Sunday, June 17, 2007

Silverside Sermons
Silverside Church
Wilmington, Delaware

www.silversidechurch.org

© Copyright, Silverside Church 2007


The Reverend David Albert Farmer, Ph.D., Pastor


June 17, 2007

Nonconformity
(Ninth sermon in series, “From Rap to Rachmaninoff: God in Twelve Musical Styles”)



I.

I don’t know how many true non-conformists there are in the world. What I do notice are people who are uncomfortable with the ways the majority of people in a society live and who, thus, pull away or stand out in some kind of way. Yet, what typically happens is that they surround themselves with others who are not conforming in the ways they too decided to avoid. I’m sure you see what I mean.
Just think of how few solitary nudists there are in the world. Where’s the fun in being nude all alone? Thus, nudist colonies form.
Challenging the status quo can be lonely and painful. Most of us are not terribly comfortable with those who refuse to conform to societal norms to the degree we do. And, yet, but for nonconformists nothing would ever have changed. The only religious movements in the world would be polytheistic, and there would never have been an ounce of scientific progress; nor would there be, in all probability, this interesting approach to governance that we call “democracy.”
Marketers around the world use as a foundation for their success, the desire—sometimes the need—any number of people have to conform, to be like someone else, especially if the someone else is rich and/or famous.

o If a renowned, aging movie star uses Depends, they must be good for me too!
o If Brittany Spears shaves her head, young ladies who revere her want to conform by shaving their heads as well.
o If everyone, to hear the announcer tell it, is clamoring to get high definition television, something must be wrong with me if I don’t have it.
o If I decide to color my hair, I can’t just use any coloring agent. Valuing myself, as I deserve to, I have to use Preference by Loreal because I’m worth it. Everyone who loves herself or himself uses Loreal, and nonconformists who don’t are blatantly telling the world that they lack self-esteem.

Students in junior high and high school who don’t fit in with the mainstream group—for whatever reason, any little reason—find support and courage hanging with other misfits like themselves, however small the group. Sometimes the alienation the nonconforming students feel grows into anger and resentment, and we end up with a Columbine tragedy.
When I was in high school, I didn’t have any trouble fitting in with the most popular kids as long as I understood that I was being included because I had a brain and because I was responsible enough to keep student council and the yearbook and such things as that up and running. The automatically popular guys in my school were the athletes; they could be dumb (most were not by any means) and lack people skills entirely, and at the Halls High School in Halls Crossroads, popularity was still guaranteed. To be male and not participating in any sport at all was absolutely nonconformist. People like me could travel in the circles of the more popular kids only by exception. As long as I understood the rules, things worked out nicely.
By the time I was a rising senior, I’d about forgotten the basis for my inclusion in the popular students’ circle. I was going into my senior year as president of the student council and editor of the yearbook. I fancied myself as “in” as “in” could be, and then the critical time came for the election of what we called “senior superlatives.” You know, most talented, most humorous, and all that stuff. I imagined that I might have a shot at “Mr. Halls High” or, at least, “Most Likely to Succeed.” But, OH NO. Was I ever deluded. I sat in my homeroom listening to the announcements the morning the election results were announced, and I cringed when I heard this: “Vickie Bridges, Nancy Coker, and David Farmer: MOST DEPENDABLE.” Oh no! Any one but that one! The word, “geek, “ so far as I know, hadn’t yet been born. “Greaser” was its precursor. Why didn’t they just say it? “David Farmer, Nancy Coker, and Vickie Bridges: GREASERS!!!”
Our musical form today is Rock, and our song today is “Anticonformity” by Krystal Meyers. Let’s listen to it.


[audio clip]

Junior high and high school are rugged places to be nonconformists. Many kids would do about anything to avoid being nonconformists, but there are times when others make that choice for you. You’re simply left out of the mainstream and forced to find your friends elsewhere. What sensitive parent has not felt the angst of her or his child struggling to fit in by wearing the right clothing or hoping to get invited to the right parties and such? And what wise parent has not had to say, one or more times, “There’s only so much fitting in you can do. If drinking and drugs are involved, you’ll just have to NOT fit in.” Or, as my late father, used to say with his quintessential diplomacy showing through, “If you ever come home with alcohol on your breath, I will be you’re a _ _ so hard you won’t be able to sit down easy for a month.” I never, ever came home with alcohol on my breath. Nor did I even sip it anywhere away from home. I didn’t start having an occasional drink until I was a Southern Baptist missionary to Switzerland, and my European Baptist students and colleagues at the seminary taught me how to drink like Jesus.
The no drinking warning from my Dad worked so well on me that I thought such fear-of-God threats must work across the board. So, once when I thought my older son was about to get out of hand—he must have been in the second or third grade—I told him if he didn’t straighten up, I’d beat his rear so hard he wouldn’t be able to sit, etc. etc. Well, friends, times had changed. He said, “Un, no you won’t, and if you even mention it again, I’ll call 9-1-1.”
I asked, “What in the world are you talking about?”
He explained, with a complete absence of fear, “We had a program on child abuse at school today. And if anybody, even a parent, threatens to hurt me in any way, I have the right to call 9-1-1 for protection.”
Well, I lost that round, needless to say. And I had to find other tools of discipline, which—in the long run—was good. But I was angry enough to pop that day. All I could do, though, was walk away while he smirked, and Jarrett loved that gloating moment! If I were going to be able to encourage him to stay away from inappropriate behaviors just to conform I’d have to find other approaches! (Incidentally, I succeeded, and he became a part of the “Goth” splinter group that was much more involved with behaviors that concerned me than the mainstream, “popular” group was. Fatherhood!)




II.

