Date: June 11, 2017
Title: “Grace Along the Way”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Psalm 100
Make a joyful noise to the Lord… says the Psalmist. Serve the Lord with gladness …In days like these?? Getting joy out of us can take a bit of work. We are fortified against it. We have erected walls of self protection, a sort of fort against disappointment, disease, despair, and the depression of daily news. In a world rife with violence, famine, distrust and inequities of all kinds, there is probably nothing more radical or counter-cultural than to live with joy, gladness, praise and gratitude. Nothing is more counter-cultural these days than to live a life of joy.
So it may help us to remember that this lovely Psalm, with its demand for joy, was written in a time as full of fear, apprehension and ambiguity as our own. Even in the midst of political oppression, sectarian squabbling, abject poverty and crushing injustice, the Psalmist pushes us beyond every one of those boundaries. The Psalmist breaks down the most highly fortified walls, imploring us to come before God with a song, and to come with joy.
The song you bring today may be a song we all know…a psalm, a great hymn of the church, a modern day melody, or even a campfire memory. Or maybe it’s a song you just make up on the spot. Those can be some of the best.
When I was raising my daughters one of the things I put a high priority on was summer vacation. Every year I made sure that we did something together, that we had some sort of adventure for a week or two. As a single mother serving small United Methodist churches in western Oregon, these were typically not high-ticket travel adventures. We took a lot of road trips, and we did a lot of camping.
In order to break the monotony of hours in the car, we would play games or tell stories, probably familiar to many of you with your family road trips… trying to spot license plates from as many different states (or provinces) as possible; or playing endless rounds of “I Spy with my Little Eye”; or making up round-robin stories where each person added only a line or two at a time.
But my favorite were the days I proclaimed as “Light Opera” days… and insisted we had to sing whatever we wanted to say. Those were the best. It drove my children crazy, but I loved it. Because those were songs made up on the spot. They barely rhymed, they didn’t fully resolve, and most of the time they were sung out of key. Yet they usually ended in a giggle, a snort, or a full-blown belly laugh, as together we moved from boredom or grumpiness to self-abandonment, spontaneity, and JOY.
There’s something about singing… it is not coincidence that the Psalmist tells us to enter God’s courts with praise, with singing, and with joy. Singing changes the moment, alters the mood, and has the potential to change even us. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans it showed no respect for homes, schools, businesses, even hospitals. In one hospital the staff was struggling to care for patients when they no longer had electricity, water, food, or medicine to offer. In that horrible situation, several medical staff members decided the best they could do was to alter the mood, change the moment, in hopes of changing themselves.
They gathered patients around and sang – all they had to offer were the songs of faith they remembered from Sunday school and church, and the songs of hope they dredged from their own memories of family road trips or campfires or backyard barbeques. And that singing made a difference. Blood pressures lowered, patients relaxed, some even reported reduced pain, less anxiety, and more hope.
Music is a language which allows us to express our deepest longings, our greatest joys, and our most profound trust in the One who created us and loves us unconditionally. Music is a fundamental element in our worship precisely because it is a transformative force in our lives. Garrison Keillor tells a story out of Lake Wobegon about this very power of music to change us…
Brother Louie had a car which was a rolling display of Scripture truth. Not only did his license plate display a verse of Scripture, but additional ones were plastered all over the inside of his car – across the dashboard, both sun visors, the back of the front seat, the ashtray and glove compartment. But the best thing about Brother Louie’s car was its horn, which played the first eight notes of the Doxology (the song we sing when we receive each Sundays’ offering)…
It sounded like a trumpet. Louie blew it at pedestrians, oncoming traffic, while passing, sometimes just for his own pleasure. On occasion, vexed by a fellow driver, Louie gave in to wrath and leaned on the horn, only to hear “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow…” Keillor says, “It calmed him right down”
Doxology – our words of praise, honor and glory we offer to God – is a consistent instruction found in the Bible. What is remarkable about this insistence on doxology is that it is not merely to be a response to good times and happy days. Many of the strongest injunctions to praise were written when life was hard and harsh, even in the face of suffering and pain. So we are called to embody a defiant doxology in our day, to offer our words – and our songs – of praise, honor and glory to God regardless of the circumstances of the moment. Mary Oliver puts it this way..
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still… life has some possibility left.
Life has possibility for joy left, if we will only remember our defiant doxologies in days of celebration and times of heartache, in good times and in bad. Parker Palmer reminds us: It requires no special talent or effort to look at our world and point out the things that numb us, or dumb us down, or depress us. But becoming keenly and consistently aware of what’s good, true, beautiful, and life-giving around us and within us demands a discipline: we must open our eyes, minds and hearts. And we must keep them open.
We must keep our eyes, our minds, and our hearts open…for how else will we find the GRACE ALONG THE WAY… which leads us into God’s presence with joy? Thanks be to God! Amen.