Monday, May 14, 2018

Everything: Psalm 1 and Thresholds and Caregiving in Community

The only high school graduation gift I really remember, and still have is this book you may remember called ‘All I Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten’. I'm not entirely sure the title holds true for me, or anyone else anymore. Life is so complex and daunting, but then I hear of friends giving kindergartners lessons on how to blow your nose and think, oh yeah, that is really important. So maybe.

Our Psalm today is Psalm 1 . Somebody, somewhere, some time, was led to put this psalm first. It is a prelude of sorts, intentionally written, or reshaped to serve as a prologue that informs us about the book that is to come. Psalm 1 is a preview that proclaims that the whole Psalter is to be instruction for life together. How do we pray as we journey into the borderlands and promised lands in troubled times? The answers this book travels through are a road trip dialogue between God and humanity that is as scenic and complicated as life itself.

Taken as a whole, the sacred song of the Psalms is this: we are called to be a community whose foundation is the God of compassion. The Psalms keep their eye on the destination, which is the ultimate reign of God. A reign which is not of raw brutality but steadfast love. It is motherly compassion and an ideal commitment of the beloved friend, neighbor, or caregiver.

Psalm 1 and 2 belong together and they open this library by summarizing this collection of poetic songs and prayers as everything you need to know. To emphasize this point the first word of Psalm 1 basically begins with the Hebrew version of the letter a and the last word begins with the Hebrew version of the letter z. Kindergarten stuff. However, there are two words we need to consider a little deeper comprehend today’s Psalm.

First is happy. There is a part of happy that is utter joy, warm cookies delight. But there is also a side of how we use the word happy that is saccharine shallow vapidness. The part that is a smiling dayglow glitter emoticon. There is a part of happy that is an unattainable goal that shames our doldrums and griefs and steals the satisfaction and the holy from the daily reality of life.

What is translated in the prayer book as happy is elsewhere sometimes translated as blessed. It is that wish or prayer for well being we utter when we say bless you. It is the naming of the glowing centeredness and glad purpose with which we desire you leave this Eucharistic liturgy with. However, there is also a way in which blessed gets used as implying privileged or prosperous. A way in which the idea is that if you follow the rules God is pleased and you get not only your allowance but also a bonus. Which isn’t the way the God of Jubilee works. Isn’t evident in the God who is on the side of the least the last and the lost. And it is really difficult to find in the life of Jesus who we understand to be the very essence and image of God.

So to begin this Psalm in deep understanding if you want to imagine, grabbing a pencil, and crossing through the word happy, and write Centered Gladness instead. But hold on to that pencil. Because the second word to reconsider, is law. Imagine crossing it out too and now write instead torah. The Hebrew text says torah, and a sort of straightforward translation of the word would be instruction. Torah is not just recited text, it is more accurate to think of Torah as a way of life. The difference between law and Torah is rather like the difference between knowing about Jesus and following Jesus. Torah is the instruction of God as learned through people dwelling with text and teaching and tradition and each other. It is holy and communal knowledge of what makes the difference between a healthy society and one that is lost and broken and fragmented. The torah wisdom way that leads to divine gladness and not wickedness, is dwelling day in and day out with a rooted community.

Today we are celebrating our graduates, Sending your loved ones out into the world is what we have been striving for it brings us gladness and delight and it is oh so difficult too. I think this time of the year is a good time to remember that caregiving Does seem to require a Divine sort of countenance. The ones we love may not make the choice you would make the first time or the second time or the evertime, but still we love you support you hold you in prayer and welcome you home again. Like the psalms, there are moments of thanksgiving and praise and lament moments of orientation when you think you have it all figured out, and then the disorientation when you have no idea what is going on. Maybe all we needed to know we could learn by studying and praying the Psalms.

So friends we are sending some of you out across the Cascade curtain and one Whitman graduate across the pond. And there are two things that I want all of us to remember from our Psalm today. The first is that you are never alone or unloved. You are made for community and welcome in this community (in the broadest understanding of this). I urge/invite you to make a deliberate effort to find a sacred community to be a part of a place where you can give and receive a foundation of steadfast love across generations and peer groups. Now I really want that to be a church and I absolutely want that to be an Episcopal or Anglican one, because I'm a bit partisan. I urge it because part of my story in my college years is that getting involved in the church community being lured there by free dinner on Sunday night gave me a beloved community when I felt lost and all alone. Thanks be to God. Furthermore, studies show that the correlating factor for success in high-pressure collegiate studies is participating in an active spiritual community.

The second bit of advice I want you to take from Psalm 1 is that there is wickedness and villainy out there, but you already know that. I want to remind all of us that sometimes we can miss how evil creeps in by casual forms like ‘everybody's doing it’ and ‘nothing I can do really matters’. More than that I urge you to use your voice STAND UP SPEAK UP ACT UP. Name cruelty and injustice when you see it. Pursue gladness for all with your whole self. Because the divine wisdom of the ages is that true happiness, real blessedness doesn't come from a momentary selfish high but from loving yourself and your neighbors as much as God loves you.

I cannot stand here in this place today and not make a brief mention of the Acts lesson as well. Of how in the mystery of the lectionary, which is a set three-year rotation of readings, chosen a while ago by a committee far from here, and they not only gave us this Psalm for today but also the Acts lesson which is about choosing a new collaborative leader. And so are we. Our prayer for St. Paul’s, which we have taken to heart is rather like the Psalms. It is built out of the personal and communal, it is thanksgiving and wisdom and lament, and its hope is on the goal and the purpose of this community - the reign of God made real in real time. As we all journey across this threshold, will you take it home with you and pray it? How could you adapt it to be for yourself, or for all who graduate or make discernment decisions at this time?

Spiritual author Kathleen Norris once said she didn’t read the paper because every reality that would be in the paper is already present in the Psalter which she prays every single day. Maybe it is rather like kindergarten lessons for a centered and glad life today. All we need to pray and live to journey in the Jesus movement. Love God, care for people, name evil for what it is and FIGHT IT, give thanks for blessings, and don’t bury your feelings. 

So graduates and congregants, parents, friends and loved ones, go forth, pray, cry, laugh, give thanks, act up, and learn fervently JUST AS THE PSALMIST SAYS. Take to heart the word of God this day, be blessed and guided and rooted. Be centered in the holy community of Jesus Christ wherever life leads you. And always, always, love as you are loved, all the time and everywhere.


St. Paul's, Walla Walla
May 13, 2018

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