beginning revolution again: “the Psalms and what’s trending,” January 17, 2016


Responsive Call to Worship
Amidst it all—
amidst everything going on,
and, particularly, amidst what’s hard and bad—
amidst pain and disease—
tragedy and grief—
amidst deprivation and need—
oppression and injustice,
why would we ever pray for wisdom?

Were we to find ourselves in that mythic story,
granted three wishes,
would wisdom be one we would even consider?

Amidst all the easy wishes and prayers
for money—for success—better looks
(better, socially approved(!) looks—height—weight)—
and for healing—transformation—peace—justice—
all wishes and prayers with more apparently direct benefits—
more obvious, beneficial, and immediate results,
what is wisdom that we would be mindful of it?

Unless we look beyond the immediate.
Unless wisdom offers us a perspective
from which to properly order our circumstances,
particularly what’s hard and bad,
and so, within circumstance, to properly order
wishes and prayers for money, success,
socially approved looks (height—weight)—

Grant us wisdom, God,
not that we might see “answers”—
not see how to “fix” things,
but how we might see creation more as You do …
not as broken pieces to fix,
but as a whole to love …
and then live into that vision.

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.
Psalm 1
Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
What did I dream last night?
Did I dream I was the hero?
Because I have those dreams
in which I save the day—
usually with various ways of the world.
Those dreams often merge with dreams of worldly success
in which I’m rich and published and sought after.
Nothing wrong with those dreams, by the way.
They’re kind of fun.
I guess the question is do I dream anything more?
Do I dream anything bigger?

You noticed the flow of the song earlier, didn’t you?—
about what Walt Wilkins dreamed last night.
He moved from dreams of a golden harvest—
of food for a community,
to dreams for all men and women, all boys and girls,
to dreams of peace for all the earth.
The movement is beyond the individual
rippling ever out into the wider world.
If there’s not such a direct movement from the individual—
from individual experience and individual hopes
to community—to creation—
with some corresponding sense
of wanting something better for everyone—
and some sense of responsibility for helping
make our yearning creation’s story better,
then it is not of God.

And of course I’m not saying to not pray for yourself—
still less to not pray for others—
to not pray for direct, immediate, beneficial results.
We are all of us, after all, praying for healing, are we not?
I’m saying wisdom is a different kind of prayer—
also worth praying—also worth praying for.
Amidst prayers for healing, for example,
Christy has repeatedly said—you may know this,
she’s not scared.
Sad some. Angry.
Not scared.
She is a wise woman.
And so we should not let fear drive us—
or our praying.
And we can offer prayers of gratitude,
even now,
that in no way compromise hope,
but locate us and Christy and our prayers
in the larger truth and assurance
of God’s love and God’s grace.

Interestingly, given our wisdom psalm reading today,
Amy Butler dropped this quote on preacher’s camp this week.
It’s Aeschylus, from Agamemnon:
“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.”

Thursday, April 4, 1968,
the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated,
Bobby Kennedy was scheduled to give a campaign speech
in a poor section of Indianapolis.
Realizing the news of Brother Martin’s murder had not yet broken,
standing on the back of a flatbed truck,
he turned his speech into a eulogy
that included the Aeschylus quote, and went on:
“What we need in the United States is not division;
what we need in the United States is not hatred;
what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness,
but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another,
and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country,
whether they be white or whether they be black”

And in as many cities as there was rioting and violence that day,
there was none in Indianapolis.
As many cities burned, Indianapolis did not.

You see, love, drop by drop, upon the heart,
with unforgettable, glorious joy,
also brings wisdom
through the wondrous grace of God.

So what is wise, in truth?
To dream dreams small enough to fill me,
or to dream dreams big enough only God can fill?—
improbable impossible dreams—
of the challenge of differences met and overcome in unity—
of the irresponsibility of blame transcended in blessing—
of fear rejected in trust and despair in hope—
of selfishness and greed abandoned for shalom—
of hearts risked and broken and healed.

And so within prayers for healing yes, absolutely,
to recognize as well, a wholeness—a health—
that no disease can touch.

Through the years
people have assumed
a life that makes sense
(or a deity who makes sense of life)—
a religion—an ideology—whatever,
and so everything that happens fits into some explanation.
God’s will expressed in every occurrence.

It’s that thinking, as we continue to think about beginnings
that would seem to give us Psalm 1—
a wisdom psalm which pretty much boils down to:
do the right thing, and everything works out well;
do the wrong thing, and nothing’s going to work out well at all.

But it turns out that’s not
a satisfyingly immense enough dream to honor God.
It turns out to be rather small.
Turns out I don’t want an explanation for what’s hard,
I want company through what’s hard.

