Monday, July 1, 2013

Pilgrimage: Waking Up Far from Home

At this posting, I just got back from a two week working vacation to my home town of Live Oak CA, to spend time with family and some old friends and to do some work for my mom. I Got back to Washtucna with barely any time to prepare a new sermon so I re-worked a sermon from 2008. We had some missionaries speaking at the Washtucna Community Church so I preached this message at the United Methodist Church (my other congregation),  in Kahlotus WA on Sunday June 30, 2013.

Photos Taken June 2013 Traveling South
Through Eastern Washington and Oregon
Scripture readings: Colossians 3:1-17; Psalm 120

My Polish ancestors came to America around the turn of the twentieth century. They came here from the part of Poland that was occupied by the Russian Empire, in the days when the czars, the emperors of the Russians, ruled.

Poland had once been a large, strong, prosperous country; with great historical traditions and achievements. But it had been conspired against, and picked apart, and divided, and occupied by its neighbors.

The Russians decided to suppress the Polish language and culture, and make Russians out of the Polish people. Things got more and more strict and threatening. There were spies everywhere, and there were arrests, and deportations to Siberia.

One day, one of my especially adventurous Polish ancestors had enough. He woke up one morning to do something bold and decisive.

It was the czar’s birthday. There would be a parade in his honor. Soldiers would carry banners with the portraits of the czar and his family through the streets of every town.

What could my ancestor do about this? My ancestor had eggs. Yes, he had rotten eggs. And, he threw an egg at the portrait of the czar, and hit it right on.

At that point, he had the choice of two journeys. He could wait till he was caught and arrested, and make a long journey east to the prisons of Siberia, or he could make a long journey in the opposite direction; a journey west, to America.

I would not exist today, if he had not had America on his mind. Once he came here, others followed. And here I am.

Paul, and the writer of the psalm, both had a journey on their minds. It wasn’t a journey you could measure in miles. It was a journey measured by a state of mind. It was a journey of the soul.

It was, for Paul, a journey, not only between earth and heaven, but between earthly things and heavenly things. Among the earthly things to leave behind, Paul mentions lies and anger. The goal of Paul’s journey was peace; the peace of Christ (Colossians 3:15).

The writer of the psalm suddenly wakes up and realizes that he is caught in a land of lies and conflict, when what he really wants is peace. He is “a man of peace”, as we read it in English. But the Hebrew interestingly says, “I am peace.” (Psalm 120:7) It is as if he feels himself to be almost completely alien from the people around him. “I am peace, but when I speak, they are for war.”

The psalm doesn’t tell us that he is going on a journey, but his psalm became a journey psalm. It became traveling music, because it became one of the “Songs of Ascents”. It is the first of a set of fifteen psalms, arranged in a row, that were sung on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

“A Song of Ascents” means a song for “ascending”. It is a song for going up. If you start on a journey from almost anywhere in the Holy Land, with Jerusalem as your destination, you will have to ascend and go up, because Jerusalem is up in the highlands of Judah.

There would be a great reason for going up to Jerusalem. The great things that the Lord had done for the people of Israel were celebrated there in the Temple. The old stories were told and retold on the great holy days; with music, and singing, and feasting.

The great things God had done were saving things. The stories that were told in Jerusalem during Passover, and Pentecost, and Tabernacles, were about the Lord saving them from slavery in Egypt. They were about the escape from slavery, and the long, hard journey to freedom in the Promised Land.

The reason for the success of their journey was not because God’s people were bigger than others, or stronger than others. Their journey to freedom was a success because their God was big. The Lord answered the little and the weak in their cry for help.

They were not successful because they were more righteous than others, or smarter, or wiser, or cleverer; because they weren’t. They were successful because the Lord was wise. The Lord knew what was good for them.

They were not successful because they were richer than others; because they had nothing but what they could carry on their backs, or put on the back of a donkey. They were successful because the Lord was abundant. The Lord provided what they needed.

Most of all they were successful because they had help. They had God’s help. They had God’s grace; God’s gracious, patient, unconditional love. God’s help brought them safely out of a world of slavery into a world of freedom and peace; if only they would remain faithful to God.

The writer of the psalm woke up to find himself living in a strange world full of people who didn’t believe in grace. He saw that his own people did not live together in grace and peace.

Lies and fighting came far too easily in his world, because people believed in themselves more than they believed in grace. Their lives were all about themselves; so, in their hearts and in their relationships, they were people of war instead of people of peace.

The lands of Meshech and Kedar were not the real home of the writer of the psalm. If you lived in Meshech and Kedar you would have to live in two completely different places at the same time, because Meshech was many hundreds of miles north from the land of Israel. And Kedar was south of them, on the Arabian Peninsula.

Meshech and Kedar were a state of mind; a life of the soul. The writer of the psalm names them because they were famous for being treacherous and warlike; and because he felt, in his heart, so far away from where the Lord wanted him to be. He felt anywhere but home, even though he was at home.

The psalm writer was writing from the land of his birth. He was writing about his own people (God’s own people), but he felt like a stranger among them. They were people who were living a lie. He himself had been living and believing a lie without knowing it; believing in himself more than he had believed in the grace and the peace of God.

No one really lived by the grace of God. They lived by their wits, and by their strengths. They lived by manipulation. They lived by maneuvering themselves into control. They lived by putting others in their place. They lived lives where lies and conflict could be a very helpful way of life.

The writer of the psalm woke up to find his heart in a different place, or yearning for a different place; as if he were an alien in his own home.

This is the beginning of repentance. Repentance requires a new heart that wants to go on a journey in a new direction.

They say that if you put a frog in hot water, it will sense this and jump right out. But, if you put it in a pot of lukewarm water, and put the pot on a stove, and bring the temperature up slowly, the frog will not notice the heat until it is dead.

We are created in God’s image, but the change in our nature that comes from our separation from God is like a slowly heating pot of water. The whole human race is like a pot of frogs on a slowly heating burner, but the grace of God gives us a very un-frog-like notion of where we are and where we should be.

Then we see Jesus and we set our hearts “on things that are above”. We see God’s compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience in Jesus. We see forgiveness revealed to us on the cross where Jesus died for our sins to give us a new life.

We see that here is something different. We see that, in Jesus there is something that (if we surrendered to it and embraced it) would make us different people. We would be our true, God-given selves.

Lies and conflict would have no place in us. We would be people of peace because the peace of Christ would rule in our hearts. We would be peace, just as Jesus is peace.

Christians are people on a journey. We wake up to the world as it is because the Lord wakes us up. He sets us on pilgrimage to a life of freedom and peace.

The destination of this journey is beyond this world; but we know what it is, and we can see it clearly ahead, and we start to live as if we were already there, when we look at Jesus.


  1. I must tell you, when I read your words, "interestedly, it means I AM PEACE" shoulders relaxed and I physically felt a feeling of peace come over me.
    I will remember this sermon...
    I know you said you re-worked it, but that's okay by me, I didn't know it and besides, it's a good one. PEACE!

  2. Kay, thanks for your thoughts. I think of "I am Peace" as being so centered in and so identified with what God is doing and cares about that we can say "I am" to it.