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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

The Reconstruction Of God's People - 11/18/2018

Sometimes, I get these pictures in my mind. I’m a pretty visually oriented person. So somebody will be telling a story or trying to explain what they are feeling and all of a sudden I’ll get this picture in my mind.

I mentioned one experience like this at Kewpie’s funeral last week … it was about when one of her children was talking about how she had a strong attraction to otter and as soon as he said it, I had this image of Kewpie playfully and skillfully moving through the waters of Lake Superior with hundreds of little otters following along and learning those waters too.

And then another of these pictures came to mind later in the week when some of us gathered for a book study discussion group. We were talking about stuff like whether we feel God close to us in those valley experiences in life, compared to what it’s like in a mountaintop experience … or even just a High Plains experience, I suppose. We talked about how sometimes, the valley can be really low and you just feel like everything is shattered. You don’t recognize God anywhere and it can even make you feel pretty angry with God. Your imagination gets going and pretty soon you’re convincing yourself that God has, for some reason, chosen to go far from you. You feel abandoned and singular and disoriented.

We talked about how this was a lot like how the Psalmist can sound sometimes, like in the Psalms of lament. They rarely come up in the lectionary, which I think is a shame, because we need them sometimes. We need, like the Psalmist, to yell to the farthest horizon we can imagine.

Like in Psalm 13, we hear the Psalmist cry out:

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?

   How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I bear pain in my soul,

   and have sorrow in my heart all day long?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”

As we talked about these kinds of Psalms, we also talked about how their structure can help to guide us in those difficult valley times, and that’s when this image started taking shape in my mind. And so this time, I tried to draw it.

This is something like the picture that came to mind. It is a shattered reality, full of confusing and nonsensical stuff, it is not comforting, there is very little that is familiar. Our eye doesn’t know where to go and looking at it for too long can even make you feel physically uncomfortable. (Sorry about that.) It represents that valley we sometimes find ourselves in.

But we can’t stay here – maybe that’s why it’s so uncomfortable – it pushes us elsewhere, which in itself can be disorienting.

So we look back to the Psalmist again to help us navigate this uneasy place and we find she often moves from crying out to remembering … remembering that God has promised to stay with us and God has shown this to be true in the past. We remember God’s promise to love us in this chaos, we remember that we can trust that God is with us, even if it is not clear to us.

 And we can trust that in the valley and in moving out of it, as the pieces of our life are slowly put back together, God is with us there in the detail, patiently going with us, matching our pace, as we, piece-by-piece are put back together. And maybe we can even start to recognize things around us again, the picture starts to get a little clearer and we can start to see that we are headed somewhere where the light and air are better and the milk and honey flow. Maybe we can feel God alongside of us a little more.

We can have this kind of experience in a lot of different ways in our lives … maybe you have experienced this when someone dies. I think we can certainly experience this when our families are shattered by divorce or discord, when we get that frightening diagnosis, or when our children leave the nest. Maybe it makes you think of a time when the economic rug was pulled out from under you, or maybe it was never rolled out before you to begin with. We might think of a time when we really screwed something up, when we wounded someone deeply or were deeply wounded ourselves.

This is real stuff, and can be a little heavy too.

So… on a more upbeat and thankful note … with the happy occasion of accompanying George and Anne as they renew their wedding vows on their 50th anniversary this weekend, I also thought about this kind of experience in marriage, where you can see how it can strengthen us too.

Like everything else in life, our marriage relationships have their ups and downs – they contain many valleys and many mountaintops.

I think if you talk to people like George and Anne and hear stories of their life together, or Claudia and Pepper who recently celebrated their 50th year too, you will hear modeling of the psalmist there. You’ll hear about times when in marriage they went through valleys and how remembering that God goes with them provided the safety net they needed as things were put back together again.

We thank God for the witness of these couples … their public commitment to navigating valleys and mountaintops as spouses. I think we are wise to pray we may benefit from their example in our relationships too – marriage and otherwise.

And then we have our Gospel reading today – which was really challenging me at the beginning of the week – until I realized that the same kind of valley experience is happening here, only at a cosmic level.

The enormous and seemingly indestructible temple that leaves the disciples opened-mouthed and gasping-in-awe could not possibly pass away, they are certain this reality will never be shattered. However, the temple will indeed be destroyed … again. So the disciples are a little shattered by Jesus’ teaching. As usual.

And we who follow Jesus also know that there is more going on here. Jesus is not only talking about the temple – he is pointing us to the cross here … a shattering of reality that comes closer and closer with each sentence of this story.

In that valley and as we come out of it, there will be temptation to trust other fixes, hungers and privilege above the redemption, food and freedom of God, Jesus warns the disciples. Others will claim to be the salvation that Jesus brings to us and many will forget and be led astray. It will seem like the end of times is near, Jesus says, and for now that is where he leaves it. “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs,” our portion of the story ends today.

But we followers of Jesus also know the empty tomb and where this story goes from the cross – so let’s turn again to the structure of the Psalmist.

She has gone from crying out to God, “How long?!” to remembering God’s promise. “I trusted in your steadfast love” (Ps 13:5a) before, the Psalmist sings, and I will do so again.

Follow the Psalmist’s lead. We have this gift of faith from God which, even when it’s so tiny, we can hear asking us to trust in the steadfast love of God too.

And then our eyes, like the Psalmist’s, are cleared and we can see and feel and hear God more plainly in our lives. That is God’s promise to us … to stick with us until we can detect that sense of wholeness and blessedness we have in God. It might be a mountaintop experience and it might be just getting our socks on, but it’s not the valley anymore and like the Psalmist, we rejoice and praise God for keeping that divine promise, for going with us into the shattered valley and dwelling with us there for as long as it takes … for piece-by-piece putting us back together until we can see the glory of the God who loves us through it all. 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 ~

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