Psalm 104:1-24; I Corinthians 13:8-13
The First Congregational Church, Columbus
May 25, 2003 -- 6th Sunday of Easter
Rev. Ronald Botts, Preaching
It's almost summer and there are many good reasons to take a vacation. First, time away gives us a change of pace from our normal activities. It varies our routine and gets us out of the rut that life seems to put us into.
Vacations also allow us to see new places and do new things. When we look back on life most of our days seem to run together. We can't easily distinguish one from another. Yet, the time spent on vacation almost always stands out. We remember those occasions all the rest of our lives.
I can still clearly picture the boiling springs at Yellowstone, the majestic mountains of Grand Teton Park, and the red sandstone formations in Garden of the Gods. And I can remember also the many good times on that Western trip shared with my mother, father, and grandmother. It was the only long trip the three of us ever made together. That was 45 years ago, but I'll never forget it. I suspect that you can recollect such times, also.
Vacations are periods of rest and relaxation. They're times to sit in the sun with a good book and a tall drink by your hand. They're occasions to stare into space, to watch a tree blowing in the breeze or a bird making lazy circles overhead. Holidays allow you to recharge your personal battery so that you're a little stronger when you come back to face the challenges at home or work.
Finally, and importantly, vacations are also a time to gain perspective. Every year one of the amazing things I rediscover in North Carolina is how far I can see from the oceanside deck of our house. It seems like I can look out forever. That may not be literally true, but I can see as far as the horizon, as far as the curvature of the earth will allow, to a meeting of the sky and sea.
Perspective isn't limited to just what the eyes can see, but really anything that the mind can conceive. We tend to get so immersed in life with the immediate, the things at hand, that we often can't see what's going on in the bigger picture. One poster says it accurately: "When you're up to your [blank] in alligators, it's hard to remember that your original intention was to drain the swamp."
When we're so engaged with the tasks at hand, which in the case most of the time, it is hard to see the woods for the trees. That's pretty much a universal experience and something that both folks in Biblical times and we, today, have in common. It's hard to step back long enough to see what's happening from a different perspective. Coming back from a vacation, though, I almost always have some new insight for my life and work. I have a fresh view which opens up new possibilities.
In filmmaking the director has three basic choices about camera placement when shooting a scene. He can choose a long shot, a medium shot, or a close-up. The long shot conveys the general setting and puts the actors in a context. So you might see a couple from a distance as they stroll along the edge of a tranquil lake, with a backdrop of maples in autumn reds and golds, a deep blue sky overhead.
The medium shot places the spectator into a closer relationship to the players on the screen. You feel as if you're in the same room with them, on the same sofa with them, around the same breakfast table. The environment is still apparent, but now more limited.
The close-up takes the intimacy even a step further and places you face to face with the character. Her eyes meet yours, her nose twitches, the corner of her mouth curls up as if to convey a thought about to be expressed. Close-ups are revealing, but they may also be so intense that the director has to resist the temptation to overuse them.
Photographed too closely, a movie fails to convey the situation and surroundings in which the characters live and move. Conversely, a movie shot too distant from the actors fails to pull the audience in close enough to develop a sense of caring about what is happening on the screen. The choice of angle is crucial when filming.
These three basic camera positions are descriptive of how life can be viewed, and that holds true as well for the frame of reference seen in each of the Psalms. Take Psalm 22 for instance. It confronts us with the intimacy of a close-up when it opens with the plaintive words, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" We're face-to-face with the agony it portrays. Whereas the very next one, the familiar 23rd, depicts a shepherd in care of his animals. It is mid-range for we see it acted out against green pastures and still waters.
Both our scriptures for today are long shots. They give us a wide-angle view and remind us that the world doesn't revolve around us. Psalm 104 steps back from the individual details of life to give us a broader look at creation: "Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord, my God, you are very great. You are clothed with honor and majesty, wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent, you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariots, you ride on the wings of the wind.... O Lord, how manifold are your works... you have made them all..."
It's as if the writer may have started with a single leaf, backed up to see a limb, the tree, the forest, and then the entire countryside, back and back until the world can be viewed as a single object of creation. It's like those pictures that came back from the first space explorations, of a blue and white and green earth floating there in the blackness of space.
It reminds me too of that letter received by one of the characters in Thorton Wilder's Our Town. It is addressed to "June Crofut, Crofut Farm, Grover's Corners, Sultan County, New Hampshire, United States of America, Western Hemisphere, the Earth, the Solar System, the Universe, the Mind of God."
The psalm writer here surely sees all of creation in those expansive terms. His perspective is the broadest possible view of life. It puts us in the position of backing up just as far as we, in our imaginations, are able to go. And then it asserts: "O Lord, how manifold are your works! I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being."
This psalm reminds us that the world has not issued out of nothingness, but has originated from the mind of God. It is a fully intentional act which has led to the creation of everything, from the smallest to the greatest, from a single seed to the blazing sun. The psalmist asks, "How can we not praise the One who brought the world into being?
Our New Testament reading is a section from I Corinthians 13. We easily remember how these verses emphasize the qualities of love, but the passage also speaks of human limitations when it likens our comprehension to looking into a mirror with a poor reflective surface. You can make out an image if you're at the right angle, but the details are elusive.
What we know of the greater mysteries of life is only partial; but Paul says there will come a time for us, later, when we will understand in completeness. On that day everything will become evident.
What do we do in the meantime? Because we can't know everything now, does that mean we can know nothing? How do we gain perspective on life in the present?
During WWII a serviceman sent a letter to his father from Guadalcanal, "Write and tell me who's winning," he said. He was so involved with the immediacy of the situation and suffering from a lack of overall information, that he had to turn to a source half a world away to provide him with some kind of objectivity. The request might seem strange on the surface, but the soldier realized his limitations and knew he had to go beyond himself to learn anything. Its like our soldiers in the Gulf recently turning to CNN to find out how they were doing.
Life presents us with so many confusing situations that it may seem like we're in a perpetual close-up. We're so caught up with what's immediately at hand that we have trouble seeing beyond the moment. Our greatest problems often fall into this
Well, when the alligators are snapping at your rear then what you need to do is climb one of those nearby trees. It may take some effort, but you have to get high enough to understand your situation. Oftentimes it takes the help of others to get a leg up. That's a service true friends provide one another. That's what a good counselor does.
And isn't that one of the main reasons for coming together in worship? It is certainly to praise God, but it is also to gain insight for living. It is to see ourselves more clearly in the context of life about us. It is to find ourselves within God's intention. It is to discover the divine potential placed uniquely in us. Sabbath is a brief vacation from the rest of life, some holy breathing room.
Sabbath, you know, is also quite portable. It can be realized on Monday or any other day of the week when we intentionally set aside time to engage in prayer, read scripture, or meditate in a directed way. Even ten minutes spent away, more aware of God, can often make our path more clear.
We need the long shot of life regularly to realize where we are and where we need to go. Our scriptures today remind us of this. Once we have a proper perspective, then what we have to do is usually obvious.
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