Sermon: Proper 21
27 September 2009
Community Church of Wilmette
God Sustains: Torah/Teva;Teva/Torah
Friends, I bring you greetings in the name of God our Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit, from your sisters and brothers at North Shore Baptist Church. It is great to be back here at Community Church. You are always so gracious in your welcome and I am grateful to call you all sisters and brothers.
C.S. Lewis called Psalm 19, “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.” Coming from a man of his stature those are some pretty heavy words. The greatest poem in the Psalter, the book of Psalms. One of the greatest lyrics in the world. I guess we can assume that he had yet to hear I am the Walrus. All kidding aside, though, what is it in these words that makes Brother Lewis say these things about todays reading? Why would this Psalm rate higher than some of the more well know ones that, too, have a mysterious power to draw us in?
Let us pray: May it be, O LORD, that the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be useful for your purposes of grace. Our rock and redeemer. Amen.
Today’s reading, according to the lectionary, is actually only the second half of Psalm 19. Beginning at verse 7 and going through the end. I thought about using just that for the text today. It is a very important text. But the more I thought about it and the more I read from people much smarter than me the more I realized that only reading Psalm 19:7-14 does a major disservice. I like context, and yes, while 7-14 are great words dealing with the promise of and promise from the Torah, the law, it can not stand alone.
You see, the whole Psalm builds to the final line. A line of power. A line that is both an utterance of praise and a full throated confession. O LORD, my rock and redeemer. In the language of the present sermon series, O LORD, my unmovable sustainer! These lines are a prayer that our actions be acceptable to the LORD. But we cannot get to that act of confession and praise on the law alone. The torah is only part of what frees us to this and opens us to such a place.
The Torah works in tandem with Teva, nature. The first part of this Psalm has the heavens telling of the glory of God. They pray in a never-ending litany of praise. The cosmic scope of the opening verses give us notice of the expanse of God’s greatness. The sun in its unending circuit lights the way of the LORD. And night declares the Creator’s wisdom. God’s glory is present in all things. And yet, there is more to God than just nature. There is the Law. Nature and Law. Teva and Torah.
The author of this passage put these two things together for a reason. A reason that may or may not make sense to our 21st century mindset.
The author spends the time painting the picture of God’s creative power in order to then bring the ethereal majesty of God to a personal reality in the embodiment of the Torah. What the torah, the law, represents to the ancient hebrew people is the revelation in which God revives and enhances humanity. The torah is the means in which the people are able to relate to YHWH.
In our context, though, we don’t like rules. We don’t want to be told what to do. Our ways are the right ways. And we see God in nature. I know I do. When I look at a tree and listen to her story I see God’s protective presence. When I walk my dogs and they see something in the dirt that I totally miss, I start to pay closer attention. I love to play in the dirt. To imagine how God felt when forming us from that dirt and breathed life into us. Us, created in the image of the creator. God is all around. Why do we need the law? We have Jesus. Doesn’t Jesus trump the law?.
A couple of years ago after Iowa and Wisconsin were hit with terrible storms (this is the summer that Lake Delton up at the Dells emptied) Mae and I did some traveling through the damaged areas. The storms were in May and June and we went through about mid-July. We saw the mud pit that was known as Lake Delton. We saw farmland that looked as though there were ponds scattered through out the land. But, even though there was all that rain, by mid-July it was almost drought conditions. I still remember vividly one parcel of farmland outside Guttenberg, IA. This farm was along the Great River Road. The farm was flooded. The creek that ran parallel to the farm, had evidently, during the storms turned into a small river. It tore through the south end of the farm leaving flooding that had not subsided a month and a half later. That same parcel of land, though, not 500 feet from the flooding looked like a scene out of The Grapes of Wrath. It was haggard, dry, cracked and caking. Desolate. There was nothing there. There was nothing that could grow. Even with numerous gallons of water 500 feet away this land was parched. Crying for something to sooth its tongue.
This poor land was not producing what it was meant to produce. I can not speak for the farmer, I do not know his or her personal story, but I am sure they were devastated both economically and spiritually. There were no heavens telling of the glory of God and the firmament surely did not proclaim the creator’s handiwork.
I was reminded seeing this of all we have done to help make this land so vulnerable to such devastation. I can not stand here and blame the farmer for making choices that led to the land being put in such danger. I can stand here and confess that I am partly responsible for what that land suffered. I am a consumer of the products it is forced to produce. I buy pop. I buy items that are made from the chemical properties of the crop grown, even though there is nothing even food like with the product. I am a consumer. That is part of the basis of an economic system that thrives on supply and demand. I provide the demand and the market place provides the supply. But at what cost?