A political non-conformist might do well enough all alone somewhere, but if she or he wishes to challenge the status quo and effect political change, like-minded non-conformists must join together for the sake of impact and influence. Same thing with a religious nonconformist. In our democracy, there is separation of church and state—well, at least, there’s supposed to be; there used to be. It should be proper to discuss nonconformity in these two realms in completely different contexts; however, in those cultures where there is no legal or other provision for the separation of church and state, this is not the case. In those societies, to be politically nonconforming is, of necessity, to be religiously nonconforming. Now, hold that thought for a minute, and we’ll come back to it.
I hope you read our newsletter from cover to cover. Bill Linn puts tons of time into completing it for us every month, and everything in it is worthwhile. If you read this month’s edition of “Inside Silverside,” you saw that we as a congregation are in possession of a replica of the chair illustrated in John Bunyan’s pivotal work, The Pilgrim’s Progress.
This chair was brought from England and presented to the congregation in 1897 or 1898 by Thomas F. Bayard Sr., first United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, which is the court of the British sovereign. Queen Victoria was the monarch when Bayard served and made this presentation to our church.
Bunyan is an ideal person to bring up today because he was a religious nonconformist who suffered considerably for refusing to conform to the legalized religious standards of England. Bunyan’s allegorical novel was initially published in 1678. He wrote the first release of the book in 1675 while he was in prison for having violated what was called the Conventicle Act. The Conventicle Act prohibited more than five people (unless all were family members of one household) from holding any religious services except under the auspices of the Church of England, which among other things meant the necessary use of the Book of Common Prayer. Penalties for infractions ranged from fines to imprisonment, and upon a third offense a person could be forced to leave the country. Charles II was King of England at the time, and while his Roman Catholic leanings motivated his own efforts at religious toleration for non-Anglicans, the Anglicans were clearly in the control of the country.
Bunyan was a Baptist preacher who didn’t believe that he should be spiritually bound to any state church. The law of land, though King Charles himself might have been tolerant of Bunyan, required that Bunyan be imprisoned.
In the year 1675, Baptists had only been in the world sixty-three or sixty-four years. The first Baptist church known in history can be traced to Spitalfields in the east end of London; founded in 1611 or 1612 during the reign of King James I of England. Baptists appear on the world scene just as the King James Version of the Bible is first published.
Baptists spoke out against the lack of separation of church and state. They spoke out against any persecution or harassment of any kind by a government trying to homogenize religious doctrine and practice. They spoke out for freedom of conscience and the right of an individual to interpret scripture for himself or herself without the involvement of any intermediary, priest or prelate.
Baptist groups today, or I should say “groups today who call themselves Baptist,” shame the first Baptists—John Smyth and Thomas Helwys and a handful of others. Those of us raised in traditions that taught us true Baptist principles have heavy hearts about where Baptist groups have, for the most part, ended up in modern times. And the negative connotations that now go along with the word “Baptist” in the hearing of most folks who assume that all Baptists are and always have been of the same ilk grieve those of us who understand where Baptists came from and what they have accomplished for the good across the years.
Bunyan was a nonconformist who was imprisoned simply for speaking his conscience to more than five people and refusing to use the Anglican Book of Common Prayer to set the parameters of his gatherings. He would not let the government keep him from honoring his own convictions.
In the United States today, both dominant Baptist groups, the huge Southern Baptist Convention and the not-so-huge American Baptist Churches/USA have, in their histories, brought great credit to the principles for which many of the early Baptists suffered, some to the death. We have been left with the awful need to come near dissociating ourselves from most things Baptist today because both of these Baptist groups have been shooting themselves in the feet when it comes to honoring the principles that made the first Baptists Baptist.
This congregation has an tangential affiliation with the American Baptist Churches/USA, which is the denominational group most directly descended from the first Baptists in North America, going all the way back to Roger Williams himself who came to this country as a Baptist and then decided not to remain affiliated with any organized religious group; he stopped calling himself a Baptist after a time here in this country, and instead he identified himself as a seeker.
Nonetheless, Williams was a staunch proponent of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state not to mention an advocate for the rights of Indigenous Americans. And Baptists could proudly claim him in their number for a time.
The people who call themselves Southern Baptists have not honored for some long time the right of individuals under God to interpret scripture for themselves. They have tried to take their religious movement back to pre-Protestant-Reformation times in that regard. And, until very recently, the Southern Baptist Convention of the last quarter century hasn’t honored or desired true separation of church and state. Finally, some few in their number are raising concern about the ways Southern Baptist leaders have openly identified themselves with conservative Republicans.
The American Baptist Churches/USA had for a much longer time and in more consistent ways honored the concerns of the original Baptists, concerns that any of us would share. Sadly, in recent years, this Baptist body is splintering as more and more American Baptists want to openly dishonor the principle of the autonomy of each local congregation. In addition to a desire by some conservative American Baptists to want to creedalize certain doctrinal beliefs to which all Baptists should be held, there has also been a move by some of these same conservative American Baptists to condemn gays and lesbians and in particular gay/lesbian clergy as well as churches who minister to gay and lesbian Baptists.
Those of us who are proud of the Baptist heritage in which we were nurtured and who still see ourselves as Baptists properly interpreted, are now torn apart because most Baptists today seem to want to be conformists who require conformity rather than nonconformists who encourage each person to seek God’s truths for herself or himself. That also leaves our congregation in a very difficult place as most of our members have never had any positive association with any Baptist group and who, therefore, have no positive experience with Baptists in times gone by that offsets the unacceptable ways many Baptists today are behaving.
The bottom line is this, though, if diversity is not welcomed and if any person or group believes that she or he or it can establish a doctrinal position to which all must be bound, there is nothing Baptist going on. And the only truly Baptist organizations aside from a handful of local congregations may in our memories.




III.

“Stop being conformed to this world,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “but let yourselves be transformed by the metamorphosis of your minds so that you may discern God’s will—what is good, beautiful and perfect” (Rom 12:2 preacher’s paraphrase). This is a very searching verse, and, by the way, the last word in the sentence, the word translated “perfect” by the New Revised Standard translators, should, in all likelihood, have been rendered “mature.” Paul connects the will of God to what is good, beautiful, and mature.
For starters in understanding what Paul intended here, we have to be careful to understand what Paul meant by “this world,” especially since Paul did not think improper conforming politically to the demands of the Roman Empire, to which most Christians in his day were subservient. In fact, Paul made the audacious and not-well-thought-through claim in the thirteenth chapter of the book of Romans that no government or government leader was in power unless God Godself had willed it. The world might be a much more stable and kind place if, indeed, all leaders were in place by God’s will or design. In any case, let me not chase that alluring rabbit today and save that for another sermon.
Someone has said,

A worldly lifestyle, seeking pleasure, wealth, fame, and
material comforts, will inevitably distract one from pursuing any spiritual purpose. Hence the aspirant must separate himself from the world or maintain some detachment from it. Separation from the world can be achieved either by physical isolation in a monastic community or by living an outwardly ordinary life yet without attachment to its prevailing values.

