Sunday, June 26, 2011

Homily: The Second Sunday after Pentecost [June 26, 2011] Christ Church Cranbrook

As we gather this morning, I have at least two reasons to be thankful. For one thing, I am grateful for the weather this weekend. Finally! For another, I am thankful that we did not read the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac on Father’s Day.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is one of the most perplexing, painful tales in all of scripture. I have thought long and hard this week about how to preach on something else this morning—the weather, say, or jazz, or what’s wrong with greeting card holidays. But, in fact, the Old Testament reading today—called by Jews the Akedah or “the binding of Isaac”—is one of the central stories in the Hebrew Bible. Scholars have tried to make sense of it for thousands of years. At some point, every one of us must come to terms with it.

The facts of the story are elementally simple. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering. Abraham and Isaac journey three days until they come to a mountain. As they ascend the hill, Isaac poignantly asks his father where they will get the lamb for the sacrifice. Abraham replies, “the LORD will provide.” When they arrive, Abraham builds an altar, binds Isaac and lays him on it, and draws a knife with which to kill him. God stays his hand and says, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." They spy a ram caught in a thicket and offer the animal up as a sacrifice instead. And then they make their way down the mountain.

There are a few things in what screenwriters call the “backstory” we need to understand. The first is that Isaac is not just any child. He is of course precious, but he is important for many more reasons. Abraham had been called out of all the people in the world to follow God, and that means leaving his home (Ur of the Chaldees, present day Iraq) and his kindred and going to a new place (Canaan, present day Palestine). He and his wife Sarah were old and childless. God tells them that if they follow him all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through them. He says that their descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand in the desert. When Sarah hears this and the related promise that she will conceive and bear a son in old age, she laughs. The name Isaac—Yitzhak—in Hebrew means “laughter”. Sarah laughs, as we do, at what seems impossible or at least unexpected.

So Isaac represents what any child would mean to parents who had waited so long to bear him, but he means this much more: in him resides the future of Israel, the future of Abraham and God’s blessing on the whole human enterprise. As we pick up the action in our story this morning, Abraham has already been asked to give up his past—his homeland, his people. He is now being asked to give up his future. He is making the journey on what the biblical scholar Gerhard von Rad calls “the road out into Godforsakenness, a road on which Abraham does not know that God is only testing him.” [von Rad, Genesis, p.244] We naturally ask: what kind of a God would test people like that? What kind of God would withdraw the possibility of salvation so recently promised?

We cannot explain this story away by using preaching tricks. In a sense, reading the Bible is like surfing: when a hard passage comes along, we need to move into rather than away from it. One way to move into rather than away from the binding of Isaac is to understand how the book of Genesis—in fact how the first five books of the Bible, the Torah—functioned in Israel’s life. One way to think of these patriarchal stories is to see them as Israel’s national story, its epic. As an epic hero, Abraham is the ancestor of all the Israelites and stands for the primordial person of faith. He is the existential loner, the person who is addressed by the universe and has to respond in faith, even if what he’s asked to do seems absurd.

Abraham was called by God for no obvious reason. He wasn’t necessarily the smartest, the most powerful, the best looking guy wandering around ancient Mesopotamia. Israel always understood that its special relationship with God was a gift, not something they had earned on their own. In the act of handing Isaac over and getting him back, Israel learns, as von Rad says, to see itself represented by Isaac,

laid on Yahweh’s altar, given back to him, then given life again by him alone. That is to say, it could base its existence in history not on its own legal titles as other nations did, but only on the will of him who in the freedom of his will in history permitted Isaac to live. [p.245]

One way, then, to understand the binding of Isaac is to see it as an epic representation of ancient Israel’s self-understanding. It’s also a story about the church’s self-understanding, too. We didn’t make all this up. We are a people who owe our life and meaning to God alone. In this gesture of giving Isaac over and receiving him back, Abraham gives up all claim to be the author of the blessing and the promise. Event though all Israel was descended from Abraham through Isaac, the blessing and promise do not originate with Abraham. They come from God. And this story is a way that helps us remember that.

