Ada and Andi dialogue (Glenys and Rose)
It’s a big bright beautiful world,
with happiness all around.
It’s peaches and cream
and every dream comes true…
But not for you.
It’s a big, bright, beautiful world,
with possibilities everywhere.
And just around the bend,
there’s a friend or two…
But not for you. Songwriters: TESORI JEANINE / LINDSAY-ABAIRE DAVID
Big Bright Beautiful World lyrics © Dwa Songs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55uS2w2LtdM
For some reason this song from the musical Shrek came into mind when I was thinking about the Psalm this week. So often the message people have received about God – whether from their parents, their preachers, the media, or just the bits and pieces they’ve picked up here and there, is that there is a “big, bright beautiful God” – but not for them. God is powerful, and gracious, and loving, they’ve been told, but somehow something about them excludes them from that love.
It might be the choices they’ve made in life, or their skin colour, or the language they speak, or their marital status, or their age, or that their abilities are different from those around them, or because they love someone people believe they shouldn’t love, or aren’t the people they are expected to be. All these reasons and more are given to exclude people from God’s love.
Yet this Psalm says the exact opposite. We have a big bright beautiful God- – greater than the vastness of the universe – but that greatness does not exclude anyone. In fact one of the defining characteristics that makes God so great, is that God lifts up the lowly, and brings lonely people into a family. God takes away the shame that others try to place on us and makes a place of honour for us in the world. I’ll tell you, that message alone makes we want to sing God’s praises!
On the other hand, I get really disheartened when I hear the suspicion in which many people hold the church, and by extension, the God we worship. It’s not their fault! There are so many religious crazies out there saying hateful things and declaring that they are speaking in the spirit of Christ! This past week a man who is both a pastor and a lawman declared that transgendered people ought to executed, and the scary thing is, he is not just a voice in the wilderness. There’s more and more of this hatred being spewed by so-called Christians every day! Who can blame the average person for thinking that we are people of a judgmental, harsh, punishing God – or at least a God who only loves some of the people some of the time, and only if they toe the line in every possible way! Who can blame them for wanting to keep themselves and their children as far away as possible from Christianity?
The new legalism of much of contemporary Christianity would make St Paul and the other early apostles weep! Those early Christians fought so hard to teach people that God’s grace and love were not dependent on following all the rules – and then Christians came along later and set up another whole set of rules – many of which have little or no Biblical basis– and decided to exclude, shame and revile people who didn’t follow those rules.
I get disheartened, but then I return to texts like this one that remind me that the God I worship is very different from that vengeful God so many preach. God lifts up, rather than stomping down. God welcomes in, instead of excluding. God forgives, rather than condemning. As people of God, we try to be a community that reflects our God in the way we live and function together.
Let’s confess right now that we don’t always get it right. We all know the history of residential schools, and how the trauma of that experience is still affecting generations today. I recently read an article by a United Church minister who is a black, gay man. He said he was accepted as queer, but excluded by his skin colour, in the United Church. That’s distressing, but it’s an experience shared by many people of colour in this denomination. Many of our churches are not accessible to people with physical or mental challenges and do not adapt well to meeting their needs. Many of our churches still treat children and youth as second-class citizens rather than a vital part of the life of the church. A dear friend of my mother’s stopped going to church because she was poor, and felt others looked down on her for her poverty – and again, she’s not the only one.
You know – I know – that if we are to love, lift up, and include others as God has done for us, we have a ways to go. But we’re pointed in the right direction, thanks to the witness of Jesus, who hung around with sketchy characters of all descriptions and welcomed them openly. Among his early followers and leaders were women and men and their children, eunuchs and married mothers and fathers, widows and widowers, celibates, the poor, the wealthy, people from Africa, Asia and Europe – and if the legends are correct, even India!
Even if we as the church fail, God does not. Perhaps the most important message we can get out to people is that no matter how flawed and fallible we are, God is more than the people who represent God! God is greater than the church’s failures, more glorious than the church’s victories, more compassionate than the greatest charitable work of the largest or oldest Christian charity, more just than the strongest voices who hold powerful people or organizations accountable for their treatment of those on the margins of life and community. This is who God is – God of the universe, God of our hearts, God of the poor, God of the widow, God of the outcast, God of the outsider looking in.
When God came to the world in human flesh, God did not come as a wealthy, powerful person of status. God came as a back-country preacher from a town they called “Hicksville” who ran with the rabble, the lowly, “the least of these” more often than he did the wealthy or influential. God was born of a peasant woman, raised in the family of a man who worked with skilled hands and a strong back to care for their children. The Gospels and the writers of the New Testament assure us that this was no accident – that it is the nature of God to be with those who are sitting on the trash heap of life, rather than those in penthouse suites or stately mansions.
We have a big, bright beautiful God – who is for you, and for me, and for anyone who wants and needs God. From the rising of the sun to the glory of the sunset and into the velvet dark of night, may God’s name be praised! AMEN!