The Sunday Sermon: Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, February 19, 2017
Scripture: Psalm 84
We are a God-intoxicated group of people … we are God-intoxicated. Drunk in the Lord – High on the Holy – Silly in the Spirit.
What does that expression, that phrase, that description, conjure up in your mind? No doubt there are negative images running through our minds. We most quickly associate “intoxication” with the slurring of words and stumbling of feet. Those of us who wrestle with the demons of addiction to alcohol or other drugs, personally or among our families or friends, may at first conjure up some very disagreeable associations. But what does it do to our imaginations to place the title “God” before the word “intoxicated?” We are God-intoxicated.
Consider yourself, ourselves, to be God-intoxicated, when, in spite all the questions we may have about wickedness and evil; no matter what doubts we harbor about how God is present in the world and in our lives when so much seems to be going wrong; no matter how many different ways people “of reason,” including our very selves, have to explain away the reality of “God,” the sacred, the Holy, the “More” in our lives; when, in spite of all of that, we still cannot dismiss our experience of something other, transcendent, and beyond all our limits.
We are a God-intoxicated group of people because we know, even when we can’t describe or explain it, perhaps exactly because we can’t describe or explain it, that there is “God” at work in our lives and in the world. We are “God”-intoxicated. Let us begin in that identity this morning and keep that particular point in mind as we continue in the moments ahead. But first … let’s pray …
Now, listen for the Word of God: Read Psalm 84 … The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. (If you have a mind to, keep that Psalm before you on your lap this morning. We’re going to be going back and forth to it as we walk through it) …
(God-intoxicated … remember that …)
Psalm 84 is perhaps the most expressive and beautiful of all the songs of Zion. Of all the psalms that celebrate Zion and its Temple as God’s dwelling place, the eighty-fourth has been the favorite. Its joy in the place where God dwells and the comparisons and experiences used to illustrate that joy make it one of the most highly expressive poems of all times, biblical and beyond.
From the opening exclamation (How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!) to its closing beatitude (Happy is everyone who trusts in you, O God.) the psalm celebrates the joys afforded by the dwelling of “God” with mortals. This dwelling, the place where God is, is not found in distant, external heights that locate God far apart from us, but in the immediate, even internal depths that find God right here with us, even, we dare, deep within us. Four times in this psalm – in the opening verse, and again and again and again in verses three, eight, and twelve – God is called by the title “Lord of hosts.” This, as it turns out, is the title especially associated with the Ark of the Covenant, which is ancient Israel’s symbol of God’s presence with God’s people.
This psalm was originally sung by pilgrims as they made their way toward, arrived at, or walked about Jerusalem. As they arrived they sang out: “God is here, in the Temple court!” Do we sing that our as we arrive on Sunday morning, here? “God is here!” Not sure, maybe more like “Well … we’re here … how long are we here?!” No, no, that’s not air. Because we are here. I know there’s some obligation at work, but there’s more. The More … We gather because we do feel “God” in this place. We are together! “Our hearts and our flesh,” our bodies and our souls, our minds and our Spirits “sing for joy to the living God!” And, according to this Psalm, one day here, I might even suggest even one hour here, in this place at this time, with God could be better than a thousand anywhere else.
This psalm places incomparable value on being present in “the place of presence,” even for the shortest time and in the most minimal way! Even birds, the swallow and the sparrow find the sanctuary a desirable and enviable place to rest! When those who travel here arrive, they make it a place of springs by bringing the early rain. They, we, go from strength to strength. Every visit to the Temple, or to our sanctuary, is a profound sense of pilgrimage. We come here, and others travel to get here, not just for practical or personal reasons. We go, we come, theologically! We come because we know that God is beyond our limits, but we also know that God is powerfully among us and deep, deep within us. We come here to re-unite with the God beyond, the God among, and the God deep within. We come here bewcuase so many other places and times in our lives don’t offer what this room does.
