November 12, 2017
Anthem: Acclamation, from Gospel MassSenior Choir
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Our psalm speaks of a traveler to Jerusalem, lifting their eyes, seeing the hills around them.
The land around Jerusalem is hills, and the roads to Jerusalem are in valleys that cut through the rocky landscape. In King David’s day, these valleys made the city was so easy to defend that they joked even the blind and the lame could withstand David’s siege.
In Jesus’ day, the roads were the same beaten paths. The Romans had built major roads to the west, over by the Mediterranean Sea, and east of Jerusalem another major road went north and south. But Jerusalem was the city of the Jews and their temple, not a major Roman city.
In David’s day, these roads that wound through the valleys to get to Jerusalem were travelled by ambassadors, and soldiers, and merchants. In Jesus’ day, they were traveled by merchants, and priests, and religious Jews who came to Jerusalem for the Temple, for festivals, for the dedication of their children to God.
We know the roads were dangerous. One of them, the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, is where the man was robbed and beaten and left for dead. And the preacher passed by, thinking up good religious reasons to justify acting on the fear in the pit of the belly. And the deacon passed by, doing the same thing. The Muslim man stopped and helped him and paid for his lodging. We call him the Good Samaritan so we don’t have to think too carefully about the implications, but we get the idea.
I have never been to Israel. I look forward to Chris getting back and hearing about her travels there.
But I have been in valleys. I have been in valleys in Detroit. Boarded up buildings rising on both sides of the road, residents forgotten, overlooked, passed by.
There are also valleys between expensive office buildings where a hundred dollar bill would not pay the rent for the space it covers on the ground, where the beggars outside are forgotten, overlooked, passed by.
We have valleys here in our little town, too. Valleys where children are undernourished, and fears are over-fed. Valleys where underemployment and daily struggles rise up on both sides of the people.
We know about other valleys of shadows: valleys of the shadow of death: a diagnosis, brokenness in a relationship, loss of job, loss of hope. Or maybe it is the shadow that death that comes as memory, as grief, that everything we see is shadowed by the loss we have known.
Our nation knows valleys of the shadow of death. Another mass shooting. Another mass one in a church. Talking about it with Mary, she reminded me of the shooting that happened in 1999 in the church in Fort Worth while I was serving a church in Dallas. I had forgotten.
She reminded me that we had to turn off the news and go out and do something else, because it was so upsetting. I did not even remember it. How many mass shootings does it take before we stop counting? Before they all run together? Before we become numb to the suffering of others?
The traveler to Jerusalem knows about fear. But instead of turning back, instead of arming themselves against their fear, they look up. They look up. They lift their eyes and they look up. And they declare their faith:
Where will MY help come from?
MY help comes from the Lord.
We know about fear. But we are called to walk in faith and not in fear.
Where will OUR help come from?
OUR help comes from the Lord.
We who are walking the twelve steps of recovery, afraid we will slip, afraid we might relapse;
We who are walking through the wilderness from our old life of pain, and sin, and being trapped, and stuck, to new life in Jesus Christ:
He will not let our foot be moved;
he who keeps us will not slumber.
When we fear that we are alone, that no one cares:
the Lord does not fall asleep at the wheel,
Jesus does not get tired of loving us.
We who have been lost in the valleys of the shadows of death, let us
lift our eyes,
for the Lord will shelter us,
and the pains of the past
and the fears of the future will not strike us down.
When the news has us overwhelmed: another shooting, another set of women finally believed in their pain and humiliation, another politician being more political than human, another… and another… and another…
When we are overwhelmed…
The Lord will keep us from all evil;
he will keep our life.
We who are sent by God to love and feed and help our neighbors, and we do not always know how or when or with what to do this work:
The Lord is our keeper,
our going out and our coming back in
are held gently in God’s strong hands.
How many valleys has God brought us through?
Every single one so far, right?
How many valleys will we face?
God only knows.
How many valleys will God bring us through?
EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.
So lift up your eyes. Know where your help comes from.
Our help comes from the Lord!
Stand in your faith, do not cower in fear.
The Lord will not let your foot be moved.
Walk in your faith, don’t run away in your fear.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forever more.
Thanks be to God.