Praise the Lord!
I thank the Lord with all my heart in the company of those who do right, in the congregation.
2 The works of the Lord are magnificent; they are treasured by all who desire them.
3 God’s deeds are majestic and glorious. God’s righteousness stands forever.
4 God is famous for his wondrous works. The Lord is full of mercy and compassion.
5 God gives food to those who honor him. God remembers his covenant forever.
6 God proclaimed his powerful deeds to his people and gave them what had belonged to other nations. 7 God’s handiwork is honesty and justice; all God’s rules are trustworthy—
8 they are established always and forever: they are fulfilled with truth and right doing.
9 God sent redemption for his people; God commanded that his covenant last forever.
Holy and awesome is God’s name. 10 Fear of the Lord is where wisdom begins; sure knowledge is for all who keep God’s laws. God’s praise lasts forever!
Who is up for a little Greek lesson? Don’t worry, it’s easy. We’ll start with the word, “anthro,” which comes from the Greek word for “human.” You might recognize it from the word “anthropology,” which is the study of the origin, development, and behavior of human beings. There is even a fictional character in comic books named Anthro, who is a Cro-Magnon born to Neanderthal parents. He is known as the “first boy.”
The next word is “theo,” which comes from the Greek word for God. The word theology is “the study of God,” or “theocracy”- a government guided by a god or priests, or theophany- an appearance of a god to a human being. And one more word, “ceno,” which comes from the Greek word for “new.” In geological terms, we see this word in the Cenozoic era- the new one- the one we are living in at this very moment.
Anthro- human/Theo- God/Ceno- new. These three words are central to the message today and exploration of our text, Psalm 111, because this psalm is a theocentric Psalm that is full of praise for God and God’s wonderful works. It is theocentric in that it is completely centered on God- the psalmist proclaims how wonderful the works of the Lord are, that God’s handiworks are justice and honesty, that God remembers God’s people- holy and awesome is God’s name. We might read this psalm today and take a step back, because the reality is that we live not in a theocentric world, but an anthropocentric world (human centered!). Today, we expect farmers to feed us, judges to offer justice, and teachers to give us wisdom. We expect for material things to make us happy, and we live in a world where the more you have, the more you are worth. This psalm, then, challenges us to move from anthro to theo- from human to God. From human centered to God centered ( Homiletics).
This is becoming more and more of a challenge in today’s world where scientists are now saying that the things we are doing to the earth are inscribing themselves into the rock record of geologic history. Humans are shifting more sediment than all of the rivers in the world, our burning of fossil fuels has changed the air we breathe, and now for the first time, humans have actually created a new type of rock…yes, you heard that right. We have now entered into the creation business by making this new rock called plastiglomerate.
You can find this human made rock on the beaches of Hawaii, composed of volcanic solids, sand, shells, and plastic. This rock is believed to have been created on accident from campfires on the beach. When plastic soda bottles and fishing line have been melted into a sticky goo and mesh with volcanic rock, sand, and shells, this is apparently what happens. And these things will be stuck together for a very long time! This is an example of a techno-fossil- yet another sign of how humans are shaping the planet where we live (Homiletics).
We have entered into the Anthropocene age- a new age of humans influencing and impacting the earth. But as Christians, we are called to make the shift from living in an anthropocene age to a theocene age- a new age of experiencing God’s influence on earth as opposed to the other way around. We cannot escape the brokenness in this world, but we can improve it. That’s what we are called to do. We may not be able to completely reverse the harm we have done, but we can start today by taking small steps to mend the world around us. It is true that we delight in the fact that we are creators, but we tend to forget that we are called to be in relationship with our Creator and co-create with God to build a world that is theocentric, to take care of this world we live in, and to move away from the focus we have had upon ourselves and to focus instead on God. When we make the move from anthro to theo, we realize that there is a bigger world out there that we need to wake up and pay attention to. We recognize even more the need for us to be co-creators with God in a world that needs to become more God-centered.
In fact, the more and more I look around at all that is going on in the world today, I am convinced that most of the world’s problems come from the fact that we as humans have become so centered on ourselves that we have forgotten the joy of a good deed, the gifts and challenges of love, and the immense responsibility of loving, understanding, and accepting people. Wars are started over what someone wants, what someone has misunderstood, pride, greed, and sometimes just out of pure hatred. What would happen if we all took a step back and shifted our focus from ourselves to what God might have in mind for the world? For humanity?
