strong by the hand of the Almighty. We [move] forward in this generation triumphantly. Won’t you help to sing this song of freedom ‘cause all I ever have [is] redemption songs.” If you have yet to experience the redemption Reggae can do to things you should listen to Redemption Song. Just take my word for it.
Anyway, so my redemption of this Psalm happened when I was listening to the Reggae band the Melodians with one of your very own, Rachel Johnson. We were rating which version of the song, Rivers of Babylon was the best; you know like all the cool kids do on Saturday night.
When we got to the Melodians version I made the statement, Reggae is the epitome genre for Lent. Rachel looked at me like many of you are now, with confusion and concern for my sanity. In all my brilliance I said, Think about it, the lyrics capture the pain and injustice of the situation while the rhythm and beat convey the hope for liberation. At this point she realized I was in fact brilliant and agreed with me. I knew you were smart.
Thus, I stand here today in the spirit of Lent confessing my lamenting against Amy and the redemption Reggae brought to my feelings towards preaching on Psalm 35. You may be asking, why I was dreading to preach on this Psalm, well if you open your pew Bibles to page 442 you can see that it might have to do with the violent, painful vindication our Psalmist, who is believe to be David, calls God to bring to his enemies.
Or it could have been because David holds nothing back and tells God he will proclaim God’s name in great congregation if God puts his enemies to shame and dishonor. I mean who wouldn’t want to preach on such a happy and loving passage?! If this isn’t an initiation I don’t know what is.
Yet, as I delved into the Psalm and learned that it is thought to be a compilation of laments during David’s life and in fact within verses 1 – 18 there are two laments I began to view the psalm in a new light. It’s believed these two laments we have in this Psalm come forth from David’s grief and pain of having King Saul, his leader, striving to destroy him when all David had done was repay Saul’s evil deeds with good ones.
The other situation thought to be behind these two laments is when David’s son Absalom is killed by his own armor-bearer, Joab, then informed that if he does not go welcome home his army at the entrance gate they will leave him and it will be worse than any trouble he had experienced in his life.
Granted the historical context of this Psalm cannot be known for certain but the language used in Psalm 35 is similar to the language found in I Samuel 24 which is the story of Saul repaying David’s good for evil and II Samuel 19, the story of Absalom’s death that it leads scholars to believe these were the situations David was a victim of.
Learning more about David and this Psalm brought his cries to life and did the impossible for me. It allowed me to identify with David. Up to this point I was annoyed at David for blaming Bathsheba for his pursuing her, then having her husband, Uriah, killed all the while declaring his righteousness; he even proclaims his righteousness in this Psalm.
However, as I explored this passage I saw David’s pain, frustration, and perplexity of the situation he was lamenting from. It was in his human desperation, experience as a victim, and need for God’s liberation that I found myself identifying with David. I mean I can’t fault David for feeling like a victim when his enemies mocked his intellect, took delight in his stumbles, and attacked him like a helpless animal. I would also wonder how long God would look on my situation before I experienced liberation from it.
Our lives aren’t as sparkly and new as I saw my internship on my first day, are they? Our lives can be filled with situations and experiences that produce emotions much like our Psalmist lays forth in his petition to God.
For me, there is a time in my life that stands out when I think of this lament. It is my trip to Rwanda in May of 2008. I had gone with five other students on the Religion team to study the Church’s role during the 1994 genocide. Over the course of three weeks we learned of the anguish, torment, betrayal and dread which covered the land of Rwanda for 90 plus days.
At one point the Religion and Social Work teams joined to travel to Nyarubuye to see one of the genocide memorial sites. On our way there the systematic planning for this genocide became real for me as the drive was long and difficult. The memorial site is a church where people had gone to find sanctuary only to be met with their death.
The following day we went to the Kigalie Genocide Museum. While I made my way through the museum I saw footage taken during April of ’94 and as the unexplainable catastrophe crossed the screen I heard the most raw, gut-wrenching scream from another location in the museum and if filled the building in full. It was a young Rwandan wailing at the site of a loved one’s photo in the memorial room. As the unforgettable images flooded the screen and this woman’s scream filled the air I realized that must have been the sound of Rwanda for those 90 some days in 1994.
As the words of the Psalmist streamed through my mind the past few weeks I realized those emotions and ache for liberation captured all I felt, saw and struggled to process through as I was filled with righteous anger for the pain that beat forth from Rwanda, as it continues to do today.
When you collide with brokenness you don’t always have a nice, neat box to categorize your experience in and are left with raw feelings of victimization; much like David expresses in this Psalm.
The laments in Psalm 35 give way for us to live through the unfair, unexplainable injustice we experience. Whether our experiences as a victim come from a wounded relationship, hard work and diligent efforts gone unseen, unfulfilled dreams, loose of a loved one, persecution by a foe … all are painful!
When we turn the news on we are met with the brokenness and deep wounds from those in Israel, Japan, Libya, Mexico, and many others. Looking around our cities we see the harsh truths of systemic poverty and hunger.
We all at some point and in some fashion are met with unfair, sorrowful, perplexing hard times in life.
So today I tell you with the words of the Psalmist embrace your lament and live through it. Don’t listen to the false truths telling you to just get over it. No, find freedom in the Psalms of lament to cry, ache, scream and petition God for justice to come to your situation. Take heart! For you will not be left alone during your time of lament. God is there aching and mourning with you, as is your community of faith.
When we plead for God to stand in our place, God does. It may not be through the plight and pain to our enemies that we ask for but God stands in our place with Christ on the Cross. We are shown Jesus’ cry to God on the cross when he uses the words of the Psalmist saying, My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Just as God was big enough to handle Jesus’ cry, God is equally capable to receive our wailings as victims and petitions for justice.
With Jesus’ death on the Cross God stands in our place when we are too weak to hold our head up, let alone continue through our suffering. With the empty tomb proclaiming Christ’s resurrection we are given the promise of the New Kingdom, the promise of resurrection from our situation and the promise of justice.
Let us cry forth from the deep wounds filling our world, nation, city, church and yes, even our own lives. May we use the words of the Psalmist when injustice robs us of the words to express our agony. As a Body of Faith we are the ever present presence of Christ to those in our world.
We are not to live our lives by the confines of what society calls justice but what Christ made real through His life of Liberation … the true essence of justice. Let us unite in our times as the victim so we hear the cries of injustice, no matter how quiet they may be and bring forth the resurrection we know to be true.
Lean into the promise of resurrection as you live through your lament. As a faith community we are here to see, generate, and proclaim justice in your life … and your moments as a victim.
As we look to the station of the cross today we see how Simon knelt down to help Jesus carry His cross and as followers of Jesus we will walk alongside you, helping you carry your burdens and actively seek justice for your situation. So as much as I would like to stand here today promising you a victimless life I can’t but I can promise that we will be your Simon during your lament.
We are to bring forth the Kingdom by bringing justice to the oppressed and healing to the afflicted. Today and forever more find the freedom to embrace your lament. Embrace the juxtaposed joy which undergirds the lament and live in the tension of the already and the not yet which Lent represents. But also embrace the redemption which is promised by the resurrection event. As God’s strength is poured into our hearts and God fills our perpetrators’ paths with light, we shall proclaim in great congregation God’s saving justice.
In light of my experience with Psalm 35 being redeemed by Reggae let us now listen to the words of Redemption Song by Bob Marley and the Wailers. While we listen to it ask yourself if you will embrace the freedom to live through your laments and bring about justice to those lamenting? By the help of Jesus Christ, may we answer yes!