Don’t be conformed to this world, in other words, but, instead, for God’s sake be a nonconformist. And the way to begin being a nonconformist is to allow the spirit of God, that presence of God within you, to renew your mind. What we think, IF we think, has everything in the world to do with how we’re going to act.
There is a saying in Taoism:

The sage patterns himself on Heaven, prizes the Truth, and does not allow himself to be cramped by the vulgar. The stupid man does the opposite of this. He is unable to pattern himself on Heaven and instead frets over
human concerns. He does not know enough to prize the Truth but instead, plodding along with the crowd, he allows himself to be changed by vulgar ways, and so is never content.

Paul has nothing abstract in mind when he’s speaking of reacting against the pressures of the world; he has some kind of action in mind, but, from all indications, it doesn’t have to do with bucking the political structures of his day. I must add that Paul had no need to want to challenge Rome. He was, by an interesting turn of events, a Roman citizen himself even though a Jew.
Furthermore, the Roman emperor at the time, Nero, had no problems with Christians YET, broadly speaking, as long as they refrained from revolting or trying to stir things up as Jesus of Nazareth had done. Nero’s toleration of Christians, however, wouldn’t even endure to the end of Paul’s life, and in fact it is probable that Nero ordered Paul’s execution. Religion under government control can never work unless the government truly takes a hands-off approach to managing all aspects of religious expression. That has rarely happened. Separation of church and state, and temple and state, and mosque and state is the only workable approach.
Australian theologian, William Loader, interprets Paul’s concerns in this way:

Paul never saw being a Christian as a life membership on a roll somewhere. It was always entry into a relationship and growth in that relationship. Paul is always thinking about what shapes people's lives. It is another way of speaking of one's god. In his day--and certainly in ours--there are many people who count themselves as Christian, but are shaped by the prevailing values of those around them in a way that undoes anything that [Jesus] might have wanted in their lives. They reflect particular national, political or social values, sometimes not even knowing they stand under such influence. They can even call some of these values “Christian.” But there is no engagement with what is at the heart of [Jesus’] message.

Even in a democracy, there is tremendous pressure to conform in certain key ways. The proper expressions of patriotism are prescribed. If you’re a patriot, you must never question the perspective or the demands of a president who prays every day. And if your sense of God’s will for you is to speak out against war, there are those who will ostracize you and call you un-American and un-Christian.
Within religious institutions and structures, there are those who are more than ready to tell you how to think and how to live if you want to be in good with God. And, yet, old Paul, who understood firsthand the realities of both societal and spiritual conformity as well as societal and spiritual nonconformity, comes down on the side of nonconformity—and not for the sake of nonconformity. At some level, Paul understood that God couldn’t be contained by any of the buildings or organizations or creeds we build for God expecting God to live in them.
Any structure or dogma established for the purpose of restricting or limiting God will crumble in the end because God cannot be fenced in. And people who are willing to live by the lure and leadership of God within themselves will typically look like oddballs and misfits and not like the status quo keepers. If we always find ourselves on the side of the majority, and if we’ve trained ourselves never to pay attention when God within us presses us to buck the system, never to see or speak out against the wrong we know exists, never to call injustice what it is, never to demand institutional renewal, never to acknowledge that we ourselves need to be rekindled, then Paul’s words to the Romans fall today on deaf ears.
Be a nonconformist in this world based on a transformation that grows out of a metamorphosis of your thinking so that you yourself may discern what God’s will is—what is good and beautiful and mature.
Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Silverside Sermons
Silverside Church
Wilmington, Delaware

www.silversidechurch.org

© Copyright, Silverside Church 2007


The Reverend David Albert Farmer, Ph.D., Pastor


June 10, 2007

A Lot of Vegetables and a Fiery Furnace
(Eighth sermon in series, “From Rap to Rachmaninoff: God in Twelve Musical Styles”)



I.

The writer of the biblical book of Daniel gives explicit details about the stories he is telling so we know that the time period to which he refers is 606 or 605 years before the beginning of the Common Era. Jehoiakim is King of Judah, which reminds us that the once-united monarchy presumably joining the whole of Israel, all the twelve tribes, had by this time been divided and part of it already conquered by foreign forces.

The northern kingdom was called "Israel," and the southern kingdom was called "Judah." Jehoiakim ruled over Judah, the southern kingdom. The northern kingdom, Israel, had already been crushed by the Assyrians more than a hundred years before the incident on which we now focus.

The writer of Daniel wants us to know that God was displeased with Jehoiakim and Judah and that, in his view--in the writer's view--this invasion of Judah by the Babylonian Empire was with either arranged by God; or, if not arranged for, at least allowed by God. This would have been the widely-held perspective of most of the Judeans at the time and, interestingly enough, the very same providentialist perspective that many persons of faith hold to this very day.

It is also the perspective held by many people who don’t consider themselves “religious,” but who have a general sense of the reality of God and God’s work in the world. The other evening at the college, following an introductory lecture I gave on St. Augustine of Hippo, I asked my students to reflect on Augustine’s perspective on absolute predestination—the idea that everything good and bad in someone’s life has been determined by God long before that individual is even born. I suspect that Augustine made a tiny bit of room for someone to determine her or his own destiny, but if so it was only in a context of what had been primarily predestined.

Many of them held what I would call a secular version of human destiny that very closely paralleled Augustine’s theological views. What the students said were things like: “What will be will be”; and, “Everything happens for a reason.” I asked them what the reasons for 9/11 or the Holocaust were. Even the most articulate among them had no answer because they’ve been programmed to think and say such things without giving any thought to the implications of what such statements imply about God.
The writer of the book of Daniel told her or his readers that Babylonian forces under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and prevailed because of God’s will. Those of you who know me, know that I don't believe God either wills war or takes sides in wars. From our human perspective, some wars may be necessary because of the ways we have built conflict and hatred into the tapestry of human community, but how can God take sides when God's children are killing each other off?

