Below is a copy of the sermon from this morning. It was only the second sermon I have preached this year! Last week's was somewhere between an address and a sermon. I was able to record it with our new Flip camera but a 25 minute sermon exceeds youtubes upload capabilities, but I am still tooling around.
text: “I have a calmed and quieted soul.” (Ps. 131:2)
The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – Holy Communion – 1.Feb.2009
Let us begin with this scenario – you are over at the parsonage talking to me in the living room when all of a sudden I excuse myself: perhaps the #s 1, 2, & 3 have the First Lady tied up, perhaps the #s have filled the bathtub full of snow. As I am absent you, being nosy, happen to spy a photo album partially open and say to yourself don’t mind if I do. The photo album in your hands contains the pictures of our wedding 12 years ago. The photo you turn to first is the one of my classmate from seminary dressed in a white jump suit doing his Elvis impression (not the young G.I. Elvis but the older and, er, thicker Elvis). As you admire the picture you hear me returning to the living room and you quickly shut the album and replace it back to its proper place.
From that sole picture you could tell a great deal about our wedding – that is was fun, a little corny, fairly memorable. But you could not fully grasp the wedding if you went solely by that one picture. If you were comfortable in my presence you would ask to see the remaining pictures. Then I would sit next to you and we would peruse the album together. I would show you the last picture of me and my grandmother, one of the few pictures of my father smiling, the unlit, thankfully, blue light behind the cross at Lori’s church, and pictures of friends and family.
This morning we have snuck a peek at Psalm 131, it is one picture out of 150 pictures that make up the Psalter. We cannot fully grasp the breadth and variety of the religious experiences of the prayerbook of the Bible by looking at one psalm. We can, however, get a sense of the religious experience expressed by this one psalm: that it is poetic, difficult, and promising. If we were comfortable with the Bible and with God perhaps we would ask to have the rest of the album shared with us. If so, we would see pictures of terrible hurt, exhilarating joy, genuine surprise, deep longing, serious study, and pure honesty to describe but a portion of the pictures contained in the album.
We would see all of the pictures from the Psalms and the Bible if we were comfortable. But we are not comfortable are we? What is it about God, the Lively Word of the Bible and religious practices that makes us so uncomfortable? Do we not feel worthy? Do we feel too small? Do we think we are bothering God with our small requests? Are we embarrassed? Have you ever been in contact with someone for quite a while and suddenly realized that you do not know their name (not that you forgot someone’s name, but that you never learnt it in the first place). You are too far into the relationship to ask. Could it be with God we feel we have been together too long to ask for a formal introduction to God? We are too embarrassed to ask so we just keep on trucking with the distinct hope that God’s name will come to us.
This morning let us hold this one picture, Psalm 131 and re-introduce ourselves to God. This may be our first introduction, or may be our fiftieth introduction. Just like seeing a photo for the first time all is new and just like seeing a photo for the 50th time you notice new expressions and details you did not before, so too is our relationship with God.
This Psalm, this picture provides us a metaphor an image of a calmed and quieted soul which is like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me. When a child is weaned the experience is more than just the end of nursing; there is an emotional component shared also. A weaned child has developed the inner capacity to deal with difficulty, pain, and fear. A weaned child has developed the ability to calm and quiet their self without the need to nurse. A weaned child is emotionally matured to the point that they are comfortable with their surroundings and life. Would the picture of our soul be that of a calmed and quieted soul like a weaned child?
Shortly after arriving here I took #1 to a story time over at the library. All of the kids gathered on a rug and formed a semicircle around the children’s librarian. The librarian asked if all of the kids would sit crisscross applesauce, quickly the kids crossed their legs and listened to the librarian read. I sat on a chair and watched the faces of the children: comfortable, calmed, and quieted. The kids were expectant of an enjoyable experience. It occurred to me this is what our relationship with God should be like, like kids sitting crisscross applesauce totally at ease and comfortable in God’s presence.
We may have broken down Christmas, we may have tucked away We Three Kings until next year but we still in the middle of the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany season. We are in the thick of a season that directs our hearts, minds, and bodies to the great manifestation of God as a child. God did not march into history as a monster or as a warrior. God snuck into history as a child. This season proclaims that God is not out to “get” us; God is not out to mess up our lives, or to cause us harm. God did not create us in order to make our lives a living hell. God is present to love us, forgive us, heal us, and redeem us. This is a God in whose presence we can be comfortable. This is a God whose presence invites us to let down our guard, to sit like a child who is expectant of God’s grace. We cannot become co-workers building for God’s kingdom if we are uncomfortable with God.
