Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
April 30, 2006
YOU, O GOD: THE POETRY
Text: Luke 19:34-40
IIn the beginning there was relation: An “I” and a
“Thou.” Thou, O man, O woman, said God in a breath. And we became
living souls. Thou, You, O God, we said in reply. “The kingdom of
God is within you,” Jesus said. The Greek can also mean “among you.”
In the relation.
We slide at times from the second person to the third. From you to
it. God no longer Thou, but He, or She or It.
She came into my office one day. During the conversation she told me
of her brother, a transgendered person in the process of changing
from a man to a woman, from a brother to a sister. Sometimes she
said “he” other times “she,” then in frustration she said, in
poignant words I’ve not forgotten: “Pronouns are so hard.”
What do we do when we move from thou, from you, to the third person?
Talking about rather than to or with? We move one more step away.
“Before thy face” is how the Hebrew people wanted to live with God.
“Hide not thy face from me,” cried David in the Psalms. So the
benediction given to Aaron has been music to us, welcome as rain:
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious unto you;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.
God’s face lifted to yours - - not turned down, or
away or aside - - and yours lifted to God.
The Te Deum we will hear today is one of most ancient of Christian
hymns, fourth century C. E. The creeds set our beliefs in the third
person: I believe in God, in Christ, in the Spirit. Then they go on
to describe them. In the third person.
But the Te Deum begins in the second person: You, O God. And it
never leaves. “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” (Elizabeth
The hymn sets us in direct, I-Thou relation to the God revealed
through Israel and in Jesus and who continues to be revealed in the
The hymn connects us with all creation, and with all beings past,
present and future, in heaven and on earth, who join in praise of
God. Praise in three dimensions or four or five.
Denise Levertov, that great poet, that great spirit, writes that we
need the poetry of anger, of rage, of protest against the cruelty
and injustice of life. But we also need the poetry of praise, the
love for the world:
A passionate love of life must
be quickened if we are to
find the energy to stop the
accelerating tumble (like a fallen
man rolling over and over down a
mountain) toward annihilation.
So “sing awe,” she says, “breathe out praise and celebration.”1
So protest marches, yes! And sonnets. And psalms.
If only we can keep the Thou, the You, of God, of life, of one
another. I feel true worship slipping away in me, in us, when we
stop talking to God and begin talking about God. When the You
When “You, O God” devolves into creed where we are
talking about God rather than to God, then we begin to pontificate
and to quarrel. Is God one or three? Is Jesus divine or human? Does
the Spirit proceed from the Father and the Son, or directly from the
Father? And East and West are split asunder, then more asunder still
into Catholic and Protestant and Pentecostal and Evangelical and a
hundred “true faiths.” If only we could find the You again.
Rilke’s Book of Hours, poems to a palpably human God, never leaves
Put out my eyes, and I can see you still;
slam my ears to, and I can hear you yet;
and without any feet can go to you;
and tongueless, I can call your name.
Break off my arms, I shall take hold of you
and grasp you with my heart as with a hand;
stop my heart, my brain will beat as true;
and if you set this brain of mine afire,
upon my blood I then will carry you.2
Where do we start? Praise what is. Praise what you
can, and then the praise will grow. You, O God, the peonies, that
face, that music, that touch, that laughter, that sudden peace, the
lightness, O God, the lightness.
You, O God, rolling in like waves of the ocean.
You, O God. Te Deum
For a thousand and a half years
chanted in liturgy on feast days
And for five hundred years set to music
by our greatest composers.
Te Deum, You, O God
Our freckles praise you
Our bodies praise you
Our songs praise you
You, O God
The angels and archangels praise you
The saints of heaven praise you
Sitting cats and running dogs praise you
The shinny of horses
And the cartwheels of children praise you
You who saved Israel and save us now
You who walked in Galilee
You who dwell in our hearts
And it shall never stop. It shall never stop.
I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath
and when my soul is lost in death
praise shall employ my nobler powers.
My days of praise are never past
while life and thought and being last
or immortality endures.
The fiery preacher preached his fierce sermon about
those who will be cast into outer darkness where people weep and
gnash their teeth. A man asked from the back pew: “What if you have
no teeth?” The preacher answered, “Teeth will be provided.”
No. Praise will be provided.
In his entrance into Jerusalem the disciples shouted praise to Jesus
and to his God: “Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name
of the Lord.” The religious leaders told Jesus to quiet his
disciples. Shut them up.
Perhaps they thought the praise unseemly, like David dancing
half-naked before the ark of the Lord. Perhaps they did not like the
theological implications of the praise. Perhaps they were afraid of
the political unrest that might erupt.
Jesus said: “If these be quiet the very stones of the earth will
shout it out.” The hosanna of stones - - even from our sometimes
You, O God
You, O God
You, O God
The only creed we need
You, O God.
1 New and Selected Essays (New York: a New Directions Book,
1992), pp. 143-144.
2 Rainer Maria Rilke, Poems From the Book of Hours
a New Directions Book, 194), p. 37, adapted by H.S.S.