In any case, my perspective on war was not shared by the writer of the book of Daniel, and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was God's choice for a winner. More about this fascinating ancient ruler later, but for now I want you to notice that one of his first orders was that some young men from Judah's royal and noble families be taken from their families to be raised as royal Babylonians in a way very similar to the way Hebrew Moses had been raised in the Egyptian pharaoh's palace as an Egyptian prince in every sense of the word.

We know that those young men tapped for Nebuchadnezzar's program were old enough to have some life experience and some of their personal traits already established. I imagine that they were young teens, but they may have been young adults. The specifications for those brought into the program--and remember that this was entirely against the wills of these Judeans who wanted nothing to do with the enemy--was that they be handsome, without physical defect (which I take to mean no physical handicap), already well-educated with a fine education that only the wealthiest of families could have afforded, and fully responsive to those educational opportunities. Nebuchadnezzar wanted young men who were the cream of the Judean crop physically and intellectually.

No bones about it. They were being groomed to serve long-term in Nebuchadnezzar's palace. They were to be taught Babylonian language and literature for three years during which time they were to feast on the royal foods and wines.

The writer doesn't tell us how many young men were taken from their families for this program--if families were even left in tact during the invasion into their homeland. But, for some reason, he singles out four of them for his readers. Maybe we learn their names early because they are going to be misfits: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.

To give you some idea about the nature of this Babylonian immersion program, once in custody, if you will, the program director immediately changes their names--from Judean names to Babylonian names. Names were so very important in ancient Jewish culture; this was a supreme insult to the young men, to their parents who had named them, and to the Jewish people as a whole. Their new names were chosen by the program director: "Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego." Some kid I heard about while I was growing up never could get the last guy's name correct. "Abednego" just didn't register with him, and instead of hearing "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego" when the story was told, he kept hearing: "Shadrach, Meshach, and to bed we go."
You may know that when the Native American children were stolen from their families and forced to go to the so-called "Indian schools," such as the one right up here in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, their names, too, were changed. Neither were they allowed to speak their tribal languages and dialects or to wear tribal attire. Even their long hair, a source of pride to most females and males regardless of tribal affiliation, was cut off.

Well, you get the picture. These young men were to be treated royally in every way--as long as they cooperated, and cooperation meant a willingness for each one essentially to forget his past.

You experienced readers and hearers of well-told stories know the storyteller is setting up a critical plot issue, right? Absoloutely!


II.

Daniel seems to be the chief among troublemakers, or at least the spokesperson for them. He asks the program director for an alternative diet. Can you imagine! The finest foods and wines available in the world were being rejected for a vegetarian diet with water.

The program director was honest with Daniel; he said he was way too afraid to run the risk of angering Nebuchadnezzar. He simply couldn't allow any variations in the prescribed diet for any of the young men.

Daniel understood that and proposed a temporary test. He asked the program director to allow him and his three buddies to eat the vegetarian diet option with no wine for ten days. Daniel promised that if they weren't visibly stronger and healthier than the ones eating all the meat and drinking all the wine, they would change the ways they had eaten in the past and go along with the established program.

The program director figured nothing would be lost with that deal so he granted permission for the four men to have their vegetarian diet. They were clearly stronger and healthier at the end of the trial period and were, thus, allowed to continue.

At the end of the three-year Babylonian submerge curriculum, these same four men were the stars, and the proud program manager took them before the king. They were brilliant, and, in addition to their book learning, Daniel had an extra gift that would serve him well. That's the subject for another sermon.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were immediately given significant positions in the king's inner circle of advisors, and the word was that they were much more gifted and reliable than were the Babylonian pros who had served the king for years.
Another set up, right? What established national wants to be shown up by a new kid on the block--especially if that new kid is a foreigner!?! Their success would come back to haunt them, sad to say.

The story really turns, to a large degree, on the villain of the story—even though he will have a few good traits that the writer will end up not being able to ignore. I’m talking about King Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of the Babylonian Empire that had attacked Judah. But who is a hero and who is a villain has everything to do with perspective, doesn’t it? I mean, even Saddam Hussein was regarded by many people, even within his own country, as a great leader and a true hero. Such supporters heavily mourned his death.

Speaking of Iraq, the ancient city of Babylon—capital city of the Babylonian Empire—lay about 80 kilometers south of modern Iraq’s capital city, Baghdad. While Nebuchadnezzar was in power, Babylon became the largest city in the world. Many modern Iraqis awe Nebuchadnezzar and hold him up as one of the greatest leaders in history. Somewhere along the way, Saddam Hussein had begun to think of himself as a modern Nebuchadnezzar—the head of an empire of Arabs more powerful than anyone but he himself could have imagined.

Well, whether or not you think Nebuchadnezzar was a great leader or not, he did have some problems with sanity for a sizeable chunk of his reign. While you may think that many of the most noted of super-power leaders in history had problems holding onto sanity, Nebuchadnezzar’s pathology was extreme. It has attracted the attention of psychiatrists and psychologists across the years.

Other than an unquenchable thirst for power, which most noted leaders had and have, the Babylonian King suffered from a remarkable disorder. The exact nature of the illness is unclear, but the general disorder can be called Zoanthropia, a syndrome causing human beings to act like animals; and I’m not talking about Saturday nights in Newark!

According to the book of Daniel, though God had used Nebuchadnezzar to cut rebellious Judah down to size, God began to be displeased with the king’s demeanor. It seems that the powerful king became enamored with his own power and accomplishments; of course, that has never happened since then! And God decides to cut the king down to size. God inflicts this mental illness upon Nebuchadnezzar. And, my dear friends, if you believe God uses illness to punish people, you have no understanding whatsoever of the God about whom Jesus taught.

