Turn Me to Deeds That Bless the Living

Refresh Worship Service

Trinity United Methodist Church / Beaumont, Texas

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

“My Heart Leaped for Joy”

Phoebe Hambright Dishman, Lay Speaker

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Psalm 122 A pilgrim song of David, verse one:

When they said, “Let’s go to the house of GOD,”my heart leaped for joy.”

 

My heart leaped for joy.

On the back of one of my Bibles, a question:

 

What would happen if you received a letter from God?

Would your heart pound? Would your mind race?

Would your life change?

With The Message,

Eugene Peterson’s best-selling paraphrasing translation of the Bible,

you can join millions of readers who have experienced God’s word

in the form of a personal message.

 

Presbyterian Pastor Peterson’s passion

was to bring us all into the house of GOD.

By way of a fresh rendering of the Bible,

he hoped to make the house of GOD alive,

the word more accessible to everyone.

He wanted more hearts to leap for joy.

It took him a long time to accomplish this work.

In 2002, the final part of The Messagewas published.

Nine days ago, Peterson died, an old man and full of years.

Well done Eugene, thou good and faithful servant.

 

Four days ago, another old man died.

Eleven years ago, I heard him say these words:

 

By centering prayer,

we are being trained in the art of death and resurrection. 

The false self is dying.  The true self is awakening. 

The obstacles are being evacuated, spaciousness for the Spirit is opening up. 

Our attitude of consent and rapt attention

moves out into every part of our life … The Kingdom is here! 

 

The Kingdom was here, in the form of Father Thomas Keating.

Way back in 2007, when I heard I was to meet him,

my heart leaped for joy.  I was blessed to have known him,

blessed to have encouraged him to go back through the supper line

for more chicken, because he was still hungry.

Well done, Father Keating, thou good and faithful servant.

 

When they said unto me last week,

“You will preach in the house of the LORD on Halloween,”

my heart leaped for joy.  Even more than usual.

 

After all, Halloween is short for Hallow’s Evening.

Hallow is akin to the word holy, and it means saint,

which is what we are. Sons and daughters of the living God.

Robert Louis Stevenson said that saints are the sinners

who keep on trying. We do, we keep trying.

We press forward, obstacles being evacuated,

spaciousness for the Spirit opening up.

The task being urgent, we use our time as wisely as we can,

for the sake of God’s house.

 

When they said, “Let’s go to the house of GOD,”

my heart leaped for joy.”

 

Tomorrow will be All Saint’s Day.  This coming Sunday

we officially celebrate and remember the precious Trinitarians

who have died this calendar year.  Our hearts will be heavy.

Our hearts will also leap for joy that such saints lived among us.

 

For me, that’s what Hallow’s Evening is: an invitation to remember,

and give thanks.  “Let’s go to the house of the Lord, and remember.”

 

On the other hand there is Halloween as practiced by our culture.

I was glad when they said unto me, “Let us go unto the haunted house.”

Um, no thanks.

 

Catharsis, yard decorations, spooky fun for the little ones?—I get that.

But the billions of dollars spent, the excesses

by people who should be grown up by now? Not my favorite.

I do not wish to be a spoilsport.

Although, Jesus and the prophets often were.

 

I don’t have to “like” cultural norms,

but I willtry to turn as quickly as I can

from the negative of disapproval to the positive of dedication,

dedicating myself and my energy

to looking for a better way.

I will try to turn as quickly as I can to deeds that bless the living.

 

Deeds that bless the living.

I am little interested in correct believing,

even less interested in proclaiming correct believing.

What does interest me is the act of prayer.

Not by virtue but by nature I am a roving prayer reporter.

I like to move about the world

—not very far, you understand, for I’m a homebody, a hearth cat—

I like to notice where prayers are rising, and see what it’s all about.

 

These observations and participations feed my soul,

which moves me in turn to tell about it.

I can only hope my reporting is useful.

 

Once I did go far in the world, for me anyway.

I was some days into a Caribbean cruise.

Evidently there were to be no religious gatherings other than Bingo.

And then, O LORD what a morning!

Right there in Saturday’s options for the day,

a Sabbath service that very evening.

Finally, officially, there will be prayer.

 

When they said, “Let’s go to the house of the LORD,”

my heart leaped for joy.

