“Searching for Zion”

Preached on Sunday July 27th by Rev. Chris Davies

Psalm 137

1 By the rivers of Babylon—
   there we sat down and there we wept
   when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows* there
   we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors
   asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
   ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’


4 How could we sing the Lord’s song
   in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
   let my right hand wither!
6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
   if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
   above my highest joy.


7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
   the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, ‘Tear it down! Tear it down!
   Down to its foundations!’
8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator!*
   Happy shall they be who pay you back
   what you have done to us!
9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones
   and dash them against the rock!

_______View_of_a_large_house,_white_picket_fence_in_foreground,_from_Robert_N._Dennis_collection_of_stereoscopic_views

Oh I remember Zion.  I remember the days where it felt right, I was cared for, we had everything we needed, and the children played gleefully in the neighborhood.  It was different back then, people were nicer.  We got together after work for cocktails with the neighbors while the kids took care of themselves out back.  We weren’t struggling then, like we are now; trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage on a fixed income and keep up with this house that just feels too big, now that the kids have moved out.  They never call anymore, either.  In my day, we called our parents.  I remember Zion.

I remember Zion.  Before we knew that he was sick.  We had no idea how good it was.  Sure things were a little tight, and I thought my worries were huge, but that was the life.  The disease didn’t hang over every moment of our lives, threatening to take it all in an instant… We weren’t strapped to a hospitals’ schedule and constantly waiting for the next test and result and treatment option.  We could go places and do things… we could lay together and laugh without the dark cloud.  It was before the Moment that Changed Everything.  Before.  I can’t believe we are here.  I remember Zion.

My, My… I remember Zion.  We should have never moved to this city.  Where we lived before, the house was just right, I knew where everything was, and I had friends.  People asked about how I was doing.  And they knew my family.  Here it’s just so lonely and cold.  I can walk down the street and no one says “hello.”  I have to start all over again.  I remember Zion.

I remember Zion.  My darling, my dear one, my sweet love… when she was here with me… we were perfect together.  We made a house and a home and she kept it up… I got home from work and she’d have dinner there, ready… she cared for me so deeply: I never had to worry about doing my own laundry or cleaning up the house, it was perfect.  Sure, there were fights… Sure, there were days where we didn’t speak…. but I didn’t know what I had.  And then she left me.  I remember Zion.

I remember Zion.  The willows above the river, swaying in the wind, the land that God calls ours and the Temple was so beautiful, so full.  Families came in from all over and dressed up and The Lord Our God was happy.  We never had to search for people to help, they just did.  And we lacked for nothing.  We sang hymns together, praising God with the lute and the harp and the lyre, and the children were filling the sanctuary with laughter and praise.  God, I remember Zion, and if I forget, cut my hand off!  That was the time. That was the place.  But now, we’ve been pushed out, the Temple is destroyed, and we are captors.  I remember Zion.

I remember Zion.  I remember Zion.  I remember Zion.

How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?  When all seems lost and so long ago, how can we sing Praise to God?  It seems like God is not here.  Some call out in pain and in anger.  The near-obsessive nostalgia for what the time that felt like Zion is behind us and we are in a different place.  We wonder if God is here in this strange land…

And yet…. the memory of what was for all of us holds us captive.  Anger spills from each wistful memory and from the psalmist.  Anger and hurt– Anger is the energy released after a great hurt.  Anger can come in flashes and can be destructive, leaving us wistful and wishing that we hadn’t said those things, wishing that we could take back the words or the actions that hurt and leaving us spent and slightly ashamed. 

The memory of what was can have us call out in anger and hurt some serious things to God: God why have you done this to me?  God I pray for Those People, They who hurt me, offend me, or are different from me, I pray for our delight in Their Demise.  God I hate this disease, I hate this situation, and maybe even quietly, shamefully, God I hate you.

Incidentally, though, God can take it.  God can take the anger that we call out in prayer, in the pews, screamed into the abyss of our loneliness and pain and dysphoria and hold it in compassion and abundant abundant grace.  God can receive the truly terrible things we might pray– like the ancient psalmist delighting in the death of his enemies’ children– and after we let it all out, after we are deflated and spent and everything’s been said–and then… at that moment,  if we are open to God’s grace… only then can God take all that energy released and change it into something better.  At that moment God takes the vision of Zion– the Zion that as hard as we try, we will never get back to– and allows the hope of what we can be, and who we can be, to shine through.

God who is with us in our pain and despair, who knows the hurt we feel and mourns the memories of what once was with us, God who loves us with no reservations, the Holy One who Holds our Past as sacred a story as we do, and still points gently to the Future of Hope and Possibility that lies before us, saying, “oh my dear Child.  Yes, that vision of Zion is gone, but look where we can go together.  Look how we grow.  Sweet one, together we make a new Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth, bigger and better than anything that has come before….” 

Our Creator, our Divine Love, reminds us that together, the hope for reconciliation and joy is so very present.  That though the Zion we remember is gone, we are a resurrection people.  From this cave of hurt and pain and death and darkness peeks a new light…

And a realization that we have not yet reached Zion.  The promised land is not here.  It is just out of reach.  The kingdom that God imagined for us has not yet happened.  It is just over the horizon!  It is ahead… and we must, we must, we MUST get there together.  To get there, we include all voices, we hold hands and look to the future, we hold each other in compassion and hope and justice and love.  We know from where we have come, we remember what we think the land of promise has been, but ahead is the potential for the beloved community with all of our precious uniqueness, supporting and loving and holding each other up.  For this, I will await with wonder all that is yet to be, and continuously say thanks for all that has come before. 