So there’s a national, epic dimension to this story. But something else is going on here, too. To me, Abraham is a recognizable figure. I see something of myself in him. Like me, Abraham wants everything—he wants, as people used to say in the 1970s and 1980s—to have it all. He wants to do right both by God and by Isaac. He wants to be both successful and happy. He wants both reputation and family. In the same way, Abraham is confronted with a choice. God or Isaac? Career or family?

Last week I heard a radio interview with the novelist Ann Patchett, the author of the bestseller, Bel Canto. [Bookworm 6/9/11] She was talking about her new novel, State of Wonder, in which a female anthropologist contemplates the choice between a big career and having children. Listen to what Ann Patchett said about that:

We make choices, and somehow in this country we forget that there is a choice, and you don’t get to just leave all your options open forever. So if you decide that you want to be a doctor and you don’t want to pursue a relationship and you want to be on your own through your forties, then maybe you have made a choice about whether or not you’re going to have children.

To which the interviewer, Michael Silverblatt, replied, “What we’ve discovered is that life is a spectrum of impossible choices.”

“You don’t get to just leave all your options open forever.” “Life is a spectrum of impossible choices.” The story of Abraham and Isaac makes us uncomfortable not only because it’s about child sacrifice. It makes us uncomfortable because it crystallizes the dilemma that affluent professional men and women face every day. Sigmund Freud said, “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” God offers Abraham the impossible choice between love and work, and, to all our chagrin, Abraham chooses work over love, chooses career over family, chooses to sacrifice his son on the altar of his God. It is only God’s grace and mercy that save Abraham from the consequences of that choice. In this respect, Abraham is exactly like you and me—or at least exactly like me. He wants to have it all. He wants to forget that there is a choice, that you don’t get to just leave all your options open forever. We want to be successful and we want to have fulfilling relationships. And our culture offers us a fantasy that somehow, if we manage things just right, we’ll be able to get everything we want. But the culture easily forgets a central biblical truth. We’re finite, we’re limited. We can’t have it all because we can’t do it all. Life is a spectrum of impossible choices. We can’t leave all our options open forever. We do have to choose.

We could call Abraham’s impossible choice the choice between obedience and relationship. We could call our postmodern, affluent suburban version of that the choice between success and family. Abraham laid his son on the altar of obedience. More than we would like to admit, you and I lay our children, our spouses, our parents, our friends on the altar of success. And when we’re most dishonest about it, we tell the ones we’re laying on the altar that we’re doing it for them. If Abraham’s story makes us squirm, it’s because we see ourselves so clearly in him and in his dilemma. Abraham is not some ancient Bible-land mythical figure. Abraham is any one of us who wants to live as if life won’t hand you an impossible choice. None of us can keep all our options open forever. Each of us has to choose.

As hard and as weird as the story of Abraham’s binding of Isaac may be, it nevertheless brings us some surprisingly good news. The hard truth is that when he finally had to, Abraham made a choice, and it was a stunningly bad one. He laid his son on the altar of his own fulfillment. That choice looks bad to you and me. It also looks bad to God. All of us want to believe that we can have it all, that we can totally pursue our ambitions and perfectly nourish our relationships. We’re like the parent talking on a cellphone while playing with their kids, pretending that they are attending to both love and work. To believe that pretense, you have to believe that you have infinite capacity for everything. But God knows that we have limits, that we can only do one thing well at a time. The good news is that God would not let Abraham rest with his bad choice. God stopped Abraham’s killing hand and gave Isaac back to him. God offered Abraham the chance not to choose between work and love, but to find a way to balance them. And in balancing work and love Abraham became the father of Isaac and Ishmael, the husband of Sarah, and the ancestor of all of us who believe.

Life may be a spectrum of impossible choices, but its cornerstone is built on the way we balance work and love, balance the pursuit of our ambitions with our responsibilities to others. Abraham misread God: he believed that faithfulness in one area of life required that he turn his back on the other. So ask yourself: how do you misread God? On what altar are you sacrificing your loved ones or your own authentic self? On the altar of your work? On the altar of your principles? On the altar of your fantasies? On the altar of your ideology? Abraham was about to give himself and his son over to a future of unimaginable horror, but he was rescued from his bad choice by a God who knew him better than he knew himself. What this story gives us is God’s refusal to make us live with our bad choices. We regularly hand our loved ones and ourselves over, but God stays our hand and gives them back. May we, like Abraham, be open to the staying hand of that saving God who knows and loves us, who saves us from bad choices, who stops us when we try to place those we love and even our own best selves on that sacrificial altar, and gives us back each other and ourselves as we and God hope we might be. Amen.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Homily: Pentecost [June 12, 2011] Christ Church Cranbrook

Saying Psalm 104 this morning reminds me of a bright spring morning in either 1987 or 1988, when I saw my first school of whales:

Yonder is the great and wide sea
with its living things too many to number, *
creatures both small and great.

