The Beginning of Desire -- the final page
John Lewis on Dr. King



Psalm 105

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational UCC

28 August 2011



In the days immediately following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the music that I kept going to for lament and solace was the album All That You Can't Leave Behind by the rock band U2. The album was a year old at that point and had already experienced huge success, but it seemed to be the perfect music to express what I was feeling in those days.

There is a fantastic sequence of songs that conclude the album. Their titles alone suggest the vision they contain: "Peace on Earth," "When I Look at the World," "New York," and "Grace."  That order of titles is near-providential. I believe it was "Peace on Earth" that I first wanted to listen to.  


Heaven on Earth
We  need it now
I'm sick of all this
Hanging around
Sick of Sorrow
Sick of Pain
Sick of hearing again and again
That there's gonna be 
Peace on Earth


    The song contains a powerful lamentation:


Jesus this song you wrote 
The words are sticking in my throat
Peace on Earth
Hear it every Christmas time
But hope and history won't rhyme
So, what's it worth?
This peace on Earth.


And quite powerfully there was this prescient lyric:


They're reading names out over the radio
All the folks the rest of us won't get to know
Sean and Julia, Gareth, Ann and Breda 
Their lives are bigger, than any big idea.

Despite listening almost daily to this album, it was more than a month before I could listen to the opening track "Beautiful Day."  That song was the big hit from the album and was a song I had listened to a lot in the previous year, but I couldn't bring myself to in the weeks after the attacks, no matter how often I listened to the rest of this album.  Pretty soon I realized that I would know when I would be ready to listen to it and that when I did, it would mean something about moving forward in my shock and grief.  

When I did listen to it, finally, it was on a trip to Oklahoma City from Fayetteville, Arkansas.   I put the album in the cd player and skipped to the second track and listened all the way through, and then when it was ready to cycle back to the beginning, I let it.  The sun was setting and it really was a lovely autumn evening.  I listened to it, and I cried, and I knew that I was ready to heal a little bit more.


It's a beautiful day, the sky falls
And you feel like it's a beautiful day
It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away. 


    As we have approached the tenth anniversary of that transformative day, I have often returned to this album. Knowing that the tenth anniversary would fall on a Sunday, I took seriously the task of preparing myself and our worship and programming to reflect spiritually and theologically. This time I was drawn to an earlier song on U2's album, "Elevation."


Maybe you can educate my mind

Explain all these controls
Can't sing but I've got soul
The goal is elevation

A mole
Digging in a hole
Digging up my soul now
Going down, excavation

I and I in the sky
You make me feel like I can fly
So high

Lift me up from out of these blues
Won't you tell me something true
I believe in you

As we approach this significant anniversary it is important for us to remember. Remembering can be a powerful, healing activity. But it will also be important for us to use this anniversary to move forward: to recommit ourselves to things we value, to find the unity we had in those days and need so desperately now, and, most importantly, to hope.

    So, rather than being a mole hiding in the hole of grief and sorrow, let us excavate our souls and fly high, for the goal is elevation. How can we elevate our understanding, our spirits, our world?


    Today the lectionary brings us to Psalm 105, which narrates the story of the people of God as God is with them through their troubles and liberates them into a new future. Let us remind ourselves of this story of God's covenant faithfulness, for we are also reminded that God is in covenant with us, that God will be faithful to us, that God will see us through into a new future.

    This vision of God's work on behalf of God's people is set "among the nations." The psalm opens,


Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;

Make known among the nations what he has done.


    One of the great questions we have faced in the last decade is how we are to live in a world of multiple faiths. Religious scholar Phyllis Tickle has framed the question this way, "How can we live responsibly as devout and faithful adherents of one religion in a world of many religions?"

    I woke up on September 12 and realized I didn't know enough about Islam and had no Muslim friends. I know that other people, especially many colleagues in ministry, felt the same way. Over the last decade many of us have read more, attended presentations, built relationships, and worked on developing better interfaith understanding. This church has committed itself to that and even this evening at 7 o'clock we will have a presentation by a local Muslim leader on getting to know our Muslim neighbors and their religion. This will be followed by a potluck dinner similar to the Ramadan iftar.

