Reading: Matthew 5:1-12
In 1927 Max Ehrmann wrote Desiderata, which when translated from Latin means "desired things." It's a beautiful prose poem that begins with the words, "Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence."
During my time away with my family, which wasn't always as peaceful or placid as one might wish, I learned this poem was read at my uncle's funeral. Some of you might recall it was extraordinarily popular in the 1970s, especially on college campuses during graduation commencements speeches.
Today it seems to have returned to the obscurity from which it came. Which is a shame. The words..."Go placidly" are still strong words. They remind me of what Christ has called us to be...And what God desires from us. That is to say, to be peacemakers. You see, there's a reason why we begin church with the passing of the peace. More than just an ancient practice of greeting one another with words from our heart, they are words that establish community and seek reconciliation.
Recently, the Rev. Sam Wells of St. Martin's Church, in London, took a stab at writing an ode to Ehrmann's piece. In a small homily aptly entitled it, "Desired Things," Wells fleshes out this imperative to "Go placidly" in a way that I believe...touches upon our more modern sensibility. I would like to read it for you. Not because I did not find time to write a sermon of my own, but because I feel his words speak to our society today, especially in light of the world (of Peru) from which I just returned. I invite you all to listen to his words...and contemplate your place within them. Wells begins by saying:
"Be humble. Remember what it took for you to be here. Think of the imagination of God that brought creation into being; there could have been nothing. Think about the many layers of evolution that it took for you to get from being a twinkle in God’s eye to the living, breathing being that you are. Reflect on how many of your ancestors clung to life to the point where they could conceive the one whose birth eventually led to yours. Realize by how fragile a thread their existence hung, and how the miracle of your birth is made up of a constellation of other miracles. As you contemplate your parents, and come to terms with both their ordinariness and their fallibility, remember that without them you would not be here at all.
Be grateful. Lord Mountbatten said of Gandhi, “You would never guess how many people it takes and how much it costs to keep that man in poverty.” But it requires a myriad of angels to keep any single one of us in the life to which we are accustomed. We take for granted that others toil in fields and slaughterhouses and travel the earth to bring food to our grocery stores; all we do is produce a card and pay for it. We assume someone will work night and day to make roads and vehicles...and bring oil out of the ground so we can move around. We seldom ask whose sweat produced our shoes, our computer, or our shirt (which we boast about having bought so cheaply), and when we get a bargain we scarcely pause to consider which link in its supply chain got no reward.
Be your own size. There are 300 billion stars in our own galaxy and a hundred billion galaxies in the universe. Before you tell everyone not to start the party until you arrive, take in the enormity of that reality and your tiniest part in it. Before you say to someone, “Do you know who I am?” ask yourself, in light of the scale of the universe and its venerable age, “Who exactly am I?” Look at the earth, which you share with so many living beings. Many of the tiny ones scurry and multiply in hidden ways that make it possible for you to breathe, heal, digest, and sleep. Realize how you take for granted that the sun will rise tomorrow. If it wasn’t so, what could you do about it? Your life rests in an ecology that you will never live long enough to comprehend, much less thank.
Be gentle. Remember the physician’s mantra, “First, do no harm.” A little compassion, a little generosity of heart helps us look to our fellow creatures with gentleness...rather than bitterness, anger, or condemnation. How often have you commented on...what another person said or did with horror, fury, or scorn, only to find yourself, ten years or ten minutes later, saying or doing the same thing?
Be a person of praise and blessing. Recognize that if God had not called Abraham, there would be no covenant; if God had not brought the Hebrews through the Red Sea, there would only have been slavery; if God had not restored Israel, there would have been perpetual exile. If God had not dwelt with us in Christ, we wouldn’t know we were children of a heavenly Father, made to be God’s companions, empowered with the Holy Spirit. If Christ had not died in agony, we would not have discovered that we mean everything to God. If Christ were not risen, we would not know that our future is in God forever. If the Spirit had not come, we would not know the joy of this good news. We were made to be companions to God and a blessing to the creation. No more and no less.
Wash one another’s feet, be the servant and slave of all, make every act of your life a sacrament of love to others and praise to God. Your existence is a miracle, and your redemption is amazing grace. And never cease from singing."
Wells offers us such a beautiful reminder that in the scope of God's time and space we are no bigger than a single grain of sand...or a tiny mustard seed. Yet God knows us, knows who we are and what we are capable of doing.
And don't you just love the way he ends it? "Never cease from singing." Never stop offering joy to God through song. I might add, never stop believing and understanding that you are the one Jesus loves. You and me.
We are not saints. But sinners. Ordinary people with extraordinary powers. We are the ones God has chosen to be with. We are His people, His family, His children. So here's to us...the ones who are bold enough to follow a God who loves us just the way we are...imperfect in nearly every way.
While some may see us as crazy for following such a scandalous God, how blessed are we who are able to see only grace, love and forgiveness...? Therefore never cease from being crazy enough, and faithful enough, and for sure, never cease from forgiving and loving too much.
This is how we go placidly into the world. Through our peace we can be bold. Be gentle. Be our own size. Be a person of God's praise and blessing. And most of all, never cease to be the peace of Christ Jesus who said, "Blessed are the peacemakers...for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."
Bartlett, David L., Barbara Brown Taylor, and ed. Feasting on the Word, Year B. Vol. 3. Louisville, TN: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.
Wells, Samuel. “Desired Things.” Christian Century, May 22, 2015.
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An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”