Sunday, December 14, 2008

My Sermon for this Morning-Psalm 126

I don't have time to put it in a better reading format. Here's how I preach. Enjoy!

For the last several weeks, well,
lets be honest, months,
I've been gearing up in anxiety and worry towards this last Friday
which, was the first,
hopefully not the only, hearing in court
regarding who owns this property.
I have moved around a lot in my life.
The last six years in the rectory here in Binghamton
is the longest I have lived anywhere in one place
in one house.
Indulge me, for a minute,
while I describe to you the most beautiful house in the world.

Its way off the beaten path,
a kilometer or more off of the only paved road in the whole land,
over a stream with a dubious bridge,
a stream that floods in the rainy season
and dries up in the dry season,
a road that is really only a foot path.
The house itself is now a series of mounds.
If you didn't know what you were looking for,
you would miss it.
In its glory,
it was a string of six mud huts with thatch roof—
a kitchen, office, living room, bath hut, two sleeping huts,
joined in a semicircle
around a dusty courtyard
shaded by a glorious mango tree covered in red ants.
This is my first house,
the home I long for.

Matt, when he visited Farakala for the first time,
walked out to it with me
and we managed to find it,
and the ruins of the original village.
In a horrible desire to modernize,
the whole village of Farakala elected to pack up and move
to the paved road.
Now they have a store and a telephone
four butchers and a mosque.

I remember the night I went into exile from my home.
We sat around eating supper under the mango tree,
candles lit,
ants falling onto the tablecloth.
I was going to have to go to boarding school.
The house itself wasn't going to last.
My parents were going to move nearer the road
with the rest of the village.

It is the same grief, all these years later,
that I encounter as I wander around the rectory,
filthy as it is.
If you came over after church
you would walk in to an enormous pile of laundry that needs folding. And R and G took a bag of sugar
and carefully sprinkled it all over the living room,
dining room
and kitchen.
My children are facing exile from the home of their little hearts.
They eat their meals by candle light
and pray that if we have to move,
God will 'not make it a struggle'.
Those are E's words.

So, these two griefs have wound themselves together
and finally this week I kept thinking,
'When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then we were like those in a dream... of the Negev...
shouldering their sheaves...
what is that verse,
where is that verse?'
It kept breaking in
and playing over and over
like a cool refreshing breeze.
So when Matt needed a break from the grueling work hours of this week, I clicked open the lectionary page and there it was,
Psalm 126,
you can find it in your bulletin, or in your Bible,
one of the 15 poignant Psalms of Ascent—
the songs pilgrims, ultimately,
would sing on their way up to visit the Temple in Jerusalem.
But this is really the song of the one returning from exile.

When the Lord restored the Fortunes of Zion,
then we were like those in a dream.
We couldn't believe it.
We had lost everything,
they are saying to themselves.
Because that's what happened to the people of Judah and Israel,
after they had sinned so much,
they had rejected God so much
and they weren't going to repent.
God had called them to over and over and over and over
and it just wasn't going to happen.
And he,
had promised that if they didn't obey him
and worship him alone,
he wouldn't let them stay in the land he had given them.
So finally,
after several hundred years of being patient,
he carried through
and the Babylonians came in
and carried the people off
to a horrible strange place
with with a horrible strange language.
And they could only remember their beautiful comfortable houses,
the lush land,
their fields which they had worked with their own hands.
And finally they were sorry
and they turned back to the Lord.
They repented.
They turned around and grieved and were sorry.

We have,
over the last five years
undertaken a similar grief on behalf of the Episcopal Church.
A church that has been stubborn in its going away from the Lord,
from God's word.
And we've undertaken a corporate repentance,
even as we daily confess our own personal sin.
Part of that corporate repentance
has been to stand firm on the unchanging truth of Scripture.
That decision has had consequences,
in this case,
very probable exile from this building
and the loss of the things in it that we have come to love.
And if you are grieved,
its a reasonable place to be.
The people of Israel,
walking their sorrowful way to Babylon said this
“By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept, yea we wept
when we remembered Zion.” Psalm 137.

For all the difficulties of daily life,
the places where we live matter to God.
For one thing, he put us each where we are.
He has provided food, shelter,
usually a vast deal more than we need.
Compared to my dream huts,
the house I live in now is a palace
even though the layout isn't,
how shall I say,
and the basement leaks.
God gave it to us
and we have made our home there
and have been content.
Even more so with this building
where we worship that same God.
Its a quirky building.
Its not big enough.
We could sure use a bigger parking lot.
But God gave it to us
and we've been content for 130 years.
It is heartening and fascinating to read back over the minutes
from the original vestry,
how they called their first few pastors,
the miraculous work God did to build this church,
and then build it again when it burnt down.
People have faithfully worshiped God here all these years.