And so, to the ship’s library.

A cozy room, and quiet.

 

I was early:

love shows up on time.

I closed the door and took a chair, a little apprehensive,

heart strangely warmed,

and through the porthole watched the sun sinking toward Sabbath.

 

Then a handful of women and men walked in, saw me sitting there.

“Are you the Rabbi?” one asked.  I said, no, I’m Phoebe Dishman.

 

One man said,

“Fishman! Fishman! Are you one of the Philadelphia Fishmans?”

We humans are always hoping for connections.

 

We got Fishman/Dishman straightened out,

and then they were confused as to why I was there.

It seemed enough for me to say I just wanted to be with them.

 

They were too few to make a minyan—

the minimum number of Jews for an official prayer service.

But one of the men led us in prayer anyway.  Unofficially.

 

That was a long time ago, but I remember.

Religion:  To re-member. To bring together for good.

For thus we are enjoined.

 

In some sense I will always be Phoebe Fishman,

she who follows a rabbi, she who rejoices when they say to her,

we are going to the house of the LORD.

 

This Saturday past I heard an ax had been laid to the roots

of the Tree of Life,

a house of the LORD in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Rogers‘s old hangout.  Won’t you be my neighbor?

My mind slipped sideways.

I wasn’t ready to know.

 

Early Sunday morning I absorbed the details.

All three of my brains—heart, mind, and body—

grew pale and would have shattered

but for the kindly protection of shock.

 

So what could I do but put on my Tree of Life top

and some black jeans for mourning

and ever so gently and carefully take my three brains and my Sunday school lesson up to the house of the LORD at Nineteenth and Harrison, Room 105.

 

What could I do once I got there but write a prayer on the board,

then walk the perimeter of the room, around and around,

with the Mourners’ Kaddish playing on my smart phone.

What could I do but bless the remnant of the house of the LORD.

Then David Moore walked in, found me in a state,

I leaned my head on his shoulder where I shed a tear or two.

Then his granddaughter called him back to the hall

and we all took up our official Sunday morning duties.

 

Our Sunday morning duties.

I love this line from my Jewish prayer book:

 

Help me to endure this night of anguish.

Help me to walk through the darkness with faith in tomorrow.

Give me comfort; give me courage;

turn me to deeds that bless the living.

 

Turn me to deeds that bless the living.

Thank God for the strong container of what we’re enjoined to do,

and the strength to carry it out.

Thank God for the house of the LORD, a people on pilgrimage,

a people knit together, enjoined to gather and pray.

 

The psalm says we are enjoined to gather and pray.

Enjoined, but not forced:

Like I said, I’m little inclined to proclaim correct belief.

But I do know what I know…and my heart breaks for our cultural norms,

aimless and ungathered.

 

Still there are remnants of rational, pockets of sunshine, and sanity.

We had a wonderful Sunday school class.

It was about David and Job and Blind Bartimaeus,

about suffering, and redemption,

how when released from suffering

we should remember that we’re not just released from.

We are released for.

That is to say,

we are expected to take up deeds that bless the living.

By the way, we were ten, which is a minyan.  So we were official!

 

The rest of the day was good, too.

Good enough, and rich with family.

I kept my Tree of Life shirt on all day.

 

But something was wrong with me.

By evening’s end I was so sick in body heart and mind

I could hardly stand.

 

This is just how it is.

There is only so much strength in a day.

 

So Monday morning came and I was strong again,

time to write Refresh,

and what on earth to say to you my dear ones tonight

on Hallow’s Evening, with eleven new dead to remember?

 

Well my goodness gracious, that’s what psalms are for.

 

Psalm 122 A pilgrim song of David

 

When they said, “Let’s go to the house of GOD,”

my heart leaped for joy.”

 

And here we are!

 

Amen.

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2 thoughts on “Turn Me to Deeds That Bless the Living”

  1. I have often proclaimed myself a churchaholic. My heart always leaps for joy when I enter God’s house wherever it is and whatever form it is.

    Like

  2. Thank you for sharing. You so beautifully said what I felt for several days. My step daughter, Denise, asked several times if I was feeling bad… Lord, I was reeling from feeling. Let us cling to The Tree of Life. ‘Lord, where else are we to go. You have the words of everlasting life.’

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

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