Saturday, April 11, 2009

The sermon I'll be preaching in three hours

As you know, we’ve recently been through a big move.
Most of the things from the church continue to be in storage,
as you would know if you were here on Good Friday
as we cast about for something black to wear—
all in storage—
come back next year and we’ll be wearing the right colors on the right days. And most of our household items are in storage,
which has been wonderful on the toy front,
and irritating when we remember that we have a jolly good blender
and the one I can find is not that one.
This has led me to complaining and sorrow.
I keep looking backward.
I’ve especially been thinking about the sunlight in our old house,
how it would flood in through the living room windows,
so bright and warm.
As I wrestle with my errant cat who isn’t using his kitty box as he should, and trying to tie up the curtains in my new living room to get some light, my mind’s eye casts back to the sun in that room,
and I find grief over take me like a wave.
So all week long,
beginning with my own husband saying wisely to me on Monday,
‘you must learn to be satisfied with this house,
you must exert yourself to be satisfied’,
and then on Wednesday as we read about the exile from Jerusalem, everybody having to go,
having to leave everything and go somewhere they didn’t choose to go,
but God provided for them,
and brought them back,
and gave them everything they needed,
to Thursday as we sang together Psalm 78
which hit me fairly like a spiritual brick of conviction.
17 But they went on sinning against him, *
rebelling in the desert against the Most High.
18 They tested God in their hearts, *
demanding food for their craving.
19 They railed against God and said, *
"Can God set a table in the wilderness?
20 True, he struck the rock, the waters gushed out, and the gullies overflowed; *
but is he able to give bread or to provide meat for his people?"
23 So he commanded the clouds above *
and opened the doors of heaven.
24 He rained down manna upon them to eat *
and gave them grain from heaven.
25 So mortals ate the bread of angels; *
he provided for them food enough.
They kept looking back.
They’d left slavery, for heaven’s sake,
and in the most miraculous and amazing way
God led them out in front of their enemies.
They pillaged their enemies.
All the people of Egypt gave them their gold and silver
as they ran away.
Their sandals and clothes didn’t wear out
the whole time they journeyed through the wilderness.
But still, they were in the wilderness,
they weren’t yet in the promised land,
and it was there that they sinned against God,
they were rebellious and ungrateful.
And so most all of them died.
The problem with the Exodus,
and with the whole Old Testament in general,
is that the people that God pushed through the red sea
and through the desert
and into the promised land,
whether they wanted to go there or not,
is that they had heard of the promise of God,
they knew something Good was coming,
but they never saw it.
Their hearts were still,
for the most part,
stone cold.
They saw God’s work with their eyes
but they did not perceive it,
they did not understand it.
They heard it with their ears but not with their hearts.
Those that hoped in the promise to come,
who sought after God with their hearts and minds
were few and far between.
They had real vision,
they saw into the future in hope
and knew that God was going to do something.
I always like to think I’d be that one person
with amazing foresight and faith,
like Hannah, or Esther,
or probably Isaiah’s mother.
But I discovered in the simple process of moving
from one end of Conklin Ave to the other,
that I’m really like the Israelites in the Wilderness—
not Moses and Caleb and Joshua—
all the other ones who don’t get their names mentioned
because they died before they reached the promised land.
Nearsighted vision,
short short memory,
low grade hearing,
dismal faith.
But all the time God was preparing for me,
for all of us deaf, blind, hardhearted, dead hearted complainers.
Turn, if you like, to Ezekiel 36, beginning in verse 24.
I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries
and bring you into your own land.
All you with dusty feet and weary hearts,
wearied by the changes and chances of this life,
by the messiness of life that doesn’t order itself perfectly,
where problems are constantly rearing their irritating heads,
and there is either too much stuff or not enough.
God himself will take you, me,
from where ever we are,
he will gather us all up
and bring us into his own land.
He will sprinkle clean water on us.
We shall finally be clean from ungratefulness,
from looking backward,
from idols,
from clinging to things that don’t matter.
He will cleanse us and we shall be clean.
And he will give us a new heart.
The stone of a heart that we each have,
he will take from us and give us a soft heart,
a heart that can feel and see and hear
and understand who God is,
a heart that can be merciful and gracious,
even as God is gracious and merciful.
And he will cause you, me,
us to obey his rules,
to walk in his way.
He will cause us,
he will give us the great gift of gratitude
and contentment,
and forgiveness.
And in this new place,
this new life,
this clean new heart,
then we will dwell in the land
that God has prepared for us.
We will be his people,
and he will be our God.
I’m talking like this is all going to happen in the future.
Like we are still waiting around with Ezekiel, and Abraham and Moses, knowing what God is going to do,
waiting for him to do it.
Maybe some of you here tonight are still waiting for God to do something—knowing that he can,
but not being able to see and hear with your heart and mind
where he is
and what he is doing.
Its dark here tonight,
as we count away the minutes to the first day of the week.
That moment when the dawn rises
as the dark is giving way to light,
and the women,
stumbling forward in a wilderness of grief and exhaustion
from seeing their Lord die,
thinking that the hope for which they had hoped,
the promise they thought had come,
the messiah who was supposed to do for them
what was promised over and over again for thousands of years,
promised but never seen,
the women come to the tomb,
to the place of the dead.
And find that the waiting is over.
The waiting is over.
God did what he promised he was going to do.
He accomplished the salvation of all who believe and trust in him.
He came to do for us what we could not do ourselves—
to give us a heart that can feel,
eyes that can see,
ears that can hear,
and a place to dwell,
and place where all things come together,
a place where we are gathered together in beauty and peace.
Go ahead, look around.
That place is here.
That place is Jesus himself.
He is the place,
the hope,
the promise,
And as long as we dwell in him,
as long as we keep our eyes fixed on him,
as long as we walk in his way
and are his people
and he is our God,
we are very well indeed.
We dwell even now in the land that was promised.
as we go out from here into the dark,
into a town asleep to this Great Thing that has happened,
and stumble into our dark houses,
and back into the mess of life,
we might be confused into thinking that we are still waiting,
that maybe it was all a dream,
or that maybe it happened so long ago it doesn’t matter any more.
But our real heart of flesh puts those ridiculous thoughts to rest.
The Holy Spirit breathing and living in us will not let us remain blind
to the truth that Jesus died,
that he Rose again,
that he is even now alive,
living with us,
dwelling with us,
making us to be his people.


Anonymous said...

It's a beautiful sermon. Twenty-seven years ago tomorrow, I said yes to Jesus. He's been softening my heart stony bit by stony bit ever since. May He bless you and your precious family deeply this Easter.

The Kampers said...

Thank you...your words are encouraging my heart this morning to remember that God doesn't bring us someplace to let us die, but he will sustain. Thanks.

R said...


Joyce Carlson said...

Thank you.

At A Hen's Pace said...


Did you see the poem I posted on Friday, C. Rossetti's "Good Friday"?
A similar theme.

Oh, and I have Vigil pics up now!



Geri said...

Thank you. I am probably so far behind that you won't see this. Just know that you touched my heart and made me more aware of just how much He loves me. Thanks again.