In the beginning, when darkness covered the face of the deep, the LORD our God took a breath and began to sing, and God sung all of life into being.
In the beginning, when God was working in the dark, fearfully and wonderfully knitting together our inward parts, God was singing while she was working. What happened was that some of the singing got into each of us, now we can’t even help but sing back! We’ve got singing in our bones and that’s not all…
If you were to ask anybody, what, exactly is the power of God? Probably everyone you’d ask would give you a different answer, and probably everybody would be a little bit right. Some people say God’s power is his creative agency —just look at what he has made! Some say their power is the promise of salvation. Ask my husband and he’ll tell you that God’s power is her generosity, and that’s true. If you ask me, I’d say the power of God is compassion.
When God was handcrafting you and me before we were born, he was singing while he worked and some of his singing got into our bones, but here’s the thing —so did his compassion. Now in the deep place of your being, you harbor something of the very power of God. At the heart of who you are is grace.
In keeping with the Narrative Lectionary, we’re going to be journeying through the Gospel of John for the next few months. But not today. Today we’re stepping away from the Fourth Gospel to allow ourselves to get interrupted by a song of praise. Think of it like a big burst of spring in the middle of a midwestern winter!
All through the Psalms, you’ll hear prayers that speak to the heart of the people’s fears. Specifically, we hear what Bible scholar Paul Hanson identifies as the twin doubts of the exile. One: Is God powerful enough to save us? and Two: Does God even want to save us? All through the Psalms, you’ll hear those worries get answered through the rising of the prayers.
For example, we’ve got Psalm Sixty-Four which begins: “Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; save my life from the enemy.” The song goes on to plead for protection. God, the enemies are shooting arrows at me! I know you’re strong enough to rescue me, and I know you’ll choose to do so! In fact, God will shoot arrows back at them, then everyone will know that our God is a God who comes through.
This sets us up for the scripture we heard today. We charge right into the words Karen read: “Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion…” It flows together perfectly. It makes good sense.
Here’s what doesn’t make as much sense. Psalm Sixty-Five could have ended with verse seven, and it doesn’t. It keeps going!
This song begins by praising God for coming to our rescue, for answering our cries with help and answering our transgressions with forgiveness. It is God who delivers us and saves us, so we’ll do the only thing we can. Of course, we’ll praise God in the temple! We’ll sing right out loud that: You, O God, you are the one who established the mountains and quelled the waters of chaos!
This acknowledgement is so important. It’s just… don’t you think that does the trick?
I mean, if you open to Psalm Sixty-Five and look at verses one through seven, you’ll see, these words are essential. O God, we pleaded to you for help. You helped us. We praise you, O LORD.
Now isn’t the transaction complete? Why does the song keep going? What more can you say…
These days, we might not be living through the exile, but I think we can relate to the worry about God’s power and choice. You and I know, the pandemic is affecting our collective spiritual health. One of the symptoms I’m seeing is a rising wave of frustration and blame. Blame has gotten into everything.
People get blamed for shutting things down and for re-opening. People get blamed for not requiring masks and for requiring masks. We’re blaming the unvaccinated for endangering health care workers. We’re blaming the people who are supposed to be helping for not helping enough. And there’s no question!
Our leaders have made real mistakes. So have school boards, and parents, and pastors, and health care workers, and teachers, and customer care representatives. Look, some of this blame is entirely deserved. Some of this blame is entirely unfair. And don’t you just want to get in there and sort it out and make sure it’s correctly assigned. Let’s get this transaction right!
As much as this is our impulse, I will tell you, there’s an even deeper concern. As a pastor, I’m seeing people blaming *themselves* like I’ve never seen before. Talk about shooting arrows! Our own experience of guilt is soaring.
Parents feel guilty for taking measures to prevent their kids from testing positive. They feel guilty when they’re not able to prevent this. People who are struggling at work feel guilty because they can’t keep up with the impossible demands. And they feel guilty for quitting. People are feeling guilty for getting COVID. It’s bad enough to be sick, but now there’s shame mixed in with being sick.
There’s a common misconception that if you feel guilty, that means you must have done something to deserve that. I invite you to join me in rejecting that nonsense.
Sure, I might feel guilty when I do something wrong. The problem is I might feel guilty because someone else is angry, because I’m grieving, because my own compassion is being triggered by someone else’s hurt. There are scores of reasons why a person might feel guilty when they have done nothing to deserve to feel guilty. As a people, we struggle with that intently. Our souls are flooded with shame.
It’s no wonder we find ourselves trusting our shame more than our truth. It’s no wonder we forget about the singing in our bones…
It’s just— what if we don’t have to forget?
If the very power of God is compassion, then something of this mercy is already in your soul and in mine. You don’t have to go out and learn grace; you’ve always had it. There’s always more forgiveness than we can calculate, there’s always more grace than we know, and what if this grace could dissolve our guilt? What if we could choose to trust the tender mercy of God even if this means becoming open to the possibility that we could forgive ourselves?
Just imagine! We could find ourselves forgiven. Our hearts could be moved.
I recently came upon a Youtube video that you’re gonna want to check out. It’s one of those puppies and babies videos that is over-the-top adorable. And if you’re thinking, Mariah, come on, we see what this is. You put this in your sermon so you’d have to watch it a bunch more times, yeah. I’m not going to deny that.
An enormous husky dog, named Millie, is fascinated by a one-week-old human baby, named Daisy. Daisy is asleep in her crib, and Millie knows she’s in there. She begins jumping up, and pawing at the crib, and she’s not gonna stop. That’s when Millie’s human decides to pick up this giant animal and set her down in the crib with the newborn!
Instantly, the dog goes for the baby’s face. Millie sniffs Daisy’s nose and licks her, and you’re watching this thinking, if Millie loses her balance and accidentally steps on Daisy, that’s gonna be a problem! Instead, Millie steps behind Daisy and lays down. Millie rests her face on Daisy’s head and settles in to sleep.
And here we didn’t need to be worried after all! We could have trusted this giant dog’s tenderness. And all I’m saying is can you imagine if we could trust our own compassion…
This is what it is to receive an apology you never expected to hear.
This is the act of kindness from a stranger that saves your life.
This is also what’s going on in the world right now, and who knew we had this power inside of us…
Psalm Sixty-Five starts out so responsibly: Praise is due to you, O God of Zion. We were in trouble, you rescued us, so thank you. You are more powerful than we can fathom. You established the mountains and quelled the chaos. And it sure seems like this Psalm would have done its job if it ended with verse seven. What more can you say?
Beginning with verse eight, the song absolutely gets away from the Psalmist. He begins gushing with praise, tripping over his own Hallelujahs! O Holy Spirit, your river is full of water. You provide the people with grain; you crown the year with your bounty! The meadows are clothed with flocks; the valleys shout for joy and burst into singing!
It’s like something happened to the Psalmist. Here he set out to craft an obligatory thank you when something in his heart was moved by praise, now what can you do?
You and I know. Even in this hurting world, the beauty of God is still rising before us. The compassion of God is more powerful than our blame and our shame, and this compassion is our power too, and are we even ready for that? Now our hearts will melt when we see the wolf lie down with the baby, when we see the wilderness overflow with flowers! It might even get us singing. The mercy of God is on the loose, and what more can we say?
Only Hallelujah! Always Hallelujah.