Date: August 1, 2015
Title: “Everything in its Place”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Psalm 8 and Psalm 133
This morning I’d like to begin with two stories of orientation – two stories of finding grounding, and identity and priorities for life. The first may or may not be a true story. I found it on Facebook this week – perhaps you saw it, too. A photograph was taken in a cemetery, and in this photo there was a truck, pulling a fishing boat on a trailer. In the boat was a coffin. Now my Facebook friend reported seeing this strange sight and commenting to someone at the graveside, “Wow, that person must have been quite the fisherman.” Whereupon the answer came back, “He still is; he plans to head to the lake just as soon as we finish burying his wife!” Now that is a particular kind of orientation!
The second story is probably a little more reliable in terms of its veracity. The second story comes to us by way of the great 20th century preacher Fred Craddock, who used to tell of meeting a stranger in a restaurant one day, who came over to him and asked “You a preacher?” just like that. Fred was somewhat taken aback by this, but decided the truth was the only option, so he replied “Yes, I am.”
The stranger then pulled a chair up to Fred’s table. “Preacher”, he said, “let me tell you a story. There was once a little boy who grew up sad. Life was tough because my mama had me but she had never been married. Do you know how a small Tennessee town treats people like that? Do you know the words they use to name kids that don’t have a father?
Well, we never went to church, and nobody ever invited us. But for some reason, we went to church one night when they were having a revival. They had a big, tall, visiting preacher doing that revival. He was all dressed in black and had a thunderous voice that shook that little church. We sat toward the back, Mama and me, trying to fade into the background, hoping nobody would notice us there. Well, that preacher got to preaching – about what I don’t know – stalking up and down the aisle of that little church. It was something.
After the service, we were slipping out the back door when I felt that big preacher’s hand on my shoulder. I was terrified. He looked way down at me, looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Boy – who’s your daddy?’ I thought I’d die, but in a trembling voice I told him, ‘I ain’t got no daddy.’ ‘Oh, yes you do!’, boomed that big preacher, ‘You’re a child of God! And don’t you ever forget it!’”
The stranger went on, “I was never the same after that. Preacher – for God’s sake – preach that!”
At that point, the man pulled his chair away from Fred’s table, extended his hand and introduced himself. Craddock said the name rang a bell, as well it should have… since the stranger was the former governor of Tennessee!
You are a child of God. Imagine what might happen, think of the confidence we might gain, the possibilities we might entertain, the dreams we might achieve, if we believed that. You are a child of God. For God’s sake – preach that! It’s good advice for any of us, whether we are preaching to a great crowd, or simply telling ourselves over and over again who we are and to whom we belong.
Like the Psalmist we stand amazed at the glory and wonder of God’s creation. Think for a moment of the last time you stood on a mountaintop, or on a desert plain, at the edge of the sea, or even rocking on the wave on a clear night. And looking up, your breath catches in your throat. All those stars! All those galaxies! All that light traveling through time and space – it’s enough to boggle your mind.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have made…what are human beings, that you are mindful of them? Yet you have made us a little lower than God, you have crowned us with glory and honor.
Now you may not be feeling particularly glorious today. You may tell me you don’t see any honor swirling around your feet. And you would not be alone. I know that some of you are here today, struggling with burdens which seem too great to bear. Perhaps you cannot imagine how you will ever be able to let go of your anger or resentment. Perhaps you have begun to despair, thinking you will never be free of your addiction or your pain. Perhaps you can’t believe you will ever find a love which won’t let you down, or ever be able to heal your own woundedness.
The good news is, you don’t have to heal your own wounds, because God is always working to make possible what we think is impossible. But we do have to do our part, beginning with understanding the orientation of our lives.
Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests that the Book of Psalms provides a primary text for our orientation. Often used in public worship from the time of their writing, the Psalms present a very realistic view of human life in relationship with God. One of the reasons people have found this literature so compelling is that there is not a lot of sugar coating in the Psalms. Emotion is not only accepted, it is expressed outright, where loss is balanced with blessing.
In the two psalms we read today, Brueggemann would say we find that “everything is in its place.” Here, things are settled and beyond doubt. God is trustworthy and God’s care is ongoing. Grounded in the grace of creation, we find our place is as secure as the Creator’s presence. We are just a little lower than God.
If we believe that, we can practice amazing grace, instead of simply singing about it. Just a little lower than God…if we believe that, we can let go of our anger and resentment, we can step out of our pain, and we can let God make possible all that we think is impossible. Yes, we can – if we orient our lives in God’s love, God’s grace, God’s glory.
But here’s the thing: we have to remember all that orientation entails. If God has given us dominion over creation, if God is asking us to share in sovereignty of the world, then we must take care of creation. Creation is not here for us to trample it or to neglect it, abuse it or devalue it. We are here to care for it, and the whole issue of whether the air is fit to breathe or the water is fit to drink or the climate is able to sustain our lives… these are not primarily social concerns. They are not primarily political issues. They are not even media events for us to placidly watch playing out on our own Willamette River. Rather, the state of creation is a spiritual concern, and it is a theological issue at its core.
Psalm 133 is commonly thought to be a song of ascent, used when the people were going up to Jerusalem. It is a psalm of pilgrimage. Imagine singing this pilgrim psalm with all the people traveling together, sometimes for weeks or more. That would be like our whole church taking a vacation together, all of us heading out to Minnesota with Allison to visit her family! I’m sure her mom would love to see us all show up on her doorstep, and we would just love to live together, sharing the same space, the same belongings, the same food, agreeing on the same route for weeks… and finding it “good and pleasant”?! Responsible as we are for one another, loving and caring and nurturing each other along with the rest of creation… that would take a bit of grace!
The good news is, there is no shortage of grace. Not for me. Not for you. There is no shortage of grace at all, when we orient our lives in God’s love, where everything is in its place. Thanks be to God! Amen.