Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Heart and Soul



Heart and Soul
Matthew 22:36-40
July 28, 2013
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Matthew 22: 35-40
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Maybe it is because I spent this last week at Vacation Bible School, with preschoolers – eighteen three and four year olds – actually, it seemed like there were about 738 of them
Maybe it was singing the same songs every night, and going home exhausted…anyway, whatever it was, I had this idea that today, we might work together a little bit on this sermon. We are going to start with a simple exercise of naming pairs of things – things that go together. Not opposites, like hot and cold, but complements, like biscuits and gravy. I’ll name the first item in the pair, and you fill in the blank. Ready?
Salt and …
Left and ….
Man and …
Boys and …
Left and …
Love and …
Heart and..

Good job, friends!

Now, here’s the most important one:
Love god and love…

Right. That one is the very most important pair, and we know it because Jesus said so. “On these two commandments hang ALL the law and the prophets.” What’s the greatest commandment? It is actually a pair of them – love God, and love your neighbor. Now, you may know that the Torah, the five books of the Law, consists of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. And I’m sure you know that when Jesus was asked about Scripture, he could only refer to the Hebrew scripture – the law and the prophets. (He couldn’t exactly refer to the gospels, could he, since they were written after his death and resurrection?) So when he was asked about the greatest of the laws, he gave this answer that is really two laws in one.

There’s a wonderful story from the Jewish tradition about this two-in-one law. Rabbi Hillel was a revered teacher of the law who lived approximately from about 30 BC to 10 AD; his teachings would have been extant in Jesus’ time, and were well known across Palestine. Tradition tells us that the Gamaliel, the grandson of Hillel, was a teacher of the Apostle Paul.
So Rabbi Hillel is revered as a Jewish doctor of the law.

The story goes that a non-Jewish heathen asked Hillel to summarize the Torah- the 613 commandments that make up the law. This smart fellow told Hillel, according to one version of the story, that if Hillel could recite the Torah while standing on one foot, he would convert to Judaism. Hillel stood on one foot and said, "What is hateful to thee, do not unto thy fellow man: this is the whole Law; the rest is mere commentary"[1]

The Jewish encyclopedia of 1906 adds that Hillel assumed the premise that love of God came first, and that love of neighbor naturally follows. So simple! So obvious!

Even a child can understand this. If you do not want Arky to knock down the block tower you have built, do not knock down the block tower that Arky has built. If you would like to color, and Olivia would like to color, plan on sharing the coloring book with Olivia. Jerking the coloring book out from under her is probably not going to contribute to your goal.
Even a child can understand it.

So why is it SO DARN HARD FOR US TO DO?
Probably that answer is different for different people, and different for each of us at different times and in different situations.

Perhaps we love self first, and God and neighbor only when it suits us. We get the “love of self” part but we aren’t so keen on part that goes “Love God with your whole strength, your whole heart, and your whole mind, and your neighbor…” So most of our choices, most of our actions, most of our thoughts are centered on what makes us happy, or what we think will make us happy. We live a life that is just all about ourselves.

Some of us love God just fine, and we do okay with ourselves, but we can’t love our neighbors because we are too busy with our yardstick of rules, seeing if they measure up to our expectations. Are they nice enough, good enough, Christian enough? Are they conservative enough? Liberal enough? Can they pass our litmus test of isms and beliefs and actions? Do they look like us? Believe like us? Worship like us? Do they conform to our understanding of what it means to be good? We love our neighbors, but only in certain neighborhoods.

And some of us do pretty well with love of God and neighbor, but we can’t love ourselves, at least not well enough, not in ways that are truly life-giving. Some of us commit the sin of self-deprecation, of believing that we are unlovable, of failing to see ourselves as God’s beloved. Probably that last category is a small group – most of us do just fine most of the time with thinking well of ourselves and not so great with extending that love to strangers.
But when we commit that sin, of believing ourselves to be unworthy of love, we are arguing with God just as surely as any non-believer. So what does it mean to love God, love neighbor, and love self?

Hillel had something to say about that, just as our own teachers of the New Testament did.
In his teachings the love of God, love of neighbor and love of self encompassed the whole span of human responsibility. It is founded upon a basic respect for self – as being made in God’s image, for one’s heart and soul and mind and body. Not selfishness or pride or self-gratification, but an understanding that we are made in the image of God, and that we are loved AS WE ARE!

