Then Sings My Soul: “Be Thou My Vision”
August 20, 2023
1 Corinthians 1: 18, 21-29
In these dog days of summer, UPC’s Spiritual Growth team is offering a light-hearted, intergenerational Sunday School that puts the Gospel in conversation with some other beloved story arcs in culture. Today, Kyle Beardsley taught a session on the interplay between Scripture and Star Wars. Next week we have the Gospel according to Ted Lasso. Last week, Adam Lovelady led a session on Harry Potter and I would like to “Yes, and…” the excellent reflections he offered us and use an illustration from those novels.
For those who know the Harry Potter books well, you’ll remember that each year at Hogwarts brings a new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Most of them are terrible in one way or another, but in the third volume, a kind but mysterious Professor Lupin assumes the mantle.
One day in class, he teaches the students an important lesson about fear. He introduces them to a creature called a Boggart. This nasty creature is a shape shifter and it assumes the form of what you fear the most.
If you’re afraid of snakes – it will appear as a giant Cobra.
If you’re scared of spiders – it will take the shape of a terrifying tarantula.
If you fear…Dachshunds, well I suppose it would become a viciously-yapping wiener dog.
The spell to disarm a Boggart is called Ridikulus. But it’s not enough to just say the word. You also have to picture this thing that terrifies you in a truly ridiculous situation. If you’re scared of Spiders, picture the Spider with roller skates on, slipping and sliding and unable to walk.
One student’s greatest fear is the surly Professor Snape and so he pictures Snape wearing his Grandmother’s clothes. The point is – the antidote to fear is laughter. Don’t trust what your eyes tell you at first. Adjust your vision – put on the proper corrective lenses – and it may not be as formidable as you once thought.
The Apostle Paul – writing to a collection of Corinthian Christians and also to us – suggests that we, too, need to get our eyes examined. Hear these words from 1 Corinthians, chapter 1.
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
This is the Word of the Lord
THANKS BE TO GOD.
Her first-day-of-school photos are many, because it’s not every day that you go to first grade.
It won’t be long before many of you take such photos and perhaps post them online. That’s become a thing in more recent years – but back then – back then it was hardly the norm for any child to have a first-day-of-school photo, much less the hundreds that were taken on that November, New Orleans morning.
If you zoom in enough, it looks like an absolutely ordinary photo. A starched and pressed uniform with a bow in the front. A white sweater and a ribbon in her hair to match. A satchel for her books dangling from her right hand.
Zoom out a bit more, however, and you’ll see something quite different, because this first-day-of-school photo belongs to Ruby Bridges on the day she integrated William Franz Elementary School in 1960.
In Ruby’s first-day-of-school photos you’ll find a small girl flanked by four US Marshalls wearing their dark suits and arm bands, faces set stoically to follow a federal order to desegregate that previously all-white school.
In Ruby’s first-day-of-school photos you can see the boy holding a poster that reads “All I want for Christmas is a clean, white school.”
In Ruby’s first-day-of-school photos you can see the woman holding up a miniature coffin with a black baby doll in it, but what a photo can’t tell you is how the woman threatened this six year old child, saying “I am going to poison you – I will find a way.”
Zoom out enough and this first-day-of-school photo becomes deeply disturbing.
The balance is all off in this picture.
On one side there’s this small girl putting one step in front of the other.
On the other side there’s this formidable mob foaming at the mouth as they spew threats and violence.
It’s the definition of an unfair fight.
How is this child supposed to stand against such a powerful tide of hatred and prejudice?
How does she stand her ground in an absolute hornet’s nest?
When Paul wrote back to the congregation in Corinth, he was sad to discover that the church he had lovingly planted himself had also become a hornet’s nest.
You have to use the context clues to reconstruct what was going on – but it appears as if the Corinthians had divided into camps, some claiming they follow Paul, others claiming that only a guy named Apollos was fit to instruct them.
It would seem that Apollos was a slick and eloquent preacher who wowed people with his wisdom. Paul, on the other hand, had none of that polish. If Apollos is a smooth Gemstone, Paul is a diamond in the rough at best.
Faced with this leadership crisis, Paul writes to the church and urges them to a deeper unity. That is the central theme of this letter, but right off the bat Paul offers a fascinating reflection on wisdom and power. In so many words, Paul urges us NOT to trust what our eyes tell us.
“The cross is utter foolishness,” he says, “who in their right mind would follow an itinerant, Jewish Rabbi who had been executed as a common criminal by the Roman Empire?” There is nothing powerful about this faith at all – not in eyes of the world at least.
“But,” Paul continues, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world…to reduce to nothing things that are.”
Everything that appears to be mighty is nothing at all.
Every force that feels unstoppable is feeble and frail.
The powers of this world can rage all they wish but they are rendered ridiculous by the Cross.
None of this is intuitive of course. It requires an eye exam.
Barbara Henry was the lone educator who agreed to serve as Ruby’s first-grade teacher and Ruby was her only student. As you might imagine, with a student-teacher ratio like that you become awfully attached to your pupil, so Mrs. Henry would wait and watch for Ruby as she walked past that mob of protesters before taking the steps up into the deserted school.
One day, Mrs. Henry observed a break in the routine. Instead of walking past the throngs of people and ignoring them, on this day she saw Ruby stop, turn to the crowd and begin speaking to them. This only poured gasoline on their anger and they seemed ready to pounce on her while the marshals tried in vain to keep Ruby moving.
When Ruby came into the class, Mrs. Henry stooped down and asked her “why did you try and talk to such a nasty crowd of people?”
Ruby responded that she didn’t stop to talk with them.
” I saw you…” Mrs. Henry pressed, “…I saw your lips moving.”
“I wasn’t talking,” Ruby said, growing irritated. “I was praying…I was praying for them.”
Ruby’s routine was to stop a few blocks away from the school to pray for these people who hated her. But on this morning she had forgotten until she was walking right past the mob.
After school that day, Ruby bolted past the crowd as usual and headed for home with her companion federal marshals. After a few blocks and with the crowds behind her, she paused as she had every other day that year and prayed the same prayer that she repeated twice each day — before and after school.
Please God, try to forgive these people.
Because even if they say those bad things,
They don’t know what they’re doing.
So You could forgive them,
Just like You did those folks a long time ago
When they said terrible things about You.
It’s utterly ridiculous, isn’t it?
To pray for people who wish you nothing but harm.
These hymns we sing – like I told the children – they are prayers.
“Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart”
Help me see the world right and all who are in it.
Not as objects of contempt but as hurting people in need of compassion.
“Naught be all else to me save that thou art
Help me put you and your way before the ways of the world…even when it is so, so hard.
“thou my best thought by day or by night”
Help me render no one evil for evil.
Help me meet cruelty with kindness.
“waking or sleeping thy presence my light.”
Help me carry this cross – no matter how foolish it might be – in every moment.
It’s an absurd prayer buried within an utterly ridiculous song about a cross that is as foolish as can be.
But if a six year old girl could sing it and pray it and live it, how hard could it be……right?