October 11, 2020
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise God in the heights! Praise God, all his angels; praise God, all their host! Praise The Lord, sun and moon; praise The Lord, all you shining stars! Praise the Holy One, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for our God commanded and they were created. The Lord established them for ever and ever; God fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed. Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young people of all genders alike, old and young together! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for God’s name alone is exalted; God’s glory is above earth and heaven. God has raised up a horn for God’s people, praise for all God’s faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to God. Praise the Lord!
This is the time of year when I feel most deeply myself. I’m not sure what it is about Autumn, but come October, I experience something of a homecoming to myself. As the days grow shorter, I have moments of giving myself grace to be who I truly am, of taking stock. Maybe it has something to do with slowing down after the business of the summer, and seeing the trees reveal their colors, as the hard work of photosynthesis in their leaves comes to an end. It could be from harvesting from the garden, and preparing the ground for the winter, when I have to be honest about what’s possible, what grew and what didn’t, what amendments to the soil I should add for next season, and then turning that same kind of reflection to my own life. Whatever the reason, this is the time of year when I stop and check in with myself. Am I sourcing my life from the source of all life? Who am I being invited to be in this one precious and wild life?
There is something deeply spiritual and comforting about recognizing our limits and being fully ourselves. In the Hebrew tradition, recognizing that God is God, and we are not, is a starting point for liberation, wholeness, justice, and deep spiritual wisdom. It’s not about feeling bad about ourselves, feeling less than, but recognizing who we are, and what our role is in the web of life and cosmic love. Harvest time is a season of awe and wonder. Working in concert with the land is a powerful reminder of what the limits of our labors are; we can’t make anything grow. we can plant seeds and water them, we can care for the soil and pull up weeds, but at the end of the day, the miracle of watching plants be plants, in concert with the sun and the rain, the heat and cold, the interconnected web of life, it puts us in our place. We have a role to play in the harvest, but we’re not at all in control.
God is God, and we are not. So, what is our role in God’s ongoing story of creation, redemption, and liberation? What is our role in the web of life that seems to sing with beauty this time of year?
Praise was central to the life of the Hebrew People who wrote the Psalms. That makes sense, given that this Hebrew poetry was their version of a hymnal. These poems put into words their deepest cries for help, the most honest self-reckonings asking for forgiveness from neighbors and God, the burning anger towards the unjust, the weeping at feeling God’s seeming absence in tragedy, the loudest shouts of thanks in the midst of breakthroughs. The Psalms aren’t about becoming someone else; they’re about being honest with ourselves and with God about the realities of human life, seeking God’s presence in the midst of it all, the Holy in the messiness.
The faith of the Psalm writers is an invitation to be honest. Here’s how it feels God, they sing. We trust that you love us for exactly who we are, and are big enough to hear where it hurts, to listen to our excitement when we soar, to always be alongside of us, inviting us even more deeply into the mystery of you.
Praise of God can feel out of place sometimes in our daily life. It’s emotional and honest, vulnerable, and messy. Cynicism feels so much safer to me. If God is so great, why does the world look like a hot mess, inside of a dumpster fire, inside of a train wreck? And yet, in the Fall, my cynicism gets put in its place. I think it’s because the veneer of the world having it all together falls away. The towering trees show their beauty as their leaves die at the end of the year. The trees have to be honest about themselves. With the changing levels of sunlight, the dropping temperatures, mean that they have to admit it’s time to rest, and wait, until it’s time for their leaves to re-emerge next Spring. A tree is a tree, and it can’t control the sun, the weather. But it can do what it is created to do, to adapt to the changing seasons, and there is such beauty and honesty when it does. For the Hebrew people, a tree being a tree, in all of its tree-ness, gave praise to God. It is who God made it to be, to do what God created it to do. And so, our Psalm this morning is one of encouragement of people, and plants, creatures and all of creation to praise God, by being who God has created them to be.
Autumn is a season when I can acknowledge that the invitation from the Holy One is not to be someone else, but to be as fully myself as I can, trusting that, just like all of creation, this honesty and vulnerability gives Praise to the one who invites me to trust and believe that I am a delight, to the source of all delight, the source of all. In our createdness, being deeply and fully ourselves, we show thankfulness to the Holy One. For Christians, Jesus embodies being fully himself, fully human, flaws and all. It is in that kind of humanness that God is pleased to dwell. It’s the same for Sea Monsters and Mountains.
