Rev. George Miller
“Wounded but Not Defeated”
Aug 21, 2011
What we do we want in life?
To be free of floods. To be free of foes. To be free of traps.
In the real world, that will never happen.
So instead, let me share with you a story about a group of 15 year-old guys who wanted a place to eat and discussed where to meet.
They agreed on the Ocean View restaurant, where you could get a hot dog and Coca-cola for a buck and Susie, the cute little red-headed girl, lived across the street.
10 years later, the group of 25 year-old guys discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed on the Ocean View restaurant because the snacks were free and the house band was good. Not to mention there’d be plenty of cute girls.
10 years later, the group of 35 year-old guys discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed on the Ocean View restaurant because the beer was cheap and the wings were hot.
10 years later, the group of 45 year-old guys discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed on the Ocean View restaurant because the martinis were large and it was near the gym.
10 years later, the group of 55 year-old guys discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed on the Ocean View restaurant because the prices were reasonable, the wine list was good and the waitresses liked to flirt.
10 years later, the group of 65 year-old guys discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed on the Ocean View restaurant because they had an early bird special and fish is good for the cholesterol.
10 years later, the group of 75 year-old guys discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed on the Ocean View restaurant because the food was not too spicy and it was handicap-accessible.
10 years later, the group of 85 year-old guys discussed where to meet for dinner. They agreed on the Ocean View restaurant because, well- they had never been there before…
…as most of you know, a few weeks ago I visited with an old classmate of mine. I shouldn’t use the word old, because we’re only 41, but that’s a bit of how it felt.
Her name is Kerrie, and the last time we saw each other George Bush Sr. was president, we were involved in Desert Storm and gasoline was $1.14 a gallon.
So to say that a lot of time has passed is an understatement. But when it comes to dear, old friends, time does not exist.
If you’re lucky, the person you knew, the sense of humor, the life, the knowing looks and inside jokes are there, under the wrinkles, the cellulite, the heartbreaks, the successes, the family struggles, the dreams reached and the dreams dashed.
When Kerrie and I met a few weeks ago, whatever may have flooded us, devoured us, trapped us, was…present, but so were the things that nurtured, empowered and gave us flight.
And for the rest of the day we ate and drank and walked along the shore, two beautiful birds, strong, but not perfect; wounded but not defeated.
Yet another sign of how God is good.
I’m sure that everyone here can relate to what it is like to watch time go by, to see needs unmet and to witness all the things you have overcome, and to find a way to say “I’m still here!”
That’s what part of this Psalm is about.
Just like last week’s reading, this week’s scripture is called a Psalm of Ascent. It is a song sung by a group of people traveling to the Temple or who have arrived there.
Simply by listening to it read aloud you can hear how it has built into it a call and response in which all the people are invited to lift their voices in recalling the ways in which the Lord has saved them.
Like any good piece of art, this psalm is open ended. Instead of addressing specific events, it uses similes and graphic images to allow anyone from any time to find something to relate to.
To feel attacked, eaten alive? Who’s never felt that way?
To feel flooded over, washed away? Been there.
To feel like a bird caught in a trap or the teeth of a beast? Done that.
And yet still able to say “Our help is in the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
The portion of the scripture that really stood out to me was verse 7: “We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.”
It brought me right back to memories of growing up on Long Island. My Mother, who always had a love for animals, was known for taking in wounded birds and squirrels.
Anytime someone found one on the street or in their yard, they’d bring them to our house and Mom wouldn’t have the heart to say no.
I remember the routine. Find a box. Line it with newspaper. Take a rag or washcloth and fashion it into a nest.
Then make a small batch of baby oatmeal, put it into an eye dropper and use it to feed the wounded animal.
We’d have to make sure the creature was away from the cats and the dogs and we’d hear the fluttering of their wings or the scraping of there feet and the chirping sounds when they were hungry.
I can look back on those times fondly, but the truth is, in all those years, only two of the wounded were successfully nursed back to health.
One was a bird we released into the backyard where he hung around for a few days.
The other was a baby squirrel we called Sherlock who ate mashed up peanuts until he was released at the local Boy Scout camp.
Sadly, all the others died. Their wounds were too great, their body was too frail or they just couldn’t survive apart from their own mother.
So I read verse 7 not through a lense of Disney-do-goodness, but with a very clear knowledge that when birds are hurt, there are life-long scars they carry with them.
Though they may have been set free or their trap has been released, wings are still broken, feathers are ripped out, legs are crushed. Some of them fly into other traps.
Some survive, other do not.
So when the people of this Psalm compare themselves to birds that were once in snares, I read beyond the good news of their freedom and come face to face with the life long scars and fears and limps that they must bear.
As do I, as do you.
As does Christ.
Which brings me to a theology I’ve rarely preached on, but find so fascinating.
The notion that as Christians we will talk about faith, talk about healing, talk about miracles, but the reality of our unique testimony is that our God is a living God who carries permanent scars.
…I invite us to think about that for a moment...To think of the Christ who died, the Christ who was wounded.
Because of whom he ate with. Because of whom he healed. Because of whom he set free.
Because he preached about a kingdom in which people who were wounded, but not defeated, would be welcomed and given a place at the table.
And because of those things, he was given over to the very floods, the very teeth, the very snares of society in which his arms, his side, his feet were pierced.
And he died, full of wounds.
Never to be 35 or 45, 55 or 65, 75 or 85.
And though he was placed in a tomb, death did not consume or define him, but somehow, someway, through God, he was set free in an event of hope which we call the Resurrection.
But here is what I want to highlight today: even in the Resurrection the wounds he bore were still there. They never went away, they were never hid, but on full display.
And it was those wounds that the Resurrected Christ used to calm the doubts and the fears of his disciples.
It was through those wounds that he brought belief and the gift of peace back to Thomas.
And it is through those wounds that we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we have a Lord who knows what we go through, who has felt our pain, understands our fears and has promised to be there always, until the end of time.
In other words, our Lord and Savior was wounded, but not defeated. Nor shall we be.
In the beginning of today’s message I asked “What do we want in life?”
Over the course time, as we live, we love, as we lose, as we age, it changes.
We may want free snacks and cheap beer, we may want choice location and good wine, and we may want low cholesterol and handicap accessibility.
We may want to be free of floods, free of foes, free of traps.
Will we always get what we want?
But what we do get is the Lord who made heaven and earth.
The Lord who willingly still bears the wounds that were inflicted by human kind.
The Lord, in whom all ultimate help will come, no matter what we endure.
Because of Christ’s scars, we may be wounded, but we will never be defeated.
For that may we say “Hallelujah!” and “Amen.”