Sermon by Deacon Marcia Tomlinson
“You show me the path of life …” Psalm 16:11a
Cited scripture: Psalm 16, Hebrews 10:19-25
Je me souviens (I remember) … we see that all the time on the license plates of Quebec cars hurtling down the interstate … and every time I see them I think back to 9/11 …
I remember 9/11 as my friends in Paris will now forever remember 11/13.
On 9/11 all I wanted was to gather up Patrick and Kara from school and take them to camp, where there was no TV or fear … where we could rest easy and our fears could abate. We stayed there 2 very healing days, letting God’s creation wash and refresh us.
Je me souviens … that first afternoon when I was sitting waterside looking across the pond to where the kids were sitting in the rowboat, fishing. I never asked what they talked about as they rowed all around the pond. All I do know is that all three of us felt our fears subside knowing we were safe in that special place.
Je me souviens …in my journal entry that day I recorded that just before calling the kids to row back to the dock, a small flock of geese flew overhead, honking to beat the band, but flying north! I realized it was a family, the parents teaching their children to fly and to trust and to follow.
This year is the 75th anniversary of the movie Fantasia and according to my journal the kids and I watched it that night … and I have no doubt that by the time we got to the Pastoral Symphony section, where a flock of geese in V formation come peacefully to rest on the water … that my children were safely asleep with sweet dreams as their companions.
Je me souviens … this morning I remember … I remember singing, “Lead me Lord, lead me in thy righteousness, make thy way plain before my face. For it is thou, Lord, thou, Lord, only that makest me dwell in safety.” Seeing the last of the geese flying south recently I remembered that they always fly with their families, and if one is injured or for some reason cannot keep up, one of the strong ones will land with him. That strong one will stay with the weaker one for as long as it takes. Because they’re family and family doesn’t leave one behind, to face the darkness alone. We have this goodly heritage: we are loved and guided … this assurance that God is ever at our right hand is our abundant and most excellent heritage.
Je me souviens … my Nana, who, no matter how unpleasantly warm the room might be, would carefully and purposely shut every window at dusk lest any night air enter. It was a carry over from an old world superstition taught to her by her Bavarian grandfather. We couldn’t shake her from that belief … but we remember … that in the night God remains at our right hand … just as the geese fly at night using the stars to safely navigate, we are assured that God remains our constant and true guide in our times of darkness.
Je me souviens: … a blessed paradox is at the core of God’s presence in our lives. We are assured that with God next to us, He is at the front. … “I keep the Lord always before me, because he is at my right hand I shall not be moved.” … through Jesus the Christ we have that nearby Friend, that right hand. Think of God as the destination and God as the comrade of life. When we put God as the goal we find God at our side.
This may be the most important metaphor we can take away today … that of God being at our right hand. Throughout history, the one to the right is the one whose sword arm is free to defend and whose shield arm protects the one to the left. But this is metaphor only … Jesus did not come to slay all physical adversity … He was not a warrior … rather, think of Him as the right hand against which spiritual adversity can never triumph. By consciously placing God at our right hand, we indicate our complete trust in Him to shield and protect us from spiritual attack.
Je me souviens … in ancient times health and prosperity were viewed as a sign of God’s approval. But through Christ we have learned that purification of the soul does not automatically immunize our lives from poverty or physical pain, from shifting fortune or grief. Yet with God as our right hand companion it is our soul He stands ready and perfect to defend.
Je me souviens … when reading and contemplating a Psalm, we remember it was written so many centuries before the birth of Jesus … that perhaps the poet expected … hoped for …. An escape from physical death …we don’t know if he sensed the hope of life after death …Sheol was the end of the road back then …and yet here is the poet speaking to a hope, a far off destination called forevermore. Did he sense this hope reality? We are free to do just this, to take this poet’s words and apply them to what we now know, that in Christ we have that strong right hand. …. This is devotional poetry, intensely personal. It is also poetry of hope, a song of uplift and soaring confidence, no matter how dark our night.
Je me souviens …we think of those geese who passed over head a few weeks ago … the V formation reduces the air resistance, allowing the flock to fly further … the one in the lead is the strongest and as he weakens he drifts to the back in order to rest as the one who had been behind him moves up into the leadership role. Over and over the leadership shifts in this manner, the strong coming forward while those who have grown tired get to recoup. Yet the flock as a whole continues to move forward, night and day, in rain or snow, averaging an altitude of 3-4,000 feet yet able to wing over 12,000 foot mountain peaks if necessary. They navigate by the stars at night, the sun and landmarks by day … their memory is incredible, and they honk almost continually, directions as well as cautions, learning from each other, listening well. Trusting. Encouraging. Provoking?!
In the letter to the Hebrews we heard: “And let us consider how to provoke one another in love …”
To provoke is not only to annoyingly honk at each other in exasperation and anger, to provoke is also the honking of encouragement and motivation…. What better way to inspire us into our future than to provoke one another in love!
A kind word awakens kindness. A bitter word stirs up bitterness. An honest word provokes thoughtfulness. The harsh word stirs up resentment. Only love can awaken love, only humility and patience can provoke good works.
“ … not neglecting to meet together …” we are in a V formation, honking our way towards that promised destination. Together. A noisy, mistake prone, family flock … there was once a man who declared one cold January evening he could be just as good a Christian outside the church as in it and that was why he no longer attended services … he and his pastor were sitting in the parlor playing Cribbage as was their Monday routine. After hearing the man’s assertions the pastor stood, walked over to the wood stove, picked up the long cast iron tongs and removed one blazing coal from the fire within, carefully placing it in the ash bucket. In silence the two men watched that red hot coal smolder, grow dark, and then go out. After a few more moments of silence the man whispered, “I see.”
“encouraging one another …” geese in their V formations honk the entire way, as they take off, as they land, as they journey … always encouraging one another as they fly ever closer to their destination. Constantly provoking. Constantly together. Their constant is trust in each other.
Je me souviens … we have a destination, a promise made to us. Right in the heart of this week’s gospel reading is the warning from Jesus, “Beware that no one leads you astray …” The disciples were focusing in on wanting the signs, the landmarks of that promised destination … and Jesus was warning them to focus on being sure they weren’t being led astray by a false leader. The answer lay not in a date on a calendar but on faith in a dependable God, who would act in His own time. Preoccupation with the end times can lead us astray from our primary task to follow Jesus.
Let us not be flockless geese who flutter about claiming to know the last word about everything and the first word about nothing. Fussing about those last things must not displace our need to attend the first things of Jesus … the great commandments to “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”
As John Newman so well wrote, “ … keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene: one step enough for me.” Je me souviens
Wherever he may guide us, no want shall turn us back;
Our shepherd is beside us, and nothing can we lack.
His wisdom ever waketh; his sight is never dim;
He knows the way he taketh, and we know to trust in him.