August 26, 2018

Pentecost 14   August 26, 2018   (1 Kings 8:22-30,41-43; Ephesians 2:13-22)

Psalm 84   The sparrow finds a home


Last Sunday morning as I came into church [here/in Cataumet] Vicki Carr told me “we have a hummingbird inside Handy Hall – who doesn’t want to leave.”

Our doors were propped wide open that morning to air out the hall after lots of rain – and this little hummingbird perceived – accurately – a place of welcome. This bird seemed familiar with our psalm this morning, with it’s marvelous verse: “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a place where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

All our readings today are thematically linked to temple worship. In our reading from the book of Kings, King Solomon declares the temple that took so many years to build even with thirty thousand conscripted laborers – can’t begin to contain the presence of God… who made the heavens and the earth…

The letter to the Ephesians says we ourselves are the temple built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles with Christ the cornerstone. A pair of great texts, each of which deserves more than one sermon. (But…)

This week I’ve been hearing the Spirit accentuating the loveliness of God’s temple – the joy of singing God’s praises – the happiness of those who live in God’s presence – and the all-embracing love of God that includes the little birds – all of which we hear of in Psalm 84.

A psalm that’s been heard many ways by interpreters over the years. Some of the Rabbis of old said the little bird that nests in the temple is Israel. Jesus said “consider the birds of the air” – so birds are a role model for Christians. Martin Luther wrote a sermon called “The birds our Teachers.” And I’m hearing the multiplicity of good interpretations as an invitation to hear inclusively this multi-dimensional text. Indeed, God’s temple is the Jerusalem temple, with it’s giant bronze altars built for animal sacrifice. And our humble church here in this place with it’s modest wooden altar, is also God’s temple, God’s dwelling place. And God’s temple is also God’s people – as Ephesians again tells us – here in this place, and in all places of his dominion alike. Indeed, the whole universe God has made is his temple, scripture tells us. Which is such an enormous thought that I’m  thinking now all the more about the little birds…

Remembering… Earlier this summer, our parishioner, Stu Parsons was asked to preach at a summer gathering of his extended family in Maine, on the assigned topic, “God and the birds.” (I only learned about this because Kathy Parsons told me… I’ve been trying to coax both Stu and Kathy to preach on this very topic for several years… But evidently Stu has a particular aunt he can’t say no to… Anyway….)

Stu, as many of you know, is an ornithologist, meaning a scholarly bird watcher (or bird-watching scholar). He can name a bird quickly by hearing it’s song or glimpsing it from a distance – then tell you what they eat, where they live, its habits and habitats…

When I asked Stu how his sermon went, he said it wasn’t really a sermon, more like an informal talk. Though he said he had been nervous… and he didn’t use notes. So there’s no transcript, and no video, unfortunately. He did say there was a lot of singing of hymns accompanying his meditation on God and birds… And I’m guessing the harmony of his talking about the ways of birds intermingled with the singing of hymns drew the attention of the birds… As, at just the right moment, as if pre-arranged, just as he was about to launch into his presentation – Stu, hearing before anyone else – flung open a window – said “listen! –a hermit thrush!” – as the little bird warbled it’s sweet song… very close by.

And knowing Stu’s love of the birds – and convinced the feeling must be mutual – I’m guessing that hermit thrush knew Stu needed a little encouragement at just that moment… So she flew in close, and began to sing – as if on cue.

Which fits perfectly with what Psalm 84 says – about we, and all nature around us, all being truly interactive. Nature obviously influences us all the time. We thank God  for good weather – we fret about big storms – we complain about weather we don’t like. And nature is obviously influenced by everything we humans do. Nature has its own language, but – when we plant trees and organic gardens and clean up toxic waste and restore habitat and stop polluting – nature smiles – and lets us know our improved behavior is appreciated –as birds, butterflies, flowers and trees flourish – and we can tell nature’s feeling better. But when we burn fuels that produce CO2 beyond nature’s limits – earth, air, and water over-heat, and oceans rise, storms get worse and still worse…And we ourselves are part of nature – and all nature is interactive with all other parts, by God’s design, so that’s not negotiable. Or deniable. (Which comes to mind because…)

Psalm 84 was composed in part to be sung by pilgrims on their way to the temple. The psalmist says (v.5-6)  “Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.” Baca was a dry desert place that became, the psalmist tells us, a place of springs fed by renewing rains, as worshiping pilgrims pass by, singing the Lord’s songs… Springs spring up in response to God’s people singing praises…. Because –

Nature – God’s good creation – is interactive. And God is also interactive. In the psalms, especially, we see God showing up, often, at just the right time – in response to our living out the prayers our lips pronounce. God hears a lot of prayers that are mostly just lip service. But the prayers we pray with our hands and feet as well as hearts and minds engaged are answered… (Even if not always answered as soon as we hope… answered… in God’s time….)

(There are some times when we don’t hear from God even as we beg God’s intervention. A topic we’ll come back to on other days…)

Today in Psalm 84 we’re invited to make like the birds – and take up residency in the house of God. Rejoicing in God’s loveliness – the spiritual beauty of God – noting the same Hebrew word translated here as lovely can also mean beloved – as in the belovedness of God’s presence in God’s blessed house. Good news – we are all invited to live in God’s house of love. People – and song birds – all welcome…

For if God so welcomes the little birds, won’t he also welcome all people into his gracious presence? As indeed, in the beginning, God made us all of one blood – and as the apostle tells us in the book of Acts (17) “in him we live and move and have our being.” (And –) The main message of the letter to the Ephesians is God making us one family, again, as we were in the beginning, reuniting and reconciling us to God and one another through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All are welcome.

Even King Solomon, not always faithful to the commandments of God, today gives us an early rough-draft-version of Ephesians – proclaiming the temple of God open for foreigners as well as Israelites. (Maybe this was partly self-interest, since Solomon married 700 princesses from around the world to cement political alliances. Life would be even more complicated for him if he couldn’t invite his wives and in-laws to temple services, at least for holiday festivals. And even if Solomon’s words here were due to self-interest – at least it was enlightened self-interest – in anticipation, unknowingly, but perceptively, of the coming of Christ, with his universal welcome extended to all people everywhere.)

So we have great hope… As we remember – better is one day in your courts O Lord, than a thousand elsewhere. CS Lewis reminds us (in his book, Reflections on the Psalms) Psalm 90 tells us a thousand years in our time is like a single day in God’s time – and 2nd Peter takes the word of the psalm another step, saying “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years – and – a thousand years are like one day.” God’s time in other words is interactive with human time – yet God’s time is far greater than our time – for God’s time is eternity – so one day in the house of the Lord can last forever…

So for sure, far better to be a door-keeper – or any kind of helper – in the house of the Lord – than to live in the tents of wickedness – where the weather is always way-too-hot and far-too-cold – and nobody ever shows even the slightest sign of happiness – or appreciation – or gratitude…

So lets keep learning from the birds, our teachers – and take up permanent residence in the house of the Lord. Remembering anywhere we experience God’s presence can be God’s temple…

So let’s keep praying – and pressing on – to be God’s people – living happy and blessed in the presence of God … And let’s keep singing the Lord’s song… (How lovely, Lord, how lovely… )

Thanks be to God. Amen.