We come to this place, a “lovely dwelling place of the Lord of hosts” to confess our need for one another and to profess that our lives are not our own. Insofar as we are powerful, our strength derives from “God” – Love incarnate and love of one another. Insofar as we have any worth, it is derived from what this Love has bestowed upon us as a church, as a gathered people, as brothers and sisters in Christ. Insofar as we are happy, it is because we have entrusted our lives and our futures to one another and to this Love, not because we have found solace in the material well-being that our lives beyond this room provide.
The words of our Psalm proclaim “our King and our God,” a double title that means this Reality is the sovereign power of the universe and the center of our personal and communal lives, that which makes all things come together for the life we have to live outside of these walls! Pilgrimage to this place, to God’s house, is a profound symbol of the centering and direction of all of life! That’s why we’re here! Oh, I know you think you’re here this morning because you mom or dad made you come. You think you came because you know I’d call you later this week if you hadn’t. You think you’re here because you have some sort of obligation to fill to some rather ill-defined institution.
But you’re wrong. When it’s all said and done you’re wrong. I know these and other explanations may be the reason you got dressed to come this morning, but you are here now because you are God-intoxicated (did you remember that?!). Your soul longs, “indeed it, too, faints,” for the presence of God. That’s why you’re here … now. How lovely it is!!! How happy we are …
So, with that more firmly establishes … look around you … here comes the payoff, the whole point of understanding and getting excited about your own presence here. (I’ve asked you to do this before in a different context.) Next week we worship together and celebrate the past year in our Annual Congregational Meeting, very intentionally incorporated in our Worship service. Next week we celebrate the mission and ministry of this community in formal ways, so this week, look around you … see the people who are here in your mind as you ask this question: Who … is not here? In this place with you … Who is not here, who should be here?
Imagine, not just those who are members or regular participants here, but those who are part of your beloved community beyond these walls – your family, your friends. Remembering last week’s “you have heard it said, but I say,” scripture lesson from Matthew, who else are you leaving out of this place, so central to life itself. Who is not here because you are not letting them in? Your enemies, those you dislike, those you judge unworthy, those you are afraid of, those who scare you. Who is not with you, with us, this morning – physically or spiritually – who you think really needs to be here?
Maybe you’re picturing some members of this community you haven’t seen in a while. Maybe someone who isn’t a member here or in any other church community – some friend in your life who you know is God-intoxicated but who keeps coming up with reasons for not coming, let alone joining, a church fellowship, here or anywhere. Maybe it’s someone you don’t know too well at all, but whose face and family just come to mind. And almost certainly, it’s all those people who annoy you or anger you. Who come to mind when I ask you:
Who is not here this morning? Members, non-members, family, friend, acquaintance, relative stranger, adversary? And how can you get them here? Physically sitting in a pew or spiritually filling your thoughts and you heart?
If we truly believe that this place is one of the places in our lives that gives life meaning and direction; if we truly believe that this place in one of the places in our lives where we encounter something “other,” transcendent and beyond ourselves; if we truly believe that in this place all of life can be centered and directed by a way of seeing the world as good and plentiful and full of promise, then we need to be sure that everyone who seeks such a place is given the opportunity to experience that reality in this place!
We are Doorkeepers … because we are here. Accepting that title means accepting its duties. And the duties of that office include, at least, two things: That we ourselves wait at the door to enter the sanctuary and that we encourage and enable everyone who desires entry to cross the threshold. Doorkeepers … in the house of our God.
What difference does it make whether we’re here or not, if those who aren’t here don’t arrive? (Listen to that question again …)
That’s a question we’ll ask next week as we gather to celebrate the love shared last year and to challenge ourselves in the year ahead.
How lovely is this dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
Our souls long, indeed they faint
For your courts, the courts of the Lord;
Our hearts and our flesh sing for joy
To you, the living God.
We are doorkeepers in the house of our God. We must fling the doors wide and enter with all who would come. How lovely it would be, indeed. Let’s sing together …
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / February 19, 2017