Joy, Peace and Singing Mountains (sermon)


Reading Isaiah today reminds me of the absurd hubris it is to be a preacher trying to explain to you in a rational and professorial way the poetic nature of a prophet’s declaration. A declaration coming from the lips of something greater than the prophet could even have imagined. I could attempt to give you three points to progress from Joy to Singing Mountains. I could give you a Webster’s dictionary definition of Peace, or tell you what the most recent scholarship explains the type of Mountains that surrounded this Prophet who spoke this text.

I could pile word upon word to talk about the Word leaving Yahweh’s lips and moving out and returning to Yahweh fulfilled, but passages like this are diminished by too much human prattle. They are meant to waft over us like a gentle breeze and message us with a comfort only coming from on high.

I can not even begin to describe adequately the intricacies of love, the paralyzing glee of wonder or the tear inducing exuberance of unhindered Joy. How then will I be able to make a better than Isaiah a description of the revelation that is offered by the beauty in God’s living, breathing word amongst us.

I know that God’s word comes with a powerful force unto us in Joy and returns with us in peace. Yet, for me to say more is to desecrate the beauty of this text’s language.

What I will say is something that I have learned in the twenty years of creation as a poet. You may not know that I write poetry. It never feels right to proclaim oneself something in the arts. Still, I think that poetry is often the only way that I am able to struggle through concepts that elude a rational, rote description.

When I began writing poetry over 30 years ago it was little more than automatic writing. Now automatic writing has its place. Yet, it was undisciplined and often too rambling to follow. I used to listen to the radio and let random lines jump start my poems. That randomness flowed into endless sentences of sometimes incoherent thought. I cared less about the continuity of thought than that the words flowed together in rhythm, like a good Miles Davis solo.

Over time, some maturity and studying writing under some established poets I learned that there is more to poetry than spontaneity. Art is work. It takes practice, study and self editing.

What I found was that less was more, I liked people actually understanding what I was writing and that cohesion did not actually sacrifice rhythm. Now instead of automatic writing I complete far few poems. More often than not I will have a concept or line stuck in my head. If it is a line then I will repeat it over and over until it sounds good coming out of my mouth. Then I will pull off to the side of the road, jump out of the shower or grab a napkin to write the line. That line may stay in my journal, alone forever. More often than not I take that kernel and expand it into a short piece. Mostly, these days, I am extremely satisfied if I can hone something that makes a complicated idea understandable to me. I am my most immediate audience. There is immense pleasure in working out one more problem in my brain in poetic form.

One recent example was driving to Nashville I saw the ugly scar of a Mountaintop removed by those who wished to extract something of monetary value from it’s center. As I drove by I wondered why I was having such a strong emotional reaction to this. For some reason it seemed violent, outrageous, but strangely efficient.

I pulled off at the nearest gas station to jot some lines down and continued on my drive. A couple days later I wrote what came back to me from those lines in this poem:

A biology text of violence
spans on half mountains.
One armed creatures
scar, itch and mutilate
in dominance of beauty.

What left me was a wonder at how something so massive could be done to something so beautiful, so permanently destroying it’s beauty? What returned to me was an incomplete answer, Dominance.

In a small way the truth that returned to me in the act of creation is what the prophet is alluding to this morning. The word that is unleashed amongst us this morning is something that goes out with joy and returns with peace. The creator has sent out a good word, one that causes Mountains to sing, it return fulfilled in transformed weeds into trees.

In a beautiful recreation of this scripture the renaissance congregation will once again live the hope inherent in this text. God has put out a word into the world and we will respond in the only way we can to such beauty, we will praise the ultimate one with Joy and peace that the commitment to true community can give. You have faithfully answered God’s voice at Renaissance Presbyterian Church and that beautiful acceptance has attracted others to you. The Joy found in this place has imparted peace onto others. The songs and clapping, the snow and the water have produced seedlings. Now there will be God’s harvest.

Beth will join this community in membership today, not as an intellectual assent but as a response to God’s living word. It is an eternal love poem that explains our existence and gives twinkling glimpses of the divine. There can be no greater witness to God’s enduring presence than the bonds of love that bring us together. The joy and charity that we can impart to this community are not our own, we do not own them. They are a witness to something far greater than ourselves. They are not something we could create without divine help. Beth came to this place at just the right time to give and receive the salvation that comes only in vibrant community, a community alive, a community that returns God’s word fruitfully through faithfulness.

I could not be more amazed and in wonder at our harvest. Where the world expects nettles we know there will be an outstanding cypress and where the cynic sees briars we can see a myrtle. This day will be one of many in the life of Renaissance that will be an everlasting memorial to God and a sign that Beth and this church will never be cut off! How can we know these promises of God, we experience this lush creativity of revelation in our midst today as we return that word to God with our praise, song and reconciling community.

Thanks be to God.



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