Sunday, May 01, 2005

Pitching Tents!

Easter 6 A

Prayer: from Psalm 66:5-20

God, when we look at the wonders of Your creation and Your faithfulness in the world and in our lives, it takes our breath away! You transformed the raging sea into dry land and travelers crossed the river on foot, making every reason on earth and in the heavens for songs of festival celebration!

You set us on the road to life as You led us through Your refining fires; You pushed us to our limits, road-testing us inside and out; because of Your promises, We knew You were with us even when we didn’t feel Your presence.

God, with all our hearts we bless You; You never turn a deaf ear, but You always hear us and stay with us, loyal in love for us and for all of this world; we pray Your Spirit will fill our lives so we may become loyal in our love for You and all Your beloved creation!

In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Pitching Tents!!!

May the grace, the mercy and the peace of our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer God be with us all!

Seeking God and searching for holiness seem to be basic to our human nature! A couple thousand years ago, Paul of Tarsus, the follower of Jesus we know as a traveling preacher and teacher and as the author of some letters to the early church that made it into the Bible, stood in the town square and told his listeners they no longer needed to look for the Divine Presence they’d been striving to know, because the God of life, the God of all creation already had revealed Himself to the world. As recorded in the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles, here is part of Paul’s discourse in the plaza:
Acts 17:22-29

22 So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to me you Athenians take your religion seriously. 23 When I arrived here the other day, the shrines I came across fascinated me. And then I found one inscribed, TO THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it, this Lord of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines 25 or need humans to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. This God still gives life and breath to all creation. 26 Starting from scratch, he made all the people and made a hospitable earth for them, marking the seasons and bounding the spaces for living, 27 so we could seek after God, and actually find him. God is not remote but near! 28 We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We are God’s offspring, created by God.’ 29 Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire someone to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?”
Humans naturally seek to know God; in our quests for Divinity, we humans also tend to imagine a distant God, far away from earth and far outside of everyday human experience. But as Paul explained to his audience, we do not need to try to find God, because God already has come to us and found us first! Throughout the ages, the church has proclaimed God coming into this world and revealing Himself most definitively in Jesus of Nazareth. In the human Jesus, we meet a God not far away from earth and way outside of familiar experience, but we meet a God Who lived on this earth as one of us and even died a human death. In Jesus Christ’s birth and life, in Jesus’ death on the cross and God’s raising him to new life on Easter Dawn, God not only has sought us out but has done everything necessary for us to live forever reunited with Him, our Creator.

Although Christians affirm Jesus of Nazareth is the most accurate representation of God ever found anywhere, God always has desired for creation to receive a truthful picture of Himself.

Throughout the earlier witness of the Bible, God partially revealed himself in ways humans could see, touch, hear and feel—sometimes apparent in a cloud, or in the midst of fire, in dreams or in audible speech. Although none of these images completely revealed God’s nature, they did give people an idea of a God close to creation rather than far-away and distant. Many of you probably know the biblical narrative of the people’s journey through the desert of the Exodus, as they left oppressive slavery in Egypt and then spent a very long time getting to the Land of Freedom God promised to them. During those years, just as always, God’s passion was to be with the people of His creation.

The wilderness desert is not a place we typically find solidly-built houses or permanent habitations, but in that kind of setting tents are very functional: the type of light-weight shelter a person can fold up, pick up and carry along with them to the next place works best. That’s exactly the kind of arrangement the people who left Egypt had, and there in the desert, God shared their nomadic, wandering lifestyle, going before them and sojourning alongside them, frequently giving them visible, tangible or audible evidence of His Divine Presence with them—evidence such as fire, a cloud, bread from heaven or water from a rock. The Hebrew texts talk about God making Shekinah with the people, and that word, “Shekinah,” comes from a root meaning dwelling, so with the people and actually within the people, God found a home!

As recorded in the Old Covenant scriptures in the book of 2 Samuel 7, through Nathan the prophet, God counseled King David:
5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling.’”
In the passage we read earlier, Paul told the Areopagites we no longer need to seek God, but God seeks us out and actively reveals himself to us. uite a few years later than the Exodus, God was born into human history in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, as someone people could relate to as they talked, ate, socialized, walked, prayed and worshiped together. To describe God’s fluid, responsive and continually changing presence among the people in His incarnation, God’s enfleshment in Jesus Christ, the gospel writers tell us God “pitches a tent” among the people, in order to be with and to move alongside the people wherever they go!

After the resurrection, when Jesus was preparing to leave this earth, he gave some essential instructions to his followers; John the gospel-writer recorded Jesus’ words:
John 14:15-21

15 “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. 16 I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another encourager so you will always have someone with you. 17 This counselor and advocate is the Holy Spirit of Truth. The rest of the world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and even will be in you!

18 “I will not leave you desolate and abandoned; I will return to you. 19 In just a little while the world no longer will see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive in me. 20 At that moment you will know I am in my Father-God, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.

21 “The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And God my Father will love the person who loves me, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.”
In this portion of John’s gospel, the word Jesus uses for love is agape; agape-love is the kind of love with which God loves us!! Agape is God’s all-embracing, unconditional love, and Jesus says we can love with God’s love when we follow his words and the example of his life. To make this kind of love and living a reality, Jesus promises to send a Holy Presence—an advocate, counselor and encourager; Jesus promises the companionship of the Holy Spirit of God living with us. Jesus assures us when we love with God’s impartial love—always acting in the best interest of others—the Holy Spirit of God and Christ Jesus will be alive in the world.

Throughout all of history, God has been with creation, constantly pitching a tent and making a dwelling-place within the people, showing the world evidence of His embracing presence. God has created each of us and the community of the church in a multifaceted image of the Divine, and one of these in-God-created images is for us to live as the presence of God in the world now, in this year 2005, as we trust the Holy Spirit of God within our community and in each of our lives enough to be people who “pitch their tents” for a time and then move on to the next situation of need, exactly like God did during the Exodus and the way Jesus of Nazareth did during the years he lived on this earth.

God wants us to be tent-making, tent-toting, tent-pitching people, day in and day out, and Jesus promises to those of us who live with God’s agape love the Holy Spirit making a home with us and living within us so we can be the embracing presence and visible evidence of God’s still making tent-pitching Shekinah at home with the world and in the world; God has come to dwell with us to make us people of God; now let us go out into the world to be God’s presence in the world; let us pitch our tents wherever the world has need!

To God alone be Glory!
Amen!!!

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