A word out of Place – adapted from my sermon on December 4, 2016
Circle of Life
There’s more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There’s far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
Several summers ago, a Concerts on the Square Wednesday night program featured the music of Elton John. At one point, the song Circle of Life (Lion King) was played. Remembering the movie of their youth, young adults with babies, puppies and even dolls their creatures/children high into the sky.
In the movie, the song is a blessing song, what in our tradition we’d call a baptism or dedication. On the square that night, of course, young adults were simply re-enacting that movie. But at another level, I think many of them were doing something more profound – proclaiming hope as they faced the unknown future
So much before us is unknown and uncharted. This can be inviting and intriguing, as well as scary, overwhelming, or even paralyzing.
The season of Advent often begins with the prophets, who spoke boldly into their own experience longing and mystery. Isaiah 35 interrupts devastation and despair of chapter 34 with these words:
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad.
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing…
Part of the mystery of these words is how they can even be spoken. In the fact of the destruction and despair, Isaiah is daring to speak a word out of place. A word that doesn’t make sense in the context. A word of possibility that refused to wait until things improved. Or, as noted Old Testament theologian Walter Bruggemann has said, “A doxology – or praise song – that is against the data.”
Recently I sat in a circle of folks committed to the ministry of our UCC camps. Gathered around a raging fire in the Moon Beach lodge under the north woods cathedral canopy of majestic trees, we were asked, ‘why are you here?” Not why are you on the board of directors, but why do you care about these ministries, what motivates you to give time and energy to this ministry?
What followed was story after story of love and grace thriving against the data of our lives.
A female pastor who first went to church camp as a teenager who cut herself. At camp she had something to give, a purpose and a community.
One of the staff described a young teenager, transitioning from her birth gender as a boy to the gender her brain has always known her to be, who found immense support from both cabin mates and their parents as she continues and explores this transition.
A parent of a severely disabled 16 year old came to Moon Beach with other friends living with a host of disabilities because here there was freedom to explore and feel the grace of nature in ways not possible anywhere else. On those grounds, surrounded by love, those very out of place everywhere else were welcomed and wanted.
As I listened I thought, is this not the kind of world I want to give my energy to? Not just at camp, but in all of life? Against all the realities of exclusion and bullying and limitation and wondering – is this not the world we want to work for, give our hearts to? Are these not the doxologies – the songs of praise – against the data of our lives we want to sing?
When we listen to one another’s stories of faith and face each of our life’s transitions, we listen for a very real but ancient harmony. We listen for the words of grit and hope that have always defied the data of life. Paraphrasing my favorite poet, Wendell Berry, “Such harmonies are rare. This is not the way the world is. It is a possibility nonetheless deeply seeded within (us). It is (a world that can be.” (Poem I. from Leavings By Wendell Berry)
It is this world we work for in these darkening days of December.