GiftsEden On The Bay

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

We Dwell, God Dwells - 05/14/2017

Back in the 1970s when I was little, my mom was struggling and scraping to keep me and my brother and sister fed and to keep a roof over our heads. As a country, we were dealing with a recession and an energy crisis. On a personal level we were weathering a whole different storm. My parents had split up and my mom was doing everything for us on her own. She was a single parent. She was the sole provider, working the 3-11 shift as an RN in the emergency room of Victory Hospital in Waukegan, Illinois. She was pretty much the only one taking care of the house too, because we kids weren't much help on the cleaning up part – we were masters of the messing up part. And I suspect at times Mom didn't eat, so we kids would have a little more to eat.

She did her very best to provide for us, encourage us and expose us to a world outside of that bleak little bubble we resided in for awhile. The summer of 1974, for instance, my mom thought it would be better for us kids to come to the UP and live with my Aunt Pat and Uncle John rather than spend the whole summer as latch key kids, stuck indoors while the rest of the neighborhood kids were out on their bikes, rollerskating around the block and forming impromptu backyard baseball games while the whole neighborhood listened to the Cubs game on the radio. She was right. It was not healthy for us to be cooped up inside most of the day and the temptation of all that fun outside would have been too much. We would have sneaked out there and that would not have been safe.

Although I missed my Mom a lot during those months in Manistique, it was a wonderful summer of splashing around in Indian Lake, catching crayfish and meeting people who would become my schoolmates when we moved to the UP fours years later.

My mom, like me, also likes to travel. And although we couldn't afford hotels and restaurant eating, we could go camping. So sometimes she would sneak and get the car loaded before she went to work. Then we she got done with her shift, she'd pile us all into the car and off we'd go. “Where are we going?” we'd ask, all excited and ready for adventures. “Wherever the front wheels take us,” she'd invariably say. She liked to surprise us. Sometimes we ended up in Kentucky, camping near Cumberland Falls or at Mammoth Cave National Park.

One trip I remember particularly. We had this giant, blue, Sears, 9-person canvas tent. I still feel like I could help my mom get that tent pitched in my sleep. As kids, one of our favorite camping experiences was when it rained and we would retreat to the tent and make sure nothing was touching the sides so that, it stayed waterproof. I was awestruck by the small miracle of the canvas keeping us dry like that. And I liked the feel of being in that tent in the rain – how snug and safe we all felt tucked inside its blueness, that feeling of confidence it gave me that no matter what was going on in the world around us – a tanking economy, fuel shortages, divorce, empty cupboards – we were all together, we had Kool-aid and marshmallows and graham crackers, we had our sleeping bags and we were going to be OK.

Usually, my siblings and I would put together some kind of a puppet show for my mom, using our stuffed animals and socks and anything else that would serve our purpose. Well, one time, we were getting our performance ready and what had been a gentle rain turned pretty quickly into a southern-style, violent thunderstorm.

And for the first time ever – as I watched lightening bolt after lightening bolt around us cast shadows of the trees all over our tent, as the thunder roared so loudly that we couldn't even hear each other talk, as the wind blew hard, pushing in at the walls of the tent, pushing down on the canvas ceiling just a couple of feet above our heads, and managing even to get underneath the tent and try to tease those tent stakes out of that solid Kentucky ground – for the first time ever, I wondered if we would actually be safe and snug … if we really were going to be OK.

But Mom … she stayed calm. She passed around a few marshmallows and graham crackers while we waited the storm out. Pretty soon, my anxiety began to dissipate, just as that storm did … storms that violent can't usually sustain themselves for very long, Mom taught me.

Now I think of this story for a couple of reasons.

First, and most obviously, because it's Mother's Day and I, like many of you, have been blessed with a mom who loves me, who protected me while I was growing up – even on those days I made her want to pull her hair out, and who is still my greatest cheerleader. She's a strong child of God and taught me to be a strong child of God too, and I pray that we all have mother-figures in our lives like that.

The other reason I thought of this Kentucky Thunderstorm story is because I was reminded of it by this reading from John we have today and some of the discussion we had about the Gospel of John in its entirety at the Wednesday bible study this week.

It is because of a certain word the gospel writer uses a lot in John to tell the story of Jesus and why it we should care about this story. The word is μένω/meno. It means to live, to dwell or to abide.

The Hebrew word for this is אֹהֶל /ohel – which, while it's used to indicate where someone or something lives or dwells or abides – it literally means a tent.

So when we try to hear this story like the people of Jesus' time or those John was writing to some three generations later, we can imagine that when they heard this word meno or the Hebrew word ohel in stories about God and Jesus, they were also likely to have the image of a tent pop into their minds. (And as an aside, keeping this in mind will forever change the way you understand biblical references to tents or hymns like Abide with Me.)

To trace this connection remember, for instance what Moses did while leading the freed Israelites through the wilderness – what he did be bring God among them.

“Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise and stand, each of them, at the entrance of their tents and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and bow down, all of them, at the entrance of their tent. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” (Exodus 33:7-11a)

That story, among many others, is well planted in the people who hear this story of Jesus from John – only now, the nature of how the tent is pitched, by whom and in whom has been changed. It's spelled out quite plainly at the very beginning of the Gospel of John: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us,” (1:14) … the Word became flesh and pitched a tent among us.

From there the question of where Jesus dwells, where he pitches his tent is a theme that winds its way through this entire gospel.

It is the question asked by Jesus' first disciples as they see Jesus walk by and begin to follow him. “What are you looking for?” Jesus asks them. And they respond, “Rabbi … where are you staying?” (1:38) or where do you pitch your tent? “Come and see,” Jesus says.

It is the difference between Jesus and the enemies of his ministry on earth. Jesus is teaching and says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (8:12) The frightened Pharisees, of course, challenge him and Jesus says: “my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.” (8:14) In other words Jesus knows where his tent is pitched … where he comes from and where he is going. His enemies do not know where the tent is... they cannot see where God dwells.

And in the confusion and uncertainty of Jesus' arrest and execution, it is the question Mary comes to when she encounters the empty tomb. “ They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (20:2) We do not know where his tent is pitched now, Mary cries in her panic.

The answer is what Jesus is preparing the disciples for in our reading today – what his is preparing them for, as well as how he has prepared the Jesus-following Jews of John's community and us Christian people of God today.

Jesus says to Philip, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father?” (14.10) – or as we may now hear that, “Do you not believe that I dwell in the Father and the Father dwells in me?” And because of this new way in which God has come to dwell among us, to pitch a tent among us, Jesus says then and still today, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places (many places to pitch a tent). If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (14:1-3)

And so where do we see this tent pitched among us today? Well, as people of the Lutheran tradition, we see that tent pitched most certainly in our sacraments – at the font and the table.

But remember what it is that we do in those places. In baptism the Holy Spirit is invited to come into us, to cleanse us and raise us to new and eternal life with God. At the Lord's Table, we literally take in the body and blood of Jesus. And through these experiences Jesus, who is God, dwells in us – God's tent is pitched in each of us.

And as we dwell in this world, so does God. It is a legacy passed down through Jesus, through his first disciples, through John's community of believers, and to us. And it reminds us and testifies to the world that even though Jesus' human ministry is over, it continues to dwell in each of us providing safety and shelter and love in a world that still waits for Jesus return, and with tents that can withstand even the wildest Kentucky Thunderstorm. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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