Sep 5, 2008
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REVIVE (ALL OF) US AGAIN, NOT?
Community Church of Wilmette
September 5, 2008
And in Wilmette no less!
Now thats something to take note of.
Something new (or re-newing) must be happening up there at the Community Church.
Ah, but I see theyve tinkered around with that revival word, that word that has so many evocative but restrictive meanings. Just like them. They couldnt just take that old and, to at least some degree, damaged form of evangelism and simply replicate it up there on the North Shore. No, they had to go and fiddle with it: "Revive All."
Cute. Sort of creative. Certainly eye-catching and thought-provoking.
But only that? Only cute, only creative, only eye-catching and thought-provoking?
Or are they on to something up there at the Community Church of Wilmette? Are they on to something important for Baptists, for Christians more generally, for people of faith in the still broader sense and maybe important for Americans, even citizens of the world community?
I mean "revival" in the old sense had so much to do with the religiously "bringing back to life" of the individual person, and not just the revival of an earlier and lost life but the revival into a new life, a born again life, of the fallen, individual person. Thats pretty consistent with what Baptist believe ought to happen that focus on the individual persons conversion and salvation and, for that matter, pretty consistent with what the wider Christian family thinks is essential (although achieving the revival in so many different ways!), and other religions, too. And isnt thats pretty consistent with what people think America is about? that is, about the individual, that its the individual person who has to be prized and revived? And isnt that what people across the globe are understanding as well, whether they put it in religious terms or not?
So what would it mean if we thought about "revival" not just or even primarily as something that individuals in their separateness need religiously and civically, but also as something necessary for all individuals together? All the individuals in their individuality being revived as part of their common, their shared life?
Thats an intriguing idea. But a threatening one, too. Oh, I suppose it wouldnt be too dangerous if you could limit what "all" meant, if you could confine it to manageable sizes. But what if the "all" in "revive all" meant everybody, or every creature, or everything?
Oouuh! That could be really perilous. Revive all of us again?
* * * * *
Thank you for allowing me to be a part of the beginning of your new church year. I always appreciate the opportunity to be with you. And thats especially the case in this instance because youve made the theme so intriguing: Revive All!
My text for this evening is the 85th Psalm. As you will soon see when we read together the 6th verse, this was an easy choice, since it includes the words of your theme. But I chose it as well because this is not a psalm or prayer of an individual; its a prayer a people its a plea offered up by a people for help in the time of need, a people who understand that God has distanced Gods self from the people, that this separation has caused life to be sapped from that people, and that this separation must somehow be overcome if life is again to return to that people.
In order to get the sense of this "people-ness" Im going to ask us to read the first seven verses of the psalm together, it is on page __ of your pew Bibles. (Please turn to that page now.) But Im asking that after we read each verse, I do a separate rendering of the passage, so that you can get a sense of what I think is important to grasp.
So lets begin together:
1) Lord, thou wast favorable to thy land; thou didst restore the fortunes of Jacob.
God, in the past, after we had fallen into disfavor with you, you again chose to be favorable toward us, you repeatedly brought back the fortunes that were promised to our parent Jacob.
2) Thou didst forgive the iniquity of thy people; thou didst pardon all their sin.
Holy God, you forgave our un-holiness as a people; time after time you erased all of our sin.
3) Thou didst withdraw all they wrath; thou didst turn from thy hot anger.
Judging God, you took back that wrath you felt toward us as a people; you decided over and over to reverse yourself in the red hot anger you felt toward us.
4) Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away thy indignation toward us.
Recover us once more, O God of our redemption; still another time set aside your indignation toward us.
5) Wilt thou be angry with us forever? Wilt thou prolong thy anger to all generations?
Have we reached the end of your patience, O God, so that you will never stop being angry with us? Have we put our children and our grandchildren and our great grandchildren as risk, have we put them in a situation, without anything of their own doing, of your always being angry with them?
6) Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?
Arent you the one who will change from condemning us to death to the one who will again cause us to live, so that we again can be full of joyful life because of our restored and revived connection with you?
7) Show us thy steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation.
Reveal to us, show us some sign, that you are the God whose love is permanent, and out of that enduring love save from death and give us life again.
Now I would ask that you follow along in your Bibles, while I give my rendering fo the rest of the Psalm.
