Reisterstown United Methodist Church

The Little Mermaid OR Being Human

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established: what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

Awe and wonder. You heard the beginning of this conversation in today’s Children’s Moment. Psalm 8 is all about awe and wonder and how God relates to humans. It also acknowledges that God is the superior being whose generous spirit “made [humans] a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.” Remarkable – that God – the Supreme Being – the Lord of all the Earth – Yahweh – would do such a thing.

It goes on, declaring that God has given humans dominion – a thoroughly inadequate English word for the context. In the Hebrew, the words for dominion and subdue relate to subduing “that which leads to death rather than life.”

Humans have a way of twisting that kind of meaning to say we can do anything we want because we are in charge. We can subdue and have dominion so we can get everything we want out of the creation without any regard for the consequences. Because we tend to look at many aspects of life in terms of power – and if we have the power, we can do what we will.

That view of dominion doesn’t hold up when laid alongside the whole of scripture. In the simplest of terms, just think about Jesus. He came with all the authority of God who sent him to seek and save us all – and, perhaps most of all, to show us what it means to live God’s way.

In the Wesley Study Bible, a note is shared relative to Psalm 8:
As the natural image, for Wesley, points to the natural ways humanity is “capable of God,” able to know obey, and love God, so the political image designates how humankind is capable of God in its relation to the non-human creation – humans are entrusted with power and dominion to be caretakers and stewards of the creation. (see Wesley’s Sermon 45: “The New Birth”)

“Capable of God.” Entrusted by God. Many of us are parents, and I know that more than a few of us who don’t have children of our own are deeply involved in the lives of at least a child or two – nieces and nephews, children of dear friends, students, for example. Consider for just a moment how we feel when we are able to see those children as “capable” – capable of living out the values and ethics we have done our best to instill in them as they grown. Consider how we feel when we trust them with something precious – caring for someone, or offering their love to a stranger by working in the Food Pantry, for example. I imagine we can all think of an act we trusted a young person with where they were capable in this sense.

God trusts us to have power and dominion that makes the creation whole – that shows care and love in every act – rather than abuse or destruction. Imagine God’s delight when humans are truly caretakers who see their power as a force for the good of ALL creation – both non-human as expressed in this psalm and the entire human family.

Ursula is the very antithesis of Ariel. She is a power-grabbing, manipulative, evil force in the sea who wants nothing less than to steal King Triton’s kingdom for her own benefit. (I’ll insert here as an aside, that he’s no prince for most of the movie, but the king truly has a conversion. But you’ll have to think about that on your own.)

(NOTE: This clip is from the animated Disney film that were played as part of this message. The clip give another dimension to the message of the day.) TECH: Please play clip – 1:13:09 to 1:15:00 (ends with ship sinking)

Good ol’ Disney – one of those really scary scenes where evil gets what’s coming to her. And, in case you missed it, Ursula is bestowing upon herself what is reserved for God:
The waves obey my every whim!
The sea bows to my power.
Ursula is seriously deluded. She audaciously puts herself in the place of God! But Scripture reminds us again and again who’s in charge:
Isaiah 41:21-23:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to live in;
 who brings princes to naught,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. Isaiah 40:21-23

Jeremiah 10:12-13:
It is he who made the earth by his power,
who established the world by his wisdom,
and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.
When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightnings for the rain,
and he brings out the wind from his storehouses. Jer 10:12-13

I often think that power is the most dangerous of temptations, the most destructive of sins. We see it damaging the fabric of family life and community life – as we saw last week in Charlottesville, Virginia. And when people fear that they are losing their power, they often act out.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the impetus for last week’s tragedies in Charlottesville were, in part, related to an ideology of who has the right to power. They were also born of fear of losing power that led to hatred. They were also incited by teachings that are absolutely inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus and all of scripture. Every human being is a Child of God – not one is inferior to another because of the color of their skin. Every human being has the potential to change the world and the right to the same benefits open to others – education, food, shelter, satisfying work, and a whole host of other things that many of us take for granted but others can’t be sure of.

I’ll never forget the day that I took two African American women with me to work at one of our camp sites. Both of them were administrators that I was blessed to work with on a daily basis. Both of them had gifts and talents. But when we walked into a restaurant that I like, they looked at each other and said, “Can we go in here?” I was totally oblivious. They saw the signs. I did not. It happens every day.

Whatever our individual opinions are about statues and flags, we are called to radical acts of love and care. In our nation, there are symbols that are reminders to our African American brothers and sisters of the terrible sin of slavery and the ongoing racism that exists in our country. The symbols are hurtful because of what they stand for.

And worse, both intentional and unintentional acts of racism continually drive divisions deep within our national and local communities.

So, the events of last Saturday didn’t happen here. But every day there are subtle and not-so-subtle acts that harm our neighbors who are not like “us” – whether African American or Middle Eastern or Asian or those who live with the painful realities of poverty.

We are called to be different. We are called to be Christ-like. We are called to see all people as God’s sacred creations. We are called to live in ways that show clearly that all people are equal in God’s sight, loved deeply by God, worthy of God’s love – and ours.

And we are called to repentance. Repentance for the heinous acts and the subtle yet deeply hurtful acts of racism of the past and of the present. We are responsible for our individual acts, living the best way we can with those with whom we cross paths – and we need to see where we are part of a larger picture where, often by ignorance or silence, we participate in the systems that are in operation that keep people bound or oppressed.

Sometime in the next few months, I am planning to work on this some more – awareness of and repentance for racism. It won’t be easy for any of us. It is the faithful thing to do. If you are interested in being part of a small group conversation about this, please let me know – and include some days and times that you could participate.

I want to close today with a hymn. Wendell Whalum, the late choral director at Morehouse College observed that this hymn is a progression from praise to lament to prayer. Lift Every Voice and Sing is often called the Black National Anthem. (Read it at 8:30) Today, I hope we will sing it with deep respect and with an open heart, taking in the phrases that express truths for the entire human family.

The first verse is filled with rich metaphors: harmonies of liberty, rejoicing as loud as the rolling sea. The second verse laments the pain of oppression, and the last 2 lines of that verse echo the sentiment of Psalm 130 that says “out of the depths I have cried until thee” and then moves to hope. The last verse is a prayer – may we all pray it for our brothers and sisters as well as for ourselves.

Lift Every Voice and Sing
James Weldon Johnson, Text
J. Rosamund Johnson, Music

Lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring,
ring with the harmonies of liberty;
let our rejoicing rise high as the listening skies,
let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet
come to the place for which our people sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered;
we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
thou who hast, by thy might, led us into the light,
keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee,
lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee;
shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand,
true to our God, true to our native land.

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