There follows from that a deep and abiding connection to community, in which the great commandment is lived out.

Hillel famously said: "If I am not for myself, who is for me?
and if I am only for myself, what am I?
and if not now, when?"

The third corollary of this great commandment is the love of neighbor, the care for others both within and outside of our communities, and the cultivation of peace among all people.

In a short while we are going to celebrate with Brooke and Allan Dir and their whole family the baptism of their child, Carter. We are going to welcome Carter to this family of God, and we are going to promise that we will support and nurture him and his entire family, helping him to know the love of Jesus and to build a strong faith, to live as a child of God.

We will be reminded of our covenant promises, made in our baptism, that we renounce evil and powers in the world  which defy God’s righteousness and love; that we renounce the ways of sin that separate us from the love of God; that we turn to Jesus Christ and claim him as Lord and Savior; that we will be Jesus’ faithful disciples, obeying his word, and showing his love and justice.

We will make those promises on behalf of Carter and ourselves, and along with his parents and his extended family. And we have warrant for making those promises, because we have experienced the love of God and the grace of Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in powerful and amazing ways ourselves. In this community we have the opportunity of serving our neighbors by welcoming the stranger feeding the hungry, sharing our resources, and most lately, welcoming about a hundred people into our building for five nights in a row, working together as the body of Christ, living out the idea of
one body and one Spirit,
one hope of our calling,
one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all,
who is above all and through all and in all.

When we baptize Carter, that is the faith into which we baptize, on behalf of the whole church. When we baptize him, we are promising to show him by our lives how to follow the great commandment, and to teach him how to live a life in keeping with Jesus’ teachings. But more than anything, we are saying to him what God has said to us, what we are called to say to each other, that simple, lovely statement that is so challenging to live out:
You are loved.

On the last night of Vacation Bible School, it was my turn to offer the closing prayer.
I thought of our pre-school lesson that night: Jesus welcomes the children. It had come to me as an inspiration, a God moment, that after we told the story of how Jesus welcomed the children, we should bless the children just as Jesus did.

So Laura and Jill and Brice and Addison and Britney and I lined up, and the children came to each one of us, one by one, to receive a blessing. In spite of the fact that simply lining up and taking turns is sometimes a challenge for three and four year olds, they waited quietly, solemnly, patiently, and each one came to us, where we knelt down, looking into their sweet faces, into their eyes, and said,  “Jesus loves you, just the way you are.”

And in the last moments of Everywhere Fun Fair, as I looked at the crowd of children and adults filling this sanctuary, some of them probably unchurched, many of them unconnected to community, many of them struggling in ways unknown to me, all of them my neighbors, made in the image of God, as I looked out across this sea of faces, it seemed the Spirit spoke to me, to remind me to bless them, to tell them that they are loved.

And so I invited them, as I invite you now, to receive a blessing.
Place your hand on your head, and repeat after me:
“Jesus loves me.
Just the way I am.”

It is so simple, my friends. A complementary pair – heart and soul,
Love God and …
On these hang all the law and the prophets.

Amen.




[1] “http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/7698-hillel

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Joy in the Mourning

Joy in the Mourning
Psalm 30
July 21, 2013
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.  Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.  O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit. 
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. 
For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. 
As for me, I said in my prosperity, "I shall never be moved." 
By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face; I was dismayed. 
To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication: 
"What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!"
You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.  
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.


Theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard famously said that life must be understood backward, but can only be lived forward. In other words, most of us make sense of our lives
by looking in the rearview mirror, but we can only live our lives by watching the road ahead.

We don’t know what events prompted the poet to write this 30th Psalm, but we can easily imagine, because even though these ancient songs date back centuries in time, the human emotions in them are timeless. Over the past three weeks we’ve experienced the deep humanity of these writings: the lament, the joy, the praise and prayer, the desolation and the assurance of hope.

Psalmists, like all poets, are unafraid to confront and express their most profound emotions. “How long, Oh Lord?!” they shout in agony. They walk us through green pastures and give us wings to fly to the uttermost limits of the sea. They move with us through the living of life, and through the understanding of it, pointing always, even if it is in poetic gesture, to our loving Creator, to the living grace of Jesus Christ and the continued Presence that is the Holy Spirit.

