Wednesday, 23 September 2015 00:00

"Gold is Beautiful", September 20, 2015


“Gold is Beautiful”
Psalm 19
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
September 20, 2015
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

Gold is beautiful.  We think of  beautiful gold things: corn, leaves, buttercups, cornbread, fresh whipped butter, honey, fresh whipped butter on cornbread drizzled with honey, lemon bars, curry, turmeric, mustard; precious metals like brass, zinc, gold.  It is the symbol of love on a finger, royalty on a head, and a halo of holiness over an angel.

As you know, we make maple syrup in our back yard every spring.  The earliest batches are an amber color, and it tastes like honey. The later batches are darker and have a smokier taste.

Our suburb is working out the regulations about approving backyard beekeeping.  Imagine even more amber sweetness coming from our yard while the neighborhood can get pollinated.  Kim and the kids get nervous when I start researching things like this.  Gold is beautiful.

My sister Trish sent the following to me via social media: This month is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month (or something like that) and they are encouraging people to guessed it!...GOLD to support people struggling with childhood cancer. So you see, Gold is beautiful.

Hear this poem by Robert Frost:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so for an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
so dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

You can spend a dissertation unpacking the imagery, rhyme and alliteration of that poem.  And many people have.  We think of gold this time of year, those amber waves of grain. Those leaves that are turning, hinting at the brilliant colors to come. It’s as if they are taunting us.  People dream of going to New England to marvel at the fall colors.  But I think you can see just as much beauty driving up and down the St. Croix river, or better yet, on a bike near the Mississippi.

The romance with falling leaves wears off by the end of October when there are so many leaves that we can’t keep up with them.  Dumpsters and boulevards and compost bins overflow as backs break and young people whine over the endless chores.

Nadean Bishop and Sheryl Palmer wore gold dresses 20 years ago at their wedding in this very room. And in honor and memory of Sheryl’s life, we have golden roses here today. Gold is beautiful.

The Psalmist says as much in today’s scripture reading. The first half of the psalm speaks about how we can see God in the beauty of the sun.

We just sang about this: “The heavens are telling the glory of God.  The wonder of God’s works displays the firmament.” It was one of CS Lewis’ favorite psalms. The Psalmist speaks about the heavens telling the glory of God.  The golden sun is the image used to explain this beauty, this phenomena, this dazzling display.
Vv1-6 starts out as a call to worship, but on further examination is a call to action.

The glory of God is revealed in the world.  In the indigenous area of Leon, Nicaragua, the catholic church of Sutiava has a giant golden sun in the middle of the ceiling. It was a way to honor the native belief system that worshipped the sun.  Many of the Leon Catholic churches face the western sunset to honor the sun. I imagine as the Spaniards were evangelizing the natives, they quoted from Psalm 19.

The scripture says that the sun is the evidence of God.  Without the sun, we cannot live.  We need it. The heavens tell of it, the firmament proclaims it, the day speaks of it, the night declares it.  The natural world resonates with the testimony of God’s glory.
Dystopian films depict a future in which there is no sun. And it is dismal.

The law of God is likened to the gold of the sun, of dripping sweet honey, like refined gold. (v.10) What laws do we hold sacred?  The laws of thermodynamics?  The laws of justice or the laws that protect just us? How about the command to love our neighbor as ourselves.  How about the call to embrace the sun?

This past Earth Day, our family signed a contract to install 24 solar panels on our roof.  It took a few months, but they are now turned on and we haven’t paid an electric bill since.  In fact, the surplus has paid our gas bills, too. Minnesota actually has some great incentive programs for solar energy, like the Made in Minnesota plan. If you install panels made in Minnesota, you’ll get back 25 cents for every kilowatt hour you produce. If you can’t put solar panels on your roof, you can invest in a community solar array.  One company sought out UBC’s roof for one of those community solar arrays, but apparently solar panels are incompatible with 95-year-old slate roofs. Dagnabit. Did you know that Minnesota has more sunny days than Houston Texas?  We average 4.5 hours of sunshine per day, only half an hour less than Florida, which has garnered the nickname ‘the sunshine state’. Minnesota also enjoys more sunlight on an annual basis than Germany or Northern California.  God knows that we say that we’ll take a sunny winter day when it’s zero outside than a cloudy winter day when it’s 20.  It feels warmer, or at least more hopeful.

Gold is beautiful.  The sun is beautiful.

Interfaith Power and Light is developing a program called Just Community Solar which seeks to spread the solar benefits to low-income pockets of our community.  It also seeks to train low-income residents in this growing energy field.  Imagine a growing job sector of sun harvesters on church buildings and community grocery stores.

I hope you get some time to be outside in this golden time of harvest. This morning, I picked a cucumber from our garden. It had been green, but now it is a golden color.  Perfect for pickling.  I’ll take some of this wonderful vegetable and enjoy it in the winter. Canned golden peaches taste like summer whenever you eat them.  I’ll make some applesauce to enjoy that color as well.

So what does this have to do with us in the coming months?  Well, just this.  Remember when people say there is no God, just have them look at the sun and remind them that the heavens are telling the glory of God.

The sun rises on the good and the bad.  God rises on us day in and day out pointing us in the direction of beauty and joy. The point is to help other people feel that same joy, that same beauty.  How can we do that?

Let’s look at what the Psalm tells us: There is order to the world.  We ought not to try to go against the natural order.  You can see it in the heavens.  Every time we have tried to do something that damaged the earth or the earth’s people, then we got ourselves out of balance. The result is damage to our world, damage to our relationships, wars and rumors of wars.

The Psalmist says that this natural law is perfect. It revives the soul.  It makes us wise. It enlightens us. The ways of God are even better than gold, sweeter than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.  This means that the sun is just a symbol of God. It is not God, for God is even greater than gold, sweeter than honey.  God is as reliable as the sunrise, and as sweet.

The psalmist goes on to say that as the golden sun penetrates our homes, So does God see us all, including our faults.  Those things we’d prefer to keep hidden in the dark.  God sees it all and calls us to embrace the light.

I like what Wendell Berry said: “Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark, but shining out at times like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery. ”

Imagine stitching gold into the tapestry of our lives.  Gold is that joyful color that enlivens our souls.  Plants bend toward the sun, as do our lives.  So why not sew some gold into your lives.  That gold can be the healing words of scripture.  They can be the nurturing words of a close friend, the beauty of music.  The joy of sacred memory, the good times as well as the bad times.  Each mood has its own color, so say the mood rings of the 1970’s.  But maybe the gold can be the glory of God, the joy of jumping in a pile of yellow leaves, the abandon of a sunset over a lake.  They are all reminders that the harshest times are not the final answer. God is as constant as that gold thread.

Weave some golden thread in to the tapestry of your lives.  It will make all the difference. For Gold is beautiful.

Let me close with a poem by J.R. Tolkien. You may recognize it from the Lord of the Rings:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

Sisters and brothers, seek out that which brings light and joy to our world.  In response to God’s presence in your life, be the golden thread that weaves its way in to the lives of those who need it most.

You will be the evidence that gold is beautiful.