There move the ships,
and there is that Leviathan, *
which you have made for the sport of it. [Psalm 104.26-27]

In those days I was the Vicar of St. Aidan’s Church in Malibu, California, and the California gray whales make their way south in the winter and north in the spring passing through the Catalina Channel about 100 yards or so off the coast of Point Dume in Malibu. Up until that time I had been a bit dismissive of the popular piety about whales. But my attitude changed on that spring morning as, running on the beach, I saw an enormous herd of gray whales round the turn of Point Dume and swim north. I had never before been in the presence of something so mysterious and so “other”.

If you’ve ever seen them up close, you’ll agree that whales are impressive creatures. They are huge. But it’s not only their size that is compelling. They are also gracious and stately in their bearing. And there’s one more thing. They come from someplace else. They live in the ocean. They are creatures of the earth, but they dwell in a part of the earth that is mysterious, hidden, removed from us. Looking a whale in the eye as I did that morning is what we at Berkeley in the 1960s used to call a “mind-blowing” experience. When you do that you’re making contact with a creature who inhabits an entirely different reality than you do. When you do that you are connecting with a being from someplace else.

And recalling that moment reminds me of a related experience in Pennsylvania seven years ago. In 2004 Kathy and I were living in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and that was the year the cicadas, the insects who appear every seventeen years, took over the world for several days. They make a deafening roar. The first time I heard them I was driving, and I thought that there was something wrong with my car—perhaps the fan belt needed replacing, or I had a cracked block. The sound inside the car was truly disturbing. It was only when I got out that I realized what the sound was—the cicadas had wound themselves up into their full, celebratory screech.

Now I know there are many who found this sound annoying, but for some reason I found it deeply reassuring and, at times, quite moving. Like the whales off the California coast, the 17-year cicadas heard that year came to us from someplace else. Most of the time they inhabit another reality than the one we normally see. And more than that: they are witnesses to a process and a nature that is bigger and deeper than we can easily imagine. This cycle of theirs—17 years underground feeding on the nourishment that tree roots carry to their leaves, 4 to 6 weeks above ground, singing, mating and dying in a relatively short spurt of time—this cycle goes on above us, beneath us, in spite of us. Its rhythms are entirely apart from us people and the things that usually concern us. As George Harrison said, “Life goes on within you and without you.”

Whales and cicadas: what could they possibly have to do with Pentecost, today’s festival, literally the “fiftieth day” after Easter. Like the holiday, our fellow creatures remind us that we are part of something bigger, deeper, more wonderful than what we usually perceive. We are deeply in touch, if only for a moment, with the reality of a life from someplace else.

Let’s look at aspects of Pentecost this morning: the big, deep reality hidden, as Gerard Manely Hopkins said, “deep down things”, and the way that reality expresses itself in the here and now.

First, the big, deep, wonderful reality: if you asked me to summarize what Christianity is “about”, I’d say that it has to do with God’s desire to be connected with us. If you read the Bible straight through, it describes the lengths to which God will go to be in relationship with human beings. God made us in the divine image. And though it is the Bible’s verdict that we have done a lot over the years to try to sever the connection—from eating the forbidden fruit to murmuring in the wilderness to worshipping golden calves and killing the prophets—God keeps coming back to us, keeps calling us to return, to repent, to live life in the divine light of God’s hopeful promise of joyful and abundant blessing.

And that’s just the Old Testament. In the New Testament, God takes that enterprise one step further: God becomes one of us, takes on human form in the person of Jesus, lives among us and shows us what an abundant, joyful, compassionate, deep life looks like. The life of Jesus is not a series of magic tricks; the life of Jesus is God’s greatest and most audacious scriptural attempt at reestablishing this connection with us that God so deeply desires. Again, we people try to break that connection by taking Jesus to the cross. But once again, God’s drive toward us keeps on coming, and so Jesus returns to us in the resurrection. God comes back again, and again, and again. That is one—perhaps the most important—meaning of Easter.

