12th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, September 4, 2011
Read Psalm 32:1-7 and the divisions of the psalm (see picture). Then say, “Here’s a story for Psalm 32. See if you can line it up with the parts of the psalm. The story is a picture of what happens when we come and confess our sins to God.”
For what I was about to do, I had hidden my bike in the weeds in the backyard. Then when the hour came, around 11:30 at night, I got up, put on the clothes I had stashed in the corner for the excursion. Then I slowly, quietly snuck out of my room, went down the stairs, and out the back door.
In the dark, I retrieved my bike—a Raleigh Rampar BMX bike, by the way—retrived it from the weeds in the backyard where I had also hidden a backpack with a flashlight and as many toilet paper rolls as I could dare take without causing my mom to catch on.
You see, I was in seventh grade, and two “friends” had told me to meet them on Friday night to go TP another friend’s house. The plan was that we’d meet near my old elementary school at midnight. I needed to get there without getting caught, but it was about 3 miles away by bike.
I grabbed the bike and headed down the sidewalks and roads, holding the flashlight on my handlebars so I could see as I went down a completely dark bike path that winds through the woods. I was going as fast as my Rampar could go; I didn’t want to be late.
After a nerve-wracking moment of crossing a major intersection, I arrived out of breath near Poplar Bridge Elementary School. That’s when it dawned on me that we really hadn’t worked out the plan more than that. My two “friends” hadn’t really said where they’d be. They just said we’d meet near the school. I rode around the school, but everything was quiet. I rode near our other friend’s house to see if they had already started TPing without me, but everything was quiet. I went back to the school—nothing.
Deciding that they were late, I rode off the direction I guessed they would have been coming from. Mind you, this meant I was going farther away from home. I rode down 84th Street—relatively quiet at midnight, but still the main road through the neighborhood. I kept looking down every side street wondering where my “friends” could be.
I got another half mile down the road and came to France Avenue—a major road with plenty of traffic still a midnight. I saw a police car speed past on France Avenue, and that’s when it dawned on me how much trouble I could be in. Out past curfew, the police would pick me up, throw my Rampar in the trunk, take me home, and I’d have a lot of explaining to do. No, it was time to abort the mission, head home, and figure out what happened to my “friends” later.
I turned my bike around, started off in the direction of home, and that’s when I noticed a car going slowly on 84th Street, kind of keeping pace with me. I was on the sidewalk, but clearly this car was keeping pace with me. I biked a little faster, and the car sped up—but still keeping pace, not going as fast as car should be going but instead going only as fast as I could go on my Raleigh Rampar one-speed BMX bike on the sidewalk. Something was wrong; I was being followed.
Fearing the worst, I kept going as fast as I could, thinking that if I could just get back to another major intersection that I’d be safe under the streetlights and where more cars were—but that was still a half a mile away.
Fearing the worst, I kept going as fast as I could, but it was getting tough, because I was starting to panic, I was starting to cry, and that car was keeping pace, staying just behind me.
I got back to the school, and the bike was flying now as I came down the sidewalk to the cross street, the tears flying, too. Just then a car coming towards me turned the corner in front of my path. I threw on the brakes to skid to a stop as the car blocked my path. I was in complete panic mode when the driver rolled down his window and said, “Are you OK?”
I glanced over to see that the car that was following me gathered speed and kept going. I glanced back to this driver that was blocking my path. Through my tears and panic, I said I was fine.
“Are you sure? You’re out awfully late. Do you want a ride home?”
Yes, I’m fine. Yes, I’m out late. Yes, I’m headed home, but no, I don’t want a ride.
That driver may have saved me from the predator following me, but I wasn’t about to get in a stranger’s car. I just wanted to get home, away from the midnight crowd, back safe at home.
The driver hesitated, expressed his concern again, but then just urged me to get home quickly.
I didn’t need any reminders to go quickly. As soon as the car was out of my path, I pedaled so fast. Those three miles home flew by. The tears kept streaming down my face, but I wasn’t going to slow up. I was going to get back home.
I got into our backyard, threw the bike down in the yard, and went running into the house. Without even really thinking about what I was doing, I went right up into my parents’ bedroom, crying, sobbing, panicking. I woke them up, told them in between sobs the whole story. I needed to know that I was safe. I needed to know they would protect me. They let me cry and then helped me get back to my bed and go to sleep. We’d talk about it in the morning.
Come morning, and it was early morning because I had a swim meet that day, come morning, my parents were clearly upset and trying to think of how they’d punish me. We went to the swim meet in silence. After my event, I found them in the stands, they told me I had done well—when really I was pretty slow that day considering my excursion and losing sleep—but then mainly just looked disappointed in me.
I don’t really remember what the punishment was, because mainly I just remember how disappointed they were in me. I don’t really remember what the punishment was, because what I mainly remember was how they had comforted me when I was so scared, comforted me, showed me that I was safe, and showed me that they still loved me even after I had just told them that I had snuck out of the house. That’s what I remember: the flood of emotions standing at the foot of their bed in the middle of the night, telling them that I had snuck out of the house and had been followed and was scared for my life. The flood of emotions as they comforted their panicked, afraid, crying child, comforted me so that I’d know that they still loved me.
I tell this story, because it makes a good picture for what happens in Psalm 32:1-7, a good picture of what happens when we confess, admit our sins to God, and then receive His forgiving love. On the green sheet in your bulletins, you have an outline of these verses from Psalm 32. Let’s walk through them, and then try applying the sections to my story. In the process, I want you to see that the story of rushing home is a lot like what it means to come to God with our sins.
The rest of the sermon I engaged the congregation in a discussion about the story, the parts of the psalm, and the reminder that coming to God in confession and absolution is like throwing down your bike, running inside, waking up your parents, and telling the whole story because you need their love, comfort, and forgiveness.