    But while some of us have worked for greater understanding, others have led in the opposite direction. Continued terrorism, Koran burnings, riots because of cartoons, outrageous rhetoric, religious hate crimes, etc. All of this was brought to attention again this summer when Anders Breivik, claiming to be on a Christian crusade based on nationalism and white supremacy, murdered 76 Norwegians because Norway is too open and too pluralistic.

    Christians must resoundingly denounce this distortion of the good news of Jesus Christ. This is not the reign of God for which our mission as the church aims.


    One of the voices I have come to respect most on interfaith issues is Eboo Patel, a young American Muslim leader and founder of the Interfaith Youth Core. I first heard him speak at the United Church of Christ General Synod in Grand Rapids in 2009. Now I follow him everyday on Twitter.

    This Independence Day, Patel wrote an essay for the on-line newsmagazine The Daily Beast, in which he drew upon a moment from our religious heritage – John Winthrop's famous sermon onboard the ship Arbela as the Puritans approached the American coast. This is the sermon in which Winthrop draws upon the biblical narrative of the Exodus and the Sermon on the Mount to tell the story of the Puritans and call for them to build a "shining city on a hill."

    Eboo Patel, a 21st century Muslim, finds encouragement and inspiration in the sermon of a 17th century Puritan. Here is what Patel wrote:


In 1630, John Winthrop sailed across the Atlantic Ocean seeking sacred ground. Hounded in England, the Puritans would be free to worship as they wished in the New World. A footnote in someone else's story over there, they would author their own destiny here. But Winthrop didn't expect the soil here to contain special sacraments. The blessing was in what they would build.


I've thought about Winthrop a lot . . . America ushered in a very new idea -- a place where people from the four corners of the earth gather to build a nation -- a nation that allows its citizens to participate in its progress, to play a part in its possibility. . . . It's one of the most remarkable achievements of our nation, and one of the most fragile.



    I don't know what Winthrop would have thought of Muslims participating in building the shining city on a hill that he envisioned for the new world. But I do know what Winthrop's theological descendants think, for we are those descendants. The faith and vision of our fore-fathers and fore-mothers is what has led us to become a welcoming, inclusive people.

    But it goes deeper than our grand religious heritage. It goes to that story which Winthrop rooted his vision in. The same story told by our psalmist today. God is at work within us to bring us into the promised future. Jesus called this future the "kingdom of God." And a central component of Jesus' vision of the coming reign of God is that we might all be one. It is what James Forbes reminds us of in the contemporary reading shared today,


In the last days I'm going to raise up the people and they're going to be together across all sorts of boundaries and barriers. In those days, in community, all God's people will experience the Spirit operating through them in regards to God's larger plan.


    God's desire is for creation to experience what our Triune God experiences: ecstatic fellowship – a loving relationship of all the creation with each other and with God. The mission mandate of the Christian church is to help make that vision a reality, to bring about God's reign of justice, peace, and unity upon the earth. The goal is elevation.

    I believe that that mission discovers common ground with those of other faiths. I believe that that vision builds relationships with others. As we share our Christian stories and listen carefully to other people's stories, we might discover that the Christ is speaking to us through their stories and their experiences. We might discover God at work through them.

    From our story, the story of God and God's people, we learn that we can engage in peaceful relationships with those of other cultures, faiths, and worldviews. We can live peacefully with one another, rather than resorting to hatred and violence, because we place our trust and confidence in God. Resorting to terror, violence, or exclusion toward those who are different from us simply because they are different, reveals a lack of faith in God's vision of the future or a lack confidence in God's ability to create it. The Psalmist tells us:


Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

Remember the wonders he has done,

His miracles, and the judgments he pronounced . . .

He remembers his covenant forever.


    The old hymn we are about to sing asks us, "What I have to dread, what have I to fear, leaning on the everlasting arms?"


    Our story reminds us that God is with us, that God has worked to set us free, and that God is bringing us into a new future filled with shouts of joy. If we trust in God, then we can trust also in justice and peace and in one another.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)