Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Alleluia anyway

Exodus 33: 12-23
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
October 22, 2017

Moses in the cleft of the rock

         I’ve had a few weddings recently, and the theme of one of them was “Ride or Die”. Neither the bride nor the groom is a biker but they both love hip hop music: “I’m a movement by myself, but we’re a force when we’re together”. “Baby, you are my ride or die”. And when they thought of their commitment to each other, the first thing they thought of was ride or die: that they would stick together no matter what, ‘til death do they part.

         During the ceremony I said to all those gathered that we have a word in the Church for ride or die: alleluia. I’ve talked about this before, so let me talk about it again, because alleluia bears repeating, over and over. In Hebrew, the word alleluia is two words. The first, halal, hallu, or hallel, means to praise, but not just to praise but to boast, to act insanely with praise, to go mad with praise, to make a fool of oneself with praise. Kind of like that feeling you have when you fall in love and you want to tell everyone how wonderful it is. The second word is Yah, the first half of the unspeakable name of God, Yahweh: it’s like breathing—yah, weh, yah, weh. The first half of God’s name because we cannot see all of God, we cannot see all of what God is doing.

         And so alleluia means “praise with abandon the half-seen, half-hidden God”. Give praise, even when you can’t see all of who or what God is. Give praise, even when you can’t see all of what God is doing. Give praise, even when you can’t see the outcome. Alleluia. Ride or die.

         Moses is God’s ride or die man. They have such a connection to each other, God even confesses to Moses just how much God would rather not travel with the Israelites because God is way too tempted to do away with them, they are so stiff-necked. And it is because of Moses’ relationship with God that God decides to stick with these stubborn people.

         Because they are so close, Moses then has the audacity to ask God to see God’s glory, all of it. And wouldn’t we all? This half-seen, half-hidden nonsense seems like it can only take us so far. Some days I just want a sign, a divine plan, and I don’t believe in signs or that God’s got a hidden plan for me. We want to pull back the veil, just to get a hint, a clue, some direction, some idea of how this is all going to play out. There are days when ride or die, when alleluia is damn hard.

         Where are the places in our lives where we want to see God but we only get God’s backside? Where are the places, the people in whom we want to see God but can’t? Who are the people whose backside is the only thing we wish we could see of them? It’s not easy to feel the love these days. God wasn’t always feeling it for the Israelites and they were pretty terrified of him. The only time the Israelites were ready to give an alleluia and party with God was when they could hold the holy in their hot little hands. If it weren’t for Moses and his persistence, the story wouldn’t have gone much further.


         That’s true for any story, including ours. How is it that we persist with God, with what is good and holy and true? How do we persist in love? Human connections, connection to animals, connection to the earth, to music and art and play are what give us the ability to have empathy and compassion, to forgive and to offer unconditional love, to accept ourselves and others as we all are. They give us the strength to be vulnerable, to be resilient, to persist, that the persisting itself is a holy thing worthy of praise.

         If we’re feeling disconnected, more than likely we’re feeling like we don’t have the strength to persist in love, to praise anyway. So what about that cleft of rock in which God puts Moses, hemming him in, almost like a tomb? It might’ve looked something like the Hebrew letter beit:

         Beit or bet is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Every letter has a meaning and bet means “house” as in “house of God”: beth-el. It looks like a three-sided house, with the front door always open. It’s also the first letter of Genesis, of the Hebrew scriptures: “In the beginning of, God created…”. We are God’s house, God’s dwelling place, you, me, the whole of creation. There is nowhere we can go where God is not. There is no one, nothing we can encounter in which God is not. God is half-hidden, half-seen because God is in every imperfect one of us. Yes, every.


         This isn’t about necessary justice, about who’s right and who’s wrong or accepting unacceptable behavior. It’s about staying connected to what is good and holy and true so we don’t succumb to our fear or our anger or our lust for vengeance. It’s about being in that cleft of rock and praising what we can see rather than cursing what we can’t. And so where we can, whenever we can, an unearned, undeserved, unconditional alleluia is more likely to bring forth the holy within than any expectation or requirement we might have.

            Another word for it is mercy. Ride or die. Alleluia anyway.

         If you're having trouble saying or singing alleluia, take a page from these silent monks:

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