Rock and Redeemer
I have lost track of how many times this week that I read our passage for this morning. I kept reading and reading waiting and hoping for an “Aha,” a hook or a starting point. Yet, at the end of each line my response was something along the lines of “Well sure, but what difference does it make?” My most persistent question was why, when planning worship for the quarter 3 months ago, did I select this text for this Sunday? Am i really so committed to affirmative action for the Psalms that I include one each quarter just because it is a Psalm? Maybe I am.
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; Sure, no problem
The decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; OK, simple is always better especially in a world as complex and confused as ours.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; No argument here.
The commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes; Ok, granted it does seem harder sometimes for my eyes to get enlightened that others.
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; Maybe then, but now I think there are fewer and fewer of us who respect or even think about the Lord.
The ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. Yes, I believe that.
More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; The world would no doubt be a different place if they were.
Sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb. Certainly they can be sweet, except when they are not.
Then the Psalmist moves from who God is to who the psalmist wants to be. The psalmist wants to be a person that lives a life that acknowledges and embodies all the attributes of God that have just been listed.
We hear this prayer being praying
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. “
And there it is, Rock and Redeemer. There is the reason this passage was chosen as our reading for today, Rock and Redeemer. All God’s children need a Rock and a Redeemer, at least this one does. A hope and a realization that no matter how bad the news, how messed up the situation or how dark the night there is a God, there is a Rock and a Redeemer.
No matter how far you have fallen or how many times you have been knock down there is a place to land. There is one who will see you stand again. In whatever ways your life, your spirit, your soul have become hostage to the values of this present age, There is a redeemer.
We live simultaneously two worlds. There is the world we see each day and share with each other. This is world where we live, work and say hello to each other at Willey’s. The other world is just for us. We may share it with someone on a rare occasion, but most days it is ours alone. It is a world full of memories, some good, some bad and some tragic. Each of them life shaping and life altering in their own way. They are ours. We generally don’t speak about them for lots of reasons. To speak them would be to remember them and that would be painful in some cases. Sometimes we don’t speak about them because we know that no one else could possibly believe that they were true. Sometimes we don’t speak about them because to do so would remind us of how much shame resides in some of our memories. Sometimes we don’t talk about the things we have done or the things that have been done to us because to do so would be embarrassing. But whether we speak about them or not, they are there right alongside our list of things we want to do before we die and our list of things that really scare us and our list of things that we don’t ever want to happen again. There are suppressed memories there for some of us that can be brought to surface by hearing someone else’s story. Sometimes all it takes is a word, an aroma, a sound. This second world is quite personal and private. We keep it to ourselves. There is much work in this world for a Rock and a Redeemer to do.
The Sunday after I drove my 1978 Mustang II off the lot of Bacon Brothers Used Cars, Mark Burdette raced down the hallway to find his father. I tried to keep up with him. When he found his father, he began to tell him about my car. Junior listened with intent interest. Junior was Mark’s daddy. When Mark finished, Junior said, “Sure, we can do that.”
The early eighties were morally ambivalent times. The automobile industry had started to produce cars that ran on unleaded gasoline. Why? Because lead killed people. Some cars still used regular, leaded gasoline where it was available. And it was available at most every gas station or convenient store. Regular gas was cheaper than the new unleaded gas.
The “That” that Junior and Mark agreed to do to my car was to remove the catalytic converter. As they explained it, that was the part of the car that would not sit well with the cheaper, regular gasoline. So, the next Friday, I walk in to Hart’s Auto Parts and asked for a Catalytic Converter Eliminator pipe.
When Saturday morning arrived, I was on my way to Mark’s house. The job was done before lunch time. I could now run my mustang on cheaper gas.
Looking back on that decision, I never considered anything other than being able to use cheaper gas. I never thought about why Ford made the car to use unleaded gas. I certainly never thought about the health and well-being of others or the planet. Just my wallet. Besides. . .the man behind the counter at Hart’s said, “A lot people are doing that, I can’t keep these in stock.”
The file is pretty thick of things I did as a teenager that I would not do today.
For some reason, I have experienced a higher than normal number of Childhood and adolescent memories this week. Thinking about some of them from my childhood is still painful. Some of them still make me feel embarrassed or awkward. But the one I am most concerned about is the one I have not recalled, but maybe someone else has. It is their memory, their world and I am a part of that unpleasant memory they have recalled this week. I hope not, but I don’t know.
The good news is that God as Rock and Redeemer holds us and helps us find healing for the memories that are still painful and for the ones that caused pain to others. For all the ways we have been hurt and for all the ways that we have hurt others, there is one who knows the harm that has been done to us and the harm we have done. One who knows where the errors are and the hidden faults. One who will not allow the insolent to have dominion over us. One who loves us and will not let go of us.
A God who calls us to create space for those who need a rock: as a place of refuge, retreat, rest; as a place to stand and face the world again. A God who empowers us to be a witness to those who are looking for a redeemer: a source of freedom and hope to the captives of trauma and abuse.
What does that look like for us as we seek to be people who seek to love others the way Jesus loved us? This week, part of what it looks like is acknowledging some sobering and shocking realities. Sojourners Magazine reports that “One in three women has been a victim of domestic violence. One in six women will, sometime during her life, be the victim of rape or attempted rape. More than half of all women have been sexually harassed at their workplace, and a staggering 87 percent of women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five say they’ve experienced some form of harassment.”
To add insult to injury, in too many women’s lives, the church has not been much help in these situations. Instead of acting to stop and prevent sexual assault, harassment, and abuse, the church has been a part of the problem. Rachael Denhollander had this to about her church after she became one of the USA Gymnast to report the abuse of Dr. Larry Nasser “Church is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse because the way it is counseled is, more often than not, damaging to the victim. There is an abhorrent lack of knowledge for the damage and devastation that sexual assault brings. It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help. That’s a hard thing to say, because I am a very conservative evangelical, but that is the truth. There are very, very few who have ever found true help in the church” (Sojourners).
Just like the rest of our culture, the church has a nasty tendency to blame victims and distrust survivors. The church has been much more likely to shame and silence victims than to confront the abuser. The church really likes to tell everyone to be quiet and to not say anything. Trying to prevent a public scandal by silencing those abused and assault rather than holding perpetrators accountable and responsible for their actions has been the preferred response of too many churches to sexual violence
A second part of what it looks is listening and sometimes listening to rage. There are times when rage is the only rational response to the trauma of abuse and assault. Listening and believing. If we are going to be a part of an authentic Christianity capable of surviving this century, we have to start believing survivors of traumatic assault.
This idea of God as Rock and Redeemer is true for me because that is how I have experienced God during difficult times in my life. I did not learn that it was true by reading it in the Bible. I learned it in the midst of experiencing life. Later, the Bible gave me a name for it, Rock and Redeemer.
In a world as full of hurt as ours, there are a multitude of people who could be helped by such a God. But For those words to be anything more than pious, religious talk, the church must acknowledge the painful realities that too many women face on a day-to-day basis over the course of their lives. We must be a safe space where awful truths can be shared with all the accompanying emotions. We must believe those who find the courage to tell us their stories.
There is a lot of work out there for a Rock and Redeemer to do. We have been invited to help.