We can easily think that, as people on a Spiritual Journey, we are called and pushed to be someone else than who we are. If only I was more patient, or more loving, braver or cleverer. But this time of year can be an invitation to do something else. What if we dig deep to the depths of who we are, and live out from our truth? What if we live from the depths of love, courage, strength that we already have, trusting that it is enough, with God’s help? When we approach God from that tender place, we can be open to trusting the gifts of the Holy Spirit found in our lives, and resound with Praise for the one who loves us, especially the parts of ourselves we find it hard to love. Our grief, our dreams, the ways in which we hurt ourselves, others, and creation, the ways we bind up the broken hearted and oppressed, they are not the deepest truth of us. We belong to God, all of who we are. The One who knitted us together in our Mother’s womb, sees all of who we are and calls us Beloved, right now. Being our deepest selves is one of the most genuine ways of saying Thank You.
For some of us, when we source ourselves from the deepest parts of who we are, we reach out in love for others. We feel secure in who we are, know in our bones that God loves us, and look out on the world with the concern born within us from the Parent of all creation. Our praise takes the form of being motivated by the love we feel to love others. It’s a type of love that not only blesses others, but blesses ourselves, being a part of God’s work in the world. But for many of us, when we are honest, we’re not feeling all that loved. We don’t have that sense of security. We wonder if we are good enough…if we are lovable. In those moments, friends, our Praise of the Most High God can take the form of finding ourselves fed by others, inviting them to be human alongside us. Because one of the deepest truths about being human is that it is not good for us to be alone.
Last week, I was feeling like I wasn’t enough. Part of being a Pastor is experiencing so much of human life, it’s highs and lows, rapidly and in multiple ways at the same time. I felt overwhelmed, by the state of our Nation, the pain of so many, the challenges our little Church in the Woods faces, the needs of the hungry poor in our midst. I didn’t feel like I was enough for the tasks at hand. I was driving to North Avenue to help with food distribution with the Interfaith COVID Taskforce, and I felt like I wasn’t enough. Somewhere inside me, a voice arose. “What would you tell someone else to do in this moment?” And I thought about it. If one of you was feeling overwhelmed by the pain of the world, I’d invite you to share it with me. When we are open to others, we can remember that we are not alone. And I would invite you to share what you would like me to lift to God in prayer, and then pray together. So, while I was driving, I called a fellow Pastor, Rev. Mark Hannah from Roland Park Presbyterian. I was honest with Mark. I told him that I needed to remember that it was not all up to me, that God was with us, and that I needed to focus on what was mine to do, and hand over to God what was God’s. He listened, and asked a few questions, and then, as I made my way down the Jones Fall Express Way, Mark prayed for me, and for our work on North Avenue, over my car stereo connected to my cellphone. And my anger at our government for not caring for so many experiencing hunger and poverty didn’t go away. But I saw what was my work to do, in that moment, for that day. I felt, for just a bit, that I was enough, that God’s grace was enough, that I wasn’t called to do it all myself, but to invite others into the moment at hand. While I was there, unloading boxes of food, I saw the brick buildings and the powerlines, the clouds in the sky dappled with the setting sun. I was able, with each person I interacted with, to see that we were in this together, and I drew strength from the love shared. It was such a gift, to be able to be in that Holy moment. I could feel broken and hopeful all at once, not having to hide, or pretend to have all the answers, but to just be fully human, knowing that God was with each person I met, and all of us.
Beloved, if you’re like me, singing praises to God, it has its place, but I like to be doing something beyond singing, or signing, to the Creator. And yet, the needs of the world can sometimes feel overwhelming. As we enter this week, I wonder, who can we love, today? Who can we be in solidarity with, today? Who can we pray for, right now? Maybe it’s someone else. Or maybe, today, right now, what you need to hear is that you are not alone. Sometimes, we need to remember that we are human, we are created, and when we can be honest about who we are, that we need others, and God, then we can find the strength to be who God created us to be. And that’s a form of praise that is almost impossible to put into words. It’s not all up to you, or me, Thank God. The grace of our Baptism is sufficient for the challenges we face, but we don’t ever go it alone. We are encouraged to invite each other, and all of creation, into the song of praise that is our lives. And these invitations to others, to walk with us, they can be an incredible blessing to those we invite to journey with us.
Beloved, What is holding back praise to God rising this day, through the living of your one wild and precious life? Is it a sense of not being good enough? Is it being unsure who you are? Are you doing too much? I’d invite you to take some time today, or this week, and check in with yourself. Maybe it’s time to reach out to others. We’re not created to be alone, and yet this is a lonely year, isn’t it? Maybe you’re invited to reach out to someone else and invite them to walk this journey with you, to pray with you, to remind you that God is God, and you are not, but just being you, all of who you are, is a beautiful melody of praise to the one who is making all things new. Amen