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Random thoughts towards a sermon:
In my long history with the church, baptized as an infant until today as a priest, it has been a sort of love/hate relationship. Some days I find my greatest joy in the sacraments and the community. Other days it is the last place I want to be. It is a roller coaster of highs and lows. When the community is welcoming and loving, doing the work of God in the world, I am proud to be a part of it. I can't wait to share the story of "church" with others. When it is exclusive and fighting, and focused on itself and its survival, I become discouraged and am embarrassed by our struggles.
Abram in today's reading from the Old Testament is at the beginning of a journey with God. He has not yet entered fully into the relationship - as we see by his name. Later he will become Abraham, named by God and following God into the new land. While the writers of Genesis see this story in concrete terms, for us it is more symbolic and metaphorical. It was probably written down in the time of the Davidic kingdom when the descendants country did cover from the Nile (Egypt) in the South to the Euphrates (Iraq) in the East bounded on the West by the Mediterranean Sea and extending to the North into what we now call Lebanon. This story tells of how one man caught at vision and sealed that vision with a ceremony. It sounds like an odd ceremony to us - cutting animals in half, the dream of the torch and the smoking fire pot passing between the animal carcases. But it shows the solemn covenant that was being made between Abram and the One he experienced as YHWH. We use the water of Baptism to make manifest our covenant when we commit ourselves and our children to follow as God leads. At the begnning it is all joy and hope, a time of feeling close to God and close to one another. We join the ceremony and add our prayers to those of the newly baptized, we relive our commitment to the promises that are made.
The Old Testament covers the journey of a people as they discover through good times and bad, kingdom and exile, what it really means to be God's people on this earth.
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul talks about the difficulties of living in the world and remaining true to the vision that Jesus has given us in his life, death and resurrection. Jesus is struggling in today's Gospel with the knowledge that his life is soon to be ended and his message of love and inclusion that heals communities and restores people to life, his message of God's love is not being heard by the very people he felt sent to tell. Often we cast the Pharisees as the "bad guys" in the Gospels, but in this passage they are trying to help Jesus stay safe. Jesus laments that the world (Jerusalem symbolic of the center of the world) kills and stones the very ones who are trying to show them what it is that God wants. Rather than being gathered under the wings of our mother hen - we scatter like so many frightened chicks, pecking at one another in our race to have the most, or to find a false safety, running or excluding those whom we see as not of our flock. Jesus speaks of himsefl as a mother hen spreads her wings wide to encompass all - as we pray in the service of Compline - spreads his arms on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come into his saving (wholeness making) embrace.
It is in times of this sort of frustration with the lack of progress towards this vision of Jesus, this dream of God for all to know that we are the beloved daughter, beloved son; frustration with spending our energies on who is in and who is out instead of the our call to bring heaven to earth that I find comfort in the psalms. The psalms address the joys and sorrows, pleasure and anger, hatreds and loves of life. There is a psalm for whatever the state of your being. From those that talk of smashing out one's enemies teeth and turning them into the slime of snails to the ecstasy of oneness with God.
Today's psalm is addresses fear, especially the fear of following what one believes is right. It is a song of trust in God to be the shelter even when the winds of other people's opinions are lashing and the rains of disappointments are beating down. This psalm sings of the place where Jesus stood throughout his life - inviting us into the big tent of God's embrace.
Walter Bruggeman has translated it like this:
YOU ARE MY LIGHT and my help
Whom should I fear?
You are the fortress of my life
Whom should I dread?
When the narrow ones gather their strength to
It is they who stumble and fall
Even if a royal army were camped outside my gate
My heart would not fear
And when they struck out with terrible weapons
Even then I'd trust
One thing I ask for, one thing I hope
To live in your house
All the days of my life
To behold your loveliness
Every morning in the light of your temple
Till on a doomful day
You secure me in your precincts
Conceal me within the folds of your covering tent
Place me high and safe upon a rock
My head lifted above the engulfing waves
With the joy of my heart
I will sacrifice
Within that billowing shelter
Singing and playing my abandonment to you
Hear my voice when I raise it up
Be gracious—answer me--
Speaking with your voice my heart sang,
Seek my presence
Do not hide your glowing face from me
Do not reject me in anger because of my shortcomings
You have always been for me
Don't cast me off now, don't walk away
My helper, my friend
My mother and father forsake me
But you take me up
Show me the way!
Guide my steps on the clear path
Against the ever-present cliffs and thickets
Protect me from the noise of desire and hatefulness
From false words and shouted accusations
If I did not have faith in your rightness
That it would bloom in this living land—
It is unthinkable
I wait only for you
With strength and good courage--
I wait only for you
FEAR NOT, God is blooming even in the wasteland. Seek only God and rest secure in God's love. Be not afraid.