“8-Tracks and Cassettes”

 

It’s important for you to know that early in this sermon I will briefly mention the topic of suicide a couple of times. The emergency room at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in the heart of downtown Chicago is a 24/7 beehive of activity. It is the only Level 1 trauma center in the city center, which means that those who live away from downtown—where the low-income and affordable housing is—have to travel much further to reach it in their time of greatest need.

The Chaplain’s pager on my hip jolted me awake. When I reached the ER, a social worker nodded me towards a young woman who was sitting up on a stretcher. A half hour earlier, Carly made a serious attempt to take her own life and the ER staff were all surprised she was still with us. But now, Carly was waiting for her parents and her boyfriend to arrive. After introducing myself, Carly asked me if, when her parents arrived, she had to see them. Carly was 22 and I told her she didn’t have to see anyone that she didn’t want to. She asked her boyfriend to bring chicken McNuggets so it was okay to let him in.

Carly grew up in the suburbs and worked at a retail job on Michigan Avenue. As we talked, I was preoccupied by the fact that she was the same age as my daughter, Colleen. Even their names sounded similar. It didn’t take much time to learn that Carly’s relationship with her parents was strained. Her parents divorced and she now lived with her mom and stepfather. Carly’s boyfriend seemed to be the only joy in her life but, in her words, she felt that she didn’t deserve him. And this belief was a primary motivation for her actions earlier in the day.

The word “Psalm” means “song of praise,” but the scripture text that Eve read to us is anything but. We read verses 1 to 12 but the remaining verses are similar in their expressions of angst. As the story goes, this Psalmist, who some believe may have been King David, was repenting to God for having relations with Bathsheba and for having sent a man into battle while making sure the man would not return. In fact, verse 14 says, “deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed.” The writer is utterly engulfed by a sense of worthlessness that the psalmist feels beyond mercy. His betrayal, his sin, is so egregious that he is convinced that God would be justified in removing the divine presence from him. But the verse that affected me the most is this one: I have been guilty since the moment I as conceived.

Let’s talk about sin, but just briefly.

The Apostle Paul believed that Adam and Eve’s transgressions in a mysterious way somehow affected the entire human race. Then Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin and other formative church leaders expanded on that belief. This is the “original sin” my mom told me about. She said that we all have a dark spot on our souls that can only be washed away through baptism. If I ever believed that story, I certainly don’t anymore. A few weeks ago at our Confirmation retreat, we had a short discussion about this and Shannon said, “How can a baby commit a sin?” Of course, she’s right, they can’t. But, sin exists. My definition of sin is a work in progress but for now I believe sins are choices that we make that knowingly cause physical or emotional harm to others, not including defense of self or others. I wanted to be clear about my beliefs about sin but that is all I want to say about it. For today.

The foundation of the Psalmist’s pleas are how he sees himself, he is full of shame anguish. Wherever they came from, we all have 8-tracks and cassettes spinning around in our heads about our own self-worth. These taped messages tend to play during times of stress and once they get going, it’s often hard to press the eject button. But, neither the tapes in our heads nor the Psalmist’s pleas are what God has said or is saying. So, what is God saying to us when we feel guilty and unworthy?

I’m going to read verses 1 through 6 again and then we will hear what God might say in response.

Have mercy on me, God, and through your love and mercy take away my sins. Wash away my defects and make me clean. I know that I have fallen short of your love and I am trapped by my words and deeds. Because I have sinned against you, I have been convicted and I deserve whatever sentence you give me. I have been guilty from the moment I was conceived. If you want me to be true, teach me wisdom and change my heart.

 

God voice:

 

My child, look to your heart, that which I have created within you. Walk today toward the life I have dreamed for you. Name your sins, make amends, move on.

 

Name your sins, make amends, move on.

We are nearing the end of Lent—the season of calling us back into right relationship with God. The God to whom the Psalmist prayed, and to whom we pray, is a God of steadfast love and abundant mercy, a God who is eternally “for us.” This is the same God whose everlasting love will never abandon us, no matter what our guilt says. God’s steadfast love and abundant mercy not only heals us of our sin, but also of the lie of our worthlessness.

Carly’s tapes had her believing she was undeserving of love, and in her desperation she couldn’t see or hear God’s voice. Nonetheless, God protected her and God loved her. Soon, we will be at the Easter story when Jesus cried out not only for himself, but for all of us. In this way, Jesus not only built a bridge connecting us to God, but bridges connecting us to each other. It is in community that our faith is affirmed; it is in community that our suffering can be alleviated.

The Ba’hai faith teaches that

 

There are imperfections in every human being, and you will always become unhappy if you look toward the people themselves. But if you look toward God, you will love them and be kind to them, for the world of God is the world of perfection and complete mercy. Therefore, do not look at the shortcomings of anybody; see with the sight of forgiveness.

 

Stephen Hawking says it a little differently:

 

Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do. It matters that you don’t just give up.

 

I would like to play a short song for you, you may recognize it. [“Save me” by K.D. Lang]

 

(God voice)

 

My child, look to your heart, that which I have created within you. Walk today toward the life I have dreamed for you. Name your sins, make amends, move on.

 

The Psalmist is seeking to be forgiven, to be freed from the guilt and shame that resides in each of us and he prays to the One from whom mercy is assured. Press the eject button. You are free. You are worthy and you are free…

Amen.