The trouble is, these old dusty words don’t give up their stories easily. They ask something of us before they will offer up their beauty. We want to skim over the surface of them and say, “Oh, how pretty!” But if we will risk a little and jump into them, we will be rewarded with an experience that we could never have imagined. So put on your swim fins and your suits, strap on your oxygen tanks and rinse out your goggles – we are going to dive down deep into this Psalm.

We’ll look through the lens of some stories of actual people, stories that are true, but not factual. (These stories are about real people, but they are composites, and so not factual stories about anyone that any of us know.)

As Amelia looks back on her life then, she still feels the bleak emptiness, the pain that made her want to die. There was a time when life was quite literally, like being in the pit of hell. It was horrible, in ways that are hard to describe. Even the sunshine seemed gray. Her husband had left her, left with their oldest child, left with a teenage girl he’d met at a convenience store. No matter how difficult the marriage had been, and it had been awful at times, she was committed to making it work.

Now, here she was, with a two-year-old, a baby on the way, and he was living with his girlfriend in a posh apartment, with a swimming pool and a clubhouse. The worst part was that he had taken their eight-year-old with him. She couldn’t stand it. Ashamed as she is to think of it now, she considered killing her child, and herself, by driving her truck into a wall.

But the truck broke down, and had to be towed, and her mother was coming to visit, so instead of committing suicide she went to work. Her prayers were answered in the form of loving family, a caring church and pastor, and a kind counselor who helped her through the worst of it. The baby she was carrying was a daughter, and the light of her life. Her two-year-old grew up, graduated from college, and married a beautiful girl. She’s a grandma now, happily remarried. And while she wouldn’t wish that misery on anyone, ever, she’s glad she isn’t still in that miserable marriage.

“O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. 
O Lord, you restored me to life!”

If anyone had told Amelia  then what she knows now, that she not only could live without that first husband, but that she would have a better life, far beyond her hopes, once she came through that misery – if anyone had told her that then, she’d have laughed bitterly. Now she can smile a wise smile, looking back at it all. God brought her up out of the pit, and restored her to life.

“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. 
Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”


Adam had a life that other people envied. His father was on the boards of multi-national corporations, and his mother was an artist. His sister had married a Hollywood producer, and through her, he’d met all of his favorite actors and comedians. He went to the best private schools and lived in the best houses in the best neighborhoods. He was admitted to Harvard law school, and when he graduated he was assured of a secure financial future, with an appointment to a post in Washington, even a career in politics, if he wanted it.

Only thing was, he was miserable. He looked around and saw unhappiness. He looked inside and felt emptiness. One night, he couldn’t stand it anymore. He went to his parents and told them how he was feeling. He told them he didn’t want to go to Harvard, didn’t want to get richer. They had him committed to a mental hospital.

It was there, through one long night, that Adam lay on his back in prayer, and when the sun came up he said, out loud, “God did not make me to live a life of misery.” Adam skipped Harvard and went to a small liberal arts college. He then went to seminary and is a teaching elder in the Presbyterian church.

“As for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’
By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.  To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication:  ‘What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!’”

You each have your own story, a story of how God has turned your mourning into dancing, an old photograph of yourself dressed in sackcloth, or widows weeds,  and a new snapshot of yourself clothed in joy. Or maybe you haven’t filled in that part of the picture album just yet. If you are in that place of mourning, perhaps it is the memories of happier times  that make your sorrow more intense – the lighthearted scenes of yesterday that give your grief such weight that it presses down on you. So often, past happiness makes present grief more terrible. But it is also true that the experience of grief makes our joy more profound, more cherished.

If memory of happier times can make sorrow deeper, it is also true that memories of dark and sorrowful days can make joy more wonderful. It is only when we have been truly thirsty  that we can fully appreciate a cup of cold water, and when we have been deeply lonely that we more fully treasure our loved ones; only when we have wept in the darkest night that we truly celebrate the sunrise.

In all of those places – at the office, in the hospital, wandering in the desert, standing at the graveside, in all of those places, we find the One who loves us, heals us, restores us, dances with us. In all of those places, God is present. God knows what it is like to suffer, because in Jesus Christ, God has been there, too. God knows what joy is, because God has been here with us all along, rejoicing with us.

