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Home and Away
August 23, 2015
A reading from the Psalms
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.
Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed.
For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.
What a perfect day to preach this pilgrimage psalm. It speaks of worshipers undertaking an arduous journey through difficult, barren landscapes because their souls long for the courts of the Lord. They must traverse the valley of Baca – an unidentified, but clearly uninviting place – and ascend the hills to reach the Temple. We who travel to UPC in these days before a new semester begins at UT find ourselves facing the more modern-day, developed-world obstacles of construction detours, haphazardly parked U-Hauls and swarming students. But we have braved those obstacles, persevered in our journey because, like the ancient Israelites, we long to enter God’s courts. With God’s people from every age, we are drawn to the sanctuary where our hearts and our flesh may sing for joy to the living God.
Perhaps today more than other days, in the chaos and gift of being a University church on move-in weekend, we can relate to and appreciate a psalm of pilgrimage. Perhaps on this Rally Day more than on other days, we can enter into this psalm’s message of finding our own soul’s home in the courts and in the blessings of our God. Perhaps on this Lord’s Day – and indeed I hope on every day – we will know the happiness the psalmist promises to those who trust in God.
There’s been a lot spoken and written and pondered at UPC during the last months about our “time of transition.” I’ve been quite intentional in this sermon about NOT using that language for I worry that it might suggest a temporary upheaval between periods of settled sameness. In fact, life is always in transition, constantly changing — we are forever saying “good-bye” to some events, circumstances and people, and “hello” to others. Each dawn brings new opportunities, new tasks, new encounters, but each dawn brings only itself, not its predecessors or successors. The comedian Steven Wright points out that “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” and so we are continually relinquishing and receiving. The present is – at each moment – the bridge we cross from the past we honor to the future for which we hope.
Recognizing that, we have read today a text of movement. In Psalm 84, pilgrims move toward Zion, which is both a place – Jerusalem – and a powerful symbol of God’s presence. They have a clear vision of their destination and a strong conviction of the welcome they will find there. The difficulties of the journey are rendered bearable by the exuberant anticipation of coming to God’s presence (Mayes, p. 274). Desolate landscapes are transformed into places of springs by pilgrims whose faith carries them from strength to strength. They are moving, ever moving, toward their soul’s true home.
We are moving, ever moving, toward our souls’ true home. While the ancient Israelites focused their faith in a particular location – the Temple; we center our faith on a person – Jesus Christ. As one biblical scholar puts it, “for Christians, the yearning for God’s presence is not centered in a holy place but in a holy person, in whom ‘all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’.” (Benedetto, p. 59).
Our movement toward Christ takes many forms. And Rally Day seems a wonderfully appropriate day to consider and celebrate our many opportunities for worship and service, for abundant, joyful life in Christ.
“Rally Day,” of course, is an artificial construct because, while the calendar notes today as the beginning of a church program year, it also notes today as the twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time in this church year, which is a part of the Year of our Lord 2015. This Sunday is one Sunday in the centuries-old, on-going expression of Christian faith through worship and study. And this Sunday is, simultaneously, utterly new – a fresh, unique offering of praise and adoration. We are engaged in something ancient. We are engaged in something being born anew today.
And all of it – the ancient and the new – is about moving toward our souls’ true home. We move our bodies into this sanctuary for worship because being here feeds our spirits. We move our minds into Bible study and theological considerations because doing so deepens our faith and satisfies our intellect. We move ourselves into prayer practices and ministry opportunities and community engagement because each of those strengthens our commitment to our Lord, our connections to one another, our stewardship of creation.
We move – body, mind and spirit – in the eternal, ever new pilgrimage of discipleship because our souls long, indeed they faint, for the courts of the Lord. Gathering here at UPC has required us to come over, around and through roadway blockages, schedule conflicts, health issues – the challenges are different and varied, but each of us has had to make an effort to be in this place on this day. And yet – whatever the challenges – we couldn’t miss it, right? We aren’t willing to forego this chance to spend time with our faith community. We aren’t able to resist the invitation to come before God with our praise and our promises. We want to be here with one another, we need to be here before God, we are made to be here in the courts of our Lord, ever worshiping our Savior, ever moving toward our souls’ true home.
But – and this is one of the paradoxes which both enrich and complicate our discipleship – we come into the courts of the Lord not to stay, but to be equipped to leave. We are continually welcomed into the life of Christ. We are continually being sent out to be the life of Christ in the world. Our souls’ true home is not a fixed place, a spot where we can settle in and claim our pilgrimage finished. This sanctuary in which we gather is a special, particular, dedicated space – designed to turn us and tune us to our Lord’s presence and grace. So turned and tuned, we are ready to go out into the world, carrying Christ’s love and peace, knowing that it is, in fact, Christ who carries us into and through each day.
Christ, our Savior – beckons us into this place where our hearts and our flesh sing for joy. And then he ushers us into the world to do his work for we are moving, ever moving, towards and in and for our souls’ true home.