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Sunday, February 4, 2018, Fifth Sunday after Epiphany  Psalm 147:1 – 11, 20c

                       Fear God, Hope in God's Steadfast Love

What do we fear?  We fear all sorts of things.  We fear loneliness, pain, suffering, and loss.  The last one is extensive.  We fear loss of power, the loss of physical activity, the loss of control, and the loss of family and friends.  We fear the loss of purpose and meaning in our lives.  The cycles and rhythm of nature repeatedly ask for us to rediscover our purpose and our meaning.  Even when we do not lose a job or a function other changes occur that call us to redefine why and how we live life. 

There is a wonderful movie called Mr. Holland’s Opus.  It does not matter if you have yet to see the film.  The story focuses on the life and career of a high school music teacher.  Music is his life and passion.  Mr. Holland has a child.  One day he comes home to a terrifying discovery.  Neither Mr. Holland nor his wife are able to get their son’s attention with sound.  The child is deaf.  Imagine the fear of such a discovery. 

How would they connect?  What sort of a relationship is a parent able to have with a child when it is nearly impossible to share one’s passions?  The fear.  The fear of what the child’s life would be like, the limits, and the rejection from society.  How would the child learn?  While you and I might know the answers to these questions, as a parent we only know the fear of worst case scenarios. 

In the midst of this fear Mr. Holland struggles.  The loss of all the dreams he had for his own son and their relationship.  What could he do?  Then a revelation comes.  Mr. Holland faces his fear and relies on his passion, his love for both his son and his music to lead.  He composes a color scheme rhythm for a John Lennon song and does an entire concert where words are signed, and sounds are conveyed with a beat pattern of flashing colors.  The result was the loving bond between parent and child. 

Today the psalmist leads us on an awe-inspiring journey to discover the wonderful power of our relationship with God.  It is one calling us to the joy of life.  The psalmist highlights God’s transcendent cosmic power and the intimate relationship each one of us has to the Power of life.  The Divine both creates and names stars as well as liberates the oppressed and heals broken hearts.  The edicts of the passage are to sing, fear God, and wait for the hope of Divine love. 

This last part is tough to comprehend.  Why do we fear God?  Cultural understandings push us to fear retribution and dire consequences.  God becomes a tyrant of control.  This is clearly not what the psalmist means because we are talking about the God who heals, liberates and creates. 

Fear of God is the ability to direct all our attention toward God.  One theologian points out the most well-accepted alternative translation of fear is awe.  This focus on God removes our focus on what we do wrong, what limits we have when something goes awry, or even the rut of assuming there is only one path.  Mr. Holland assumed music and beautiful sounds could only be conveyed in one manner.  He also subconsciously feared there was no way to overcome the barriers of a deaf child.  Fear of anything other than God highlights our limits as absolute.  Pain becomes incurable, loneliness becomes everlasting, and meaninglessness defines reality.  What the psalmist illustrates is how fear of God reminds us these are all false. 

God is the one who brings abundance to barren hills, who brings comfort to those without anyone, and praise of God gives us our eternal purpose.  Our presence here this morning, our willingness to join one another in prayer and to offer up our hope for God’s steadfast love gives us meaning.  One in which we immediately recognize our loneliness is finite.  We are here in a space of love where people care, and where God is intimately connected.  We recognize the same Power that made today possible and gave us the sun is the same Power that compassionately brought us together with one another. 

We hear during prayer time that we are not alone in our pain.  Others join us in the struggle and yearning for peace and comfort.  We also, in songs of joy, the telling of our history, and the celebrations offered today, recall that pain is finite.  God did free the slaves and has repeatedly throughout history liberated those who were imprisoned.  There have been times in our lives when we felt failure and loss would win and yet something broke in to remind us God’s love is the only eternal truth.  In this space we discover as we share our own pain, as we reach out to another to assure them they are not alone, as we compassionately remind one another all healing is possible, we find we have praised God and have the ultimate purpose for human life.  God created humanity to share and care for life.  Being here, praying for one another, giving time and other resources, and speaking peace to one another is our primary purpose. 

Mr. Holland was blessed with the divine revelation of love.  Music, the sounds of praise and joy that had given him so much life, had an infinite amount of beautiful ways to be shared with others.  Sound, color, and other sights were deeply connected.  It was not the limited hearing of humanity that would define his relationship with his son.  It was the eternal, life giving power of love.  This Divine love revealed the Power of life to overcome all adversity.  May we all praise as we yearn to be in full awe and hope of God’s love.