Message by Rev. Darryl Auten
July 28, 2019
This is where the realm of God takes effect, in our midst, as part of our everyday living. So, I would say,
“Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone
who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Human beings are experiencing enormous change – constant change- in all parts of every person’s life. Forty years ago, an executive of International Business Machines said he couldn’t imagine anyone wanting a personal computer in her home. Now in every home, almost every person has a cell phone which is a handheld computer. Everywhere we go we notice people on their phones. At the world level, change is as great. Since 1900 global wars have claimed the lives of millions of people; millions more are on the move through massive migrations caused by conflict, food shortages, unsafe living, fear and repression. As there has been this massive shift for humans encountering their world, there has also been a major shift in how people experience the presence of the Holy. At the beginning of the middle ages western Christianity imagined God to be out there in the universe, high and lifted up in the heavens in contrast to God being here with us. These are the images I would like to explore with you.
The earliest wonderings about God from the Hebrew Scriptures were about God as a shepherd for the people. The Holy One was present with them, close by and nourishing. One who was a loving care giver. God provided food and water. A safe place to rest at the end of the day. The Holy One offered security at all times of the life journey to the end of days. The 23rd Psalm offers these lovely, poetic images of the presence of the Divine. But, most of us haven’t had that sense of God in our city living. Only on special occasions do we get the picture.
One special occasion was in 1995, when 29 people from the Salmon Arm area toured Israel for 19 days. We were searching for our faith roots in the Holy Land by walking in the footsteps of Jesus and the early church community and learning about the land where some of the most beautiful religious poems were created. Halfway through our time in Israel we went by bus to a place 30 km north of Jerusalem. Our tour guide stopped the bus so that we could see a traditional sheep fold – a safe place for the animals and the shepherd to rest overnight. It was an outcropping of hard rock sticking out like a roof like structure with the softer rock, gravel and soil dug out to create a shelter. A wall was built around the outside to form an enclosure which had a door opening that was closed by a steel slatted bed frame. It was a simple corral set halfway up a hillside where a shepherd could take his sheep for the night. And to our delight we looked down the gully beside the sheepfold and saw a shepherd – a twelve-year-old boy leading his string of sheep up the valley toward the enclosure. The tinkle of the bell on the neck of the lead sheep had made us aware that they were coming.
This picture, for me, was a real live image of the Psalm writers view of the care of God. Here was a caregiver for his flock coming toward us as any shepherd would have done throughout the ages. We could imagine this boy taking the sheep in his care from one field of green grass (even though there wasn’t much greenery in November). We could also see the possibility that there were springs of fresh water in the area which were known to the young fellow so that he could be sure the sheep had enough to drink. I think we all had the feeling of what it was like being cared for by the shepherd. Blessed and loved and nourished. Grounded. God is here, in our midst. This is what our current sense of the relationship with the Holy God has been.
For nearly a thousand years, even with the Reformation that took place in the church during Martin Luther’s time, Christianity in the western world has imagined God to be remote – HIGH, or LIFTED UP, or OUT THERE. You had to look toward the heavens to find the place where God is, not down here with other people. Last summer, Jeryl and I were in the City of York, in northern England. While there, we visited York Minster, that most beautiful cathedral. When you walk into the main part of the building you raise your eyes toward the ceiling which is more than 30 meters up. You look up, your mind is swept up toward the infinity which lies beyond. I am now reminded of an old issue of National Geographic magazine from the early 1980’s where it described the reactions of children going into Washington’s National Cathedral in the District of Columbia. The writer said:
“I watched, enchanted as chattering 3 and 4-year olds trooped in, a noisy gang of happiness. Immediately, they fell silent, grew wide eyed, looked about, looked up, began whispering. They had seen no place like this, with its vast hall, huge columns, and bejeweled windows. What were they whispering?”
The Cathedral worker, Virginia Hammond smiled. “They think they are inside a castle. And so, they are asking, ‘Well, where is the king? Where’s God.”
In a Gothic Cathedral, one must look up, by design, to seek the answer. Early this (past) century, when the style of Washington Cathedral’s architecture was debated, Gothic won out over Classic Revival. People asked why? The answer: “The relationship between God and humans is vertical (Richard Feller) said. Gothic expresses it best. It is vertical. It aspires. It compels the eye, the mind, the heart to move upward.
The space referred to is upsweeping arches far overhead, ten stories above your head, from one end of the building to the other. The floor and walls curved away for a tenth of a mile and finally blended together, a triumph of precision and power. No detail was spared as it concerned God’s house.
I felt that awesome uplift of my spirit in York Minster, in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and in other places of middle ages splendor. We were given a sense of the Holy as an all Girls’ Choir sang evensong. We had entered the mystery of the middle ages and came away wishing we could spend more time with that majesty. We also realized that our everyday connection with God was here, local, in a person to person experience.
For me, that is what the lesson from the 11th chapter of Luke’s Gospel suggests. When asked how to pray, Jesus invites his followers to be very earthy and practical. While some people have a struggle with the notion of FATHER as the central focus of this prayer, the Greek can be understood as the closest personal and intimate statement of relationship. It is like saying “papa” or “daddy”, about someone who is really close to you.
Jesus holds up for his disciples, the men and women who followed him for the three years of his ministry, a way of being with them as he was with his holy daddy, his God. It called for intimacy, and the sharing of hopes and dreams about what the realm of God looks like. He taught about caring for the people around them: giving cold cups of water to those who were thirsty, sharing loaves of bread with the hungry, bandaging the wounds of those who had been attacked and left for dead at the side of the road to Jericho. He taught about equality of God’s love for children and women. He offered love to the foreigner and those who were cast out because of leprosy or mental illness.
So, I would say,
“Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find;
knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone
who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door
will be opened.”
This is where the realm of God takes effect, in our midst, as part of our everyday living. This is where we answer the call of Jesus to join with him in his journey of life. We find that in the closeness and caring of a community of faith which calls us all to be joined with each other as a people of God.
May it be so in your life and mine. Amen