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Leaning into God

Thomas J Parlette

“Leaning into God”

Psalm 78: 1-7

11/12/17

 

The most famous leaning tower in the world is, of course, the leaning tower of Pisa in Italy. However, it’s not the only such leaning tower in the world.

The Albert Memorial clock stands in Queen’s Square in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Built in 1869, it is several feet off perpendicular because it was built on marshy land.

And then there’s the famous Big Ben in London – it is a leaning tower as well. It stands 1 ½ feet off perpendicular.

We even have a couple of leaning towers in the United States. The closest one to us is the leaning tower of Niles, Illinois – a replica of the leaning tower of Pisa.

But there is also the Millennium Tower in San Francisco, which tilts 2 inches after sinking 16 inches after construction.

And there’s Sharps Island Light, 3 miles off the southern end of Tilghman Island in Maryland’s Cheseapeake Bay. It has been leaning 15 degrees since it was damaged by an ice floe in 1977.

Most of the time, buildings lean because of some flaw in design or construction or unstable soil. But some leaning towers lean because they are supposed to.

One of the most spectacular examples of this is the Montreal Tower in Canada, which, at more than 540 feet, is the tallest inclined or leaning tower in the world. It tilts at a 45 degree angle. This incredible “lean” is possible because the top of the tower has a mass of 8,000 tons which is permanently attached to the infrastructure and the solid concrete base buried 32 feet below ground. The base has a mass of 145,000 tons – so it all balances out.(1) How the engineers and architects figure all that out is a mystery to me.

Just like leaning towers, people can lean as well. Sometimes we lean into a headwind so strong that it looks like we’re defying gravity, sort of like watching hurricane coverage on The Weather Channel. Or, we speak about leaning toward one decision as opposed to another. We’re inclined to go to Disney World this year, and defer a trip to Yellowstone until next year. We talk about leaning toward one candidate or another in an upcoming election. Or, we say our taste in music tilts toward classic rock rather than jazz, or vice versa.(2)

As human beings, we have leanings, inclinations, proclivities, predilections and preferences.

What we hear in Psalm 78 this morning is that God says that it would be best if our leanings, inclinations and preferences were centered on the divine and the sacred.

In Psalm 78, we are encouraged to lean into God. We hear it in the very first verse: “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.” In other words – lean into God.

There is a note about this Psalm in the NRSV that calls it “A Maskil of Asaph.” We don’t know if Asaph was a person, the poet or musician who wrote this psalm – or perhaps it refers to a certain style of presentation. No one knows for sure.

But a maskil refers to a contemplative poem or a litany of instruction. This Psalm was meant to be recited or chanted as part of a worship service. In 72 verses, Psalm 78 re-tells the major events in the life of God’s chosen people – from crossing the Red Sea out of Egypt, to their journey through the desert to the reign of King David.

The second verse of Psalm 78 invites us to lean in and listen to a parable. This isn’t a parable like we’re used to hearing from Jesus – a story where what we expect to happen is usually turned upside down. This is a story about God’s goodness and Israel’s ingratitude.

God has been good, says the Psalm, and yet, for the most part, God’s people have been ungrateful. God, through the Psalmist, calls on the people, calls on us to “Give ear to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.” Lean into God and learn of God’s will.

Unfortunately, rather than inclining toward God, we often react in different ways.

We might be a reclining Christian, someone who may love God in some vague sense, but can’t really summon the energy to put their shoulder to the wheel. A reclining Christian is one who is comfortable on the sidelines, but not really interested in doing the heavy-lifting of serving God. They are reclining – faith is like kicking back in a Barcalounger with your feet up.(3)

Or, we might be a declining Christian. Declining Christians are the ones who say no to opportunities to serve. They decline when it comes to new ideas or new innovations. They say no to almost everything, they oppose any change whatsoever. Declining Christians focus on the problems, on the negative aspects of things, instead of looking for hope and new possibilities.(4)

Or, we might be a dis-inclining Christian. This is someone who is leaning away from God. It could be that the fire of faith has grown cold. They may be disappointed in God, or feel let down or ignored by God. Or maybe they just feel stuck in the faith. So they lean into darkness, feeling indifferent, depressed, detached, distant or apathetic to the life of faith and the things of God.(5)

You know, if I am honest with myself, I must admit that there are days when I fall into each of those categories. Sometimes I am a reclining Christian, comfortable with the way things are. Sometimes I am a declining Christian, saying “no” a little too quickly to new challenges. And sometimes I am a dis-inclining Christian, leaning away from God and giving in to indifference. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. That’s probably true for all of us.

But what Psalm 78 calls us to be is an inclining Christian – one who leans into God. We find it there in verse 7 – “So that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep God’s commandments.”

So an inclining Christian is one whose hope is in God. The person leaning into God is one tilting toward the things of the Spirit, inclining the ear to the voice of God and nowhere else. The inclining Christian believes that life will be better with God, than without God. The inclining Christian believes that God will keep promises and that whatever happens, God will never leave them abandoned. An inclining Christian is full of hope.(6)

The inclining Christian is also one who doesn’t forget the works of God. The faithless forget what God has done, they forget that God has always been faithful. But the one who leans into God remembers the goodness and greatness of God in years past. An inclining Christian remembers God’s faithfulness. Yes, we may have our issues with God from time to time, but the Psalmist encourages us to remember the good times. God wants to be remembered. Indeed, God is disappointed, maybe even offended when we forget what God has done. An inclining Christian remembers.

And finally, the inclining Christian is one who obeys, one who keeps God’s rules. The inclining Christian is one who leans to the side of the oppressed, to the side of the weak, to the side of the powerless. Leaning into God means loving your neighbor as much as yourself, to think of yourself less and others more. And to love God more than anything else.

As Psalm 78 says, “Incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” Lean into God – by hoping, and remembering and obeying.

Today we lean into God in a very real way as we dedicate our pledges for 2018. As we celebrate the commitment we make to God and the church, we approach with hope that our resources will be used to further God’s Kingdom here in Rochester and across the world. As we gather today, we remember that God has been with us in the past and is leading us to something new in the future. We dedicate our pledges today in obedience to what God wants us to do – to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

So let us lean into God together.

May God be praised. Amen.

1.    Homiletics, Vol. 29, No. 6, p23.

2.    Ibid…p23.

3.    Ibid…p24.

4.    Ibid…p24.

5.    Ibid…p24.

6.    Ibid…p25.