In 1944 there was a meeting in Bretton Woods, NH. This gathering was one of the first major economic policy meetings post WWII. Seven hundred thirty people from the 44 allied nations met to discuss the economic future, especially since many, including U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, believed that an unstable economy was one of the leading factors of the rise of Nazism. Also, they wanted to figure a way to govern and regulate monetary issues between states and to open free trade commerce between participating nations, and by doing so help to reduce global poverty. Their goals were lofty and led to the creation of two institutions that are still around and in the news today, particularly this weekend with the G-20 summit going on in Philadelphia, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Two institutions with the goals of lending and regulating monies to those countries on the cusp. Noble goals came out of Bretton Woods and some of the results have benefited humanity in wonderful ways. However (you knew there would be an however, didn’t you); the prevailing mindset of those at the meeting echo that of either President Roosevelt or Sec. Hull, it was a little unclear in my research if It was Hull speaking on his own or reading a greeting from the president, either way, the mind set was this, “Earth is infinitely blessed with natural resources…prosperity has no fixed limits.” That mindset led to some wonderful advancements in human technology, but sadly we may be beginning to find out what the long term results of such a mindset is.
Of the many advancements to come as a result of the Bretton Woods summit was something called the Green Revolution which started to come in to use around 1946. Now this was not a direct descendant of the summit, but some of the ramifications of it are. The green revolution was started in order to grow enough food for those who are suffering from famine and perpetual hunger. Among its goals was increase the amount of crops per acre. It did this using genetics to modify crops and allow them to become pest and weed resistant. Subsidies were put in place to have farmers grow one certain crop. Thereby creating a monoculture that did not necessarily follow the traditional protocol of rotating of crops. This led to the leeching of nutrients from the soil and forced farmers to need to use herbicides and pesticides, most of which contain fossil fuels. The green revolution helped to save countless lives and it is a blessing in that regard, but the technology used has begun to cause an approachingly irreversible dependence on the pesticides and herbicides. And because of many of the free trade advances created out of Bretton Woods farmers are forced to keep planting more and more crops to reap the same kinds of profits. There has begun to be an over saturation of the market, especially of non-food related crops. Corn for ethanol, plastics, etc. The dry caked land with the pond size puddles is partially created as a result of the forced unsustainable farming techniques.
Sisters and Brothers, The heavens are telling the glory of God…The law of the LORD is perfect. We have a sacred duty to care for this land. For this air. For this water. We are witnesses every day to the glory that is proclaimed by the blooming flower and the raging water. We are called as children created in the image of the Eternal to be the care takers of this earth.
God our sustainer and redeemer has given us helps. We just need to use them.
God gave us nature to be the witness and example of God’s glory. God has given us the Torah, too. God has given us the story of creation. The story of bondage. The story of journey. The story of redemption. In the torah God intends for us to find the way back to Eden. God has made us for a creational purpose. We are to work and care for this our charge.
God sustains us on our journey.
God sustains us when we begin to allow the greed and corruption to take over and forget the original purposes of the Bretton Woods summit.
God sustains us in our weakness.
God sustains us with the witness of nature.
God sustains us with the promises found in the torah.
God sustains us with the gift of the first born of creation.
God sustains us with the word.
The stories found in the torah tell of the God who brought Israel out of the desert. The God saw her cross into that promised land. The God who saw her through exile . The God who sustained them through all.
This is why these two section of the Psalm must be read together. Teva is the witness to God’s glory. Torah is the promise of God. They work together. They can not work apart. For if we have nature without the law our eyes are closed to the promises of God. If we have law without nature our eyes are closed to the cosmic dimension of God’s grace.
There is a third part to this Psalm that I have yet to explore. As I said earlier this song builds to a climax and the climb begins in ernest in verse 11. Our author, being so overwhelmed by the greatness of God, drops to her knees in confession. Asking her creator to keep her from proud thoughts, to keep make her blameless and innocent of great transgression. To keep her eyes open to the sustaining power of the LORD.
Friends, it is my prayer for you that you are able to see the sustaining power of God around you. Using Teva and Torah as your guides. May your eyes be opened. Look around. See the gifts you have. The children who participate in service at the time for the children. See and be thankful that a sister is getting baptized into the body of Christ next week. See the kids who come into your building for Skylight theater. See and be thankful for the Boy Scouts. See and love the members of Sukkat Shalom. See the gift of hospitality you show to strangers and members. See the blessing of the turkey ministry. See and be thankful for the fact you have a seminary intern and you are able to minister to her as she to you. See and be aware that though you may be small you are a part of the vital living body of Christ. See all of the ways God is sustaining you and be thankful. You are a place of Grace. You are being sustained by God and you in turn are called to live into that sustaining power. You are to be a place of sustenance to the world. Continue to be that place. Open your eyes and hearts to new possibilities. Remember God Sustains.
As you continue to work into being a place of sustenance for those needing refuge, remember the the prayer of our sister, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” My rock and my redeemer. God will not leave you. God will carry you though the darkest moments. Just be aware. Use the gifts of Teva and Torah to help you. The heavens are telling of the glory of God and The law of the LORD is perfect.