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Sermon for Trinity Sunday Year B

May 30, 2015

TrinityTo whom could you liken God? Words from our first lesson Isaiah 40:18

In the name………….

David wanted a church wedding. Nothing but the best. When the vicar asked him if he believed in God, he replied, ‘Well something must have started this shooting match we call the universe.’

‘Well, what is this something like? Is this something for you or against you?’

‘Well, I guess he’d be sort of against me. I’ve done some pretty bad things in my life.’

The priest was on retreat. He said to the nun who was gardening ‘I reckon God should give me a good kick.’

To whom could you liken God? David’s God was a spy. Looking down from heaven.

Seeing what he got up to. Turning against him.

The priest’s God was a judge. sitting in judgement. About to pass sentence. To award a good kick.

God the spy. God the judge. Idols. Gods made by human hands. Or at least, we don’t much go in for making statues of gods like the ones Isaiah made fun of in tonight’s first lesson. We make idols in our heads and we don’t so much consciously make the idol in our heads. They just form themselves over several years’ experience.

David’s family lacked warmth. His mother was always rooting through the stuff in his bedroom, spying on him. He came to think of God as a bit like his mother

– only multiplied to infinity.

The priest’s father was moody, petty. His mother found him hard to control as a boy. Wait till your father gets home. He’ll give you a good kick. So God, for the priest, was like his dad – only multiplied to infinity.

Whole countries commit idolatry. The American way of life, wholesome as apple pie. If it comes under threat there’s an arsenal of nuclear weapons, a day of judgement which will purge away all that is thought evil.

Nazi Germany was a national idolatry. It forged a whole ideology out of a lethal mix of Teutonic pagan myths and Lutheran Christianity. The purity of the Aryan race must not be diluted, tainted, so 6 million Jews went to their deaths in concentration camps.

The Japanese saw themselves as superior to all other races. The emperor was divine, infallible. Step by step they skilfully built up an education system,

an army. ‘Wealthy Nation Strong Army’ went the slogan. They distorted the Confucian philosophy to support their ideology. They isolated Japan for over two hundred years so no outside influences could call their views into question.

Isaiah picturesquely describes a piece of wood taken, measured, cut and chiselled. An idol doesn’t appear suddenly. It is produced by a plan. The idol of ‘Wealthy Nation Strong Army’ was carefully planned and executed.

The Jews of the Old Testament weren’t above a bit of idolatry. Otherwise, why would so many of the prophets have written against it? Their idolatry wasn’t just the carving of images too. Like America, Germany, Japan, there were movements within Judaism which fostered a national pride, a sense of superiority. The phrase ‘The chosen people’ can go to your head. And it did at the time our Psalm, which we sang earlier, was written.

I’d like us to look a bit deeper into that psalm than we normally do. It would help if you’d look it up again in your prayer book. Psalm 145. You’ll find it on page……….

First, notice the number of verses this psalm has. 21. Nothing exceptional in that is there? Well yes, actually. If you read it in the original Hebrew, you notice that it is an acrostic, that is, each verse begins with a different verse of the alphabet. If it was in English, verse 1 would begin with A, verse 2 B and so on.

But only 21 verses. Hebrew requires 22. Why is one verse missing? More of that later on.

Why has the writer chosen this acrostic pattern? Well, maybe as a teaching aid to help you learn the song.

Scholars suggest that the style is fairly unimaginative, a worthless poem with no special merit, a decadent example of doggerel, pious, sentimental.

Maybe the author chose to work within the constraints of a familiar pattern, just as we have to live within the constraints life places on us. And maybe that’s a lesson in itself. God sets us in the midst of everyday life with its mundane concerns.

Maybe the author chose this format to disguise some fairly radical ideas. In a familiar pattern which wouldn’t make you think twice just as we mostly live familiar lives. Yet God can show us some surprises in the midst of what is ordinary.

The pattern begins to stand out if you get a crayon and colour certain words in. So verse 2 PRAISE, verse 3 PRAISE, then verse 21 PRAISE.

PRAISE at the start and the finish. Like life. We have a sense of wonder in our childhood. We often lose it. We make an idol of work, the family. Japan, Germany, America make an ideology. They PRAISE the wrong things and lose awareness of the true God. We rediscover that awareness in old age.

Verse 1 FOR EVER AND EVER, verse 2 FOR EVER AND EVER, verse 21 FOR EVER AND EVER, verse 4 one generation unto another. Young and old know the secret which busy people have forgotten. We know it in our beginning and at our end. God is the beginning and the end.

Japan, Germany, America make an ideology which is new, which neglects or falsifies the past, which sets itself up as if IT will last for ever.

Verse 1 NAME, verse 2 NAME, verse 21 NAME. To know someone’s name is to have a key insight into their true character. It is the young and the old who can have an insight into the true nature of God. Japan, Germany, America make an ideology where young and old are considered worthless. The young can be moulded to believe the ideology but they mustn’t offer any original insights of their own. The old might have views which aren’t approved of. Never mind, they can’t be allowed to stand in the way of progress and they’ll die off anyway.

Verse 11 KINGDOM, verse 12 KINGDOM, verse 13 KINGDOM. And the really clever Hebrew reader will see something else. KING is spelt with the letters M L K.

These verses begin in reverse order K L M. Who is the true king? Japan, Germany, America make an ideology. They turn God upside down. The psalmist perhaps suggests the Jews have turned God upside down. He should be put the right way up and be placed in the centre of our lives. Like he is at the centre of this psalm. As for these false kings, be they the Japanese emperor, the German fuehrer.

Our 1st lesson spells out their doom: God reduces princes to nothing, he annihilates the rulers of the world, the storm carries them off like straw.

Verse 14 ALL, verse 15 ALL, verse 16 ALL, verse 17 ALL, verse 18 ALL. Japan, Germany, America make an ideology. They are the best. Everybody else is inferior.

The Jews are the chosen race, the goyim, gentiles, are unclean. That’s not what this Jew thinks. His God is for ALL, everybody.

And that’s where we come back to the missing letter. Remember I said there was one letter missing. The Hebrew letter N. In a fairly parallel piece of poetry in the book of Amos, the missing verse turns up. The gist of it reads that Israel has fallen.

So why has our author left that out? It would suit his universalism. He’s against narrow nationalism. He says God is for ALL, so why not point out that Israel has fallen? Well no, because God is for ALL. The verse immediately after the gap is verse 14: The Lord supports all who FALL. So he loves Israel too. And Japan, Germany, America.

This vision grows from one person – verse 1 I will praise thee – to verse 21 ALL flesh will give thanks

So today, Trinity Sunday, we sang a psalm about a God who is broader than the narrow confines of our idols. Bigger than the God inside our heads. Bigger than the parent substitute of David and the priest. Bigger than the national ideology of certain of the Jews, or of Japan, Germany, America. A God we serve within the confines of our often conventional lives. A God who gives a pattern to our lives. A God worthy of praise. Whose name is best known by those with time to ponder – the very young, the very old. A God who lives for ever, long after our human trends have died off. A God who wants to rule our lives as king. Who sees off human rulers who get above themselves. A God who is for ALL – not just one nation or one religion. And a God who is exciting, radical, who breaks out of the pattern.

One rabbi likens our psalm to what some Jazz musicians call the Twelve Bar Blues. Over the 12 bars the music comes to a peak and then comes down again. Different players improvise after a conventional start. And then joke. At least we finished together. It makes for a breathtaking blowing apart of conventional music, of conventional ideas. Like a God who is bigger than our idols, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A Rabbi Reads the Psalms – J. Magonet (SCM 1984) pp.35f

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