This blog is mostly sermons of a pastor serving Riverside Community Church, Mattawa/Desert Aire, Washington. An eremite is someone who lives in a wilderness or desert of some kind. I have often lived in remote places. Early Christian eremites lived under the discipline of solitude within the discipline of community. I try to be involved in worshiping, studying, and praying with others; and serving others wherever I find myself. I try to keep up with my correspondence in the electronic desert.
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
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
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
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
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.