The Zero Always Contains The One.
A sermon based on Psalm 29
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on May 27, 2018
by Rev. Scott Elliott
As most of you know this is my last Sunday for awhile. I am having surgery Thursday to fix a serious back problem. The plan is I will be on medical leave until July 14th. I want to thank you all again for the love and support and prayers and kindnesses you have shown me as I prepare for this . . . as we prepare for this. It means a lot. My dear friend Rev. Mark Katrick at St John’s UCC in Newark will be providing me with prayer and pastoral care Wednesday evening and then again at the hospital. The Diaconate, church leadership and many others have offered help at home if needed while I get through recovery.
At the church Rev. Daniel Young has graciously agreed to be on call for dire emergencies (a number of local clergy have graciously agreed to be his back-up) and our Shepherds are available for all other pastoral needs. We have six wonderful guest speakers preaching while I am gone, Rev. Young, Ann Luna, Dr. Jene’ Schoenfeld and Rev. Deanna Straw. Laura will lead the hymn sing at the June breakfast service.
I know too that many of you, as well as clergy in the area and in our association are holding me and the church in prayer. Our church staff and council leaders have been marvelous in their support and willingness to mind the shop day to day while I am away.
So between all of those I just mentioned, and all of you, and the God of love whom I live and move and have my being in, I feel deeply cared about and for. I am grateful for that and I am especially thankful to this church for going above and beyond in adjusting and helping me and Nancy.
As we just heard Dick read, our lectionary lesson is Psalm 29. Originally I was going to preach on the Lectionary text from Isaiah, but, as I read the Psalm for the day I was struck by it’s focus on a critical time – a storm– in life, like metaphorically the one I am facing this week, but – of course– also like those we all face throughout life.
In the UCC we have a saying, a motto, that “God is still speaking.” In Psalm 29 the voice of God is a stated focus. I have mentioned before how we can choose to hear almost of all of the Bible as poetry-like with metaphors that abound. This is particularly true of the Psalms which are a collection of hymns literally written as poetic lyrics.
Psalm 29 has a very interesting background. Most of the text likely first came from a poem by the followers of Baal. Baal, you may recall, is the Canaanite god of storms whom most of us probably best remember as losing a battle to ignite altars. Yahweh lit a water drenched altar for Elijah while 450 Baal’s priests failed to get Baal to provide even a spark on their dry altars. The borrowed text in Psalm 29 originally described Baal rolling across the sea and onto land in a mighty storm with a show of flashing and thunderous power shattering trees and forests.
The Hebrews somewhere along the line took the story and made it a song of their own, a psalm which is usually heard as Yahweh being God in the storm’s power, some even hear God purposefully strafing the land to cause it and the enemies of Israel to tremble in order to make room for the Hebrews to take the land. In that way of understanding the text the rolling storm becomes a show of force demonstrating not only the power of God but who God sides with.
In both the Canaanite and Hebrew versions the poetry has often been heard by many as pointing to God in the awesome roar of thunder, bolts of lightening and ripping winds. And for sure God can be experienced in the awe of nature’s mightiness like storms. But I find myself asking how Psalm 29 can it work in any depth as a metaphor for God’s positive presence in life and God fulfilling the final lines of the psalm: “May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!”? How can destruction and storms, the troubles in our lives, natural disasters, illnesses, injuries, misconduct by others, all the negative personal challenges and storms that sweep across at times in our life, how can they be understood as a place where God gives strength and blessings for peace? In other words, if God is omnipresent where is God in the negative non-well being moments and events in our lives, or for that matter, all of history?
Where is God in the bad things that happen? I find that question comes up over and over again. I hear it in one form or another many times as a minister. Over the years I have come up with what in my head seems a simple answer for this complicated question. I apply it when I encounter troubling scripture, bad theology, mean church traditions or angry religious folk. But I also find it helpful in any troubling event in my or another person’s life . . .or anywhere in history.
