This sermon was delivered on 2/5/12, which was both a Communion service and a service honoring our Cub Scout Pack and our Boy Scout Troop.
Text: Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
It happened when I was about nine.
So many years have passed that you can hardly see the mark it left…but there it is on my wrist (I still see it): a small, squiggly line with three cross hashes.
We frequently visited my great-grandmother, as she could not care for herself and my mother was her closest relative. My mom would do her shopping, clean her house, wash her laundry (she had an old-timey washer with a crank to wring out the fabric), and do most anything that was needed. And she would always bring us around, since there was no where else for us to go.
When our incessant boredom or complaining was too much, my mom would send us down into the basement or outside into the yard to play.
The basement was an amazing place to be. In our own house, the so-called “basement” was literally just dug out of the earth and was no fit place for children to play. Great-grandma’s house, however, had a full basement with a concrete floor. There was a huge loop we could run—the entire length and width of the house—and we spent countless hours playing hide-and-seek or searching for hidden treasure.
Outside was even better. My great-grandmother’s house was on a huge lot that provided ample space to live out the infinite possibilities of a child’s imagination: grass to roll around in, space to run, trees to climb, buildings to hide behind… It truly was our playground.
But the best part of it all is that she had a dog. Actually she had a series of dogs, but all of them were miniature schnauzers that she named Pepper, which makes it difficult for me to remember which dog was which.
I wanted a dog so bad that I didn’t even care that this miniature schnauzer hardly counted as a dog. At my great-grandmother’s house, I could pretend Pepper was my dog, walking him around the house, the basement, the yard. I prized myself on what a good dog “owner” I was, making sure he went out at regular intervals, feeding him when he was hungry, brushing him, and making sure he had clean water.
And this…[pointing at wrist]…this is Pepper’s fault.
Here I was being a good dog “owner.” Pepper came to the storm door the way he did when he needed out to do his business.
I listened. I got his collar and leash, hooked him up, and let him out of the door.
Now there were—as you no doubt expect—there were complications.
Pepper was excited—as usual—and wasn’t listening, knotting his leash around my legs.
Then there was the sudden appearance of the mailman, which refocused Pepper’s attention with remarkable speed.
And the day was brilliantly beautiful…by which I mean the sun was so bright that I was temporarily blinded after my emergence from the cave that was the basement.
So I am trying to untangle myself. I am trying to control this dog. I can’t see anything. And I realize: the storm door is still open. In a moment’s time, this is what my mind tells me:
Leaving the door open is bad, and bad kids don’t get to walk the dog.
An open door might allow parents to hear the raucous we are making, to see my struggling, and to decide that I can’t handle a dog.
If I want to ever have a dog in my life, I have to prove I can do it. I have to close this door.
So as calmly as possible—given the circumstances and what was at stake—while trying to wrestle this dog and defend my honor as a dog-walker—I reached behind me and closed the door.
EXCEPT……in that split second that my mind was conspiring against me, the door had already closed without my noticing it.
And so, as I reached back to close the door, instead of pushing against the aluminum door frame, I managed to push my hand through the door, specifically through the plate glass window pane.
It didn’t even hurt. But it sure did bleed. I was ashamed; I messed up really bad, and ended up proving my incompetence about the dog. I was so stupid; I had lost control. All I could think of was: “Boy am I in big trouble.”
So I tried to hide my woundedness. I shoved the dog back indoors, and I ran away from the house, eventually hiding on the floor in the Ford full-size van my parents drove at the time.
I don’t know how long I huddled there. I just held my arm, watched the blood dripping off my elbow, and cried softly; hoping—praying—that no one would find me.
But—thank God—someone eventually did. My older sister, Michele, opened the door to the van. I don’t remember anymore whether she was looking for me (probably not) or it was happenstance, but I was unable to convince her to keep my secret. Amid my pleas, she ran and told my mom, who rushed out to the van, scooped me up in her arms, wrapped up my cuts tightly, and drove me to our family doctor, who sewed me up in his office.
When I think about this experience now, I can’t help but think how silly my shame really was. I was genuinely hurt, and not going to my mom right away could have actually cost me my life. On top of that, how did I think I could hide this kind of wound from my parents forever? It’s not as if I could wear long sleeves to cover the cuts, assuming they ever stopped bleeding on their own.
No, these were deep wounds that would not heal on their own, yet I feared a punishment that never came more than I feared the danger the wounds posed to my life.
How many of us today are similarly wounded? How many times have we been injured by life, only to try and hide our woundedness from God and each other?
Are we ashamed we were so vulnerable?
