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Walk in Community

Sermon - 4/23/06
Eliza Drummond
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Psalm 133

Well, here we are. Before I begin my talk, I wanted to let you know that although I come before you with an open heart, my mind is not quite so sure. And although I consider that I am among friends, again, my mind wonders. Which is the reason for the odd phenomenon that you may be witnessing as my neck and face get all blotchy. When I start sweating out the top of my head, I will let you know. Just kidding…but since it might look kind of scary, I thought I would assure you that I am feeling no pain. And hopefully by the time I have done this a few dozen more times, the rash will stop appearing.

Our reading from the Hebrew Bible for today is Psalm 133, which is page 501 in your pew Bible. I am going to read it twice, in a modified form of Lectio Divina, or "divine reading." I will read through it once at normal speed, and then again slower. I invite you to savor the words, dwell on them as much as you can and hold close to your heart any phrase that speaks to you. We won't have time to share our thoughts together, but you might want to do so when you get home.  I just thought that I would introduce this method of scripture reading to those of you who are unfamiliar with it:

1How very good and pleasant it is
   when kindred live together in unity!
2It is like the precious oil on the head,
   running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
   running down over the collar of his robes.
3It is like the dew of Hermon,
   which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
   life for evermore.

 

1How very good and pleasant it is

   when kindred live together in unity!

2It is like the precious oil on the head,

   running down upon the beard,

on the beard of Aaron,

   running down over the collar of his robes.

3It is like the dew of Hermon,

   which falls on the mountains of Zion.

For there the Lord ordained his blessing,

   life for evermore.


Before I continue, I thought I would let you know that I am an internet junkie. I often use the internet to do research. And the coolest thing happened when I was looking for commentary on this psalm. I found an online version of a book I have called World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts. In it are texts from many different religions on different subjects, like unity and community. And there in the book was this Psalm. Along with lots of other scriptures. So, I'll bet some of you like puzzles? Well, I printed some of the texts out and I made a matching puzzle, and have them here today. The game is to match the scripture with the source. There is a key at the bottom for after you take your best guesses. You can do it while I am talking or you can do it later, or not at all. I just thought it would be fun to compare how other religions express this concept of unity.

So back to the psalm. The psalms are up there on my list of loved things, along with the internet. In the psalms the Hebrew people poured out their joys, their love, their angst and their struggle. Everything is in there, every emotion. This psalm is so descriptive and joyous. Cant you just feel the sweet oil running down your face as it warms in the afternoon sun? Sense the abundance of it. Not merely enough to dampen Aaron's beard, but to run over his collar as well. Or trace the dew of Mt Hermon as it runs down the edge of a leaf so desperately in need of moisture.

This psalm is an ascension psalm, a term that refers to Psalms 120 through 134. These were songs that were most likely sung in pilgrimage to Jerusalem, or on the way back, a joyous time to be sure, especially if you were in fellowship with other believers.

But in the early Christian community, how did you know if someone was a believer. Certainly even the twelve seemed to have issues with believing all that was happening before them after Christ was crucified. It doesn't seem to me that they expressed unity all the time either. Although they spoke of believing, they often had their doubts. Matthew writes in chapter 28, verse 17: When they saw Him, they worshiped him, but some of them had their doubts. Mark writes in Chapter 16, verses 11 through 13: And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe. 12 After that, He appeared n another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. 13 And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either. Finally John writes in Chapter 20 verses 24 through 31 of perhaps the most famous doubter. A man close to my heart, the kind of Christian I relate to…Thomas. You see Thomas wasn't able to act on faith alone, to just believe because someone said that he should. He had doubts, but he was willing to admit it. When I grew up in the church, Thomas was held up as the kind of Christian we didn't like. The one who asked questions. The one who needed straight answers. The one who demanded visual proof. The one who messed up our whole community thing by not being willing to just believe. But I think the story of Thomas is in the Bible for a great reason. It's there as an example for those of us who can't always just have faith. Even though Thomas asked too many questions, Jesus never shunned him. He was patient with Thomas. Answered his questions, showed him the way. So it's not surprising that when the others claimed that they had seen the Lord, and Thomas refused to believe it without seeing it, Jesus returned to show him. And Jesus came to Thomas, and Thomas put his hands in Jesus' wounds, and saw for himself. I imagine Thomas falling to his knees in belief as he uttered the words that some of his fellow disciples were too afraid to say, even though they said they believed. "My Lord and my God." I like Thomas.

I like Thomas and I am sometimes worried that there isn't a place for the Thomas' in some Christian communities. But I think that there is a place for them here, so if you are one, welcome. You're in good company.

What other kinds of Christians are there in this community of ours. Well, there are some like the ones that Donald Miller writes about in his book Blue Like Jazz-which our high school students are reading-folks who aren't quite sure about this whole thing. Some of you, some of us, have been brought up our whole lives in the church, but sometimes we doubt. Not a Thomas kind of doubt, but a nagging kind. And through our doubt we continue to do our familiar routines-we pray, we worship, we tithe, hoping that soon the feelings of doubt will go away. Mother Theresa felt like this at certain points in her life. She went through long periods of darkness, where she felt that God had left her, but she never gave up. She continued her ministry all the while praying that her faith would return, which eventually it did.

