Link to Lectionary Readings: https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=61
Link to Li-Young Lee poem: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/52208/have-you-prayed
Li-Young Lee has been described
by some, as ”mystical” — or at least his poetry.
I met him once.
He reminded me of my own father
in his extreme degree of introversion.
He was very shy
until he found out
I am a minister.
You see, Lee’s father was a doctor
who became a minister —
His father had once been
Mao Zedong’s personal physician
before the family fled China.
Long story short — and this
has nothing to do
with the larger sermon, but
is interesting —
Lee’s poetry often features his father
or the memory of his father
or his father’s voice in his head.
His poems feature silence — long breaks
between the lines —
and they do not necessarily
make rational sense,
in the same way that the beginning
of the Gospel of John
fails to make sense.
You know, “In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
By the way, one of the places Li-Young Lee studied
was SUNY Brockport,
so we can call him a homeboy
the way three or four states
claim Abe Lincoln.
All of this about Li-Young Lee
is because I thought I might have to
soften you up a little bit
in case his poem left you
scratching your head, which with me,
can make me a little grumpy.
So here is the dialogue of poets and clarions.
”You have searched me out and known me,”
the Psalmist says to God.
“You trace my journeys and my resting places
and are acquainted with all my ways…
How deep I find your thoughts, O God,
how great is the sum of them.
If I were to count them all,
they would be more in number than the sand;
to count them all, my life span would
need to be like yours.”
”So speak, Beloved,” Samuel finally says.
”Speak because now, now
after a long time
of dismissing your voice —
denying that you could actually be calling me —
I am listening, and
now I can hear you.”
“Have you prayed yet,”
God’s voice riding upon the wind inquires.
”Remember,” the poet writes,”
A father’s love (by which
he may mean God)
is milk and sugar,
two-thirds worry, two-thirds grief, and what’s left over
is trimmed and leavened to make the bread
the dead and the living share.”
“Then follow me,” Jesus invites,
”and we will make this bread together
and share this bread forever.”
And some claim, over and over again,
they have seen angels ascending
up and down as if on an escalator from heaven,
upon this man Jesus — then
and now and again
over and over and over.
Now let’s just rest a minute, as if
we were the verses of a Li-Young Lee poem.
I am hoping what happened there,
as you listened to me
read that fantasy dialogue,
is that you could fall into it.
You know, just go with it
and feel it.
Feel the poetic, maybe mystical edge
of the voices
and realize the softness of them.
Because I think, when we read them
like we do in church,
one reading after another
from ancient voices
we can no longer hear,
they feel hard — square
as if justified margins
with a defined edge.
We listen, but not really,
unless something within them snags
our attention for a second.
But usually it’s for a negative reason.
But in dialogue, the poets and clarions
quietly and sort of serenely
talking to each other — their softness emerges.
Even if and where they make no sense,
out of the dialogue
that makes sense.
Maybe only in the way
the voice of a memory of someone long dead
when it pops into our heads
apropos of nothing.
You know, one Sunday Grant Holly appears
in the singing, or
Bunny Bell makes a comment in your thoughts
or Sue Sabin
or her husband, Howard,
or you own father
on the wind of memory
That kind of softness.
These are the strains
upon which the voice of God speaks
and we either hear
or we don’t.
If we were Pentecostals
we could claim loud bangs of revelation
and clanging songs of the Holy
wracking our bodies —
incarnate in our bodies
until we couldn’t stand it any more.
But we are not Pentecostals.
We are “Liturgicals.”
We get our leavened holiness
spoken or sung
and bread eaten
It’s weird of course,
and we like it that way.
Every once in a while
it is important to stop
and witness what we are doing —
which is what this sermon is.
We are trying to find the poetry
of God’s voice
carried on the voices of others,
the ancient poets and clarions
as well as a few
Like Samuel, we have to listen
because the voice isn’t who
or where we thought it was.
We have to go back again and again
before we can say to ourselves, “Oh,
it wasn’t who I thought it was.”
And then stop,
and open up,
That is what we are doing here.
”Wait,” we say, when the thin voice
whispers through our lives
like an unexpected breeze,
and we finally hear it.
”Where did you get to know me?”
”Where did you get to know me?” Nathaniel
wants to know.
It feels kind of creepy to him
that this stranger he had never met
seems to know what he feels
or what he thinks
without his ever saying it before.
we know that creepy, maybe
compelling, feeling too.
We hear that windor receive that memory
or acknowledge that whisper
that has us pegged
when we didn’t want to be pegged —
when we preferred to be unknown
even to ourselves.
That niggling moment
when we didn’t want to be vulnerable
but some voice inside
sees us for who we are
and says so.
You know the experience I’m talking about, don’t you?
Well when we enter into dialogue
with the readings,
it can release some voices
like bats scattered
from under the curtains.
Up they come
and we feel
or think stuff
we hadn’t necessarily wanted to receive
but can grudgingly appreciate.
All of that is why we are here.
All of that is what the liturgy can do for us.
We come to it
wanting solace only
and not strength,
wanting forgiveness only
and not renewal.
But all kinds of things come back at us
in the sharing of bread
with the living and the dead.
It isn’t always what we want
or what feels good,
but that is it’s power.
On the wind of the liturgy
and a whole nest of stuff
and shaken free.
It seems so staid
when in fact, it is opens
the Pandora’s box of our own lives
that God wants us contending with.
It is a quiet kind of Pentecostalism.
Have you prayed?
It may be that these kinds of readings
and this kind sermon
sticks in your craw
rather than soothes your soul.
But that is what liturgy can do,
and should do.
It may be that this format
is disconcerting in its strangeness
or it’s in-between-the-lines logic —
or what may seem like a lack of logic.
But that is what liturgy can do, and should do.
For in-person only:
Have you prayed?
Well let’s do it now then.
For the recording:
Have you prayed?
If you are listening to this online,
out of the context of liturgy,
it may not have made any sense whatsoever.
But then again, it may.
Peace be with you…