It has been said that earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal. If you are rejoicing, your joy is a balm for those who are in pain; and this community will dance with you! If you are in pain, know that this community will uphold you, believe for you when you cannot believe, sit with you, wait for you to be healed by the generous and steadfast love of God.
Joy comes with the dawn,  and when it comes, this is what it looks like:


Celebration

Brilliant, this day – a young virtuoso of a day.
Morning shadow cut by sharpest scissors,
deft hands. And every prodigy of green –
whether it's ferns or lichens or needles
or impatient points of buds on spindly bushes –
greener than ever before. And the way the conifers
hold new cones to the light for the blessing,
a festive right, and sing the oceanic chant the wind
transcribes for them!
A day that shines in the cold
like a first-prize brass band swinging along
the street
of a coal-dusty village, wholly at odds
with the claims of reasonable gloom.[1]

The dawn breaks and joy comes with the morning, and what can we do but give thanks?
When the sun sends its first rays into the darkened windows. when the morning comes,
what can we do but make our lives a prayer of gratitude? And so the ones who sat by the bedside, who stood by the grave, the ones who waited and watched, wept and prayed, they are the ones who now dance and celebrate with lives of generosity, kindness, and love.

You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. 
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Amen.






[1] Denise Levertov

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Journey From the Font



Journey From the Font
Psalm 121
July 14, 2013
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

A pilgrimage song.
1 I raise my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.
3 God won't let your foot slip. Your protector won't fall asleep on the job.
4 No! Israel's protector never sleeps or rests!
5 The LORD is your protector; the LORD is your shade right beside you.
6 The sun won't strike you during the day; neither will the moon at night.
7 The LORD will protect you from all evil; God will protect your very life.
8 The LORD will protect you on your journeys— whether going or coming— from now until forever from now.


As I mentioned at the time we read and sang the scripture reading, this is a Psalm that was most likely used when people were setting out on a journey. The worship planning team selected Psalm 121 some weeks back, not knowing that this would be the Sunday that we baptize our newest brother in Christ, Emmett Jeffrey Brown. But the Holy Spirit has ways of moving that surprise us, and today is no exception, because I can think of few Psalms that would be more appropriate for a baptism.

As Christians, we believe that our baptism marks the beginning of our life journey, a journey of ascent – ASCENT – upward movement – toward the heart of God. As Christians, we believe that our journey begins – and ends – at the font. Our lives in Christ may be lived without baptism, but it is for us an outward sign of an inward seal, a tangible mark of God’s grace and a welcome to Christian community.

Baptism also reminds us of the finite nature of our journey. All of us are born, and each of us will die. Death’s not a very popular subject at a baptism, and I won’t dwell on it for long.
But the water signifies not only cleansing, it is also a re-enactment of the death and resurrection of Christ, pre-saging our own eventual death and resurrection through Him. That’s why at a church funeral, I stand at the font, after the commendation, and pour the water into the font, to demonstrate that a baptism has been made complete, and that death is not the end.

But we are talking today about beginnings, about setting out on a journey, and that is certainly what Jeff and Tarah have done with their children, first with Lillian and now with Emmett. They have set off bravely on this journey of parenthood. It is also certainly what each of us does in our lives, in ways large and small, not always with children, or even with geographic relocation, but we do journey. And this Psalm assures us, in a poetic and powerful way, that as we set off from the font, we do not journey alone.

The Hebrew verb for “protect” in this Psalm, shamar, gets translated in several ways – often, it is translated as “keep.” The Lord is your keeper; it connotes guardianship, protection, and relationship. We use that verb “keep” in lots of ways –  “he/she is a keeper” meaning that’s someone I want in my life forever; keeping sheep or keeping a dog – that creature is in our safe-keeping; and then, of course, there is the zoo-keeper, which usage I would guess that parents of small children can relate to.

In all of those ways we talk about keeping and keepers, we imply relationship, but not really ownership, at least not like the ownership of an inanimate object. So as the people who first sang this Psalm knew, when we set out on a journey,
God keeps us.
God protects us.
God travels alongside us, day and night, through ups and downs.

