“Fountain of Life and Light”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme, “4 New Year Blessings”
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
January 20, 2019
1Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in their hearts;
there is no fear of God before their eyes.
2For they flatter themselves in their own eyes that their iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
3The words of their mouths are mischief and deceit; they have ceased to act wisely and do good.
4They plot mischief while on their beds; they are set on a way that is not good;
they do not reject evil.
5Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
6Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.
7How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge
in the shadow of your wings.
8They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
10O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!
Have you ever danced in a fountain? You know gotten in with all your clothes and danced? I have to confess I haven’t. I guess I am too timid and too afraid of getting in trouble, but I think maybe I missed something I should have done. I think maybe it is time to metaphorically dance in the fountain of light and life that is God. That’s the description in the Scripture we read this morning. God is a fountain of light and life.
The source of all our blessings is God. And the nature of God can be described in so many ways, but this morning I hear the Psalm writer telling us God is a fountain of life and light. He uses many other words to describe God – one he repeats is that God is “steadfast love.” This morning I want to meditate a bit with you on what it means to be blessed by God who is a fountain of life and light. In truth I believe that fountain of light and life is steadfast love pouring out of God.
The writer begins though with a warning. Not everyone is looking to be blessed by God. There are those who are intent on blessing themselves and to heck with God. To them what we would call “transgressions,” more importantly what God would call “wicked” has no meaning. The Psalm writer says they “have no fear of God before their eyes.” This is a dramatic way of saying there are those to whom the only thing that matters is their own privileges, pleasure, and whatever purposes please them. They do not care that what they value others consider evil or that what they do is wicked in the eyes of God. The Psalm writer says “they plot mischief while on their beds, they are set on a way that is not good; they do not reject evil.”
Let’s be real. Evil is real; it exists and it often is powerful and in its power it uses privileges that the powerless, the poor, and the proper can’t and won’t. I would argue that when we truly understand and believe and live in such a way that shows we believe that God is the Fountain of Life and Light, we won’t choose such ways. In fact, we will work together to promote and share the blessings of God with all people. We will hear it when the Psalm writer says, “all people may take refuge in the shadow of [God’s] wings.”
Tomorrow we honor the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, whose faith drove him to champion the justice of God’s love for all people. He spoke out like a modern day prophet about the steadfast love of God for all people, no matter what their color, and then no matter how poor or powerless they were, which often was a result of the color of their skin. Some say even now this is too political, that the church shouldn’t talk about politics. But this isn’t about being partisan it is about seeing and believing and teaching that God cares about injustice and suffering of all people, that this IS the gospel, this IS what Jesus came to proclaim and why he suffered and died, and why God raised him up again in the resurrection. If the church is going to share the steadfast love of God as the Fountain of Life and Light we better be heard and seen as caring about and acting to make God’s love real for those who are suffering from human injustices. Loving someone means working for their rights, for their just and righteous treatment. The greatest heresy of the church today is the way we have separated spiritual and material as if God only cares about the spiritual. The bottom line is that God’s love is justice and God’s justice is love. Too often we have only thought of justice as punishment, as something painful, and if we are unloving and unwilling to love others, no matter what then it can be. But God’s justice is the fulfillment of God’s love for all people, not just a few.
Some might think this talk of “justice” runs people out of church. Some churches think that talk of social justice isn’t “spiritual.” The reality is that one of the reasons churches aren’t attracting many younger people is many of them don’t view the church as focused on things that really matter like justice. Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Lewis, Senior Minister of Middle Collegiate Church in New York, [ “The Fountain of Life,” day1.org, January 20, 2013 ] speaks to those of us in church who wonder why the younger generation doesn’t care about church as much as we think they should. She says it is for good reason in many instances. She writes that a survey done by a national research company found that 4 out of 5 adults under age 30 think the church is “anti-gay, hypocritical, and judgmental.” In 2010 another writer, Robert Jones, wrote in a study titled, Doing Church and Doing Justice quoted one millennial-aged Christian as saying the church ‘need[s] to be judging of ourselves, we don’t need to be judging of everyone else.’