While boasting of his great achievements, the book of Daniel tells us that God strikes him with mental illness that gripped him for seven years after which time his sanity was restored because he finally came to see the truth about the God of the Judeans. The biblical writer describes this disorder in a bit of detail so the Zoanthropia might be too general of a diagnosis. Some believe that the king was plagued with boanthropy, in which case he would have taken on the habits of oxen, or lycanthropy, in which case he took on the lifestyle of wolves. Neither fits completely with the description the biblical writer gives us:


At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king said, “Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?” While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you! You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the sentence was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven away from human society, ate grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails became like birds’ claws (Daniel 4:29-33 NRSV).


It is very interesting that secular historians tell us there is a conspicuous absence of any acts or decrees by Nebuchadnezzar from the years 582-575 BCE. At the end of this horrifying episode, Nebuchadnezzar comes to his senses, as it were, and affirms that all power is really God’s power, and all victories God’s victories. His testimony of realization is quite moving except for the frightening providentialism suggested in it:


When that period was over, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me. I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored the one who lives forever. For his sovereignty is an everlasting sovereignty, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does what he wills with the host of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is no one who can stay his hand or say to him, “What are you doing?” (Dan 4:34-35 NRSV).




III.

Now, well before Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity episode, he had done something displeasing to God also connected in some obvious ways to his unbridled arrogance. Remember that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were in power in Babylon now and that some Babylonians were displaced by their appointments. The comparison isn’t exact by any means, but try to imagine how some of President Bush’s political appointees would feel if they were suddenly replaced by barely-legal immigrants. We know good and well that the unseated officials would be watching like hawks for opportunities to criticize their replacements.

Nebuchadnezzar was so taken with himself that he just couldn’t avoid the temptation to have erected a huge image of himself. The arrogance of certain leaders is hard to absorb. He calls together all the cabinet officials, members of Congress, the Senators, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Supreme Court Justices. Once everybody was in place, the royal herald made this announcement:


You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.


This was serious stuff. Either fall down and worship the statue when you hear the music, or burn in a fiery furnace. And, then, just to prove he meant business, as soon as the announcement was made, the music started playing. A score of the ancient song has actually survived, and we know the tune today as “Hail to the Chief.”

Well, Nebuchadnezzar was so pleased with himself and was just soaking up all that glory when some people approached him. The text says they were “certain Chaldeans,” certain Babylonians. I can’t help but believe that they were the former cabinet officials who had been displaced by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The text says that “these people,” whoever they were, came to the king and “denounced the Jews.” Racial tensions ran high, especially on the parts of those people who lost their jobs to the non-Babylonians.

Sociologists tell us that one of the major components of racial hatred and tension today is the fear many people have that foreigners will come and take their jobs—or in the case of so-called “outsourcing,” they don’t even have to come in to take jobs away. The jobs are delivered to the foreigners. However, such irrationality has to be checked. If we want to be angry with someone for giving jobs away, it should be directed toward CEO’s who make these decisions. No foreigner came in and forcibly took someone’s job. The jobs were given away by greedy American corporations. No need to be angry at the people in other countries who simply took the jobs that were offered to them.

Anyway, you know where this is going. The disgruntled, racist Babylonians said, “Those three Jews to whom you gave leadership positions in beloved Babylon were the very ones who stood straight and tall while the rest of us fell down on our faces before your statue.” (By the way, we have no idea where Daniel was during this incident because surely he would not have fallen down before the statue either so maybe he was away on official business.)

The king called them in and said, “After all I’ve done for you, after all I’ve given you, after all the adjustments I’ve made to make a place for you in the highest levels of my government…and this is the thanks I get? You neither honor my gods, nor me? I’m deeply hurt and shocked at the thanks I get. Please tell me that this is nothing more than a misunderstanding. You know, young men, that you are not above the punishment I have established for anyone and everyone who refuses to do what I have commanded.”

The response of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is, for me, soul-stirring:


O, Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O King, let God deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O King, that we will not serve your gods, and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.


Now, let me tell you why I admire this response so much. It doesn’t make promises for God. It is not set up as a test of either God’s power or of God’s love. It is a simple, straightforward statement that if they survive the furnace, they will praise God for the deliverance. If they don’t, however, they will not blame God for what they have to endure.

I think this is a real model for us because God is not responsible for the bad things that come to us. God doesn’t will them, and we lose energy—not to mention perspective—when we try to hold God accountable for our misfortunes.

This is a good place for us to listen to our Reggae song for the day. Reggae music is a musical style developed in Jamaica, especially Kingston, in the late 1960’s. The beat is distinctive, and the recurring themes are faith, love, relationships, poverty, and injustice. The song we will hear now is entitled, interestingly enough, “Abednego,” and it is sung by the Abyssinians.

[audio clip]


OK, so angry Nebuchadnezzar had the fires in his execution furnace stoked up to temperatures seven times hotter than usual. He had the three Jewish advisors thrown into the fiery furnace. Our song today kept stressing that they had no fear. The heat killed some of the guards who threw them into; but not a hair was singed on their Jewish heads. The word was, they didn’t even smell like smoke when they were retrieved from the furnace.

Nebuchadnezzar truly changed his tune during this episode. Of course, he was amazed that they lived. He also believed he saw a fourth man in the fire with them; that was another point stressed in our Reggae song: “…there were three, no there were four men in the fire….” Nebuchadnezzar took this man to be an angel, a messenger sent from the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to protect them from the fiery furnace.

When brought back before the Babylonian King, he could hardly speak, but one thing was clear: he affirmed their God. It was just a first step for him, and there was much he didn’t understand; obviously, there would be more mistakes he would make, but he was amazed and awed.

This isn’t a factual story in all its parts, of course, but it’s a beautifully told legend, I’d say. A legend is a tall tale based on some legitimate historical facts. It was crafted to inspire faith in the God of the subjugated people, the God of the minority, the God of the oppressed, the God of those who seemed hopeless. The religion of the power people isn’t always either right or real. The story presses up to keep that in mind, and it also drives us to ask ourselves this question: how far are we willing to go take a stand for the God whom we serve and the principles by which that God calls us to live?

Amen.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Joyful Noises

I.

