Scriptures (click links to be redirected to the scripture):
Introduction to Psalm 51:
In order to understand today’s text, we need to know the backstory.
King David, the man who as a boy slew the giant Goliath, has gotten himself into a bit of trouble.
King David, the artist and harp player, the one who soothed the previous king with his sweet melodies, David who read poetry to intimidate his foes.
THAT guy has now become a tyrant.
His most recent abuse of power includes spying on a woman named Bathsheba, who he lusts after and decides he must have as his wife.
The only problem – she’s already married.
But instead of moving on and saying, well, she’s beautiful, but I’ll have to look elsewhere for my next wife, David sends Bathsheba’s husband to the front lines of the war, where he knows her husband will die.
Then, with the husband out of the way, David takes Bathsheba for himself.
David, like many people in power, makes a massive mistake.
It turns out, people in power are likely to make mistakes.
As are people without power.
But David, God’s chosen king, was supposed to be above that type of behavior.
Obviously, he wasn’t.
So his best friend, Nathan, who recognizes David’s plots and manipulations comes to David and tries to get him back on track.
In the book of Second Samuel, the story is told this way:
“God was not at all pleased with what David had done with Bathsheba and her husband, so God sent Nathan to David.
Nathan told David a story: “There were two men in the same city—one rich, the other poor. The rich man had huge flocks of sheep, herds of cattle. The poor man had nothing but one little female lamb, which he had bought and raised. It grew up with him and his children as a member of the family. It ate off his plate and drank from his cup and slept on his bed. It was like a child to him.
4 “One day a traveler dropped in on the rich man, but the rich man was too stingy to take an animal from his own herds or flocks to make a meal for his visitor, so he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared a meal to set before his guest.”
5-6 When Nathan finished the story, David exploded in anger. “As surely as God lives,” he said “the man who did this ought to be killed! He must repay for the lamb four times over for his crime and his stinginess!”
To which, Nathan replies… 7-12 “You are that man!”
Today’s Psalm is David’s response.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
You desire truth in the inward being;[a]
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Sermon and Ritual of Release
David recognizes what he’s done. And he’s horrified. And he begs God for forgiveness.
And if you read on, David DOES find redemption. He DOES change his ways.
But in THIS moment, the moment of Psalm 51, David finds himself stuck in a place that’s familiar to a lot of us. The place of shame.
It’s a place where many of us go when we realize we’ve done something that’s hurt other people.
“Indeed, I was born guilty, he says. a sinner when my mother conceived me.”
He’s not just feeling guilty. HE’s feeling shame. Not only did he do something wrong, he himself is somehow broken.
The difference between guilt and shame is that guilt is that feeling of regret and sadness at having made a mistake.
Shame is the belief that we ARE a mistake. That we ARE inherently evil.
Guilt is about recognizing our actions as problematic.
Shame is the belief that we ourselves are problematic.
And it is SHAME that ultimately becomes a stumbling block for many of us.
It is SHAME that often keeps us from taking the next step and moving on with our lives.
Brenee Brown, who writes a lot about guilt and shame, has this to say about the difference between the two.
She writes, “I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.
Shame, on the other hand, is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
She adds, “I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.”
Thankfully, for David, and for us, shame does not have to be the final word.
David does have to face the consequences of his actions. But Nathan tells him right away, “This is not the final word. God forgives you.”
David, God tells him. You are not inherently sinful. You ARE worthy of love and connection. You just made a massive mistake. And I wanted you to see it, so I sent Nathan to help you recognize what you’d done. But this is not the final word. I forgive you.
David’s realization of his mistakes ultimately becomes part of his healing.
But at first, he gets stuck in his shame, which could be dangerous.
Writer Jessie Sholl, who writes about health and wellness, captures it perfectly: “Shame,” she writes, “which Jungian analysts have dubbed “the swampland of the soul,” makes us feel like we are worthless. To compensate, we scramble to cover up our perceived flaws by engaging in a long list of broken behaviors, including blaming and shaming others, perfectionism, lying, and hiding. Very high levels of shame are associated with more serious problems like addiction, eating disorders, and self-harm. Shame, in other words, causes us to act in ways that keep us from a feeling of forward movement, freedom from fear, and a sense of agency.”
We witness David’s shame, and I suspect many of us can relate to it. That feeling that in order to do what we’ve done, we must be inherently bad.
But God responds to us by saying, “No. I knit you together in your mother’s womb. I formed your inmost parts. And when you were born, I proclaimed to the heavens, YOU are my beloved child, with whom I am well-pleased.”