I invite you to put yourself, calmed and quieted in the presence of God. I invite you to put yourself in the picture created from Psalm 131. Regardless of how beautiful or how simple the posture and experience looks we all well know how difficult it is to quiet and calm our souls and to be in the presence of God. By waking up early on a Sunday morning, bypassing Meet the Press, a second cup of coffee, and a nice morning pastry we are all bodily confessing that as easy as it sounds to sit quietly and calmly in the presence of God it is not. There is not just one Psalm but 150 Psalms a vivid reminder of the difficulty of being comfortable in God’s presence.
When we are asked the question if your house was on fire and all of your family and pets were safely outside and you had time to run back and retrieve one item what would it be? Almost every time we choose pictures. Pictures, they hold not only our memories but are able to create new memories and tell new stories to our children and future generations. If you ever are in the Rochester, NY area it would behoove you to drive downtown and find your way to 19 Madison Street the address of the Susan B. Anthony House. I once took the youth group there. As we were finishing the tour we paused at Ms. Anthony’s personal desk. On the desk was a brittle black and white picture of Ms. Anthony at her desk. I examined the picture of the desk and noticed that she surrounded herself with pictures and newspaper clippings all pertaining to women’s rights. For inspiration, challenge, and comfort she surrounded herself with pictures. Pictures, pictures, pictures. We can safely surmise that the pictures time and again deepened her wellspring that enabled her to boldly proclaim: Failure is Impossible. Pictures, pictures, pictures.
This little Psalm, number 131, may seem insignificant but it and its 149 Psalms contained memories of Israel’s experience as a people with the Living God. All 150 were sifted, tested, and formed in the crucible of life. This one little Psalm, number 131, contains a memory and it contains a hope formed by the transforming experience of a calmed and quieted soul. This little Psalm contains a picture which aided Israel in its quest to be a holy nation.
The way you live your life, whether you acknowledge it or not, affects those around you. If you are angry all the time you will make all those around you uncomfortable. If you are happy you will make those around you more comfortable. Right now we are affecting each other; right now all of our heartbeats and our breathing are within a beat or two of each other. A calmed and quieted soul always “wins.” By that I mean when you are in the presence of an anxious or upset person the goal of that person is to get you anxious or upset. But a person who chooses to remain calm always offers a new equilibrium of a non-anxious presence. By remaining calm we will more than likely either drive the anxious or upset person bonkers or we will calm them down.
As the Psalm ends it shifts voice from that of a lone pilgrim to that of a pilgrim among pilgrims: O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore. It is right to ask if the actions of one person can bring change to others. I am willing to stake all I have that each of you here this morning have been deeply touched by another who had a calmed and quieted soul. I am sure calmed and quieted souls enabled this church to proclaim in 1838, We feel it our duty to bear our solemn testimony against slavery. We believe it to be repugnant to be the principles which our government is based, a disgrace to our country and above all, a most heinous sin against God.” We work at obtaining a calmed and quieted soul not for our own sake but for the sake of Love. Our work for a calmed and quieted soul is not for our own benefit but for the healing of the world, for the redemption of the world. Could our world at this time need anything more than calmed and quieted souls in Gaza, in Jerusalem, in Islamabad, in Kiev, in Kabul, on Wall Street, in D.C. in our neighborhoods in and our own homes?
Psalm 131. A picture to remind and inspire us. I invite you to copy in some form this Psalm and carry it with you for this week, keep it in your wallet or coat pocket, pull it out throughout the day and slowly repeat it, live with this picture. We need a reminder of the life we want to live.
God has given us pictures for our lives that are meant to comfort, challenge, and inspire. The more time we spend with the pictures the more comfortable we become with God, the more we come to know God more. This morning in one hand there is Psalm 131 and on the other hand there is the picture of Holy Communion. Both pictures are vivid offerings of a God who seeks to erase the level of discomfort we feel towards our Creator. When we are comfortable in the presence of God, we are comfortable in our own presence, we are comfortable in this world, we are comfortable working for justice, extending mercy, and practicing grace. I know, I know correlation does not equal causation but when we draw nearer, nearer to the Precious Lord history shows we become tenderized and conscientized and more comfortable with God.
The way is not easy the story of Holy Communion tells us that for sure. But along the way we have pictures, pictures of the good life, pictures of a different way of life, pictures of a weaned child with a calmed and quieted soul. May these pictures be our good news. Take these pictures and have them become pictures of a living faith that is comfortable in God’s presence.
Let us pray.
May we continue to strive for just a closer walk with Thee O Lord. May we approach you with hearts lifted up, relaxed bodies, open minds. May we approach you expecting your grace and love present in this world. May you find us O Lord as children, children sitting crisscross applesauce eager to add our own pictures to the album of a living faith. Amen.