I got the idea for the answer from a rudimentary understanding of “binary code.” Binary code is at the core of computer software and data. It is based on a two symbol system: zeros and ones which can be ordered in an unending number of ways. That’s about all I can explain about computer binary code. I hope I can explain a little better my answer for God’s existence in negative things.
I have come to believe that the core of Jesus’ theology can also be understood by applying a two symbol system to finding God’s positive presence in anything. THE ONE is God who is seen in everything as that which bends the observer toward care and well-being of any part of creation, whether it be our reverence toward a part of creation’s awesomeness or our desire for a part of creation’s well being. God is that which bends us to care and desire for well being.
THE ZERO is that which tries to bend us elsewhere, to not care, to non-well being, to give ZERO love to something. Put another way, God is the tilt toward care and well being. Zero is not God, it is that which tries to tilt humans away it.
But here is the thing, I have noticed this very interesting twist. THE ZERO always contains THE ONE but THE ONE never contains the ZERO. So in all that we encounter we can always find a tilt toward care and well being, but to state the obvious in all that tilts toward care and well being there is never an absence of that tilt. THE ONE is in THE ZERO but THE ZERO is not in THE ONE. We cannot not care and desire well being when we care and desire well being!
See, I told you it was simple. I know some of us may be scratching our heads. Let me put it a different words. If we look close everything has a call to well being in it, that call is God . . . THE ONE. Lets take compassion for someone who is in a storm like the one roiling and rolling in Psalm 29. If we listen there is a call to the well being in compassion that wells up for all that’s threatened. THE ONE GOD is in that compassion and in the loving actions the welling up brings about. And while that compassion came out of a call to care and well being in the storm, the call to care and well being did not, and cannot, have the call to not care and to non-well being. THE ONE GOD is in both the call and ZERO’s existence that tries to bend us elsewhere to not care and to non-well being of something. There is always, always a call to well being in THE ONE and THE ZERO. But THE ZERO’s call to not care and to non-well being does not exist in God . . . THE ONE.
So in our Psalm the voice of the Lord need not be heard as the power that shatters and strafes the land. In fact it cannot really be heard that way, because the idea of the shattering and strafing the land automatically possesses the idea of care and well being for that which is threatened. In the troubled circumstances of the storm, the sense of compassion we naturally have for those it shatters and strafes or threatens to shatter and strafe is THE ONE GOD. Hearing the truth that God is still speaking, that God’s voice always is the care and call to well being of anyone in need of it, Psalm 29’s ending makes sense “May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” Strength to provide and receive care and well being and the blessing of that strength in a storm, and the care and compassion it calls forth is God.
The bottom line to this sermon, and underlying Truth to the voice of God in the reading Psalm 29, that I am suggesting is, that the love of God is in all storms – my storms, your storms, our storms, everybody’s storms. In every storm God is not just in the awe part, but, if we listen we can hear God’s voice and call to care and desire for well being–which is the very definition of love. If you remember nothing else from this sermon, try to remember that God IS still speaking in every nook and cranny of creation in the good and in the bad.
In every pleasant sunrise and every scary stormy night the voice of the Lord is over the waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful. The voice of the Lord is full of majesty. We can hear that voice as awe of creation in mighty floods and earthquakes, and in powerful storms that snap trees and make people tremble. And for sure we want to yell out “Glory” in awe of the Creator’s might in creation. But the voice of God is also that which gives strength to us, which blesses us with peace by calling to us to care and to well being. It’s the voice of THE ONE GOD in everything, in the positive and in the negative . . . THE ZERO. God is in each and every storm. God’s voice is a never ending call to well being . . . to love.
If we listen we can hear God’s voice loud and clear in our storms and in others storms, and we can see God’s love play out in actions that provide love. I hear all of this loud and clear this morning in the personal storm of my medical issues, and I see the call being answered and God’s love being played out in your actions to help and provide care and well being. It is God through you and my faith and Jesus that give me strength and blesses me with peace as I take this leave. Thank you and God for that.
COPYRIGHT Scott Elliott © 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED