“Vocation to Nobility”

Trinity Church, Newport RI

Sunday September 2nd 2018

The Reverend Alan Neale

At long last (over four decades) I get to preach on the intriguing and sometimes frustrating Psalm 45, one of the royal psalms. We need our hearts to be stirred by noble things so we can be transformed and then empowered to be noble people and do noble things.

The sermon text follows the sermon audio. As is my occasional wont, I asked for a hymn to replace the Creed and Confession… “God of grace, God of glory… grant us courage for the living of these days” – the hymn provides opportunity both for an affirmation of faith and a confession of sin. Hymn tune and words below the sermon text.



Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI; Sunday September 2nd 2018

The Reverend Alan Neale; “The Vocation to Nobility”

Psalm 45:1 “My heart is stirring with a song of nobility.”

Even passing views, or transient auditions, of media in all its myriad forms this week presented the portrayal of life’s events with a noble, truly noble, theme.

The life, dying, death of Senator John McCain has not been presented with a saccharine veneer of goodness; the Senator’s life has been presented vigorously, constantly, thoroughly… and “warts and all” is a largely redundant phrase given the countless flights that speakers, in one breath, made twixt heroism and cantankerousness, spirituality and earthy language, irascibility and yet a readiness to seek resolution.

We have seen the truth of philosopher Kedar Joshi’s words, “He is man whose heart is spirited and eyes are wet each moment on account of the… nobility that decorates this world.”

The whole panoply of this great man’s life interwoven with words and music has caused many a heart to be stirred, a tear to be shed, a regret to be rued but, above all, a prayer made that… a “reset” occur in the standard of behavior in this great country… that a tide of respect will beat down heavily on a shoreline all too often strewn with the flotsam and jetsam, the debris of rudeness, indecency and malicious intent.

For decades I have dreaded a little that day in the church’s month when Psalm 45 is read at Morning Prayer; I remember (I can almost still hear) the groans of female colleagues and laity as they bemoaned the apparent sexism of today’s Psalm.

But today, for me at least, this Psalm is redeemed for it speaks to me of the daring of nobility, of the derivation of nobility and of the designation of nobility.

The Daring of Nobility (vv1-3)
There is something about the noble that ignites our spirits, shapes our behavior.
Friends, our hearts have been constructed to be stirred, inspired, even agitated by songs of nobility.
…our tongues have been created so that with eager readiness, acute alertness and artful skill they narrate stories of nobility.
And though verses 3 & 4 are omitted from today’s Psalm for some peculiar reason, I will refer to them for they speak of how nobility causes our words to be seasoned with grace and our pugnacity to be channeled into causes of truth, clemency and justice.
I am convinced that the regular re-presentation before my mind of the nobility of Jesus and His saints will enable me to dare… to dare for God great and holy things.
I am convinced that the regular re-presentation before my spirit of the nobility of Jesus as he embraces life and death will enable me to dare… to dare for God great and holy things.
Surely we have a vocation to put aside that which is demeaning, petty, small-minded and if we do not… then we dare little and achieve it resoundingly.

The Derivation of Nobility (vv.4-6)
Whether it be the modern edifice of an Arizonan Methodist Mega-Church or the ancient shape of Washington Cathedral – both structures were filled not only with words about Senator McCain but also, as strongly, words about the divine Lord whom the Senator worshipped, considered and did his best to follow – day by day.
Psalm 45, like many a Psalm, is not always clear as to the person being addressed… sometimes it’s the earthly king… at other times it’s God the King… (“the one who endures for ever and ever…”).
A similar uncertainty and confusion sometimes occurs in the minds of earthly leaders – fudging the distinction between the Creator and the Creature.
You will remember that when Oscar Wilde encountered the buffoon who boasted, “I am a self-made man”, Wilde responded, “Well, at least that relieves the Almighty of a terrible responsibility.”
No wonder that Step Two of 12 Step Programs reads, “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Sanity… nobility… we affirm that we are established deep in the being of God… the Creator, not the creature, defines what it is to be noble.

And, the Designation of Nobility (vv.7-10)
It would be a mean, nasty, teasing sort of God that caused our hearts to flicker at the sound, the sight of nobility and yet stopped there.
But we do not have to do with such a God… and that which we are called to be by divine fiat, we are enabled to become by divine grace.
v. 8 “Your God has anointed you with the oil of gladness… creations of garments and compositions of songs bring joy to your heart…”
By God’s abundant goodness we, each of us, are designated as noble daughters and sons of the most high and what God calls us to be, He enables us to be by the powerful love, His transforming grace and the dynamic Holy Spirit.
Please do not be tricked into surrendering this hope of nobility as you consider what at times seems such a slow and troubled progress. Hemingway (perhaps) wrote this, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self” – we look for progress, not for perfection, in ourselves and in others – herein is nobility.

So, these past few days I have watched Honor Guards in an Arizonan Methodist Mega-Church, on an airfield tarmac, in the Gothic majesty of National Cathedral. But also… on Thursday evening in Newport when, at the conclusion of a wedding, I called an Honor Guard to take position and salute the newly-weds with an arch of sabers and… I was surprised, even here I wept.

And I wondered why? Why? Because I hoped and prayed in that moment… that the couple would take equal meticulous care to guard their honor, their respect for each other as did those six marines for them.

Why? Because I dare to hope for a resurrection of honor and nobility in our lives and in our relating… one to another in the name, in the pattern, in the power of God. Oh, yes, my heart aches to be stirred and my lips be moved by stories of nobility in these days, throughout this land… beginning here. AMEN

God of Grace, God of Glory!

1 God of grace and God of glory,
on your people pour your power;
crown your ancient church’s story,
bring its bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the facing of this hour,
for the facing of this hour.

2 Lo! the hosts of evil round us
scorn the Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us
free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.

3 Cure your children’s warring madness;
bend our pride to your control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss your kingdom’s goal,
lest we miss your kingdom’s goal.

4 Save us from weak resignation
to the evils we deplore;
let the gift of your salvation
be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
serving you whom we adore,
serving you whom we adore.