The Psalm contains both blessing and promise – the Lord will keep your life.
Not that God is some kind of talisman, magically warding off evil. There will be difficulties and challenges, joys and celebrations, but God will be with you in every single moment. That’s how God protects us – like a parent, raising a child: not an act of power and control, but of love and protection. I don’t think it is possible to attend a baptism without thinking about the big ideas in life – growth, development, parenting, beginnings and ends. At the font, the placement here at the front of the church reminds us that as we set off, we do not make the journey alone. It is not just Jeff and Tarah who have Emmett  baptized; they acknowledge that he belongs to God, and to us, as well, and they commit that he will be raised as a beloved child of God. So when we, in community and in worship, baptize Emmett, we acknowledge that Jeff and Tarah cannot do all of that alone, and that we, on behalf of the whole church, commit to helping them. It is a profound act of community –
a family enfolded in a congregation, which is enfolded in God.

In all of this ritual and promise and blessing, we all claim the promise of this Psalm, that God is our protector and our keeper, watching over all of us in every stage of life.

You know how, when you hold a tiny baby, you just automatically bring them up to your chest, cradling them close? Like that.

You know how, when a little one walks under a table, and you automatically put your hand out, between their head and the corner of the table? Like that.

You know how, when you are crossing the street with kids, you hold your hand out, and they take it, before you step off the curb? Like that.

You know how, when you’re on a hike and the kids are running ahead of you, you tell them to slow down, to be careful? Like that.

You know how, when they get a bike, you outline the perimeters of the area in which they can travel? Like that.

You know how, when your son or daughter gets a driver’s license, you instruct them repeatedly about where they can go and what they can do, and then you pray like crazy until they come home? Like that.

And then it all shifts.
And they are calling you, asking where you are going, and who with, and when you will be back. And they are reminding you to take your cell phone, take your medicine, take care.

And  when it is time to cross the street, or climb the stairs, you reach your arm out for them, but it is to steady you, as the two of walk together.

Eventually, the children whom we once protected become the ones who look out for us.
Because that is the nature of this journey from the font.
Things don’t stay the same.
We change, and we grow.

It has been such fun to watch Lillian change and grow, becoming more independent with each passing week. It seems like just a few months ago that we stood here at the font for her baptism. Emmett is a sweet, snuggly little baby, but he won’t stay little. One of the delights of our faith community is the pleasure we take in seeing our young ones grow up. But they are not the only ones who are changing. Each one here is journeying through life, hackneyed as that image might be, and each one of us is changing as we go.

That’s why things change in the church – we change, we grow,  individually and as a community. That’s how we keep on living – by growing and changing. There are many congregations – I am happy to say that this is not one of them- who resist change, even resent growth in membership, because it means giving up the old comfortable ways and accepting new ways, new music, new people, new programs. We all have that impulse, I think, the desire to arrive somewhere and stay put and not change anything. We want to say – “It was good enough for me,  so it should be good enough for you.” But even churches must journey – reaching out from the space where we have been so comfortable to welcome to those who are not within our doors, and maybe will not ever come into our worship service.

The old models that worked for us – worship, fellowship, Bible study – centered around this building – gathering here in this place -- but they may look different for the new generation. Lillian and Emmet’s generation may not value home visits, or Christian Education on Sunday morning, or even the worship music that we think of as “contemporary.” Maybe they will gather for prayer and Bible study at a coffee shop, or online, or through some kind of technology we have not even imagined. We can’t know what the faith community will look like by then, but we know that it will not stay the same.

Poet Kahlil Gibran expressed that in a beautiful way. He wrote:
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”

We don’t know where Emmett’s journey is going to take him. But we do know that God is going to be traveling with him, just as God has been with us on our journeys. So we acknowledge that today, Emmett sets out on a journey. Our job is to help him, help his parents, help each other, as we travel this road. And God is with us, helping us through. Dr. Jonas Salk famously said:  “Good parents give their children roots and wings— roots to know where home is and wings to fly off and practice what has been taught them.” That’s what we are given in this community, and that’s what we are called to give to our children.

Roots and wings.
It’s what they need  -- what WE need -- for the journey from the font.
That, and the promise, as we journey:
“The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”

Amen. 

Praying Twice

This sermon was in our series on the Psalms, on the Sunday when we emphasized music as a form of prayer and worship.