Are we ashamed we were so stupid?
Are we ashamed we were not in control enough to avoid being wounded?
When did we begin thinking it was a lack of faith to experience pain? to be wounded? to need healing?
Didn’t Jesus once defend his association with the outcasts and downtrodden of life by stating, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt 9:12; Lk 5:31).
I don’t know about you, but I need a doctor. I’ve been beaten up and scarred by life in this world. Some cuts and bruises are the results of my own choices; others I received as a victim.
These words in Psalm 147 cry out to me because they tell me that:
The LORD binds up my wounds…
God builds up…
I want my wounds bound up. I want built up. I want gathered. I want healed.
But then I remember my shame. I’m a Christian; I’m a pastor. I’m not supposed to get hurt; I’m supposed to be strong. I’m not supposed to sin; I’m not supposed to fail. How can this world wreck such havoc on my life when I’m supposed to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God?
And my shame…my fear of human judgment…keeps me from bathing in the healing waters provided by my God.
It’s bad enough living with infected wounds when healing can be had But it too often seems that the only way to distract the gaze of others from the blood dripping on the floor seems to be to participate in this “perfect Christian” myth. To contribute to the very cycle that keeps us hurting instead of healed.
And I suspect some of you can identify with me here.
We read passages like Psalm 147 and we think, “Gee, isn’t it grand that God does these things for those poor souls who are damaged?” All the while we pull our sleeves down and turn away, hoping no one notices the seeping cuts we have ourselves experienced.
It seems too often, when we read the Bible and we encounter statements like “The LORD builds up Jerusalem,” we forget that Jerusalem needs building up, that it had been broken down on some level. We forget:
In every text where God gathers, people have been displaced.
In every text where God heals, people have been wounded.
In every text where God binds up wounds, people have been cut deeply.
In every text where God lifts up, people have been downtrodden.
In every text where there is singing, people have been mourning.
In every text where there is thanksgiving, people have been lamenting.
In every text where there is rain and green grass, there has been famine.
Remember, there is a time before the blessing that we often miss. The path that leads “beside still waters” must first meander through the “valley of the shadow of death.”
God often has to expose our woundedness in order to bring us healing. We must come face-to-face with our mortality. We must look at ourselves in the mirror and see truly that we are displaced, wounded, deeply cut, downtrodden, in mourning and lamenting, and experiencing famine.
We must come to terms with our very real need for gathering and healing and lifting up and singing and thanksgiving, and rain and pasture.
We fear vulnerability because we blame vulnerability for our woundedness, but vulnerability is also required if healing is to be had.
Our God does not honor and respect strength: “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man” (Ps 147:10)
Instead, our God honors and respects weakness: “those who fear him,” “those who hope in his steadfast love” (Ps 147:11). God is most interested in those who know they need God.
And it is in these—those who admit their wounds and search for a physician—that God is able to bring about the greatest healing, the greatest transformation, the greatest wholeness.
Some of you may be more deeply wounded than am I. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you Scouts had scars that put my little squiggle to shame—and isn’t it funny how much we like to show scars and tell the stories of how we received them?
Somehow our wounds become badges of honor once the bleeding has stopped, the cuts are closed, the scabs have fallen off, and all that remains is a little ridge.
When we have survived—we have overcome—we show and share, perhaps thinking that overcoming such adversity convinces others of our strength.
But it was not strong of me to hide my wounds from my mother. And it is not strong of us to hide our wounds from God and each other, especially when those wounds pose a very real threat to our spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational well-being.
Do not forget, there is balm in Gilead (Jer 8:22). There is a Physician, who heals the sick and wounded. Don’t worry about insurance—this Physician works with your HMO, PPO, MA, PCIP, and even if you’re SOL.
And that shame…that embarrassment…that expectation that you will be judged…… It comes from the one who wants to see your wounds infected, not healed. That deceiver wants you to be:
destroyed, not built up…
…displaced, not gathered…
…wounded, not healed…
…cut deeply, not bound up…
…downtrodden, not lifted up…
…mourning, not singing…
…lamenting, not thanksgiving…
…living with famine, not rain and pasture.
There might be one or two present who have been hiding their wounds so long, they will pretend like I don’t know what I’m talking about. Know I am praying for you.
The only question—the only key to experiencing the healing you desire—is whether you are open to healing. Will you admit your woundedness to God? Will you let go of the deception of being “strong”? of being able to heal yourself?
Jesus—the one who was wounded for your sake—stands at the ready, first-aid kit in hand, simply waiting. Are you open to healing?