But Jesus’s earthly presence could not last forever, and so 40 days later, at Ascension, he returned to the Father and promised us an abiding presence: an Advocate, a Comforter. This presence we await emerges from this long, profound process that we’re a part of. When the church gathered, as we hear in the Acts reading, in one place and “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind,” this again is not some kind of New Testament magic trick. The coming of the Spirit is a new act, and a surprising one, in this ongoing process of creation, redemption, birth, death, and renewal. To understand what it means to have the gift of the Spirit on this fiftieth day of Easter we must remember the sense of anxiety and loss that Jesus’s companions had twice experienced at his death and ascension. In receiving the Spirit, the Jesus movement, the community of Jesus’s friends and companions, is first of all taking in the assurance that they are part of some deep, ongoing, loving process that is immensely bigger than they are and which catches them up into it. Just as at Easter, so here today at Pentecost: God has come to us. God has not left us to our own devices. God is in and among and with us. Pentecost is the newest chapter in God’s ongoing drama of the search for a human connection. We matter to God. We matter so much that nothing can remove us from God’s presence. Not death. Not our own faithlessness. Not our worries and fears. Not anything.

So the big thing the early Christians got at Pentecost was a deep and abiding sense of joy that they were once again in the same room with the One whom they had come to know on the roads of Galilee, in the streets of Jerusalem and at the table of inclusive and welcoming fellowship. This experience is the same one that Jesus names when he greets the disciples on Easter night in John’s Gospel: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Easter was about Jesus himself being back, if only for 40 days. Pentecost is about something even deeper and greater: Jesus of Nazareth may be gone from the world, but he and the God he enfleshed are now present in and among and through us. We are not only connected. We are now, like Jesus, taken up into God’s divine life ourselves. The Holy Spirit is not something abstract and gaseous floating around in the sky someplace. The Holy Spirit is the living presence of God in and among us.

A couple of weeks ago my son Oliver and I went to see Werner Herzog’s new film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams. It’s a beautiful movie filmed in the caves of southern France where the painting on the walls are around 30,000 years old. At one point in the movie, Herzog interviews an ethnologist as he tries to understand the creative process as pre-modern people would. The ethnologist quotes what an Australian aborigine said to him when asked why he was painting on a rock. The aborigine said, “I am not painting. The hand of the spirit is painting.”

Pentecost is about the hand of the spirit guiding us in our day-to-day lives. It’s not only the whales and the cicadas who are in touch with life’s rhythms. It is you and me. We now together have been given the gift of the Spirit, and for us that means that we, like Jesus, have been taken up into God. So as Easter season reaches its culmination, as followers and companions of Jesus, we rejoice in the twin gifts of resurrection and presence. Nothing can separate us from God’s love made flesh in and among us, in Jesus and each other. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, we are part of an ongoing life that is bigger and deeper than we are. And if we give ourselves over to it, that ongoing life will guide us and protect us as we seek to live in compassionate, loving alignment with the will of the One Jesus called his Father and we now know as the Spirit, God embodied in ourselves. If we align ourselves with that Spirit, we will not be painting. The hand of the spirit will be painting.

The ongoing life of Jesus and his presence among us in the Spirit now are God’s ultimate gifts to us. Your life is as connected to the depths of reality as are the lives of mysterious creatures who dwell in the deep of the sea or under the earth. Your life is as connected to God as were those of Jesus’s companions who knew firsthand the Spirit’s rushing wind and tongues of fire. Let each of us embrace that presence, feel that wind, and hear those tongues. And then let us together move out in a Pentecost blessing to paint the world with the hand of the spirit. Amen.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Homily: The Seventh Sunday of Easter [June 5, 2011] Christ Church Cranbrook

For some reason I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the New Yorker writer and comic novelist Peter de Vries, whose books I read avidly when I was younger. A favorite of mine among his works is a 1971 novel called Into Your Tent I’ll Creep. It is set on the Gold Coast of Connecticut, and one of its main characters is a sophisticated Unitarian clergyman named Reverend Shorty Hopwell. Shorty is the kind of urbane, cultured cleric who announces the vintage of the coming Sunday’s communion wine in the service leaflet. He is so hip that he has made not only marriage but divorce a sacrament in his church, as he says “in keeping with the aim to make religion relevant to all of life.”

