Toorak Uniting Church

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Let everything that breathes, praise God

Launch of the Virginia Davey Music Fund
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
19 October 2008

Franz Liszt apparently once said to protegee who had spent some time with him and was returning home: "Keep playing, music can lift you out of anything".

Gathered here this morning for this special music worship many of us will have come hoping and longing for that to happen: To be lifted up, out of the day to day and transported to another plane.

More than at other times in worship we have come to find a place closer to heaven where God’s presence can be felt and what is otherwise intangible comes within close reach of our senses to be experienced.

It is very hard to find words for that experience. And yet we all know and recognise the feeling when it is there because it fills us with a sense of well being and peace that is quite special. We feel connected to something profound which is at the same time deep inside us and way beyond us.

It is that experience scripture calls God. An experience of a presence that is as much inside us as it is around us, is as much way above us as it is close beside us, is as much solid and immovable as fluid and forever changeable.

It is that presence Paul speaks about in his letter to the Romans. For him the hallmark of that presence is love. A love so deep it is beyond human understanding, wanting to be experienced in every human life and fill it with its life giving power.

It is that presence Psalm 150 raves about: A presence we sometimes discern in the beauty of creation, in the beauty of art and music, or in love and fellowship. A presence that encourages and nurtures wholeness, healing and peace. Psalm 150 celebrates that presence. A power grid that connects to everything in creation to infuse it with love, with justice, with peace, with everything that is right and good.

A couple of weeks ago Dr Francis McNab of St. Michaels Church in the City made the Age with some comments about the Bible and faith. One of the things he presented as part of his "New Faith" was God as presence. That surprised me. There is nothing new about referring to God as presence, as there was nothing new or renewing about many of the other things he said. The Bible, scripture, talks about God as presence all the time. But it also uses other imagery to try and convey the nature of that presence:
As a father who lost a son.....
As a lover who wants to please his beloved....
As a gardener who planted a garden......
God as an artist who creates beauty and hates it when somebody damages what he has created..... God as love with a passion so deep it defies death. God as king, as shepherd, as servant, as mother, as fire...

These are no primitive images of a bygone era we should discard. They are ways in which people, over time, have experienced that presence and have tried to talk about it. Ways that can be helpful for us, or for future generations who will have to find their own way to give words to that presence. A presence deeply loving and lovable, vastly powerful yet immeasurably small and vulnerable.

There are no words for God. No words can capture what we can sometimes experience when we get close, when we feel surrounded by that love, carried by it, filled by it, supported by it, spurred on by it. It lifts us, it takes us to a place beyond words, a place where only music and art and the immense universe can speak with a still small voice only our heart can hear. Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2008

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