“Insomniac”–by Maya Angelou
There are some nights when
sleep plays coy,
aloof and disdainful.
And all the wiles
that I employ to win
its service to my side
are useless as wounded pride,
and much more painful.
This week, I have been afraid a lot.
The news cycle, which drives me to prayer quite a bit, has ramped up to almost unbearable this week for a person who believes in justice and tries to practice empathy and compassion. Perhaps you’re experiencing this, too.
My go-too in the scriptures when I get this way is the Psalms. There are lots of passages in the bible where you can find comfort, but in the Psalms we can find a thread of continuity back thousands of years–depending on which scholar you consult, the Psalms were written approximately 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. Within the Psalms we can hear all of the emotions we still experience today– and all of the desires we still have for God. That God bring down justice, that God protects us, that God gives us peace.
Tonight (and in many compline services for the history of the Anglican church) we read Psalm 134. It’s one of the shortest Psalms, and it speaks of those who stayed in the Temple late at night, after the sacrifices were given and the main ceremonies were over– those who weren’t quite finished praying or keeping watch yet. In our insomnia and worry-filled times, it’s an image we can take comfort in. People have always needed extra prayer, always had a desire to stoke the embers of the temple fires.
Our other reading, from Acts chapter 13 gives us another reminder about how God works. In this reading, newly converted Paul meets a magician. This magician is popular, admired, and according to the passage, quite famous. Paul immediately recognizes this magician for what they truly are:
A huckster, a trickster, a con-man, an enemy of the Lord.
Or, as Paul puts it: “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” Paul metes out the same punishment that he was very recently given for his own persecution of the faithful.
This story illuminates something much bigger, though. God and magic are two very different things, and deceit and trickery are as old as the world itself. There are always going to be people who, for a moment, rise to power and fame and pervert justice and even the right ways of the Lord, often using quotations from the Scriptures themselves to do their dirty work. It has always happened, and will always happen.
We often (and I sometimes worst of anyone) long for God to work magic. Mend this injury! Soften this heart! Right this wrong! HURRY UP!
God calls us to help the world, through Christ who strengthens us. We have the blueprint of Jesus’ words of compassion, obedience to God, and love.
This homily feels like it’s provided more questions than answers. I think that is okay sometimes. I am often very, very grateful that I worship a God that forgives endlessly and loves my flaws. Sometimes when I read/contemplate/pray the only answer I get is “let God work.” So that is the thought I leave you with. We must continue to do our best to follow Jesus’ command to love one another, and to let God work.
“May the Lord bless you from Zion, the Lord who is the maker of the Heaven and the Earth.”