But all that time,
like an errant and unrepentant Israel,
the larger church,
indeed, much of the church in the West,
stopped paying careful attention to the Word of God,
started devising clever ways around it,
began catering to a culture that wasn't interested in God or his will.
And, as part of a larger body that began to go astray
and then refused to repent,
we are living with the consequences of that greater sin.

But God is gracious, and clever.
for those of us who believe in him and love him,
is not sent for our destruction and despair.
Almost the moment the people of Judah arrived in Babylon,
they began to get back in gear.
They started paying attention.
They began to see God again and take him seriously.
They began to long for the temple in a way they never had
when it was right next door.
Their sin clouded minds and hearts were cleared out
and they were able to look back and see the amazing work
God had done on their behalf.
It is in the time of captivity
that we read the steadfast witnesses of people like
Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel and his friends.
And, many of the psalms.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then we were like those in a dream.
When God let us go home,
when God gave us a true place to worship,
walking up these steps to the temple,
because thats where this would have been sung,
on the way up right up into the temple itself,
to be with God in true fellowship and love,
then we were like those in a dream.
We were so happy.
We couldn't believe it.
We laughed and sang.
And all the nations around us saw the amazing work of God,
who took a people out of the land
and brought them back safely.

That's what God is doing with this church.
He's bringing us out and bringing us back in,
He's restoring us,
In the middle of trouble and trial
we have begun to grow.
God isn't waiting for some perfect setting.
He has sowed the seeds of this current growth
day by day over the last six years.
He has made this congregation deeply curious about the Bible,
for its own sake,
he has brought many different kinds of people together to worship,
he has worked in us to grow and mature us
into real reasonable thinking Christians.
He obviously still has a lot of work to do,
but we're already seeing a harvest.

The work of these last days,
the sowing of the seed, the Gospel,
for many,
has been a work of weeping.
And there is still hard work before us
Some of it will be the work of grieving,
of sowing the Gospel in sorrow into the ground.
But look at verses six and seven, what is the promise?
They will reap with songs of joy.

Nothing is lost out of God's hand.
There isn't any work that we do,
or that he does, to build his kingdom
that disappears or isn't ultimately to his glory.
My mom and dad, this last week,
traveled back to the village,
to Farakala,
for the dedication of the New Testament into Supiyre,
the language they have on worked for the last 28 years.
The sacrifices of comfort, of home,
of sending themselves into exile to Africa for the sake of the gospel
have not been lost.
They are seeing a great harvest of those
who are hearing the Good News of Jesus Christ
for the first time in the language of their hearts.
Our sacrifice,
our exile will not be in vain.
Already our clinging to the gospel over everything else
has brought a small light to this neighborhood.
God doesn't plan to let any of that be lost.

Some of you are already sowing in joy.
But for those of us who weep as we carry out the seed of Christ,
this Advent and Christmas season,
the promise is clear
we will come in again with joy
not only into our heavenly home,
however you hope it will be
red ants or maybe a sprinkling of sugar,
but even now.
God is preparing a beautiful place for us
maybe even right here,
maybe down the road.
Where we worship matters to him.
But that we worship and obey him matters even more.
He has, in his hand, a harvest of joy for us.
We probably won't be able to believe it
We'll be wandering around in a dream, laughing because its so amazing. Amen.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely beautiful. I wish we had been able to read this when we were getting ready to leave our brand new building that each parishioner had sacrificed so much for. We worship in a middle school gym. We have kept our church family together, and we are joyful in our strength and commitment. God bless you, your family, and your church.

Anonymous said...

Anne+, Thank you for posting this. I had a hard time hearing with Ben distracting us. C.....

At A Hen's Pace said...


How beautiful! I love the way you left all the spaces in--so poetic. And readable!

I pray that soon your congregation's mourning will turn to great joy....


Sarah Boyle Webber said...

I found that Psalm in a Beth Moore bible study 2.5 years ago when life was really, really tough and it's been my favorite ever since. To survive these days, you have to hold fast to hope and the giver of hope. And there is always hope.

Anonymous said...

Anne - How beautiful! Thank you for this gift - a perfect one for this Advent season.

Sometimes it is hard when we are in a time of trial and exile that - He will restore the years of the locust.

Love in Christ,

Anonymous said...

oops - should have hit preview - that last sentence should read: Sometimes it is hard when we are in a time of trial and exile to remember that He will restore the year of the locust.

Anonymous said...

I'm a baptist preacher who happened on your sermon while studying the same text. The message is beautiful and inspiring. May God bless you, your family, your ministry and your church.