Wednesday, September 02, 2009

home (psalm 84)

We can begin in acknowledging that this is a beautiful song, Psalm 84. I cannot read it without hearing our Chancel Choir singing it, and especially at memorial services.”How lovely is they dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!”

Psalm 84 was sung by God’s people as they made their way to Jerusalem, more specifically, to the Temple. For a Jew, the Temple was and is the dwelling place of God. A few weeks ago we looked at Psalm 137, a song of exile, in which the writer asks, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” In that Psalm we hear the voice of one who is far from home, who is separated from God, who is disoriented.

In Psalm 84, just the opposite. The pilgrim is reoriented toward Jerusalem, toward God, toward the heart’s true home. It is a place of safety and sanctuary and it is a place of beauty. This is echoed in Psalm 27.

One thing I asked of the Lord
that will I seek after
to live in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life
to behold the beauty of the Lord
And to inquire in his temple.

Providence UMC blessed by the beauty of the music that is offered to God in worship each Sunday. Our choir is on retreat at BonClarcken at the end of August, their annual time at the end of the summer to work on the music for the next few months, even extending to the service of Lesson and Carols at Christmas. Last year I sat in the back of the rehearsal hall an listened to them sing “O Magnum Mysterium”, O Great Mystery, and I realized that few choirs that I am aware of could sing like this, and then, at a deeper level I thought how beautiful this is, and then, how beautiful God is.

“To behold the beauty of the Lord, to inquire in his temple.” For a few years I was organizing pastor of a new church in Greensboro. In the first years we worshipped in a school, a community college, while we purchased land and developed our community and outreach. To be more particular, we worshipped in the student activities center. The President was a good friend and he made the space available to us at a great price – it was free!

On Sunday mornings we would get there early to set things up, to rearrange the furniture, to put up our banners. I also remember that there were several signs which read “No smoking or playing cards!” Often I would put a sign over these words, to say something like “welcome”, and then I would come back later and one of our members, someone with a sly sense of humor, would have changed it back to “no smoking or playing cards”. It would be as if Paul Bumgarner or Brett Logan said that to you when you come in today!

It was a student activities center, and it served our needs. We were grateful but also to be honest, it was not beautiful! Well we decided to commission the design and sculpting of a large cross for our worship space. One of our members, David, was asked to guide them, and he did. David was a graphic artist, and his company had worked with the Eastern Music Festival and Duke University. He had not been especially involved in church for a time, but our new community reached out to him, and he responded.

David was an artist, and he kept his creative work on the cross very much to himself. The Sunday came when we were to consecrate the cross in the service. He carried the cross in during the offering. It was a large beautiful Celtic cross and he carried it the way a person would in holding a sacrificial animal. It was his sacrifice, and it was a work of beauty.

We enter into the temple aware that it is the dwelling place of God. And if you believe this, it is a compelling experience. My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord, my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

If Psalm 137 is a Psalm about being in the wrong place – by the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept where we remembered Zion – Psalm 84 is about the desire to make the journey home.

Most of us know what that is like – most of us can identify home, in some way, and we have a strong desire to return there. I was thinking about a day in the late winter. It was Friday afternoon, I had been to Washington, SC for a 24 hour church meeting. I was in the airport at about 4:00 Friday afternoon. I noticed a member of ours and we talked. I also ran into one of my seminary professors, who was also there. But even the presence of these familiar faces did not change the basic reality. No one wants to be in an airport on Friday afternoon or evening!
I wanted to be home.

The pilgrims who composed Psalm 84 yearned and ached to be home, in the presence of God. The remainder of the Psalm is a description of God’s dwelling place, the Temple, and what it means. The birds of the air find a place to build a nest – there it is a place of sanctuary and safety. The musicians and those who lead worship are there – it is a place of praise and thanksgiving.

It is home. The late commissioner of baseball, Bartlett Giamatti, who was also formerly the President of Yale, was once asked why baseball has such a widespread appeal – “Baseball,” he said, “is about home and we all want to get home.”

The desire to be home motivates the pilgrims “who set their hearts on pilgrimage.” They pass through the valley of Baca – the desert, and make it place of springs. The rabbis and the scholars disagree on the meaning of this verse. The springs may refer to the blessings of water, to the good that is done by God’s people in difficult times. Or the springs may be translated as tears – or the way home, or the way to God. We also confront our struggles and our griefs. Along the way they, we go, “from strength to strength” – we are transformed; in the presence of God’s people, in the community of those who love us we discover resources that we did not know – hope, assurance, comfort, clarity, compassion.

The 84th Psalm is filled with images: the nest (3) what parent does not think at some point along the way of the “empty nest”? ; the Lord as our shield, the one who protects us. The psalmist’s desire to be a doorkeeper (10), which was probably not an office, but a reference to continually seeking God, knowledge or the door, entering the Temple. The Lord is a sun (11), a lamp to our feet, a light to our path.

And so, in the Psalm we have a rich reflection or what it means to be seeker, a pilgrim. Every one of us today is a pilgrim in some way.

We come to this sanctuary because of the beauty of worship; we come because we have drawn strength from something that has happened here and we need that strength again. We come to be a blessing and we come to shed tears. We come seeking protection in a dangerous world. Or light in a confusing world. We are here to behold the beauty . . .to inquire in his temple.

Maybe we come for practical reasons, or personal reasons; it is our habit, it is a struggle but we drag ourselves here. During it all, I am convinced we come for a theological reason – God is here, and finally it is about coming to know and be known by God. In this life and in the life to come, this is what compels us to move forward. We used to sing the gospel hymn “Come home, come home, you who are weary, come home.” And Augustine’s words expressed the same truth, “You have made us for yourself, O God and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

It is about home, and we are all trying to get home.


Blogger Nanci Coia said...

Ken, I am with you on "getting home"! You've illustrated life's desire in so many different ways and it's all true. After a long, hard day at work - it's MY HOME. After a tumultuous week - the desire is the CHURCH HOME. After a long fulfilling life (hopefully) - it's GOD'S home. The desire for tranquility and eternal peace brings mind the journey HOME! The visual I remember most times when I'm strugglin is Dorothy clicking her heels three times and saying "there's no place like home". I'm all about it!

1:08 AM  

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