A Sermon Preached at Oaklands Presbyterian Church, Laurel, MD on Psalm 26

that-uzuHow many times have you and I walked into a social setting where we know we should under no circumstances bring up that subject?

We better not say that our job now includes that or our children are involved in that.

And, we dare not mention the church we attend believes or does that either.

For, if we do walk down that scary corridor of talking about that, then who knows what would happen?

By bringing up that, we’d might cause a scene at a dinner table. Family Feud, World War III style might erupt in our living rooms.

We might destroy the bridge we’d been working years to build with that friend. So and so might never speak to us again.

Or worse at all in bringing up that, we might bring on ourselves shame, ridicule or worst of all unwelcome? We might not be accepted in the places we long for acceptance the most.

Because it’s true, isn’t it?

Showing up telling the truth, living into our beliefs, our integrity might just cost us a lot. Really a lot.

So, for many of us, we keep current our list of “thou shall not bring up that” when it comes to certain groups of our friends, family and co-workers. And we live divided lives like this for so many of our days.

But, the question I want to ask you is this how God wants us to live?

Is this how we were designed to live in community? Exchanging the warm fuzzies of presumed harmony at the cost of our souls?

We all know there’s a better way, a more honest path, a way forward with integrity but getting there is a whole other thing.

Psalm 26 does help us though with this conversation, beginning with a confession of honesty: “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity.”

It’s a Psalter that most scholars ascribe to the pen of King David, the great poet of Israel who is known to bring us whole heart to the table when it comes to worship of God. For, he’s never one to hold back an emotion both of the lovely kind or full of complaint when it comes to his songs to God.

And it’s a Psalter that brings us to sit carefully with the word, “integrity.”

For throughout the twelve verses that make up this particular Psalm, we hear words about David’s trust in the Lord, desire to worship in God’s house and to be kept from those whose deeds are evil. It’s David’s true self on paper.

Though at first read, Psalm 26 can seem like a pompous, self-righteous hymn—“Hey look at me God! I’m amazing! I haven’t done anything wrong” of a man who seems falsely accused by someone, many Hebrew Bible scholars believe it’s more than this. That Psalms 26 exists as piece of liturgy that was first used at the temple by priests or other pilgrims.

So, the words expressed aren’t merely not about David. No, they are a corporate declaration in worship. Or in the context of a modern reading: it’s a prayer of the church.

It sounds differently read through this lens doesn’t it? Hear this passage:

“Vindicate us, O Lord, for we have walked in our integrity, and we have trusted the Lord without wavering. . . .

We wash our hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O LORD, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, telling all of your wonderous deeds.

Do not sweep us away with sinners . . .

But as for us, we walk in integrity.”

Simply: this Psalm is the church showing up just as they are.

It’s the church both being present in the spaces where they know God dwells, but also NOT avoiding those difficult topics like evil.

For, Psalm 26 declares there is good in the world, and those who do good, and there is evil. There is sin and there is righteousness. There is the practice of corruption and there is honesty.

And though it might have been easier to sweep under the rugs—this Psalm draws a line in the sand. This Psalm calls out the actions that are not in line with God’s ways. This Psalm tells the truth.

But is that really good for community life?

I mean really? All of us going around telling THE truth all the time?

This Sunday is a day each calendar year when we talk about what it means to live in community. It’s the day we celebrate World Communion Sunday with thousands of our brother and sister churches the fact that though we are many, are one in Jesus.

It’s one of those days helps us recall the beauty of what it means to be a believer in Christ. We are all invited to approach the table on equal ground no matter where we came from, no matter how long we've believed, no matter what we look like!

It’s a day that many of us who champion diversity and the work we know that God is doing globally look forward to each year.

But, it’s also one of those days when we can get carried away with ourselves in the local church, patting ourselves on the back saying:

“Aren’t we so open minded? Aren’t we so inclusive? Aren’t we so welcoming?” just because we elevate the global church on this ONE Sunday of the year, forgetting there are 51 other Sundays which could also be called “World Communion Sunday too?”