8) As the leader of this people who has just appealed to the Most High God, the creator and restorer of life, I want to hear what God will say in response to our plea, for I believe God will speak a word of peace to us as Gods people, especially to those who are faithful to God and to those who, despite their desperate circumstances, turn to God at the very center of their being.
9) Our salvation can be at hand for those who honor God according to who God actually is, and from that revering of God the reality and presence of this glorious God will again live and will give life in our land.
10) We will know when that happens; we will know that God has chosen to again dwell with us; these are the signs of Gods presence among us: our own love, like Gods, will be steadfast and it will join together with our faithfulness to God and each other; moreover, righteousness in our personal behavior and justice in our common life will kiss and embrace peace.
11) Trust and loyalty will spring up from ground and righteousness and justice will fall from above like rain.
12) God will again be the source of goodness and the earth will again be productive in abundance.
13) As a sign of Gods presence with us, we will live in Gods presence righteously and justly, and we will be path makers for Gods presence with everyone and everything.
Let us pray: Open our minds and our hearts to receive you, life-giving God, revive us, so that we can, with you, give life to your world. Amen.
* * * * *
Over the past year, weve had plenty of religious leaders who have taken it upon themselves to convey what they think God is trying to tell the peoplewhether the people are in Gods favor or disfavor, and what the people need to do, if they are out of step with God, in order to be revived to life with God.
A prominent pastor on the South Side of Chicago, a friend of mine for nearly forty years, took a lot of heat as did his parishioner who was seeking the presidential nomination of his political party for suggesting that this country was not in Gods favor because of its war-like ways and it unjust practices. The pastor and his defenders, appealing to the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, were quite confident that they spoke for God. And the pastor and his partners felt that in their speaking for God, speaking Gods word of damnation, they could bring authentic life back to this country. They could revive all of us from our death and dying and bring us back to life with God.
I guess the heat directed at those modern day prophets showed that most of the country was ill-prepared to recite the words of the 85th Psalm recognizing the need for restoration and revival either because they really didnt believe the country was in a life-threatening condition, or because, whatever the condition of the country, they couldnt conceive of the possibility that God would be, to use the words of the Psalmist, angry and indignant with America, so angry and indignant that God would permanently turn away from our nation and choose another to accomplish Gods will. It was, in fact for them, just the opposite, the country continued to be the modern expression of Gods chosen people, without, however, any sense that the chosen people might have to uphold an even higher standard than others and that failing Gods mandate of chosen-ness also incurs God judgment. Revive us again? No need for that
Well, revival some of us maybe, but certainly not revive all of us again.
Both sides thought they were defending God and advancing the divine will.
A more recent incident, reported by Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune, reveals still another way of pleading for Gods support with strong confidence that ones human ways are surely Gods divine ways. Just before the Democratic National Convention, Stuart Shepard, the director of Digital Media for Focus on the Family, put out a video message urging conservative Christians to fervently pray that God would send abundant rain, torrential rain, urban and small-stream flood-advisory rain upon Candidate Obama and his supporters the night he was to deliver his acceptance speech. Mr. Shepard believed that great harm maybe even death would befall the nation if God didnt do something to save the country.
Similarly, weve learned within the last few days that Sarah Palins former pastor told his congregation back in 2002 that critics of George W. Bush could be banished to hell and that supporters of Candidate John Kerry might be prohibited entrance to heaven. It was the pastors way of protecting the lives, not just of individuals but of a people of reviving maybe not everyone but those who most worth saving.
And now a quote from Gov. Palin has surfaced in the matter of the $30 billion gas pipeline she is seeking to have built: "I think Gods will has to be one in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that."
I suppose, since this coming week inaugurates the beginning of the fall election campaign, we will hear things much like this from both political parties, both sides confident that they are manifestations, representatives, incarnations of Gods ways and will.
But, of course, all of this isnt limited to the political arena. It pervades much of our public, economic, social and cultural lifeand, yes, to be sure, our religious life as well.
There is, we have to acknowledge, positive things to say about the identification of our own personal and public lives, our personal and public plans, our personal and public commitments with God and Gods will for ourselves and for what we believe this implies for others. It tends many times to bring intensity and deeper meaning to our lives, it expands our plans, and it deepens our commitments. If a challenge is to be faced, a problem addressed, a war whether it be against poverty or illiteracy or terrorism to be won, most of the time wed want people of faith on our side.
And certainly our religious faith itself is intensified, expanded, and deepened when it includes not just those components of our lives that are narrowly religious but infuses every personal and public dimension of our existence. If we are going to have a vital faith with others, wed most likely want to be around people for whom faith enlivens and enriches all parts of their lives.
