All Together (9/25/2016)

A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Texts: Psalm 148; Proverbs 8:22-31 (The Message); Colossians 1:15-20 (The Message)

PTL! There was a time when some Christian evangelicals might have responded by waving their hands and shouting “PTL” in response. It was something of a fad in the 1970s and 80s. PTL! Praise the Lord! In 1974 televangelists, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, took the acronym as the name for their new TV show – “The PTL Club.” I don’t know if anyone here was a member of the club or a fan of the show, but I will confess that I never saw it.  When Jimmy Bakker got in trouble for financial and sexual impropriety, the show and its assets were taken over by Jerry Falwell, who ran it for a couple of years. In all, it ran from 1974 to 1989, when, plagued by scandal and bankruptcy, it left the air.

Since I never saw the show itself I can’t say with any certainty what “Praise the Lord” meant to those folk. I will say that when I encountered the shouting and waving, they did not speak to me. Still, “Praise the Lord” is a significant phrase in Judaeo-Christian tradition. We use it with regularity and in a great many settings. That is what this morning’s Psalm and, indeed, the service are about – praise of God. The words may not always be “Praise the Lord” but the meaning those words convey is widely shared and artfully expressed in many settings.

As she tends to do in paraphrasing the Psalms, Nan Merrill uses the phrases, “Praise the Blessed One” and “Praise the Beloved.” Like me, she may not favor the old English label of “Lord” for the God we worship and adore. Blessed One, Beloved, God, the Holy One, Great Spirit are some other options. Sometimes Merrill just refers to God as Love with a capital “L”. Hymn writer, Brian Wren, encourages us to “Bring Many Names” to our hymns and songs, our poems and prayers of praise. “Strong mother God – warm father God – old, aching God – young, growing God – great, living God” are some of the descriptors he uses. When you go in your closet to pray or lift your eyes skyward or turn in your bed or wonder at the miracles of life all around you, what is name to whom you offer your prayers and praise?

I have shared before my love for the ancient prayer, set beautifully to music by American composer, Ron Nelson, “O Lord how can we know thee? Where can we find thee?” It seems to me that today’s texts offer a response to this ancient plea to know something of the holy. The prayer continues, “Thou art as close to us a breathing and yet art farther than the farthermost star.” Sometimes we stand in awe at the distance; other times we crave the intimacy of a mother rocking her baby. At any given time, God can be found, hovering in either extreme, as well as everywhere in between. “Bidden or unbidden, God is present.”

But, of course, we will only know the Presence in the degree to which we open to it and feel it move in and around us. In concert with the majesty of Psalm 148, I included a couple of photographs from space in today’s bulletin. They are spectacular, awe-inspiring views of what was once beyond our imagining, let alone our seeing.

Give praise from the heavens, and from all the ends of the earth!
Give praise all you angels, angels of earth and heaven!
Give praise, sun and moon, give praise, all you shining stars!
Give praise, all universes, the whole cosmos of creation!

But there can be a cold sense of isolation and insignificance as we view wonders so far distant. Majesty and might do not bring warmth or the sense of God in the beauty of a butterfly or a baby’s low cry. As close to us as breathing and as far as the farthest star. All together, praise God!

In Bible study on Tuesday, I wondered what it would be like if we chose to praise God every morning. How would we be different, how would the world be different if, on waking every morning, we made a point of beginning the day praising God? What sort of attitude adjustment would that give you? What shift of worldview? What sense of hope, of love, of peace and well-being? I wonder how your life and my life might be lifted if we kept a copy of Psalm 148 by our beds and read it first thing every morning before our feet even hit the floor. Would the day dawn brighter, it’s responsibilities seem lighter, its pleasures more joyful, its sorrows more bearable?

Paul Myhre writes of Psalm 148, “I am convinced that poetry — psalmic poetry – has a capacity to inspire human minds to consider familiar and unfamiliar terrains of human experience. It can provoke reflection on the activity of God in the world and beyond the world from the heights to the depths and everywhere in between. It can broaden horizons and lift spirits beyond the mundane to the sublime. The poet has a capacity to break through well-ordered thoughts and sprinkle them with raindrops of inspiration. Simple words combine to swiftly turn into torrents that flood everything one thinks they know and cuts new courses through well-managed mental landscapes to form patterns of thinking unknown previously.” Are we ready for such transformation? Try reading this Psalm or another favored poem of praise every morning this week and see where it leaves you.

Leaders of the nations and all peoples, young and old, give praise!
Unite together in all your diversity, that peace and harmony might flourish on the earth

In this season of street violence and political ugliness, I was especially taken with this verse from Merrill’s paraphrase. What if politicians and leaders in government, instead of turning to hostility, defensiveness, and mud-slinging, started every day with a prayer of praise to the One who made them and breathed life into them? Would they see the world differently? Would they value creation differently? Would they engage in a more civil and respectful discourse? One could only hope. What if Donald and Hilary began their so-called debate tomorrow by joining together to read Psalm 148 or Proverbs 8 with its words of wisdom or Colossians 1 with its witness to the Christ who is spacious enough, through God’s eternal grace, to fix and fit together all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe?

Young and old together, what if they joined together in prayer and praise of God as we are doing this morning? Do you think it would help bring us closer, bridge the old generation gap, give us more wisdom, understanding, and delight in differences at the same time it showed the way to common ground in the One who made us, breathed life into us, and loves us all unconditionally?

United together in all our diversity – does it seem possible, given the racism, xenophobia, sexism, ageism, ableism, queer bashing, gender conflict that keeps us in constant conflict? Instead of fighting over whether we stand or take a knee or lie on our backs with hands raised when asked to sing an old war song, that celebrates violence and slavery, what if we joined together in a hymn of praise to the One who made us, breathed life into us, and holds us in the palm of Her hand? I know the USA is not a theocracy and we don’t all see God in the same way, if we see God at all. But somehow Psalm 148 or at least “America, the Beautiful” seems preferable if we want to express our love for this land which God brought into being and asks us to love and care for as She does. All together, praise God. Bind us together, God, bind us together in love.

Bind us together in the same way the Godhead is bound together. The ancient texts tell us that God created, but not exactly alone. We read of the Spirit and Holy Wisdom and Christ who were before the beginning. Indeed, it seems to be the interplay of this Quaternity that brought about creation itself. God singing it all into form, the Spirit, breathing life, Wisdom nurturing it into maturity at the same time dancing in delight with it all, and Christ, the self-emptying one, who  shows us wandering ones the way back to God and all the initial goodness and wonder of creation, the one in whom “all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.” All together, let us praise God in all these shapes and forms, which are ever drawing us back to our home in God’s Self.

Praise be to the Blessed One, the very Breath of our breath, the very Heart of our heart! Amen!

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We are a progressive Baptist Church affiliated with the American Baptist Churches, USA. We have been in Palo Alto since 1893. We celebrate our Baptist heritage. We affirm the historic Baptist tenets of: Bible Freedom, Soul Freedom, Church Freedom, Religious Freedom

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