Monday, December 30, 2013

Sermon from Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013; Psalm 148

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 148
“Praise, Praise, Praise!!!”
Dec 29, 2013

Last time we gathered we were anticipating the birth of Jesus. For weeks we lit candles representing hope, love, peace and joy. On Tuesday night we dimmed the sanctuary and with candles in hand we sung “Silent Night” as our anticipation neared its close.

Now we have entered the 12 Days of Christmas, a time in which we keep the spirit of the season alive by waiting for Epiphany, the day the Magi arrive bearing gifts.

In the meantime, we eat left-overs, throw away excess wrapping paper, pick pieces of tinsel from off the floor and rub our bellies saying “Why did I eat so much again?”

Hopefully, we’re also basking in the after-glow of what the season is really about and what it means to say God has entered our world as a child so that we may have eternal life.

I’ve been blessed with an abundance of cards, homemade food, and gifts. One of them is a calendar with daily uplifting reminders about the goodness of life.

I’ve already started using it, keeping it on the porch where I like to sit with my morning coffee while watching the birds and spending time with the cats.

The entry from yesterday was a quote by Edith Wharton. It said this- “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

It got me thinking. Here’s the thing about candles: they burn out. Candles give and give and give until they are all gone. But a mirror? It can go on reflecting forever as long as there’s something to reflect.

Which lead to another thought: spiritually speaking, we are not the candle, nor are we called to be the candle.

Who is the candle???

…That means we, as Christians, get to be the mirror; we get to reflect the light that comes from God, that comes from Jesus, that comes from the Holy Spirit.

But we are not the candle.

That’s part of the beauty of today’s reading. Psalm 148 is a glorious testimony to God, our Creator. It’s a glorious song that pays tribute to God and makes the claim that we should not only praise God, but that we were created to be praising people.

It also makes a bold claim: that we are not the only beings or things that celebrate God, but all matters of creation do: cattle and creepy crawlies, cedars and citrus, snow and sun.

Even sea creatures that scare us and stars that shine in the sky offer God thanks.

Praise, praise, praise!!! this song commands. The Lord alone is exalted. Can we get an amen? Can we get an amen??

But let’s pause here for a moment because I know what some people are thinking: the sun doesn’t praise, mountains don’t sing.

Not once have we driven past an orange grove and seen the trees move or heard them break out in harmony, and if we did, that would be horrifying!

Cows go moo, ducks go quack, and ask any of your grandchildren: they’ll tell you what the fox says. But have you ever heard one say “Amen?”

Plus, let’s be honest, nature isn’t always so cute. Nature can be downright cruel. We have storms and floods, tidal waves and famines. Animals kill to eat, bugs and vermin carry disease and everything on earth and creation is in a state of decay.

Is the author speaking nonsense? Is the author telling a lie? Is the author naïve?

No. You see, there is something in theology that is called a second naiveté. It refers to the faith process that people go through.

When younger, we see the world a certain way. A place where wonder and magic can happen and we believe all that we are told, be it a Disney film or a biblical story.

As we grow older, those beliefs are challenged. We learn about history and science, philosophy and symbolism. We hear different viewpoints and the opinions of others and we come to discover that things may actually be quite different from what we originally thought.

For example: was Jonah really swallowed by a giant fish or is the fish symbolic of death, making Jonah’s story about rebirth and second chances?

A second naiveté is not about being in denial, it’s about saying “Yes, I know the reality of things, but I choose to believe the story anyway because its truth is more beautiful then facts.”

There is something about the child-like awe that wonder and belief brings into the world. There is trust and joy, and a sense that something good is bound to happen, and that it is always greater then ourselves.

A few weeks ago on TV there was an episode of The Middle that captured this notion. It features Sue Heck, a teenager who is in that awkward in-between stage. She’s uber-enthusiastic about everything and never gives up even when she fails miserably.

It’s hard to tell when her enthusiasm is child-like or childish.

In the scene we’re about to play, Sue claims she saw an image of the Santa Marie on her wall. Her Dad tries to convince her that it wasn’t real; he shares that once he thought he saw his dead grandmother, but he didn’t tell anyone because it sounded insane.

Here is Sue’s response: “No, it sounds incredible. There are so many beautiful, amazing things that happen every day that sound crazy.

Think about it: if I had to explain the miracle of how babies are born to someone who didn’t know, wouldn’t I sound insane?

Stars: I read that when a star explodes the dust they find is the same thing that makes up humans, animals, the entire universe.

How amazing is that? The same stardust is in everything and everyone. Me, you, even Christopher Columbus.

You know, in his day some people still thought the world was flat. Columbus said it was round and people thought he was crazy.

Look, I know there are always going to be doubters but it just takes someone who thinks ‘Why can’t it be true’ to truly change the world, and I am one of those people.

So how can you sit there, on this planet made of stardust that was once thought to be flat and still not think anything is possible?” (from ABC’s The Middle episode titled “Halloween IV: The Ghost Story” aired Oct 30, 2013).***

I love her logic, her passion and her claim that we are all made up of stardust. Hers is a belief that anything is possible.

And it’s because of people like Sue Heck that impossible things do take place. The Sue’s of the world are the ones who sail across an ocean, create airplanes, build parks out of swamps and believe that things like injustice can be eradicated and hunger can be defeated.

And this notion of all things being made of the same material, being made of stardust, brings us back to the imagery of Psalm 148.

In this Christmas season, it makes the child-like claim that all people, all creatures, all things praise God.

It makes the child-like claim that all people, all creatures, all things have the capacity and the ability to praise God; that the hills literally are alive with the sound of music.

Naïve? Perhaps. But think of what that means: that all things are of value, all things are of worth, and all things have a purpose and a place.

It also means that all things, all creatures, and all people come from the same source: God.

That as different as we are, as disjointed as we may seem, as at odds with one another we may feel, we are actually all connected, we are all a part of…we all belong.

What would the world look like if we chose to believe this to be true and to act in such a way, every day? What if we believed and acted that God is the source and author of all life?

What if we chose to believe and to act that God is the candle, and not us?

And that the light that came into our world is Jesus. The one born to peasants, placed in a manger, surrounded by what?: stars that shine, lowly shepherds who visit, magi who come bearing gifts, and a bevy of animals who sing their own song.

All of creation has been groaning up to this moment, but with Jesus, the light of the world entering in, all of creation gets to sing and celebrate and to anticipate the good that is bound to happen.

We get to play our part; we get to sing along and to share our gifts.

We get to praise God because we realize we are not God; we are not the candle that gives the world light, but we get to be the mirrors of that light.

We get to be mirrors with what we say, what we do, in how we live, by how we love.

Do we shine the light of Christ just to others who are like us, or can we be mirrors bright enough to shine the light of Christ to all of creation?: cattle and creepy crawlies, cedars and citrus, snow and sun, sea creatures that scare us and stars that shine in the sky.

If we are all indeed endowed with the same stardust made by the same star-maker, then we can shine just as bright as the evening sky and believe that anything is possible.

Amen and amen.

***to see the clip that was played during service, you can go to my FaceBook page. It's a shoddy copy but it's more powerful then just reading the words.

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