And then something happens. Shorty has an emergency surgery, and the only book he can find to read while recuperating is the Gideon Bible in his hospital nightstand. For the first time in his life, Shorty reads the New Testament and is born again. Shorty’s conversion to Christianity ruins his ministerial career. He loses his plush, plum parish and travels from town to town trying to evangelize the affluent suburbanites of Fairfield County. As a character says about him, “He’s got religion, and that’s bad in a minister . . . interferes hopelessly with his work.”

People don’t read Peter de Vries much anymore, but his novels are still laugh-out-loud funny. One of his protagonists becomes such an awful failure at everything he tries that he adopts as his motto, “I stink, therefore I am.” Another of his novels begins, “Call me, Ishmael. Call me anytime.” I love Peter de Vries because he aims his satiric arrow at both narrow fundamentalists and smugly comfortable liberal Christians alike, making fun of the easy pieties and shallow aphorisms constantly on offer as religious truth in our culture. As a character in The Blood of the Lamb says, “The superficial and the slipshod have the ready answers, but those looking this complex life straight in the eye acquire a wealth of perception so composed of delicately balanced contradictions that they dread, or resent, the call to couch any of it in bland generalizations.” And this was written in the days before cable television and the internet.

What brings Peter de Vries and his satire of urbane Christians to mind this morning is the prayer Jesus offers on behalf of his followers in John’s Gospel:

"I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. . . . And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. " [John 17]

To understand that prayer we need to see it in its context. Last Thursday was Ascension Day, the holiday that celebrates the ascension of Jesus to God the Father. In the chronology of the New Testament, after his death and resurrection, Jesus stays with his companions for 40 days—Easter through Ascension. On Ascension Day he departs, and then there is a ten-day period between the 40th day and Pentecost, which means, literally, “50th day”, when Jesus’s companions—the disciples and apostles—are literally on their own in the world. The theologian Karl Barth called this ten-day period the “significant pause” in the action, a time when the followers and friends of Jesus felt themselves bereft of his presence. The church’s calendar tells us that the Spirit will come next Sunday at Pentecost and that God will be with us irrevocably and for good. But his first followers did not know that, so for these ten days the abiding presence of Jesus was only a hope and a promise. So, like Jesus’s earthly companions, you and I stand today in the pause between the promise of Ascension and the fulfillment of Pentecost. We wait and watch with the disciples for what God will do next. The Gospel we heard this morning ends not with a proclamation but with a prayer: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one." We hope and believe that God will answer that prayer. We’ll have to wait until next week to see exactly how.

And it is this waiting and watching we all do—Barth himself called this ten day pause an epitome of the Christian life itself—that leads to a consideration of what Jesus might mean when he talks about us in relation to the world. When John’s Gospel uses the word “world”, it does so in two senses. There is the “world” as God’s creation taken as a whole, and that is a good thing. God made the world; God loves the world. But then there is the “world” as the part of creation that resists or denies God—that sense of “world” we still find in our English adjective, “worldly”. In today’s Gospel, Jesus seems decidedly negative about the world in its most worldly sense. He wants his friends and followers to be kept safe from the world and the devil, figured in 1 Peter today as “a roaring lion” . . . prowling around, “looking for someone to devour.”

One of the reasons I find Reverend Shorty Hopwell so funny is that I see more than a little bit of myself in him. While I don’t have a sommelier on staff to choose the communion wine, as an acculturated suburbanite, I do feel perhaps a bit too comfortable in what Jesus would call “the world”. And, as Episcopalians, most of us seem at ease navigating the customs of our affluent, consumer culture. There’s a lot of good in that: we don’t withdraw from the world as other Christians do, eyeing it with suspicion and distrust. We can meet people and love them where and as they are. But the more we participate in the worldly aspects of life, the more we are compromised by them. So when I hear Jesus in this morning’s Gospel, I wonder: are we polite suburban Christians all just a bit too comfortable in the world, especially this beautiful version of it? Have we substituted the language of the country club for the language of the Gospel?

