Enter the Life of Praise

Psalm 98; Isaiah 35:1-10

The Monty Python film Life of Brian tells the story of…Brian, whose life parallels Jesus in ancient Palestine. The tagline for the movie is, “A motion picture destined to offend nearly two thirds of the civilized world. And severely annoy the other third.” With their irreverent humor, Monty Python skewers religion and politics both on the left and the right. At the climax of the film, Brian finds himself on a cross, all avenues of rescue exhausted. Even his mother walks away, “Go ahead then and be crucified!” In the final moments, a fellow crucifixee says, “Cheer up Brian! You know what they say…”

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle
And this’ll help things turn out for the best…
And…always look on the bright side of life…

Always look on the bright side of life, sung from a cross-absurd, irreverent. Many have been are, and will be offended by such irreverence.

But there is something there, perhaps not what Eric Idle intended, but there is something there, something theological, something gospel.

When we focus on the way things are, it is easy to despair. It is easy to lose hope. It is easy to believe that resistance is futile. Many of you know what I am talking about.

Yet, we come to this place, and we are invited to encounter a different truth, a counter-story, a story of grace, of depth, and of faithfulness.

Last Thursday was earth day, and so we focus on that theme this morning in worship. As I reflected on and prayed about what I should say this morning, Monty Python was not the first thing that came into my head. Some of the standard things occurred to me: to reflect on climate change, to focus on the problems that are plaguing the environment, to encourage everyone to recycle, to buy local, to replace incandescent with fluorescent. There are many problems and challenges and faithful practices that I could have addressed this morning. There is no doubt that these things are important. But as I reflected on the texts for this morning, as I reflected on Earth Day, it occurred to me that instead of preaching about what we need to do for creation, perhaps we should listen for what the creation has to teach us.

Perhaps you know about that huge pile of garbage swirling around in the middle of the Pacific ocean called the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch.’ It’s this immense pile of plastic and other human debris brought together by the ocean currents, swirling somewhere between California and Hawaii. They have found one now in the Atlantic. Earlier this week, a gray whale that died after stranding on a Seattle beach was discovered to have “a surprising amount of human debris” in its stomach, including more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, plastic pieces, duct tape, a pair of sweat pants, and a golf ball.

It is easy to despair when hearing news like that. It is easy to believe that there there is not much we can do about the stretching of creation to it’s breaking point.

But if we look at Scripture we find a different story, not one of despair, a counter-story, an absurd story.

(1) The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
Like the crocus

(2) it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.

Did you hear the words of the Psalm 98?

“Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.
Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy
at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.”

What we find in these verses is not a song of sin and despair, but a song of praise.

What Monty Python offers with a sense of absurdity, Scripture proclaims with conviction and faith.

Go out and look at the mountains. Look at the snow capped peaks. Dip your hand into the cool, refreshing water of Logan River. Hike the Crimson trail; notice the flowers and the trees. If you go to the beach, and you look out over the vastness of the ocean, you can just see (when there’s not too much pollution) the curvature of the earth, and the beauty, mystery, and awesomeness of creation hits you. Look at these things, I dare you, and despair. You can’t! Because you hear the song of praise the creation sings. It sings for God, and for you and for me.

You scientists who are examining and investigating the material processes of creation, faith doesn’t ask you to leave your intellect at the door–to believe something counter to what your eye sees and mind discerns in the physics and chemistry and biology of the world. What faith does do is invite you to listen, underneath and through all of those processes, for the profound song being sung, the song of praise and wonder sung by a diverse and intricate creation working together in subtle harmony. Do you hear the notes? Underneath the chemical reactions, the biological cycles, and the physical properties is that harmonious song of praise to the creator, the creator God who has given birth to all of this and who loves each and every part of it-oh yes she does! sings the song. The Scripture texts we heard, giving voice to that song in human language, invites us to sing, and to enter into the life of praise.

I know how hard it is to sing when we are faced with the garbage patches in creation and in our lives, but creation invites us to praise! If the season of Lent invites us to take inventory of the garbage patches, to confess them, then Easter and the good news of resurrection invite us to let go of them, to embrace newness like a flower proclaims the newness of Spring. The song we are invited to sing is not one of denial, but of trust. We may be lost in despair and in the absurdity of life, but you know what, sing praise! Sing praise because we belong to a God who is faithful, a God who is loving, a God who is walking with us and leading us toward renewal, toward resurrection. Look for the good. In your relationships and interactions with others, lift each other up. Be encouraged. Witness creation; sing it’s song of praise. You will not end up in the place you were when you started. Praise changes you.

Absurd I know. But it is gospel.

If you go to the Big Island of Hawaii, and drive through the Volcano National Park, you will see the active volcano. You will feel the heat and smell the sulfur. If you drive a little further, you will see the part that was covered over most recently by the flow of lava. It is black and dead, that beautiful land destroyed. Then you drive a little further and you begin to notice something. A little further down the road, cracks begin to appear in the black lava. What is popping up through those cracks? Little green sprigs of life. Then you drive a little further to discover bigger plants growing in those larger cracks. Out of that death and destruction comes new life. Evan further, you will see a little of the lava, but the rest will be the beautiful lush Hawaii we know, and creation sings the song of renewal, hope, and praise of the God who makes all this happen.

Right after the service, the kids and I have to go to California to be with Carrie and her family, who mourn the loss of her father, Paul Hamilton, who passed away last Friday. I will lead the service this coming week. What an absurd time this is. We will deal honestly with the grief, and the pain. It is tough But at the end of the liturgy there is this absurd truth that we proclaim; “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.” It is a song of praise, because death, in faith, is not an ending.