And it’s one of those days when we could easily go down the trail of sanitizing what our communion looks like using words like “beautiful” and “holy” without talking about the reality of what life together actually is “messy,” “complicated” and “sometimes hurtful.”

So for these reasons and more, thank God for Psalm 26th that exhorts us back to our center again— call to communion with God in all of its many expressions on earth, yes, but to do so with integrity. No matter what. We have to SHOW up.

For, to worship God is not to leave our brains, our emotions and especially our experiences of doing life together at the door.

We bring our whole selves to community life, even if what we bring might be offensive to someone else for the short term.

Consider this example, last November, I had the experience of a lifetime to travel with a team from Feed the Children, which my husband was formerly the President of, to the remote region of Northern Kenya to the state of Turkana.

When we touched down in the arid desert, I knew right away Turkana was unlike any place I’d ever visited before, though I’d already journeyed many times before to our cities in the region.

Barren fields with little vegetation filled my gaze as we traveled down bumpy roads to the village we’d scheduled to visit.

The reason for our visit included seeing a water project that Feed the Children donors supported—bringing fresh water to a community that previously had none, forcing children and mothers to walk a daily basis to the river about 5 miles away, muddy and full of crocodiles.

IMG_4406So needless to say, when our vans pulled up to the village center, which consisted of a school, medical clinic and several large trees where the men of the community held their meetings, we were greeted warmly. The village elders and mothers said over and over how thankful they were to the organization did to help them have fresh water for the first time in their lifetime.

And boy did the show their gratitude too.

Soon Kevin was taken by the hand by the elders, given a stool that only he could sit on, wrapped around the shoulders in a piece of fabric that looked like a cape and given a “honorary” chief’s hat with feathers sticking out of it to wear. How could he say no!

When we asked later through translation what it was, we learn the hat with the feathers came from an ostrich and the base of the hat was a belly of an ostrich kidney.

Think about that for a moment and imagine how many times Kevin washed his head when we got back to our motel . . .

I was not off the hook either. Several of the leading women of the community took me by hand (I later called them the heads of the local PTA board) and pointed that I should stand in a spot without moving.

Then they circled around me and started dancing and singing while jumping up and down.

I felt a little claustrophobic but most of all overwhelmed—no one, not even my dearest friends ever danced and sang for me like this.

But then all of a sudden I felt drops of water on my forehead and running down my cheeks. I looked and the sky and reminded myself that we were in the middle of a literal desert. Where possibly could this water be coming from?

Only to then look at the faces of the women again jumping and dancing only to realize they were spitting in my face.

I asked some of the local staff later why this happened and they quickly replied, “Oh my goodness, Elizabeth, don’t you know what happened? They only spit in the face of the visitors that they like the best!”IMG_5264

Well, then.

With their whole heart, these dear people welcomed us. There truly was no holding back. They loved us. They commuted with us with integrity—though it felt unusual to us.

Maybe it’s extreme cultural example, but I think this is what it sometimes feels like to be “all in” on World Communion Sunday.

Somebody could give us their highest offering of thanksgiving and it could feel like we need to go home and scrub extra hard in the shower.

Somebody could give us their highest offering of welcome and it could feel like we were just insulted.

But, even with all the conflict brewing potentially below the surface you and I can’t NOT show up with the stories, with the rituals, and with the expressions of love that God has given us to share in community.

For it is when you and I hold back our authentic expressions of worship and love for God and experiences with God that the church misses out!

I dare say your community misses out if you coward down in fear of potential rejection!

Sure, there will be moments when you look someone in the eye and wonder, how in the world do these people and I worship the same God? I can’t believe he or she just said or did that! But there also will be moments when your souls fitter with hope that you’ve just dwelled in the house of the Lord, like you’ve never known.

You’ll find yourself in place called level ground. The place David talks about when he says, “My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the Lord.”

Would it be easier to avoid that hard conversation? Sure.

Would it be easier to not love in our most authentic shoes? Sure.

Would it be easier not share our controversial beliefs? Sure.

But, this easy way would never be the way of our God. For our God calls us to commute with integrity.