And some of us may be new to Christianity…we like the rituals, and the songs, but we aren't quite sure about the rest. We want to believe, but there are too many doubts getting in the way. But we are still here, hoping that at some point it will all make sense.

I call those of us who are struggling with this kind of doubt, Fake it till you make it Christians… FITYMI Christians are prone to EVENTUALLY waking up in the middle of the night and proclaiming, Well, I do believe…I DO BELIEVE. Now, don't be worried if you think you are one of these, because there is a place for you here too.

On our trip to Mexico recently I met a group of FITYMI Christians, and I would like to tell you their story. Now they aren't the teens with whom I traveled. And although I would love to spend the rest of the time just talking about what I saw transpire for them, you are all going to hear their personal stories in their own words later at the taco lunch, which is much better than me telling them. But I will say that I am so very honored to have traveled with them, and so impressed at how willing they were to share of themselves, and be open to the adventure, and be in community with each other and all the folks we traveled with. They were awesome ambassadors and made a huge impact on the lives of four families and the kids at the orphanage. And they built some amazing houses.

The kids I am talking about are the nineteen children and young adults at the orphanage where I spent most of my mornings. Picture if you will a big table and a little table, with the simple meal already served and ready as nineteen kids said the Lord's prayer in Spanish and finished with a poem about God's love for them. The youngest of them were three. Do you think they understood the truth of what they were reciting? They were just probably struggling to remember the words, as I even do when I say it in English. But they prayed as earnestly as they could, three times a day, seated among their brothers and sisters. And I could see that soon they would become like the older kids, who understood that Christ partnered with them. They were living in true community. They ate what was given to them, they slept two to a bed, the boys in one room the girls in another. They wore hand me downs of hand me downs-things that an American would see as indications of poverty, and yet they were not poor in spirit. Every time I heard them say the "Lord's Prayer" and sing the poem, I saw true riches, the riches that come from community. They were learning the way from each other, the younger ones "faking it" until they truly believed and understood the possibilities of living a Christ filled life. What amazing teachers. I fell in love with every single one of them.

So, if you are a fake it till you make it Christian, don't worry, it will come in time, and meanwhile…welcome, you are in good company. And if you are struggling, tuck yourself up next to someone strong and hang with them for a while. Let their faith lead the way for you.

Which brings me to the last kind of Christians I want to talk about, The kind we all are. Whether we are a Thomas or …FITYMI, We are Christians on a journey. Sometimes the journey is hard, and we feel like giving up, and sometimes it is a piece of cake, but no matter what's along the way, it's best to have a partner. So I would like to finish with a story….a hopefully fitting metaphor for the journey that I am on with my Lord and my God…and one that involves my husband, Ted. This part of my talk is entitled "Size thirteens."

Ted and I have been running together. Originally Ted ran with someone at school, and I ran with a group on Mondays and by myself the rest of the time. But then Ted's running partner at school had to stop, so Ted asked me if I would run with him instead. The difficulty I foresaw in this arrangement is that Ted runs a respectable eight minute mile. I run a blistering-ly slow nine and a half minute mile. My worry was that I would be too slow for Ted, and that I would have to over exert myself to stay with him, or that he would get frustrated that I wasn't going fast enough and take off without me. But I said I would try it, and he said he would stay with me, so off we went.

The first couple of days were hard, as I realized just how much faster than me Ted really runs. Eight minute miles are a LOT faster than nine and a half minute ones. I got anxious sometimes and told Ted to go ahead without me thinking it would be easier to just have him run his own pace. But he stayed right with me, measuring his pace so that I could keep up. And after a while, I started to notice a pattern: When I am feeling strong, Ted speeds up to match my speed. Sometimes I am so excited that I am improving that I run ahead, and after a while, Ted catches up. Sometimes we run together, matching each other's stride with imperceptible shifts in our pace. And sometimes I am so tired that I have to tuck myself in behind him and draft off his strength. In these moments, when I am merely putting one foot in front of the other, I just try hard not to lose sight of those size 13s going down the trail in front of me. And I pray to myself as I run that it will get easier, which it eventually does. And sometimes now that Ted knows I am okay, he needs to run ahead of me, to go really fast for a while, to test himself, but he is always there where the trail ends or he is walking back along it to meet me.

What I started with trepidation, I now look forward to. Sure it's hard, but it's getting easier, and I have a good partner.

When I think of this story, I think of our community here. We are all on a journey, but do we all have to start at the same pace? Do we all have to believe the same thing, the same way? Well, the essentials are good: like how far are we going today? Where will we meet if we lose sight of each other along the way?

Can we share the responsibility of leading and bringing up the rear? You bet. Bringing up the rear is almost as important as leading. And is there room for all of us, and enough of us at different places on the journey to make sure that we all have a partner along the way? Whose partner will you be? Will you let someone make it easier for you by walking in community? And sometimes, will you let someone draft off of your size thirteens?

May we all share the many blessings of God: The sweet oil, the morning dew.
May we all walk our journey in abundant, loving, diverse, caring, community.

 


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