  • Many of us come out of the Methodist tradition, and Methodists like to sing. They sing well. I went into a Methodist church once, and as I was looking though the hymnal, I noticed that in the beginning, they had put John Wesley’s “Directions for Singing.” Now John Wesley lived in the 18th Century, and is the founder of Methodist movement. I find them rich and interesting as we reflect on entering the life of praise. Listen to them.
  • Learn, he writes, these tunes before you learn any others; afterwards learn as many as you please.
  • Sing all, every one of you. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a single degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up, and you will find it a blessing.
  • Sing lustily and with good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of its being heard, then when you sung the songs of Satan.
  • Sing modestly. Do not bawl, so as to be heard above or distinct from the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
  • Sing in time. Whatever time is sung be sure to keep with it. Do not run before nor stay behind it; but attend close to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can; and take care not to sing too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.”
  • Sing. Sing all. Sing lustily and with good courage. Sing together and in time. This is what we do here, to the best of our ability. We sing with creation. We praise. That praise changes us and empowers us to bring change.

Wesley, the volcano, the mighty mountains, the gathering of God’s people remind us of the importance of praise. It will lift you up. It will strengthen you. It will re-introduce you to the loving and faithful God in whose hands we rest.

And remember:

If life seems jolly rotten
There’s something you’ve forgotten
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.

How ultimately absurd is the life of praise; absurd…and blessed. Amen.

(To listen to the sermon, please click below)

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  • Courageous Ministry

    Dear Friends,

    I hope this month’s edition of the Pulse finds you and your loved ones navigating life and faith with as much grace and self-compassion as possible. I know that some in our community have welcomed summer as a time to travel with family and friends, and to be reunited with loved ones. Others continue to struggle with health issues, isolation, and anxiety about the resurgence of Covid with the Delta variant. In the immortal words of Paul to the Romans, as a community, we “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” There is a chair or pew here on Sunday mornings for people in all seasons of life, and an open door to my office for any burdens (or celebrations) to be shared. I hope that you will join us or tune in via livestream on August 8th when I incorporate a compassion ritual in our worship services, to mark the lingering impact of Covid on the lives of God’s people everywhere. 

    Whether you have been in Bruner Hall often this summer, or it has been some time since you’ve walked through the doors of FPC, I want to share with you some happenings that I celebrate as we continue to serve faithfully as an inclusive community of faith and compassion at FPC Logan. Since the beginning of Pastor Derek’s sabbatical on June 1st, we welcomed four guest preachers who shared the Good News with us, from Scriptures ranging from Genesis to the Gospels, from Ezekiel to Ephesians. Two of these preachers are women who I’ve had the privilege of mentoring as ministers in the ordination process with the Presbyterian Church in Utah. At summer’s end, we will welcome two additional preachers to share in our worship life, and I will conclude my ongoing spiritual disciplines sermon series later this month. 

    This summer, FPC has been home to Loaves & Fishes and a series of Red Cross Blood Drives. In June, our middle schoolers organized and delivered a supplies drive for Cache Humane Society, with two middle schoolers traveling to American Fork Canyon for a reservoir clean-up with presbytery peers. Eight high schoolers from FPC Logan traveled with me to Denver, where we served with Habitat for Humanity for four days, offering a total of 22 hours of service each. In two weeks, we will gather at Stokes Nature Center for earth care efforts. The Mission Committee is gearing up to prepare us for another Mission Sunday at FPC this fall. I learned that just this week, the Sew n’ Sews prepared a large shipment of homemade sanitary pads to benefit our neighbors in Ethiopia. Beth MacDonald and Barbara Troisi have been busy processing Deacon’s Fund applications to provide for the safety and welfare of neighbors here in Cache Valley. Barbara and Dorothy Jones visited our neighbors at Williamsburg with Cache Ministries in early July. Truly, there is no summer break in the ministry of FPC Logan! 

    In their meetings in June and July, your session has thoughtfully and prayerfully navigated decisions about worship safety precautions, knowing that there is no “right answer” about how to be the Church in a pandemic. Even among our Presbyterian churches in Utah, there is no uniform approach to worship in these strange days. We are discerning together, and the updated policy you received this week is the session’s most current discernment of how FPC Logan can be both a welcoming and safe house of worship for every beloved child of God, from the under 12 to the most senior among us. In electing the elders to serve on session, you covenant to pray for them and to abide by their decision-making. I hope and pray that you will continue to do both in the coming days and weeks.  

    Earlier this week, acknowledging the presence and concern of the Delta variant, the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, challenged us, the people of the Church, to “wait on the Lord and be of good courage.” Courage has many faces in Scripture and in our society today, but I am drawn to this Sunday’s passage from John in which the crowd went looking for Jesus. When they find him, Jesus instructs them to work for the food that endures for eternal life and reminds them that he is the bread of life. As we take up the charge to be of good courage, I hope that together, as a church community, we will be on the lookout for Jesus, the bread of life. I expect him to surprise us and challenge us, as he always does with his faithful followers in Scripture, the disciples and friends who want to do as Jesus does in the world. You will find him here at FPC Logan, whether we worship in Bruner or the Sanctuary, with or without masks, and you will find him in the community to which we are called as partners in ministry. Come and behold that God is doing a new thing in this place, if we only have the courage to answer the call, to work for the food that endures, and to fix our sight on Jesus, the bread of life. 

    In Christ’s promises,

    Pastor Meg

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