The Good Shepherd Leads Us Still

Slide2We are in the fourth Sunday in our journey through this Lenten season, which ends on Easter Sunday.

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The past three Sundays, we concluded worship with special ceremonies surrounding the 1870, 1884, 1923, and 1960 dedication stones.

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Last week’s gathering around the 1960 stone was particularly meaningful, as we opened a time capsule and revealed the contents placed there on February 14, 1960, and as members who were here then and now gathered for photos.

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Some of these same folks may appear in photos from the February 14, 1960, laying of the stone.

Slide7In the worship bulletin we found (somewhat discolored from the thick paper wrapping which was placed in the sealed copper safe-deposit-box-like time capsule) I discovered that the choreography of the ceremony was similar, gathering outside after worship, a service presided over by another pastor named “John,” who also used the text from Ephesians 2.

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As our journey of faith continues, it’s probably good to acknowledge that there’s something extraordinary about today’s worship service. It’s not just the fact that we are worshiping in a new space. We’ve done that before. Edwardsville Presbyterians have worshiped together at Camp Carew, on youth mission trips, in experimental worship services at places like SIUE and the YMCA. What makes today unusual is the purposeful inclusion in worship of a physical journey from Kansas Street to Goshen School, and the uprooting from a familiar home this journey represents.

This choreography makes us think and feel things similar to what our nomadic spiritual ancestors thought and felt as they moved from place to place. At Kansas Street, it is relatively easy to appreciate biblical references to worship in the Jerusalem temple. “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” At Goshen School we will be given a unique opportunity to appreciate what it was like to be God’s people during the time of the post-Exodus wilderness years, or post-Kingdom exile years, a time of moving forward to a new and more permanent home, the landscape constantly changing.

If you recall your personal experiences of travel to new places, then you remember that it can be disconcerting to wake up and find yourself in an unfamiliar building. As I speak today, I realize it’s perfectly normal and natural for your mind to be focused on other issues and questions: transportation, directions, parking, “Where is the coffee?” “How do I find the restrooms?” “Can the children eat crackers in the school library?” One of the first things to acknowledge about our journey to temporary worship at Goshen School is that we don’t feel settled, and it will take some time to get our bearings. And that’s ok.  I hope you’ll linger for a few minutes after worship, and get a sense of the building we occupy.

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The 23rd Psalm is featured prominently in today’s lectionary schedule of scripture readings. When I read it, I can’t help but think of the geography  that formed the context for its writing. On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, the elevation descends 4000 feet over about 15 miles. Deep canyons are found in the area.  One of the best known is called the Wadi Qelt.

The slide gives you just enough information to imagine what it would be like to travel that valley, at points noticing the space around you darker, only a portion of the sky is visible above the canyon walls. The Wadi Qelt invites you to imagine what it must have been like for the ancient traveler, on foot or with a pack animal. He or she must have wondered regularly about the possibility of a thief hidden among the rocks, waiting to make his move, or a wild animal lurking the shadows looking for a meal, or a torrential distant rain that might bring a drowning flood. Wadi Qelt is the valley of the shadow of death. In the presence of such threat,  the psalmist encourages us not to be controlled by our fear, because God walks with us through dangerous places. [1]

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When the 23rd Psalm makes its appearance in the middle of Lent, I think a wise choice it was for the framers of the lectionary  to remind us of God’s presence and provision just when we’re in the deepest and darkest part of Lent’s valley.  It is our scriptural reminder that in the “dark valley” of Lent, in the midst of our most fearful challenges, the Good Shepherd travels with us. The promise of the Good Shepherd’s presence  is encouragement for us today.  We don’t face the same physical threats our ancestors did. It’s easier to find evidence that God is providing for our congregation’s future.  Still, the temptations and distractions of our age are dangerous in their own way, and fear of the future is still a real and significant threat.

Maybe you’re one of those for whom this journey is particularly frightening, and anxiety-producing.  Maybe you’re a volunteer who has devoted many hours and much energy, and this journey is simply tiring you out. Our congregation’s journey from building to building requires the sort of courage and strength we find only through trust in Him.

In the midst of whatever particular valley you may feel yourself today, the words of the old Tommy Dorsey hymn seem particularly meaningful:

 Precious Lord, take my hand

Lead me on, let me stand

I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m worn

Through the storm, through the night

Lead me on to the light

Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.

From Kansas Street, to Goshen School, to Ridgeview Road, (and beyond!) precious Lord, lead us home.

NOTE

[1] This is the way Wadi Qelt is described by my colleague and traveling partner Lew Hopfe in his sermon “My Twin Demons,” delivered to Plymouth Congregational Church, Wichita, KS, 17 May 1992.

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~ by JohnH1962 on March 26, 2017.