God knows we make mistakes. Sometimes big mistakes. God also knows that we are created in God’s image, fully human, but also fully capable of connecting to God through the Holy Spirit. We are created for connection and love.
And so as difficult as it is to believe in God’s forgiveness and to live into that forgiveness, it is essential if we are to move forward and take the next steps toward healing and wholeness.
As we prepare for Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the scriptures tell us that there are difficult times ahead.
And in order to face what comes next, the trial and crucifixion and yes, the resurrection as well, in order to face what comes next… it is important that we clear our hearts of shame, that we accept God’s forgiveness, and just as importantly, that we begin the process of forgiving ourselves.
In order to fully experience Holy Week, we have to be vulnerable to the Spirit. We have to be fearless and open-hearted.
And so to prepare for Palm Sunday, which is next week, today, we will participate in a ritual of preparation by releasing our shame to God and clearing our hearts, that we might take the next steps toward healing, wholeness, reconciliation, and resurrection.
There will be 3 parts to this ritual.
2) Release of our Guilt and Shame
3) Clearing of our Hearts
So what’s going to happen is that I’m going to give a moment for silent prayer and confession, and I’m going to invite people to speak out loud or speak in silence to God and offer honest confessions of ways you have created distance between you and God, you and others, or you and your true self.
After that, I’m going to invite people to come forward to pick up a rock, as you feel comfortable.
And it’s absolutely okay if you do NOT want to participate in any aspect of this ritual, by the way. It is not easy to be that honest and vulnerable before God. But know that God will not judge, but will simply hear and hold what you have have been carrying.
So I’m going to invite people to come forward, as you feel comfortable, and take a rock from this basket.
And then I want you to take just a moment, and put into that rock, any guilt or shame that is stuck to your soul that you want to release.
Anything that tells you “you are not worthy, that you are beyond fixing, that you are unlovable. That your sins are too great to forgive.” Any shame or guilt that’s sticking to you, put it into this rock, and then place it in the water.
I’m then going to pray over those rocks and ask God to release our shame into the water.
After that, I’m going to ask God to clear it for us. To purify and transform this water and in doing that symbolic act, change something real in our hearts. Transform us and release us, and create in us clean hearts and renew our spirits that we might be able to move ahead and take the next steps toward reconciliation and healing.
Let us begin now this ritual in a spirit of openness to what God has in store.
Let us pray,
God we come to you today with regrets and guilt and shame over what we have done and what we have left undone.
We lift to you now our spoken and silent confessions:
Hear these confessions, O God, and offer us your forgiveness. Amen.
Know that God’s love is boundless. Friends, there is nothing, not even sin or death, that can keep us from the love of God.
We are forgiven. Thanks be to God.
Although we know intellectually that God forgives us, it is sometimes difficult for us to shake the guilt and shame of our actions.
As you feel called, I invite you to come forward and take a rock representing your own guilt and shame.
Put into these rocks anything that you are still holding onto, anything that still keeps you from moving forward as God’s beloved child.
Water is a powerful symbol. It is essential to life on earth, it grows creation, and it welcomes us into community in baptism.
Please come forward now, as you feel comfortable, to place any lingering shame into these rocks.
Here in this bowl are rocks that represent the shame and guild we carry with us.
I now pray to you, O God, that you might release our shame and guilt into this water.
<pour red-colored heavy liquid into vase>
And as our intentions release from these rocks, may we see this visible sign as a symbol of our own shame and guilt releasing from our hearts and souls into your care. Amen.
This is what guilt and shame can feel like.
Heavy, cloudy, a force that keeps us from seeing any way forward.
But into this mix, God pour forgiveness and freedom.
Let us pray,
God, we ask that in this moment, you transform us through the power of your Holy Spirit.
<pour clarifying liquid into the vase>
Just as this water is becoming clear, cleanse and purify our hearts.
Free us of any shame or guilt,
transform our pain and open our eyes that we might see a path forward,
knowing that your forgiveness and love of us knows no end.
Remind us that with you, there is no darkness we cannot overcome.
Remind us that you created us with love and created us FOR love. Remind us that we are your beloved children with whom you are well pleased. Remind us that through you, we are freed to be open and vulnerable again as we prepare for the journey of Holy Week and the joy of the resurrection.
God of our mothers and fathers, we ask that you imprint this memory on our hearts, that in times of struggle, times of shame, we remember this moment in which the cloudy water of shame was cleared, and we were given a fresh start. We ask that you hold us close as we prepare for the days ahead, knowing that you are with us every step of the way.
We lift to you now our silent prayers….
Prayer of Jesus…