Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“The Lord is Your Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14)
September 27, 2015
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Today I am preaching on the final two words of the last verse of Psalm 19—“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer” (The Book of Common Prayer 607).
The Lord is your Redeemer.
Our society is a throw-away society. I recently read an online article that stated, “According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American produces about 4.4 pounds of garbage a day, or a total 1,600 pounds a year”—and this does not include commercial or industrial waste. This article also went on, “consider this: with the garbage produced in America alone, you could form a line of filled-up garbage trucks and reach the moon.” That may be an exaggeration, but the point is our culture is a throw-away culture—and of course this also includes non-material things like relationships, reputations, and occasionally religion—out with the old, in with the new.
But God is not a throw-away God. God is a restoring God. God is a reconciling God. God is a redeeming God. The Lord is your redeemer.
My middle school years in the early 80’s were arguably the golden age of arcade games. I would take the cash I’d earned from delivering newspapers and mowing lawns to the mall with my friends and we would spend it trying to eat all the crumbs before being eaten by the monsters in Pac Man, or save the world from extinction at the hand of evil alien insects in Galaga or Centipede, fight epic space battles in Defender or Space Invaders, or save the damsel from the gorilla in Donkey Kong. Life was good until the dreaded two words: “Game Over.”
And believe it or not redemption is a recurring theme in these games, because in every one the more points you earned, the more “lives” you were given—and because the monsters and aliens and gorilla were so dogged in their efforts to destroy you, you needed all the extra lives, all the redemption, you could get.
And we need all the redemption we can get in our actual lives too, don’t we?
A few years ago I watched the 1983 film Tender Mercies, a film all about redemption. I was riveted by Robert Duvall’s Oscar-winning role as Mac Sledge, a country music singer and recovering alcoholic. Mac is taken in and cared for by a young widow named Rosa Lee, played by Tess Harper. Both Mac and Rosa Lee had suffered great loss. Rosa Lee’s husband had been killed in Vietnam, and at one point in the film their little boy Sonny asks Rosa Lee about his father’s death:
“Mama, the other night a boy asked me how my daddy died in Vietnam, and I didn’t know. I just knew he was killed. How was he killed, Mama?” “I don’t know, honey.” “Was he killed in battle?” “I don’t know, Sonny.” “Didn’t you ever ask anybody?” She replies, “Yes, and no one would tell me anything except he was found dead. He was alone when they found him and they didn’t know how long he had been there. And so they couldn’t be sure he was killed in a battle, or if he was, what battle, since there had been three in that area that week, and he could have been in any one of them, or he could have just been out walking they said, and a sniper got him. Where would he be walking to? I asked and they said they had no more idea than I had.”
Mac had lost his 18-year old daughter in a car accident. He pours out his heart to Rosa Lee about the suffering in his life:
I was almost killed once in a car accident. I was drunk and I ran off the side of the road and rolled over four times, and they took me out of that car for dead. But I lived. And I prayed last night to know why I lived and she died, but I got no answer to my prayers. I still don’t know why she died and I lived. I don’t know the answer to nothing. Not a blessed thing. I don’t know why I wandered out to this part of Texas drunk and you took me in and pitied me and helped me to straighten out and married me. Why? Why did that happen? Is there a reason that happened? And Sonny’s daddy died in a war and my daughter killed in an automobile accident. Why? Why?
But in spite of their great suffering, in spite of their unanswered questions, both Mac and Rosa Lee experience redemption, tender mercies, in their love for one another. They marry and along with Sonny begin a new chapter in their life.
Like Mac and Rosa Lee we need redemption from the loss we suffer. We also need redemption for the mistakes we make. In “Love Land,” the last track on her 2007 album Waking up Laughing country singer Martina McBride recounts a story of redemption:
Wasn’t wearing a wedding dress in a Vegas wedding chapel.
They were herding us in and out of there like we were cattle.
Not exactly the fairy tale that I had planned
But mama said, “Aren’t you supposed to get married, girl
Before you bring a baby in this world?”
And what could I say but, “Yes, ma’am.”
And I called her from that chapel in Love Land…
Seemed like a lifetime driving from Vegas to Oklahoma.
If you’re allowed a number of mistakes in life maybe I’ve filled my quota.
They called it a reception saying we did the right thing
And they smiled their broken smiles
Said, “Who needs to walk down the aisle?”
And I showed off my wedding ring
And we walked away hand in hand to Love Land…
Amazing all the progress we’ve made since the days of Thomas Edison
Still only God gives life in spite of modern medicine.
Doctor’s voices whispered, “We did all that we could do
But your baby wasn’t strong enough
To make it the whole nine months.”
And as my world broke in two
He said, “I’ll carry you through to Love Land.”
For the longest time I blamed myself
Thought I was paying for my mistakes but we tried again.
Now we’re watching him blow three candles out.
He’s daddy’s little man
And only God could have planned the steps I’ve taken
That led me to where I am
Each one of you has suffered loss, some of you great loss. Each one of you has made mistakes, some of you great mistakes. These losses and mistakes can leave us with many unanswered, and perhaps unanswerable, questions. That is certainly the case with me. This is true not just in our individual lives but for all creation.
Yale Divinity School professor Miroslav Volf puts it this way in his 2006 book The End of Memory:
What we have suffered weights us down like a heavy load we long to have lifted; like an indefatigable enemy, it assails us relentlessly. The wreckage of history—a trail of shattered beauty, defiled goodness, twisted truths, streams of tears, rivers of blood, mountains of corpses—must somehow be mended. That the past must and will be redeemed is a conviction essential to the Christian notion of redemption (42).
This is exactly what the Apostle Paul addresses in his Letter to the Romans—“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves… groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).
In other words, our entire throw-away world and every one of us in it—past, present, future—need all the redemption we can get.
And the good news of the gospel is that the Lord is your Redeemer.
Scripture tells us, “(Jesus) gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own” (Titus 2:14), that “In (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7), that we “were marked with a seal for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30), and that “(God) has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14).
And the Lord is your Redeemer because the Lord loves you.
On November 17, 1957 Martin Luther King Jr. preached a sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. The sermon is entitled, “Loving Your Enemies.” Listen to how he connects redemption to love:
Love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive (Making a Way out of No Way by Wolfgang Mieder 70-71).
In his incarnation and earthly ministry and passion and death and resurrection Jesus loved and keeps on loving the world with that kind of redemptive love…and Jesus keeps on loving you with that same kind of redemptive love.
And because the losses we suffer and the mistakes we make tend to obscure the reality of God’s redemptive love, we need to be reminded of it, again and again and again. That is where Holy Communion comes in, which Article 28 of the Thirty-nine Articles describes as the “Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death” (BCP 873).
In fact in The Book of Common Prayer one Eucharistic prayer begins “All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption” (BCP 334)—and another one similarly identifies Jesus as “the Savior and Redeemer of the world” (BCP 368). At Holy Communion you can taste and receive the tender mercy of the Lord your Redeemer anew.
Not even death can stop the Lord’s redeeming love. Job, who suffered great loss and had many unanswered questions, even in his pain and doubt proclaimed, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27).
Because your Redeemer lives, your death will not mean “Game Over,” but rather your arrival at Love Land. In the meantime may the tender mercy of the Lord your Redeemer begin a new chapter in your life.