Sermon February 14, 2016
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16, Luke 4:1-13
“Where Do You Live?”
I don’t know that I have ever been more fascinated by a place that I worked than this church. Our building is massive! It is more than 46,000 square feet. How many of you know that we have three complete floors? How many of you have walked every inch of the building? I have walked the building several times and I still discover new things about it. One of the things that intrigues me about this building is for it’s sheer size, it has a tiny parking lot. Then I remember that it was built in the 1940’s when people walked to church. The only experience I have had of walking to church was when I lived in the parsonage next door to the church in a tiny little Oregon town. There were pros and cons to that. I know that some of you walk to church and it makes me feel nostalgic. Perhaps that is part of my drive to connect with our neighborhood. Jesus talked so often about loving our neighbor, but how many people today have no idea who their neighbors are or what their names are? We certainly can’t claim to be a church that follows Jesus if we have no idea who our neighbors are and so we are making an effort. I learned this week that the group moving in across Revere Street is a organization for Native Americans that includes Head Start and other programs. I am looking forward to getting to know them as well.
Some of us have had several conversations about where people live. We organized a ride share program so we can help transport one another to church, doctor’s appointments, and other errands. I think we forget we can ask for help with that because we live in an age where the acronym DIY is everywhere – Do It Yourself. That may refer to repairing something or making something, but the DIY attitude is pretty pervasive. Get yourself there. If you can’t; stay home. That led to further conversations about where we live. We had maps made that show where we live – we have members who drive from the Jemez, East Mountains, Rio Rancho, Los Lunas, and all corners of Albuquerque to church. There is a map hanging in the Narthex – check it out after worship to get some idea of where we live. We began to wonder, who lives in the same neighborhoods? The maps give us some idea of who is close to us. Isn’t that great to know? What if we had a flat tire or we were sick and needed some soup? We could call someone who lives around the corner and it might not have occurred to us otherwise.
The Lenten groups are held in a variety of locations from the North Valley, to the Church, to the Northeast Heights. This began as a way to help us connect with our neighbors. Some people chose a group because of the location and others because of a time. We are just beginning to explore this neighborhood concept – both for our church building and for the people and where we live.
We choose where we live based on a variety of factors – price, location, access to public transportation, storage, proximity to work, family, or friends, and so on. I’m guessing you have stories of choosing places to live in your life. When Anne Marie was preparing to move to New Mexico from Oregon, she needed to see green so we ended up in a place in the North Valley with several trees. I have been trying to talk my parents into moving to New Mexico so I have been exploring options for them. They are not quite on board with this yet. It’s a huge decision for anyone – but particularly at age 80.
The Psalm today talks about where we live, but it isn’t describing apartments, or condos, or retirement communities. Instead, the Psalm says that we live in God. We began the season of Lent this week with Ash Wednesday. We heard the words of the prophet Joel who said, “yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your hearts…” (Joel 2:12) The season of Lent is reminding us where we really live. Where we really live isn’t a part of town or out of town. Where we really live is in God – all the time. In this season, we are called to come home to the God in which we dwell. What does that mean?
We begin by understanding that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Then we act in ways that take us more deeply into God. Truthfully, it can feel at times like it doesn’t make much difference. But then there are times in our lives, when we lean back and find that God is there. I wanted to focus on Psalms during Lent this year because they are the prayer book of the Bible. Many of us feel like we don’t pray well or we aren’t sure how we are supposed to pray. I think the Psalms show us that there isn’t just one way to pray. We see Psalms of awe and gratitude, Psalms of despair and lament, Psalms that question God, and Psalms recognizing that God has been there all along. The Psalms are honest and they invite us into an honest relationship with God. The Psalms are written in response to life as it happens. You and I both know that life happens to us in ways that are beautiful and terrible – it depends on the moment and the news in front of us. Somehow, our task is to make our home in God, no matter what the news may be.
Philip Simmons says, “In our lives we return home again and again. Each challenge, each crisis, each dislocation gives us a chance to renew the journey. Of course, it may not seem so wonderful at the time…All of us will be pulled off-center, we will be shaped by both disaster and delight. So we need to learn the art of returning home…” (Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life pp. 135 and 142) That is what we are doing in this season of Lent.
One of the most powerful stories of God’s love is the story of the prodigal son. You probably know the story. There are two sons. One does everything right and never stops serving his father. The other takes his share of the inheritance, blows it all on wild parties and excess. He wakes up in a pigpen and realizes that his father’s servants are better off than he is so he decides to return home and beg his father to receive him as a servant. He makes his way home ready to fall to the ground, but his father sees him coming and throws a party to welcome him. His father doesn’t give him a lecture on waste or ground him for being immature. His father is so happy to see him and says, “Welcome home.” The older son resents that his brother can blow it and still be welcomed. Both have some work to do to understand that their home is in a God who will love them no matter what. Both need to come home to God’s extravagant love and mercy.
The gospel lesson for the first Sunday in Lent tells of Jesus’ temptation. Jesus is being tempted to believe that he doesn’t need to make his home in God. Jesus is just starting out, but he sees that is a bad idea. How can he possibly know what he will face? But somehow, he gets that God will be his refuge and he knows that he will need that more than anything. This doesn’t mean Jesus is taking the easy way out or avoiding danger. But he is clear that he will make his home in God. We watch him return there again and again. He goes up the mountain, across the water, into the garden to pray and claim his home in God. I think we live with the same temptation. Do it yourself. You’ve got this. Don’t be weak.
I am guessing that some of you have made commitments for Lent. Others of you have not thought of it at all. I want to ask you to make this commitment: to pray and to make your home in God in this season. Each Sunday, we have the purple pieces of paper in the pews for you to write your prayer requests on and put them in the cross where they will stay until Easter. You may light candles each week. Reading the Psalms is another way to pray. It can be helpful to choose a word or phrase from the Psalm and use that as your prayer for the week. There are multitudes of ways to pray. None of us have reached prayer perfection and we can all learn. One of my favorite phrases is “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” (Dom Chapman) You don’t have to force yourself to pray in a form that simply doesn’t work for you. But be assured, there is a way that works for you. Your task is to seek it out. It often requires trying something for a while. It may not work at first.
God dwells in us. God’s love is with us in all things. Whatever is happening now will pass, but God will not. Make God your dwelling place. Move in and claim God as your home.