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth” ((Psa 100:1a NRSV). I believe that this literally says something like: “Shout to Yahweh all the earth….” The passage continues with other imperatives: “Serve Yahweh with joy. Come before God with singing [or possibly, with exultation].” The content of the shouting is informed by what follows: shout joyfully, shout with exultation. Combined, these thoughts result in the translation option: make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth.

When I was growing up at the Beaver Dam Baptist Church in Halls Crossroads, this verse was used as motivation to encourage people to sing who couldn’t. “It doesn’t matter if you can sing on pitch or not; just make a joyful noise to the Lord,” the Minister of Music would say. Of course, he wouldn’t say that to the choir, but he would often say it to the congregation as a whole knowing those who could sing would usually drown out those who couldn’t. And sometimes the congregation would sing with such gusto that those who couldn’t sing failed to hear how bad they really were; sometimes, they’d even think they were making beautiful sounds.

I can’t help thinking of the episode from the “Andy Griffith Show” that originally showed in February of 1962 entitled, “Barney Joins the Choir.” It turns out that the director of the Mayberry Community Choir was in need of a first tenor—not just for strong ensemble singing, but also for a key solo in the Choir’s upcoming concert. Choirs being in need of tenors isn’t exactly a new or unique problem. The reason there was a sudden need for a tenor escapes me, but it runs in my mind that there had been a tenor in place who took ill at the last minute.

Anyway, Mayberry’s diligent deputy, Barney Fife, volunteers for the job. The choir director knew nothing about Barney’s musical skills—or lack thereof—so he was thrilled with Barney’s offer. Beware of musicians who volunteer too readily or too forcefully for solo opportunities! There really are people who think they can sing beautifully, and they can’t sing at all; if this weren’t the case, the ridiculous hit show, “American Idol,” wouldn’t have millions of faithful worshipers.

The show was still kind of new, and Barney’s character still developing. I had just had my eighth birthday about a week before this show aired so I surely wasn’t doing any critical character critique; I just knew it was a funny show, and Barney made me laugh.

We viewers knew there was a problem, though, when Barney’s girlfriend, Thelma Lou, played by Betty Lynn, entered into conversation with Andy Griffith’s character, Sheriff Taylor. It went something like this (and, no, I didn’t remember it from my initial viewing; I had to pick up the dialogue well enough to repeat by watching many re-runs across the years!):

Thelma Lou asks Andy: “Barney’s going to be in the choir? My Barney?”

Andy answers: “That’s right.”

Thelma Lou: “But Barney can’t sing!”

Andy agrees: “I know.”

Thelma Lou goes on: “He’s a warm and wonderful person, and I love him dearly. But he can’t sing!”

Andy agrees again: “That’s true.”

Thelma Lou can’t stop: “He’s kind, considerate, good-hearted—the most gentle person I’ve ever known, but he can’t sing.”

Andy nods: “You’re right.”

Thelma Lou: “He’s the man I want to marry.”

Andy interrupts: “But he can’t sing!”

Thelma Lou: “Not a lick!”

Sure enough, at the next rehearsal, when Barney belts out his solo part, it’s awful. It’s beyond embarrassing to everyone but Barney who thinks he sounds great. And even though everyone agrees that he may be the worst wannabe singer in Mayberry, no one has the heart to tell him he can’t perform. Don Knotts plays the part to perfection.

As usual, Andy comes to the rescue with a plan to allow Barney to save face. They tell Barney he has to sing very, very quietly into a supersensitive microphone. Barney is barely whispering, and the microphone is turned off at that. A very fine singer is lined up to sing the solo from a hidden microphone off stage somewhere, and his is the voice everyone hears even though everyone in the audience along with Barney believe that Barney is singing so wonderfully. His face lights up like you wouldn’t believe when he hears the masterful singing voice that he believes is his. We all need a friend like Andy.

Back to “joyful noises” in Psalm 100.

The setting for most or all of the psalms is corporate worship in ancient Israel. They were songs that were sung--some parts by the whole congregation, some parts as solos, and some parts antiphonally. The crowd would have been like an ancient in-door Billy Graham crusade!

Written over a period of 600 or so years, some of the psalms date back to use for worship in the First Temple, Solomon’s Temple, 950 years before the birth of Jesus. Others must have been written and used after the destruction of that great architectural masterpiece--maybe even by some writers in exile-from-Jerusalem who only remembered or who had only heard about the grandeur of worship in the Temple.

When the Temple was full of faithful Jews gathered to praise God, it must have seemed as if the whole of humanity was gathered. What a lift for participants!

When all the people were gathered for worship in one place, it likely took place in the Temple’s “Court of Women.” Joan Branham, in her article from this April’s “Harvard Divinity Bulletin,” explains:

As Jewish men and women moved away from the periphery of the Temple and toward the core of the building complex, they entered the Court of the Women, where Jewish men and women worshiped together, especially during the major Jewish festivals three times a year. Despite its name, then, the Court of the Women was not gender specific. It did represent, however, the ultimate spatial limit of women’s participation in sacred ritual, a point beyond which women were not permitted to advance. Only Jewish men could proceed from this courtyard into the Court of the Israelites, and only a select caste of priests could move past another low barrier and approach the altar located in the Court of the Priests. Here, gallons of blood were spilled daily in sacred, sacrificial ritual. The ultimate spatial goal of the Jerusalem Temple, the Holy of Holies—the very residing place of God—lay in an enclosed space out of bounds to everyone, save the High Priest one day a year.

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!” The people--the women and the men--were singing this psalm as if they were singing out to the whole earth: the humans, the creatures, and the created order itself. They were corporately calling out to all beings and things created by God to join them in making joyful noises to their Creator. The very sound, let alone the stirring challenge, must have left no one in the singing community or within earshot passive about the medium or the message. Who could say, “No”? Who could say, “I don’t care”? Who could say, “It doesn’t matter”? When that many people are singing joyfully, we have to sit up and take notice whether or not we happen to agree with what they are saying or the reason they have gathered.

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!” Shall we join them?













II.

