09-02-18 WHO MAY DWELL ON YOUR HOLY HILL

Psalm 15

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?

Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honor those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

While singing our opening hymn “This is My Father’s World” we proclaimed: “This is my Father’s world, o let me never forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” This is a comforting image of God who rules the entire cosmos and sees everything that happens with merciful and just eyes. Often when we think of where God is, it has been a long traditional thought that God is up in the sky high above, looking down on creation and that by going to church we can enter into a sacred place where we can access God. Here we see the Psalmist poetically and artistically describe the presence of God who abides in the tent and dwells on the holy hill, again mixing the images of sacred spaces to access God and the elevated place where God is perceived to be. The Psalmist asks, who may live in these places with God? A few weeks ago, we sang praises as our version of the Ark of the Covenant was brought forward to the front of the church. We know that in the Hebrew scriptures, or the Old Testament, that the tabernacle or the tent is where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, and that the Ark was believed to be the physical presence of God with the Israelites. The “holy hill” is an artistic way of expressing the dwelling place of God, in a high place looking down, and it is seen in numerous other psalms.

It is tempting to only hear the first part of this psalm and believe the notion that we have to go to a specific place to find God, to be with God. While we create these sacred places, our churches, to worship God, to find peace, and to learn about our faith, we do not abide here. We do not dwell here. And maybe that’s the point: we aren’t supposed to. We abide in homes with families, with neighbors next door, hospitals down the road, grocery stores a few blocks away, school buildings full of people, pharmacies, libraries, businesses, and soup kitchens all surrounding our dwelling places. This is good news, because scripture tells us over and over again that God is not limited to one place; God was in the wilderness with the Hebrews when they were liberated from Egypt, God met prophets like Moses and Elijah on mountain tops, the prophet Ezekiel sees a vision of the glory of God leaving the temple to go be with the Jews in exile, Jesus came as the incarnation of God to be with us, and Christ will return again to bring heaven to earth. The God of our church, the God of the tent and the tabernacle, is also God with us. God is with us facing the stress at work, the conflict with our families, the various health battles, the homeless on the streets, and the injustices in our institutions. Although we find peace here in our church buildings, we cannot hide from the problems of the world in our churches, clinging to a safe sanctuary, assuming this is the only place to find God. God is out amongst our neighbors; to embrace our neighbors is to embrace God.

We already abide in God’s kingdom, but the new heaven and new earth is still yet to come. This is when we truly will understand what it means to dwell with God. Reverend Frederick Buechner describes a time when he was driving into New York City, and the everyday streets revealed to him what the kingdom of God might look like. He looked around the city on an average day when nothing was different, but everything was different. He saw the streets alive with traffic and shoppers, people of all races together living and moving together in one place. After parking the car, he saw people eating their lunches together outdoors, some dressed in business suits that cost hundreds of dollars, others dressed in sneakers and jeans. They were peacefully eating their sandwiches together in silence, young and old next to each other flooded in light, surrounded by green foliage. Buechner watched a clown in the park blow up a balloon, “sneakily” twisting it into what he described as a “dove of peace” and handed it to an awe-struck boy. He then describes a middle-aged black woman who walked past him on the side-walk and said very quietly without even breaking her pace, “Jesus loves you.” He was taken aback but such a declaration in this place he was seeing as if for the first time. Buechner elucidates that in this moment as he was walking the streets, he felt as if they were streets of gold and this is what the kingdom of God might be. He explains that we can live into the kingdom around us, with hope for the kingdom to come if we turn away from madness, cruelty, and blindness, and turn toward tolerance, hope, sanity and justice.

Each week we gather here for a worship service, but once we leave the building we are called to continue worshiping God. In the second part of the psalm there are instructions on the conduct we are to live by: Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, speak the truth, who do not slander, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors, who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath, who do not lend money with interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. There is a community in Georgia, which I believe lives these standards well. This faith community known as “Koinonia” which is the Greek word for a particular type of fellowship with Christians and God. The Koinonia group was established by Clarence Jordan in 1942. It is an intentional community that was created to reflect the kingdom of God on earth, where people are invited to live together as group to share their lives as extended family. They refused to participate in racial segregation prior to the civil rights era, they pool their financial resources to support one another, and they worship God together. They are not closed off from the world; instead they hope that this community will be a demonstration of God’s kingdom, knowing that their path to following God is specific and unique. They hope to inspire other communities to follow their own unique path in honoring God, so that the Spiritual fruit that people bear will be obvious both to members of the church and nonmembers. Living in this type of community in the modern world doesn’t work for most of us, but it can serve as inspiration to walk blamelessly by standing up against injustice, to honor and fear God by seeking out more people who we can be spiritual family with, and not lending money with interest by sharing our financial resources as we are able to do with no strings attached.

In third part of the Psalm it says that “those who do these things shall never be moved.” Since this Psalm focuses on living with God, this part of the scripture can be interpreted to say that we cannot be moved, removed, or shaken from the presence of God.  Those who do these things will never be moved from living with God; that doesn’t mean we are to be still and motionless. Our faith moves us to pray, to speak to God, which we should do. Thoughts and prayers can be offered in our homes and in our places of worship as our compassion inspires our hearts to intercede on behalf of others. But our words must also be paired with action. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel was a Jewish scholar who was deported from Germany in the Nazi regime in 1938. He became an activist, moved to American in 1940, and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama to Montgomery in 1965. When he reflected on this march, he said that he felt like his legs were praying.  When this Rabbi was deported he was not moved from God. When he moved to America he was not moved from God. And when he marched for Civil Rights he was not moved from God. And yet Rabbi Heschel never stopped moving. Everyone has different physical abilities, different skills they can use to put their prayers into action. Whether this means picking up a phone and making an important call to leaders to demand action, going out to volunteer time to charities, becoming a community leader and organizer, getting involved in the outreach with our church, writing letters to advocate for others, or donating money to causes that show Christ’s love in the world, we can use what we have with what we are able to do by praying with our hands and feet paired with our spoken prayers to God. Since we cannot be moved from the presence of God, God goes with us as we enact our prayers.

Our hymn concluded saying: This is my Father’s world, the battle is not done; Jesus who died shall be satisfied and heaven and earth be one. God lives in holy and sacred spaces, and all places are made holy by God’s presence. Our dwelling place is not on some far off holy hill, removed from the world; we abide here in God’s world where God is here with us. The kingdom of God is already among us; perhaps it looks like an average day in New York City, or a community on Georgia, or like protesters praying with their legs.  We’ve been tasked with living blamelessly, being kind to our friends and neighbors, and being generous with our resources as we wait for kingdom come. We cannot accomplish this by standing still; we move knowing that we will never be moved from God’s presence. Let us take comfort as we dwell with God, and take actions with love as we abide in the world. Praise be to God. Amen.