And yet there is something truly and terribly troubling about anyone individual or a small group of people having the audacity, the chutzpah, to speak for God as a way of reviving the lives of individuals and the life of a people, and the lives of peoples. Theres something about it that foolhardy to the point of being dangerous to speak on Gods behalf about Gods damnation of a people and a world, to speak on Gods behalf about what a people and a world must do in order to win Gods favor, to speak on Gods behalf about what God should do to revive Gods people and Gods world.
Thats why I think it is important to pay attention to Psalm 85.
This psalm teaches us that it is not just individuals and not just a collection of individuals, but it is a people with a sense of community and interconnectedness who must acknowledge among themselves and then openly confess their separation from God and Gods ways, that this condition of separation is what has led to their being cut off as a people and a community from the source and the meaning of all their lives and their life, and that the life of the people can only be revived, not by what they as a people do, but in what they believe God can do a God who is not just their God but the God of all, the God of all people, the God of the whole world.
Take each of those three dimensions separately.
First, there cannot be revival whether it be the family, or the congregation, or the nation until there is recognition of the need for revival. That is to say, there has to be a shared recognition, before anything else, that things arent right, that relationships arent what they were meant to be, that promises havent been kept, that the sense of judgment that is felt is, in fact, justified. The Christian tradition has a word for it sin and an understanding that the experience of it requires the confession of it. At its most basic and foundational level, sin always has to do, whatever the reason, with the separation of the self from others and from God. So the first step toward revival of revive all is the confession of sin individually to be sure and even more importantly together. Revival means revive all
Second, is the recognition that sin has consequences, short and long-term consequences that our separation from one another and, most foundationally, from God leads increasingly to our death to our lifelessness and to the death the lifelessness of others, now and in the future. It is the recognition that our preoccupation with ourselves and thus our separation from each others keeps us, bars us, blocks us from the promise of life the promise of abundant life, and the promise of meaningful and purposeful life, and I dare to say the promise of everlasting life that can only come from our being connected to each, from our giving and receiving from each other, from our being connected together in the divine source of every interconnected thing. Revival means revive all.
And third, it is the recognition that the turning from death to life, from lifelessness to life-full-ness, cant be achieved on our own. It is the acknowledgement that we dont have the wisdom and the power and the moxy to pull it off. Its the confession, as in the Psalm, that weve tried to do this repeatedly by ourselves and failed, and that even when in the past weve relied on God to revive us to our interconnected life weve retreated back, time and time again, into our own death-dealing ways of separation, thereby provoking Gods anger and wrath.
O yes, we have a sense maybe from our experience of living together by Gods grace in the past of what it means, or what it looks like, when we connect to God and each other according to the will of God. The latter half of the Psalm makes that all very clear: its a world where "steadfast love and faithfulness" meet as a regular condition of existence; its a world in which justice and peace get this kiss each other, where justice and peace, that is, form a passionate union. But none of that has been of our own making. And if it comes again it will not be of our making then. It will be of Gods making, the production, the creation, the art work of the One Pervasive Reality that has the capacity not just to create the world out of chaos but to re-create it out of the chaos of our chosen and sinful separateness. To revive it by reviving it all.
* * * * *
So, I guess the question is, then, whether thats all we have to do according to the 85th Psalm: recognize and confess our collective human sin of self-preoccupation and separation, come to terms with the death-dealing consequences of our sin and how it keeps us from authentic and abundant, meaningful and everlasting life, and understand that our revival from death to life together is not our own doing but is fully Gods doing? Thats it? We can be confident with that formula? Maybe even smug, over against others, that with this mantra in hand, we can speak to the rest of the church, and to the nation, and to the world, for God?
Well, theres still that sixth verse of the Psalm that ought to give us caution.
Most of the rest of the psalm has an aire of that confidence, almost of that smugness that, yes, God is angry with us now, just like God has been angry with us before, but if we confess our sin, and recognize its consequences, and place all of our trust on God reviving us again, it will surely happenagain.
But in verse six the people ask their question in a different tone not will you revive us again?, but will you
revive us again.
The literal Hebrew translation goes like this: Are you, God, not the one who will return and cause us to live?
In Psalm 85, at least in the sixth verse, God is still God, and God will do Gods own choosing in order to accomplish Gods will for Gods world.