This week’s message is based on Psalm 135:1-3; 13-21. I’ve posted the video from worship below and have it beginning at the scripture time just before the sermon. If you would like to watch the whole service you can click here. If you’d just like to read the sermon, I’ve placed the text to it below. Though I will say it reads a little different…
Beguiled By Beauty Week 4
Have you ever just been at a total loss of words? Maybe you’ve seen a beautiful sight that words just couldn’t do it justice. Or maybe you’ve loved someone or something so much that there just weren’t any words to describe it. In our Psalm this morning the author is searching for words to describe and praise the Divine One, YHWH and then for a moment he breaks to talk about idols and cautions us to be careful not to become like our human made idols and they go right back to singing God praises. Our theme this week is Abyss, Mystery and Wonder. These words sort of describe our spiritualness.
Would you please pray with me?
Have you ever been at a loss for words? Maybe something really wonderful happened and you were left speechless. Or the opposite, something so awful happened that all you could do was cry. Or maybe you saw something so beautiful and wanted to share it with others but couldn’t find words to do it justice.
When I was a kid, we often went to the beach. My mom and dad could sit out in the sand and just listen to the waves for hours… until us kids would come out and start talking… if you ask my mom she would say that I talked non stop… and then they would go in… I never understood it. Who wants to sit for that long without talking?
As I got older and we went to the beach again, I remember going and sitting out there with them and getting caught up in the beauty of the ocean, the sky, the birds, all of it! No words were needed.
Sometimes now, I sit out on our porch and just listen to the birds sing, the wind blow through the trees, wind chimes play. It’s so peaceful, relaxing, and yeah, kind of spiritual. Again, no words needed, in fact words can kind of get in the way.
Sometimes, when I go out I think about turning on some music, but when I do my focus is changed… the words of the song distract me from the beauty around me.
Does this ever happen to you? Sometimes in our spiritual lives, there are no words. No words are needed, we just need to be present in the moment.
So often, I hear people say, “I don’t know what to say…” when there is a death or illness. Honestly, you don’t need to say anything. Just be present. Be in the moment with them.
Back to our scripture. The middle part can kind of seem out of place. It goes from praising God to a warning about idols and then quickly back to praise. Why? It seems strange but have you ever experienced something wonderful and find that as you look back on it you’ve built it up to bigger than it was? When you compare what happened with someone else who was there, find that their memory of it was completely different? Or maybe you’ve been looking forward to something and build it up so big in your mind that when it happens, it’s almost a let down?
Redeployment is like that. Redeployment is when soldiers return home from a deployment. We get so excited about the homecoming. We dream of it and we imagine it. Think of how wonderful it will be! We’ve seen other people’s homecomings on TV, in the movies or on social media and fantasize about it for weeks as it comes near. We build it up! They warn us against this. As we go to briefings preparing us for reintgration, they tell us not to do this but you can’t help it! And then the day comes and… as strange as it may seem, it can be a little disappointing. After the initial hoopla and you get home… All the soldier wants to do is sleep! Oh, you get the hug, the kiss, but then they are like oh look a pillow! And they are snoring. Don’t get me wrong. You’re so happy they are home safe and sound but… they didn’t notice the new dress, or haircut, or the immaculate house you worked so on! Could it be that this reunion became a sort of idol?
Or what about what we are going through right now? Trying to decide the best time to reopen the churches. We imagine getting back together! Getting to see friends and be in the church building again! Sitting in the pews again in our beautiful sanctuaries. Could we be making idols out of worship in these buildings? Putting those experiences first instead of the safety of our friends and neighbors?
Or what about all that is going on surrounding the confederate statues and the flag? This was a terrible time in our history. The civil war almost tore our country in two. Should we really be glorifying this time in our history? Should we be making idols of those who led on the side of the confederacy? Yes, we need to remember them, who they were and what they did, and what they stood for but there is a place for that… museums, and history books but not on street corners or lawns of courthouses and municipal buildings. We can’t glorify them and make them idols. They represent something that brings pain to some of our brothers and sisters. They represent pain inflicted on our brothers and sisters today and also their ancestors. They are a symbol of that pain. Do we care so little for our siblings of color that we can put that aside?
Or what about the idea and act of wearing a mask? Some think it is encroaching on their freedom. Again, have we made freedom an idol? Putting the freedom from wearing a mask, above the health and welfare of our neighbors and the most vulnerable of society? Could it be yet another idol.
The interesting part of this scripture is that it says these idols can’t see, they can’t hear, they can’t speak, they can’t breath and here’s the REALLY interesting part, their makers will come to be like them and so will all who trust them. These idols… the redeployments, the church buildings, the confederate statues and flag they are nothing but things or ideas, that’s it. They have no feelings. So why do we put them on this pedestal?
What does it mean that we become like them? Could it mean that when we focus on them, we can no longer see the beauty around us? We can no longer hear it? We can no longer speak to it? Perhaps that we can no longer see see the beauty in one another.
Using the redeployment example, I remember feeling really sad one time. Shannon had been gone 15 months and I just knew his homecoming was going to be AMAZING! It as going to be just like a movie. We went to watch the plane land, we waved signs and cheered. We smiled till our cheeks hurt but then it was over… I guess I hoped the fanfare would go on for days. But instead, it was back to normal pretty quickly. I got caught up in the idea of homecoming, in the visions I had of it that I couldn’t really be in the moment of it. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy he was home safe and sound but somehow it didn’t seem enough. Sounds crazy I know! It does to me too! But that’s kind of what happens with idols. They blind us to what’s important and they can hold us back from compassion and justice and love. They are life-denying, not life-giving.
This series is all about opening our eyes, about looking around and seeing God presence among us. It’s all about seeing Christ in each other’s faces. It’s about finding our compassion for others, seeking justice for the oppressed, it’s about loving as God loves us. It’s about being present in the moment. Wendy Farley said in her book “Beguiled By Beauty,” “The feeling of tenderness toward others is rooted in the source of compassion, the Divine Beloved… the possibility of radical compassion arises as we deepen our relationship with ultimate reality, known to Christians by many names, most often as “God”. We can tell whether we are worshiping the divine Goodness or an idol of our imagination by the fruits of our worship. Love, compassion, social justice are the fruits of loving God. Cruelty, hubris, selfishness, hostility to creation suggest that, whatever names we are using we are worshiping an idol.”
I think it is too easy for us fall into this idol making. It just kind of sneaks up on us. I don’t think we do it intentionally at all. Things seem so big so important that we can focus on them sometimes to the extreme and loose sight of what is really important, of the beauty of creation, of the beauty of one another, of the beauty of God.
Take time today and all week, to set the idol aside… social media, news, television, fear, hate… and sit outside or near a window and just quietly spend some time with God, no words needed, just look around, just listen, just be present in the moment and reconnect with our Creator. Let Love focus you, let Love fill you, let Love lead you. Let Love remind you. Let Love surround you. Let Love hold your attention in a way that is deeper than words, in a way that draws you so deep into the moment, so deep into the spiritual abyss that you are wowed in the Beloved’s presence.