In the never-ending list of things I wasn’t taught in seminary, I just got back from church where I was checking out a plumbing problem. Checking out? Looking at. Standing there with hands on hips, saying yep that’s a problem. Not that I solved anything, as if I could. But I acknowledged it was an issue. Drains backing up, water on the floor, yep, that’s a problem. The door was blocked, don’t use these. Head of trustees was called (He’s in Indianapolis at the moment), Custodian was called. Block the doors, don’t use them. We’ll call a plumber on Monday. OK, did that.
Did that. Didn’t fix anything, Just went and looked. Didn’t really help, wasn’t much good. Didn’t get anything out of the trip. Except maybe a metaphor. Backed up drains. Spilling over, causing a problem. Making a mess. Just close the door. That’s a good response. Common one anyway. Close the door. You go to visit a neighbor, they show you around, but pass the closed door. Don’t look in there, they say. It’s a mess. We’re used to mess, we’ve got our own closed doors.
Clogged plumbing, closed doors. I’m not really talking about housekeeping. You got that right? Metaphor: a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. Everyone needs a junk room, everyone gets clogged pipes now and again. It happens. But it is a mess. Especially when the closed door is hiding unconfessed sin. The pipes are clogged with attacks on the sovereignty of God.
Psalm 32:1-11 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah 6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. 7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah 8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you. 10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD. 11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
I left the “Selah” in there, just for fun. No reason really, just a bonus. You’re welcome. The truth is no one knows for sure what it means. Well, some know, have decided, chosen, but Hebrew scholars will tell you that we aren’t sure. It could be a word of praise. It could be a musical interlude, like a bridge connecting different parts of the psalm. A key change, maybe. Or it could be a pause. A breath.
I like that one. A breath. A place for the Spirit to blow through. A moment to sit back and remember that even reading scripture prayerfully is a dialogue. It’s not just what we think of it, what we hear in it, it is what God is saying to us. Listen. Breathe. Pause a moment before you leap in. “Speak, Lord, your servant hears!”
It’s good to stop and breathe before you clean out the pipes. It’s good to let the Spirit blow through before you open the door you want to keep closed. Selah. Let God in. The psalmist says that before remembering to breathe, before asking for God’s Spirit to blow through, there was only the weight of the brokenness. “While I kept silence.” How long can you keep silence? About the clog in the drain, or the clutter behind the door? How long can you pretend that it isn’t that bad? That it doesn’t drive a wedge between you and those you love? How long can you go hiding from the breath of God because you’re too embarrassed to admit you’ve fouled the air around you.
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” The psalm doesn’t deal in metaphors. No clogged drains and locked doors. Transgression, sin, iniquity, deceit. Whew. Four different words for sin. Not a lot of wiggle room there. No place for equivocating. Anything, seems to be the argument, anything that gets in the way of letting the breath of God blow through your life needs to be removed. Needs to be lifted up. The happiness sought cannot be found outside of the relationship with God, outside of full communion with the Spirit. And thinking that there is nothing to confess, nothing for which to pray, nothing that you can’t handle on your own is to choose to live under the weight that crushes bones. It is choosing to live in the desert, dry as a bone.
Breathe. And then open the door. “When I acknowledged my sin to you and did not hide my iniquity: I said I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” Four words for sin in there. Did you notice? Four words in verse two, and four in verse five. I want to hand over everything. Everything in my life, everything in my head, everything in my heart, every thing in my mouth.
Sometimes I hear folks say ... no, let’s be honest, sometimes I say, it’s not that bad, I don’t need to bother God with that. When I commit a real sin, a real bad one, then I’ll go to God. I don’t want to waste God’s time on trivialities. I know plenty of worse sinners than me. But what if it wasn’t the degree of the act committed? What if it was simply the clog? No big deal, but still a clog. We can live with that, can’t we? A small blockage. It won’t hinder us that much. It won’t slow us down.
Until it does. Knocks us to our knees. The blood can’t rush through, we are dried up as though in the heat of summer. The air can’t come through and we are groaning all night long trying to breathe. Because we’ve neglected the arteries of our relationships, with God and with each other. They’re the same, you know. Jesus was asked for the single law, the one most important. He gave two. Love God, Love neighbor, they are woven together, he implied. The pipes that connect us and God are the same arteries that connect you and me, all of us. A clog between us gets in the way of the breath of God. A sin before God keeps me from loving you the way I need to.
Which is why, once the psalmist breathes again, there is a call to the community at large. First the address is to God. Oh, that everyone knew what I’ve just remembered. What I’ve just experienced. All it takes, all it takes to be able to find a shady place in the heat of the burning sun, all it takes to find some dry ground when the waters of the world seem about to sweep you away, all it takes is a prayer to God. A prayer. A faithful prayer. A prayer of release and confession. A prayer of reconciliation and hope. A prayer of healing, healing the broken relationships, the hurt feelings, the misunderstandings that drove us apart. A gesture of community.
Don’t wait. The psalmist turns to the community. Don’t wait to be led around by the nose. Don’t wait for someone else to take the first step, to make the first gesture. You can live in the agony of brokenness and stubbornness if you want to. But it is no way to live, no way to breathe. You can pretend the pipes aren’t clogged and that sludge oozing across the floor is nothing to worry about. You can stand alone in the certainty that you were right all along, while the water rises over your shoes.
Or you can live in joy. Happy are those. Isn’t that what we want? To be happy? Here’s the formula. Heal the breech. Clear the clog. Open the door. Say I’m sorry, even when you aren’t sure you’re wrong. Say you’re sorry for being misunderstood, for being mule-headed, for letting the clog continue to build. And when the relationships are restored, you can shout for joy. You can laugh again. You can breathe deeply at last.
You can be happy. Thanks to the Plumber. Now, gotta make a sign for the doors.