This past week was the 70th anniversary celebration of the liberation of Auschwitz. And of course, I found myself remembering my journey to Auschwitz and back, and reflecting upon the impact that the trip has had upon my life and the lessons I learned and continue to learn from Eva Kor, who lived to share her story. I feel as if no one is ever really the same after seeing firsthand the horrors of Auschwitz. I have since looked at humanity, at my life, and my vocation in different ways. I feel like I have a better sense of what really matters and I understand even more now than before the importance of what it means to value human life and to honor each and every person’s journey. We all have a story to tell, and it is up to us to listen to one another and learn from one another.
I also recognized that while the liberation of Auschwitz is celebrated, honored, and remembered today, we still have places of death, terror, torture, and genocide in this world. I ask myself, “will humanity ever be able to fix itself?” We won’t be able to fix anything without God’s help. We won’t be able to make things right unless we shift our focus away from ourselves and entirely on God’s hope for the world. When? How? How long? How many more Auschwitzes will there be before we say “ENOUGH!” and really mean it? Really put an end to it? Eva emphasizes the Hebrew phrase, “tikkun olam,” which means “to heal or repair the world.” It is up to each and every one of us to do this in our own way. It is up to each of us to make the shift from anthro to theo and to order our lives around what is important and what God is guiding us to do without our sense of pride, envy, or self-serving attitudes getting in the way.
We have a lot to learn from those who survived the Holocaust and now find the courage to share their stories. From Eva I have taken away lessons of courage, strength, persistence, and the mentality that we are to never give up, no matter how hard life gets, no matter what is thrown our way, no matter where we may find ourselves. And above all, may we learn from these survivors to love one another and to see the value in the other, no matter how hard it may be. For us, that might be the challenge in shifting our lives from self to God- that we have to step outside of ourselves in order for God to use us in this world in order to heal it.
As Psalm 111 might suggest, we begin to make this move from anthro to theo by first, praising God. The opening lines are an invitation of praise: “Praise the Lord! I thank the Lord with all my heart in the company of those who do right, in the congregation.” Not only are we to praise the Lord, but we are to do this in community with others. When we worship together, we are shaped by God into thankful people. Praise is certainly a mark of a theocene age- the new age of God influencing the earth. There was a survey put out recently which revealed that 70-80% of United Methodists don’t expect God to show up in worship or they don’t expect to experience God’s presence at all on Sunday mornings. What does that say about this sacred time? If we don’t expect God to show up, then what are we here for? We need to go into worship each week with the full expectation that God will show up, God is here, and that we are prepared to be in the presence of God. Our worship needs to make the shift from anthro to theo- from being human centered to God centered. That starts with praising a God whom we actually believe is here among us and whom we expect to show up!
The second mark of a theocene age is discovery. The psalm reminds us of God’s magnificent works in the midst of the people. We are reminded of God’s goodness and compassion- “God’s deeds are majestic and glorious…God’s righteousness stands forever…” We are to stand in awe of the goodness of God and God’s amazing grace. We are to discover over and over again God’s goodness and love for us as people, regardless of the mistakes we have made or the times that we have been centered on nothing but ourselves. When we discover what God has done, we begin to understand that God liberates us from whatever is holding us captive- whether it is fear, anger, pride, hatred, sin, greed, addiction, regret…and God forgives so that we can be led into a future where God shapes and guides us. Moving from anthro to theo means that we discover that God is constantly working for good in everything.
And finally, we are able to trust when we reshape our lives into being God-centered. The psalmist writes that God’s handiwork is honesty and justice, that God’s rules are trustworthy, that God redeems the people through covenant, through promise, and I would add, by coming to us in Jesus Christ. When we place our trust in God, we may find ourselves in new places, new ways of thinking, new ways of allowing God to shape us instead of us always trying to shape ourselves. Making the shift from anthro to theo begins here, at the table of grace, the table of acceptance…the table of forgiveness
One day as we walked through Auschwitz II/Birkenau, Eva lovingly quoted Desmund Tutu when she said, “There is no future without forgiveness.” I didn’t know at the time that I would be meeting Desmund Tutu just a little over a year later in South Africa. When I met him and saw his funny, sparkling, dancing eyes as he presided over the Eucharist, it all came full circle to me. We meet one another at the table. We come from all directions, from all over the world, from different opinions, worldviews, races, religions, politics, genders, sexual orientations, economic backgrounds, etc. Yet we meet at the table to learn, to talk, to challenge one another, and to love. Our faith celebrates that we meet at the table to experience the joy of the Risen Lord who reveals himself to us and makes himself known in the breaking of the bread…if only we have eyes to see.
So may we open our eyes to see…whatever that means for you…that we may go about this business of “tikkun olam” and making the difficult shift from anthro to theo, that the world may praise, discover, and trust in the goodness of the Lord. Amen.