Praying Twice
Psalm 150
July 7, 2013
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

Psalm 150 CEB
1 Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary!
Praise God in his fortress, the sky! 
2 Praise God in his mighty acts!
Praise God as suits his incredible greatness! 
3 Praise God with the blast of the ram's horn!
Praise God with lute and lyre! 
4 Praise God with drum and dance! Praise God with strings and pipe! 
5 Praise God with loud cymbals! Praise God with clashing cymbals! 
6 Let every living thing praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!
                       
           
I just got home last night from a kind of mini-vacation. I drove up to beautiful Cresco, Iowa,
and met Bob at the luxurious Super 8 motel. The first day there, we rode our bikes on the Trout Run Trail. It was a day of just-right weather, sunny but not too hot, a pleasant breeze blowing. The new trail is about ten miles, through tall grass, wildflowers, farms and woods, through Decorah and past the river, along the playing fields and the parks. We rode along easily, in no hurry, enjoying the scenery and being together. I felt like singing! Actually, I did sing – to the cows alongside the trail. They didn’t seem impressed, just continued to sit and stare as I passed by. It was all worth singing about, or shouting hallelujah! No matter what the cows thought.
Hallelujah!

Hallelujah, you may already know, is a Hebrew word.
Two words, actually: hallal – praise (actually, in English, y’all praise!)
and Yah – God – the I AM, the breath – Yah!
Hallelujah, the Psalm says!

Hallelujah!  in his sanctuary!
Hallelujah!  in his fortress, the sky
Hallelujah!  in his mighty acts!
Hallelujah!   as suits his incredible greatness! 
It only makes sense to join the Psalmist in song!
Hallelujah!  

Response:     I Will Enter His Gates



A great many of our hymns and songs, like the Psalms, are inspired by natural wonders, and God’s supernatural powers.
“When I behold the heavens in their vastness,
Where golden ships in azure issue forth,
Where sun and moon keep watch upon the fastness
Of changing seasons and of time on earth.”
These lines are the first English translation of the Swedish hymn we now know as “How Great Thou Art.” Look through your hymnal sometime, and you will see many more like it.

On Thursday, Bob and I kayaked the Upper Iowa River. The sun shone through the trees and dappled the water. There were stretches where hundreds of swallows had built their nests on the side of the bluffs, and they swooped around our heads, dipping down from side to side across the water. We saw a young eagle perched in a treetop. I thought of all the amazing and wonderful things God has done, for me, for you, for all of us! The great God who created us all continues to work upon the earth, with beauty, and with healing, with mercy and with power.

Hallelujah in his mighty acts!
Hallelujah as suits his incredible greatness! 
Hallelujah with the blast of the ram's horn!
Hallelujah with lute and lyre! 
There seems to be no better response than to sing: Our God is an awesome God.

Response:                 Awesome God

On Friday night, Bob and I took a late-night bike ride. We had noticed there were a lot of fireflies as we drove home at dusk the night before. So we took our bikes out to the Prairie Farmer Trail and rode a few miles in the dark, watching the fireflies flicker and flash across the tops of the fields. There were fireworks off in the distance, and thousands of stars in the sky, and it seemed for a moment like they were all connected, the fireflies, the fireworks, the stars, all sparkling fragments of a larger light.

It’s not that I’m so pious, but it did make me think of that verse from John’s gospel:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. It was like a prayer. 
There’s a famous line, attributed to St. Augustine, “To sing is to pray twice.” But at least one scholar says that is a mistranslation. He said that what Augustine really said is this:

“For he who sings praise, does not only praise, but also praises joyously;
he who sings praise, is not only singing,
but also loving Him whom he is singing for.
There is a praise-filled public proclamation – or preaching!
in the praise of someone who is acknowledging  God, in the song of the lover there is deep love.”(1)

So to sing is to pray, to pray is to praise, to praise is to proclaim, and in the song, there is deep love.

Hallelujah  with drum and dance!
Hallelujah  with strings and pipe! 
Hallelujah  with loud cymbals!
Hallelujah with clashing cymbals! 

As we sing together, let these words be your prayer, let this song be your praise, and let your singing be your proclamation, to lift the name of God on high.

Let every living thing praise the LORD!  Hallelujah!

Response III             Lord I Lift Your Name on High