Amen.

God’s Grace Is Sow Reckless

Preached July 20th, 2014, by Rev. Chris S. Davies

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

unnamed

When I was a kid at Silver Lake Conference Center, the camp that many of our youth have spent or are spending weeks at over the summer, I remember hearing this verse a lot. Mostly because it’s an easy one to act out and make cardboard representations of seeds and weeds and scrounge up a ratty robe for the kid designated to play Jesus to stand on a box and haltingly speak the Pa.. rable– Parable–Parable. And the younger kids tend to understand the scripture danced across the stage with enacted birds making mean faces and snatching up seeds…

And partially because it’s one of the easier parables that Jesus speaks, because not only does he tell it, but he also interprets it for us in a way that we then can feel a little clearer about one of the things it might mean. Or perhaps it was a reoccurring scripture for conferences at camp because it’s still so relevant for people today!

Summer seems an apt time to think about the parable of the sower and the seeds: thoughts of growing things and gardening and weeding and such are prominent… especially when so many of us are out and on out knees in the dirt wondering “wait, is this a weed?” or dutifully pulling from around the plants to let their beauty shine forth. Hardly a day goes by around here where I don’t see a dedicated team of people working to make Wapping Church’s gardens fertile soil! Their efforts and work speak a lot about the soil we have outside. But like a parable, the state of the soil we have outside is really not what we are here to think about. We’re here to think about the soil we have right here in this sanctuary.

What kind of soil are you? Christ’s parable invites us to look internally and wonder: where does the word of God speak to me, and how? I imagine that there are times that each of us has been any different kind of soil. I know that I have. Jesus speaks of four different “seeds” and then interprets what each of them mean for us.

1.) Seeds that fall on the path, and then are eaten by the birds. He’s interpreted it to mean when the message of God’s love and grace falls upon the ears of one who is not able to hear it.

2.) Seeds that fall on rocky ground, spring to life, and then die in the sun’s heat speak of those of us who hear the word of God, get really excited and into it for a time, but then quickly burn out and fall away at the mention of trouble or conflict.

3.) Seeds among the thorns that are choked out are those of us who are quickly distracted by the world around: our things, our cars, our houses, our busy, busy, busy lives… and the countless, “oh…. I meant to….”s.

4.) Seeds that fall on fertile soil and produce fruit is where the message sticks home. It’s interesting to me that we still get it in different ways, though– some a hundredfold, in another case sixty, and in another thirty.

Even thinking through each of these different places upon which the seeds are scattered, I can identify times in my life where I’ve been in all of those places. There are times where I want to wallow in how I’ve fallen short… those moments I’m on the path, and birds are swooping overhead. Or when I get super excited about a certain project or aspect of ministry or cause and carry the momentum for a bit, but then… it gets hard. I burn up or out. Or when I put aside something I know I have to do, or place I have to go, because I’m focused on something else; completely distracted…. missing opportunities for God. And finally, in the moments where I’m present, ready, and keeping my own spirit open for what may come…. those are the moments when God’s message of Love and Grace can overwhelm me in beauty.

So what kind of soil are you, today, now? What cultivation are you doing for the soil of your spirit to be open? The parable invites the questioning… the internal reflection.

However, the parable also invites us to think about the kind of God throwing the seeds. There is a reckless abandon with how the seeds of grace and love are thrown. Regardless of where they will land, they are abundantly tossed into the world, some may even argue that the resources are being wasted in the wind, but off they are thrown!

The kind of God that throws these seeds is the kind of God that continuously is there to remind us of the grace and love of the message, regardless of the soil upon which it will land. Oh, you’re having an overwhelming day, and you’re distracted by everything? God speaks words of comfort and grace to you. Oh, you are fixated on your things, your moving up in the world, your next vacation? God speaks words of comfort and grace to you. Oh, you’re totally involved and invested and all about God for this moment and the next, but when hard times hit, you’re removing your faith, your presence, your support for others? God still speaks words of comfort and grace to you. And in the moments where you are ON, and ready, and open and full of love and listening, God is there too, speaking words of comfort and grace to you. Because God’s love is SOW reckless (see what I did there?) God sows seeds of love and grace abundantly on soil that it won’t just won’t take, but there they are, anyway.

The resources that God has, God abundantly gives away. God’s not held back by who’s going to receive it and where it will go from there: God pays attention, but still offers the seeds to those soils willing and waiting, and even those wilted and wanting.

It swings back around to camp. Because those people in leadership positions never know when the words they say, the seeds they scatter in God’s name, will stick. They never know when or where the well timed question, “hey have you ever thought about being a minister for a living?!?” might produce a quirky, energetic, enthusiastic preacher .just. like the one standing before you now. Maybe the same kind of preacher who once held up a cardboard seed and moved across the stage in front of the chaos of camp, while the evening worship story drew to a close and the whole camp shuffled up their little papers to sing about the seeds they were sowing and the soil they are in the world… all receiving the grace of God who knows no bounds, for whom rocks and weeds and birds and all they metaphorically represent are nothing in comparison to the reckless love poured fourth.

(Thanks to Pulpit Fiction Podcast for the seeds to get goin’ on the sermon!)