And time and time again, we have dreamers
who dream dreams that make no sense—
that don’t explain and can’t be explained,
but that create a vision—
a vision of an alternative—a possibility—
that brings a lump to the throat—a tear to the eye—
at some beautiful rightness that is more whole
and more holy.

What is wisdom?
It’s what’s listened to.
It’s an authority, is it not?
Once granted the elders
that we now grant to the young—
that we grant to polls—to what’s trending.
Because obviously that’s what’s important.

Y’all know about trending?
On social media, you have the option
of clicking on trending stories—or individuals.
And what’s trending?
On Facebook: actor Will Forte attends event
with half-shaved head and face,
and singer/actress Brandy Norwood
says she does not plan to get married.
On Twitter: actor Chris Pratt hangs out with his wife,
TV wife and movie girlfriend.
On Buzzfeed: these apps will actually change your life,
17 things girls with too much hair will understand.
And honestly, most of it’s embarrassing.
Embarrassing not necessarily in and of itself—though it’s often that too,
but so embarrassing that that’s what gets attention—
especially when compared to what doesn’t.
And we click on them.
I clicked on them.
Course I was doing sermon research.

What did you dream last night?
Were they big dreams?
Big enough for God to fit into them?

What is wisdom?
More than just authority,
it’s a clarification of values and priorities, don’t you think?
Less a matter of morals—of right and wrong,
than identity.
Who am I?
Surely more than someone else’s haircut and dating life!
Yet where do we find that bigger sense of identity?

You know, it’s interesting, Psalm 1 does not so much identify
some critical, decisive moment in time
a moment in which we choose either God or not—
in which we’re wise or not.
No, Psalm 1 identifies the affirmation that Torah,
God’s declared will, intersects day-to-day living.
God’s word encounters life
and offers us always, God’s ways of being.

And I have no problem whatsoever
affirming that our choices and decisions are critical—
that all our choices have consequences.

The psalm actually lends itself to that perspective.
For God is not portrayed as bringing about the consequences.
God is not portrayed as rewarding the righteous
or as punishing the wicked in this psalm.
The choices people make seem to bring about their own results—
their own consequences.
And I’m very comfortable with that.

But being comfortable’s often a sign to look more carefully—
when it comes to scripture and when it comes to God!
Y’all know that, right?
And is what I’ve done to be comfortable,
removing God from the day-to-day?
Oh, not entirely,
but where the psalm affirms God’s declared will in our day-to-day,
I would apparently deny God’s presence affirming just consequence.

But have you ever noticed in the imagery of the psalm—
ever considered that it’s the path of the wicked,
but how those who delight in God’s will are off the beaten path—
manifest in trees by water—
planted—growing, though the seasons,
strong roots deep in the ground—
not wandering on the surface of the ground?
God’s delight is in life—in the soil that produces a hundredfold,
not the path where the ground’s too hard to sustain life.

Symbolically, in Hebrew, the first word of the psalm
(translated variously as “happy” or “blessed”)
begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet,
while the last word of the psalm (translated as “perish”)
begins with the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
torah speaks to all of life—from A to Z.

What if—what if, the psalm’s not a division into us and them—
these choices rewarded—those punished—
the righteous and the sinners—
or even this consequence of that?
What if the psalm addresses all of life for each of us—
from when we’re happy
to when we perish—
from when we faithfully live into God’s way
to when we faithlessly reject and deny it—
when all is well and when nothing is—
from love expressed (and grace and blessing),
to fear and blame.
What if we, each one of us,
plant roots and wander the beaten path?
For identity is not either I’m righteous or I’m a sinner,
it’s the reality that I’m both.
And so are you.

We find our way
when we are found by God’s way,
and God’s way, thank God, surrounds all other ways
as far down the path as we might wander.
That is good news.

The word of God precedes us ever into living—
and offers us focus.
Our culture offers us what’s trending.
Is that what passes as wisdom these days?
The bigger picture?
opinions and emotions—
the more extreme, the more fascinating—apparently.
Lifestyles of the rich and famous.
Don’t you too long for bigger dreams than that?

There’s an expanse to Psalm 1—
a vast invitation into a huge dream—
a dream we can’t convince anyone else to dream—
can’t argue anyone into conviction about—
can’t vindicate—
that we can only begin to dream ourselves.

And I’m really not trying to preach
by commenting on Christy,
but seeking the word of God for us today
and allowing Christy to comment and preach to us—
to offer us a good word
of good news
in such hard and trying days.