Gospel Music evolved along racial lines. The first hints of what today is called Gospel Music came out of predominantly African American churches during the first twenty-five years of the previous century. At the same time, some other seeds for what we call Gospel today were being sown by predominantly Caucasian southerners.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was the first Gospel Music “star.” Her songs were big on the pop charts from the late 1930’s through the 1940’s. She was a songwriter, singer, and guitarist. Tens of thousands of fans were buying her music and coming to her performances at the peak of her popularity--when she was thought by most to be a strictly “religious” singer. When she began to perform in settings that were regarded by many as “secular,” she lost some of her fan base, but the truth is--except for the famous and beloved Gospel Music artist, Mahalia Jackson--most of the so-called Gospel Music greats sang both “secular” and “religious music.” Think for example of Al Green and the Blackwood Brothers.

There are many strands of Gospel Music today. There is still the predominantly Black Gospel genre; we’re going to hear a little bit of that in a few minutes. There is so-called Contemporary Gospel, and I would put much of the music of one of my favorite vocalists ever in this category; her name is Cynthia Clawson. Finally, what many worshipping communities now refer to as “Praise and Worship” music is a type of Gospel Music. “Praise and Worship” music has been dubbed by some critics as “warm up the crowd music.” Most of the music sung in the mega churches and in churches that advertise “contemporary” worship service options fall into this category.

Gospel Music has been a primarily American phenomenon, but that is not to say it has been ignored outside the United States. Interestingly enough, Gospel Music is a pretty big deal in Australia; one of that country’s most noted Gospel groups is called “Jonah and the Whalers”! How do you like for the name of a Gospel ensemble? Norway has a famous Gospel group called the Ansgar Gospel Choir. There are Canadians who love Gospel and who flock to hear performances of the Montreal Jubilation Gospel Choir. My older son, during most of his years in Ireland, sang in Gospel choir in Galway; he doesn’t do that now that he’s back in the States. Go figure.
Well, it’s time for some Black Gospel this morning. We’re thinking about “joyful noises” this morning, and so we listen to a song called “Let There Be Praise in the House.”

[audio clip]

Go ahead and put your “No Doze” tablets away. After that, you won’t need them today.

Making joyful noises to God has something to do with praise of God, and I’d like for us to think for a few minutes about praise in general. The only person who ever taught me much of anything about prayer--and I mean an in-person person talking to me, voice to voice and face to face--was E. Glenn Hinson. At the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, Dr. Hinson would givehis time above and beyond his heavy teaching load to meet with small groups of students to talk about prayer and to pray with us.

The two most important books I’ve ever read on prayer were both written by Dr. Hinson: “A Serious Call to a Contemplative Lifestyle” and “A Reaffirmation of Prayer.” The subject of praise of God comes up when one is trying to learn about the different types of prayer, and--in summary--what Glenn Hinson says about praise is that it is a kind of prayer that celebrates who God is; it often gets tied to prayers of thanksgiving, which thank God for what God has done and is doing. But, all by itself, praise of God is a legitimate prayer form.

If we were to look up a dictionary definition of the word “praise” as used in modern English, we’d find meanings such as: the expression of warm approval, respect, and/or admiration; commendation; exaltation; magnification; applause. I was at some kind of gathering, could have been a retreat, years ago, and it was time for a prayer--maybe a blessing over a meal. And the person who was supposed to pray came to the microphone and said, “Hasn’t God done a great job? Let’s give God a round of applause.” It seemed odd at first, but appropriate; and I ended up liking it. We may do that here sooner or later.

In any case, before we begin thanking God for our blessings--and that’s something important to do, though never letting ourselves imagine that our good fortune means that God has decided on someone else’s misfortune--there is this prayer-posture, this worship-posture from which we commune with God and express through our deepest feelings and/or with our words how enamored with God we are. The first meal blessing I was taught as a child is right on target in this regard: “God is great, God is good, let us thank God for our food.” The “God is great, God is good” part is pure praise.

Praise of God is a good thing; nothing at all wrong with it, and there are a few moments in life that are so profoundly God-centered for us that our praise of God is involuntary, a near-spiritual reflex if you will. Supposed praise of God that is canned or coerced is non-praise all the way. If we only feebly offer what’s supposed to pass for praise because someone tells us to or because it’s Sunday morning and it’s time to go to church, we might as well not bother at all. Unless it springs up from the deepest parts of who we are, it isn’t praise.

I think praise is a lot like love. It needs to be expressed for sure, but the most profound love can never be fully shown or spoken. You love your spouse or partner like that. You love your children like that. You love your parents like that. You love your dearest of friends like that. I’m going to tell the people whom I love that I love them. I’m going to show them in all the ways I possibly can--through tangible and intangible gifts. But the MOST I can ever say is woefully inadequate, even if I am a great orator or wordsmith. And the most I can ever do, even if I possess limitless material wealth, will be but a minimal attempt to convey the depth of love I feel for those nearest and dearest to me. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying, ever, but there is a touch of pain involved in loving someone so deeply; and this is it.

I wonder if my sons can ever understand how much I love them. I wondered at Dad’s funeral if he had any notion of how I cherished him. You understand what I’m trying to describe?

Praise of God is like love in precisely this regard. I’m going to do my best to convey to God how much I’m awed by God and who God is. For me, by this point along my spiritual journey, words are of little use or consequence in this context. They utterly fail me. But I cannot ignore that richness welling up inside of me from time to time when I’m especially aware of God’s nearness, and I begin to think about my life both as a life blessed with God’s presence and as a joint composition between God and David Farmer. Praise of God erupts within; even so, I could never do even a meager job of communicating to God how much I admire God.

I think the passage from Luke 19, where Jesus is riding into Jerusalem on the little donkey colt, is highly inspirational and telling:

As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen....Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out” (vv. 36-37,39-40 NRSV).













III.

Something we hopefully have learned about God across the years is that there isn’t a “praise quota” with God. Nor is there any demand on God’s part that we praise God. It isn’t a requirement, but if we refuse to allow ourselves to feel the praise we are losers in the process. By the way, praise doesn’t have to occur in a corporate setting; it may certainly occur when you’re all alone or with a friend.