The recent beatification of Pope John Paul II has prompted many to recall his lifelong opposition to Soviet-style Communism. While it is true that John Paul was rigorously anti-Communist, we in the West tend to forget that he was equally critical of what he called the excesses of “Consumerist Capitalism”, a system that he felt to be infected with the viruses of individualism, secularism, and the undervaluing of the dignity of human labor. John Paul saw both Communism and Capitalism as “Materialist” ideologies at odds with basic Christian principles. He felt that the Christian person must always be on guard against the threats of two systems that promised fulfillment totally within the material possibilities of life. John Paul believed that Christians should not equate salvation with either the all powerful state or material prosperity. For Christians salvation had to do with allegiance to a different order, one that is always ill at ease in and critical of things as they are.

This is not to suggest that, like Reverend Shorty Hopwell, you should give away all your possessions and wander the streets of Oakland County calling your neighbors to repent. But it is to question the way we often uncritically buy into our culture’s bad values. When Jesus prays for his Father to protect us because we are in the world without him, he knows what he is talking about. He knows that we are often easy prey for ideas, leaders, ideologies that promise fulfillment if we give our allegiance to things that are less than God. Political ideas, possessions, achievements, even relationships—these things are often very good on their own terms but they become pernicious when we begin to confuse them with ultimate values. Like sheep we can easily go astray. Bad values are always prowling around like a lion, waiting for us to elevate a second house, a career move, the college of your choice, or a new romance to the status of something we should worship. When he prays for us this morning, Jesus knows how vulnerable we are to the tyranny of bad ideas. He asks that God sustain us in this wilderness and make us into the kind of people who know that their hunger will be finally satisfied with nothing less than the enduring presence of God.

St. Augustine began his Confessions by saying directly to God, “Our souls are restless until they rest in you.” As Christians, we believe that God is incarnate, made flesh, in each of us. Augustine knew that there is a part of us that will always be unsettled until reunited with its source--God. The experience of being a Christian person at large in a “worldly” world is similar to the way the Old Testament writers portrayed the feeling of Exile. We know we have a home, and as beautiful as this world is, we know that this isn’t it. Some deep part of us longs for someplace else, what the author of Hebrews calls “another country, a heavenly one”. We know that our spirits will be restless until they rest in God. What do we do in the meantime?

A good friend of mine spent some time years ago in an alcohol rehabilitation program, and he said that one of the verses that sustained him in this wilderness experience was a verse from Psalm 119:

Your statutes have been like songs to me*

wherever I have lived as a stranger. [Psalm 119.54]

When we are honest with ourselves we know ourselves to be strangers, exiles, people in but not quite of this world. I don’t mean this in a “beam me up Scotty” kind of way. I mean this in the sense that Jesus uses. You and I make our way here Sunday after Sunday because we know, in some way that we can’t describe, that this place is our home. It’s our home because its focal point is the table around which Jesus gathers us in fellowship with himself and all those who feel themselves drawn to a vision of things as they should be on God’s terms. It’s our home because it’s the place we can, as we did in last Sunday’s healing service, let down our facades and acknowledge ourselves as people who need each other and God. It’s our home because it’s the place we hear the scriptures, God’s statutes, which are the songs God offers us as we sojourn in the wilderness. None of us has to be here this morning. But we make our way here because something deep in our spirits responds to the words and actions we do here. We make our way here because, living as we do in the gap between promise and fulfillment, we know that the abiding presence of the One we seek is in this place as in no other.

A week from today we’ll have Pentecost--along with Christmas and Easter, the third major feast of the Christian year. At Pentecost, the Spirit will come, the confusion of tongues will be healed, and the church will be born not as an institution but as the living flesh and blood embodiment of God in the world. But that’s next week. Today we wait and stand in the exilic wilderness of that significant pause, listening to the songs our statutes sing to us, praying with Jesus for grace to withstand the worldly temptations to mistake the partial for the ultimate, the false for the real. Even and especially in this wilderness, we are offered solace and strength, pardon and renewal at this table. Our souls are restless until they rest in the One whose statues are like songs to us wherever we live as strangers. Let us all gather around that table to sing those songs, to wait, to watch, and finally to give thanks for the One who always comes toward us, even now in this significant pause. Amen.