Rev. Lewis says another young adult said to her, ‘Social justice is a step past what people are comfortable with when they talk about doing good. It is about looking at systemic change, looking at systems of oppression.’ Rev. Lewis goes on to point out that, “Poverty, homelessness, hunger, high unemployment, and insufficient wages–these conditions are the violent results of an economic system that is crippled with unbridled greed and corruption. It is violence done all around the world with devastating results.” She rejects the narrative that the only reason people are poor is that they are lazy or unwilling to work.
She goes on to say that, “49.1 million Americans, or 16 percent, live below the poverty line.” This includes more than 16 million children. “And just in case we [think] that this … is not our problem, those of us who consider ourselves middle class live with shrinking pensions and an increasing inability to afford college for our children and elder care for our parents.”
But there is good news. God is a Fountain of Life and Light. “In the midst of lament at the difficult times in which he finds himself, the psalmist celebrates the precious steadfast love of God whose household, whose economy, contains an abundant feast for all.” Remember too that Jesus Christ taught that “in God’s economy, workers who come early in the morning, as well as workers who come in the hot noonday sun, and workers who only begin to work as the sun goes down all get paid the same wage, a living wage, a sustainable wage. In God’s economy “A rich man throws a party, invites all of his rich friends, and they do not come. So, he sends his servant out in the streets and gets the poor, the homeless, the sick, and the blind, and invites them to sit at the table.
“In God’s economy, the despised Samaritan – foreigner of a different religion – has the good heart to pick up a sick man off the ground, put him on his donkey, take him to the hospital, and leave money there to pay the physician. Folks care about each other’s healthcare in God’s economy. That’s what God’s economy looks like.” There are different rules in God’s household and in God’s economic system.
I am struck by her words when she goes on to say, “Some Christians say this is not our business. We are not supposed to get involved in the social issues of our day. That is government’s business. We are not supposed to be political.” She says, she believes “it is government’s business to address economic and racial injustice. The preamble of our Constitution reads, ‘We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.’ To establish justice, to promote the general welfare–these are words that should guide our government.” She adds that she believes “The church is responsible to provide a clear and consistent vision of what it looks like in God’s … economy, God’s reign of peace.
Why should we fear “justice for all?” Why should we not work for God’s steadfast love for all? The Psalm writer says that God’s blessings are a sign of God’s steadfast love. They flow out like a fountain of life and light. The writer says “All people may take refuge in the shadow of [God’s] wings.” The writer tells us that all people can “feast on the abundance of [God’s] house and “drink from the river of [God’s] delights. These are signs of God’s steadfast love. Every day we have a choice between drinking in the fountain of life and light and drinking the dark brew of our times filled with the bitter taste of fearful hatred, anxious wall building, and angrily calling anyone different our enemies. Instead, let’s break those rules and dance in the fountain of God’s blessings of life and light.
If that sounds extreme, so be it. Let me urge you to be an extremist. But let me urge you to do it based on the words of that most recent prophet, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose whole life was based on his Biblical faith and theological understanding. In “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” he answered those who called him an extremist for standing up for racial justice. His answer was, “so the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”
I think the God who is a fountain of life and light was an extremist for love. I think it flows from God so powerfully that if we really jumped into that fountain it would be, as the saying goes, like trying to drink from a fire hose. I think it would overwhelm us. Let’s stick our open mouths and hearts into that fountain of life and love and light. Let’s fill ourselves up at the blessing fountain of God’s firehose fountain. I’m thirsty. I am feeling a bit dry, no, a lot dry. My skin feels like the cold and dry air of winter makes it crack and shed like a snake. I need to go dance in the fountain, and drink from the fountain and be refreshed for life from the fountain of life and light, how about you? Come join me in the fountain of life and light, won’t you?