Evidently, it can also occur when one is driving along 202 or I-95 since I occasionally pass folks with their Gospel Music turned up to blaring and booming levels who are dancing out their praise and clapping their hands while they’re supposed to be driving. Their cars are certainly moving forward--sometimes at breakneck speeds--even though their hands are not on the wheel. I guess that’s one of the miracles, huh? If you’re praising God behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, you don’t have to steer the wheel yourself? Is God steering for you, or how does that work exactly? I keep thinking of that bumper sticker advising persons in other vehicles that “God Is My Co-pilot.” Half the time at least when I see that bumper sticker, the driver can’t drive worth a hoot, and I want to pull up beside her or him and yell, “Hey, you need to let Godtake the wheel--all by Godself!” Of course, I’ve never actually done that--well, in Wilmington anyway.

I guess now the fear of road rage should keep me from interacting with any other driver about anything. If I’m trying to motion to a fellow driver to make known that her or his fuel door has flung open or that a gas cap is missing, that could be taken as indications of aggression on my part since the communication involves a loud voice and/or hand gestures. That’s quite a risk to take these days.

I’m sure I must have told some of you about the one time I tried to respond positively to a religious bumper sticker. It was when I was a brand new driver, sixteen years old, and I was driving in Knoxville when I saw a bumper sticker that read: “Honk If You Love Jesus.” Well, I loved Jesus so I began to honk my horn waiting at a red light. The driver of the vehicle whose bumper sticker advised me to do just that, responded by rolling down his window, cussing a blue streak, and managing to send me a finger signal--all before he sped off in anger. So that was it for me. I learned my lesson about responding to religious bumper stickers. I pretty much ignore them--just as I do the ones that describe cargo, such as: “My Mother-in-Law Is in the Trunk.”

I used to watch the old “Hollywood Squares” television show faithfully, and Paul Lynde--in the center square--was my favorite among the stars, though in the early days they were all pretty funny. Peter Marshall once asked Paul Lynde, “What are you supposed to do if you’re going down a highway at 75 miles per hour and suddenly realize that your brakes have gone out?” Paul Lynde paused a moment, got that smirk on his face for which he was famous, and then answered: “Honk if you love Jesus.”

I wonder if anyone has ever had a car wreck while praising God at the steering wheel and if so what she or he said to the trooper who came to take the report. I’m sure there must be some stories there.

Back to more serious conversation about praise of God. I want to be certain to point out today that just getting all wound up in a worship setting--public or private--isn’t any indication at all that God is being praised. There are plenty of religious gatherings where the participants get all wound up. They hear the loud, blaring hypnotic music. They may sing at the top of their lungs. They may raise their hands and wave them all around. They may stand up and dance. They may roll around on the floor and speak in tongues. They may even say or sing words that sound like praise words. They may do some or all of these things and never give God a smidgeon of praise.

We know for sure that there is no essential word formula or word formulae for praising God; in fact, as I’ve already mentioned some of the deepest praise may spring forth within us and remain forever wordless much like Paul’s realization that some of his most profound prayers could not be put into words. If words were attached, then--through Paul’s reasoning--the Spirit of God takes our deepest feelings and turns them into words for the divine ear.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Rom 8:26-27 NRSV).

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!” I’m wondering today what noises of ours would sound joyful to the divine ear. In our very western, self-centered way, we naturally have come to interpret all key passages of scripture for ourselves and to our own benefit; thus, most interpretations of Psalm 100 make “joyful” a kind of human joy, a kind of cultural joy, a kind of personal joy with no regard that I’ve ever heard for what might sound joyful to God’s ear.


Like love, praise of God isn’t supposed to be, and ultimately isn’t or can’t be, offered only when we’re in the mood for it--only when we’re feeling joyous enough to join in with the psalmic imperative the way we have typically been taught to understand it. Love isn’t love if it is only expressed when we’re in the mood for it. Love that is love may often be or have to be expressed when we’re not in a good mood at all. I think praise is the same way so, again, what may sound joyful to the divine ears isn’t tied to our happy moods or to religious gatherings where the participants get drawn into hyper-emotional states to praise God because if they make God happy, so they’ve been told, God is going to do something for them--maybe that very day. A happy God may give you that new car you’ve been wanting. A happy God may get you that date you’re too shy to ask about. A happy God may give you a promotion at work. You can readily see that there is no praise here; at best this kind of thinking is appeasement, and God doesn’t respond to it.

What would be joyful noises to God's ear?

o I think joyful noises to God's ear may not be loud shouts at all-or at least not sounds limited to loud ones. Joyful noises to God's ear might be the most quietly-spoken of words.

o Noises are joyful to God's ear when they are human voices speaking possibilities, provisions, and plans for peace. Presuming to "praise" God when one has overcome one's enemies on blood-stained fields, and God is credited for giving the victor the victory is a sign of faith in God; truthfully, however, such verbiage isn’t remotely anything like praise even though examples of that very thing abound.
Here are some joyful sounds to God's ear from an organization called One Voice:

One Voice is a grassroots peace initiative that seeks to find common ground between the "silent majority" of Israelis and Palestinians. One Voice has about 100,000 signatures on a petition empowering a panel of experts to propose a solution and will soon present a detailed set of principles, or "pillars," on which people will be able to vote through the Web using facilities to be donated, as well as through other means. The pillars, which are still confidential [as far as I know], "are the beginning of a process to achieve historic grassroots consensus for conflict resolution."

o Joyful noises to God's ear are the sounds of human voices speaking words of encouragement to those who struggle and those who have some pain to bear. Listen to this brief prayer, written by Pastor Scott Moore of Eisleben, Germany:

God of promise, we live in a time where a message of hope is sometimes hard to find. Give us reason to hope. Put words of hope on our lips. Give us the courage to speak and to act for those who have no hope. Send us to bring good news to the poor, to release the captives, give sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and to live our lives generously so others may experience your favor.

o Joyful noises to God's ear come from human voices taking ownership for the care of the created order. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz blogged these words, joyful noises to God's ear:

Many of the [hu]man-made dangers facing our environment are actually caused by companies with a vested interest in continuing old habits. People of faith should be able to consider the good of society, beyond their own convenience and egotistical desires, and make changes for the better. People of faith are, in a certain way, optimists, believing that the world can be made better. They can--and should--direct this optimism toward a global effort.

"Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth!"

Amen.