For she has consistently spoken of the assurance she has
that she was able to say
(and she said it to me;
she has said it to her family)—
“I want to get well—really really really want to get well.
And I will fight to get well—fight hard to get well.
There are things I want to do.
There are experiences I anticipate.
But I am no Pollyanna.
And if things don’t work out, all is well.
I am not afraid; I have no regrets,
and I have the assurance of my faith.”
That’s the expanse to Psalm 1.
That is wisdom.

Pray for good—work for good,
but locate prayer in God,
not circumstance—
in assurance in God’s love and grace,
not in what happens.

See I’m not so sure
wisdom is vindicated in our circumstances.
I’m not even sure God vindicates our wisdom.
And vindication’s a big thing.
It features prominently in my dreams!
But do we really talk about the best stories being vindicated?
World War I was a vast complicated story of winners and losers—
violence and death,
in the end, of course, defined by defeat and victory.
But amidst those stories, the story was told
of Christmas Eve, 1914,
when soldiers on opposite sides refused to fire on each other.
Now was that story vindicated?
Did it lead to a ceasefire?—a peace treaty?—no more war?
And yet it is still told with a marvelous catch in the throat.
There was something profoundly right about that night.

It was but a few months after
Bobby Kennedy eulogized Martin Luther King, Jr.,
that he himself was murdered.
So were his words calling for love and wisdom vindicated?
We associate vindication with success.
Typically with not being killed—
with being elected.
Arguably though, Martin and Bobby dreamed so big,
their very dreams threatened those who dreamed small.
Arguably they were killed because they dreamed big dreams.

Anyone dreaming that big these days?—
Amidst fear given free rein?
Amidst always blaming someone or something
for everything that’s hard and bad?
Who’s dreaming that big?
Not of more money.
Not of success—
of winning.
But of children playing together
because they’re not afraid—
because no one is excluded—
because they know they’re loved.
We all know how hard it is to hold on to that kind of dream
amidst so many reasons that’s not going to happen.
Big dreams are hard to believe.

But there’s always more there than you’d know.
And the more that you don’t know is there
sometimes redefines what you do know is there—
that you might think is all there is there.
Oh, John! …

In Christy’s hospital room—her rooms,
within what you see that you don’t want to,
when the light’s just right,
you see love.
Children laughing, learning, and singing.
Family—and family ever reaching out to include more—
more who need to be loved—
more who need to be included and blessed.
And amidst the sounds of machines,
the murmur of conversation,
too many questions and not enough answers,
you can hear music.
Sometimes it’s Sandy or Chris’ device:
Piano. James Taylor.
But sometimes, it’s that familiar and beloved alto we know so well.
You can hear it.
You can hear Bobby singing … and it’s beautiful!
You can hear the boys singing
because that’s what they’ve learned.
And amidst music that is known and beloved—
there is music yet to learn—
music yet to play—music yet to sing.
And amidst the uncertainty and the fear—
the one step forward two steps back dance,
when the light’s just right,
even in that hospital room, you see peace.

I’m looking for dreams that big—
so big they’re scary.
Dreams of healing and health and wholeness and holiness.
You remember Proverbs suggests
the beginning of wisdom is the fear
of God (Proverbs 9:10),
but wisdom fulfilled, Jesus teaches us,
is the love of God—
which is still scary,
but in a wonderful shivery potential kind of way.
Dreams scary not in a let’s run away from them—
avoid them—don’t do this kind of way,
but in a wouldn’t it so be worth it scary kind of way.
And isn’t that a crazy, beautiful kind of right way?
And anyway, the beginning of wisdom
is just good as a starting place, don’t you think?
That’s part of beginning.
It’s not a place to stay.
If you don’t dream big dreams—
if we don’t dream big dreams,
it’s the world that shrinks … and we do too.

So who am I going to listen to?
Whose words? Whose music? Whose vision?
Are their dreams big enough?
When you think about the people you listen to,
are their dreams really big enough?
Who am I going to hang out with?
Who am I going to vote for?
Are their dreams big enough?
And what did I dream last night?
What dreams do we dream here at Woodbrook?
Are they big enough?
Are they big enough for God to fit into them—
roam through them,
and work with us to make those biggest dreams begin to come true?

For even now, when the light’s just right,
you can see and you can hear children playing—
children from all over the world—
children who look different
and sound different—
who speak different languages—
have different traditions—
different religions—
they are playing together—
laughing and learning and singing.
And we cannot afford dreams too small for that.

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
Philippians 4:4-9
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness be known to everyone.
The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything,
but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing,
whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence
and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
Keep on doing the things that you have learned
and received and heard and seen in me,
and the God of peace will be with you.


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