5th Sunday Pentecost
July 5, 2020
In this time of Covid-19 with its masks and social distancing and worshiping on Zoom, there is a longing for things to go back to the way they were before March 2020. Unfortunately things will not go back to they way they were. The corona virus in many ways has changed our lives forever. Perhaps Psalm 84 will remind us that there are many other ways we can experience God.
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O God of hosts! (v 1). What is God’s dwelling place? Where is God’s dwelling place? When we have conversations about God with children and even youth one universal question that pops up is “Where is God?” What they want to know is where does God live. We want to know where people live. I hear it all the time. When we are speaking about a person to someone who is not familiar with the individual, the place where the person resides almost always enters the conversation. “Oh you know, she is the one who lives on Angel Trace.” When my children were young and were invited to a friend’s house, the first question we adults ask is “What is your friends name?” and the second question is “Where do they live?” It is easy for us to answer this question when it is a human being involved, but when it comes to God that is a whole different ball game.
Can Psalm 84, with its beautiful poetic language helps us answer, “Where does God live?” “Even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your alters, O God of hosts, my ruler and my God” (v. 3). As I was writing my sermon I was sitting out on my deck reveling in the early morning silence and surrounded by the glory of God’s creation. As the sun began to rise higher in the sky and breaking through the wispy clouds, my surroundings began to awaken. First the rooster, who lives at the house on the cul-de-sac, then the crows, and finally the songbirds, reminded me of that verse in the Psalm. The birds find homes and lay their young at God’s altars writes the poet. The poet was referring to the birds that found nesting places within the confines of the Temple. I looked out at my back yard and I began to see the trees as alters. Tall, strong trunks, leaf-clad branches providing safety, shade, and good foundations upon which to build nests or perhaps simply a resting place for sojourning birds of the air. God’s alters perhaps but not God’s dwelling place.
The Psalm continues, “Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise” (v.4). The praise is not directed toward the building but toward God. The psalmist’s recalling of the Temple evokes a profound and mysterious experience of the presence of God. But is the Temple the dwelling place of God?
“The God of gods will be seen in Zion” (v.7b). The Temple was located in Zion/Jerusalem; therefore, God was understood as dwelling permanently in the city. The psalmist is writing in a time when the Temple is in ruins and the people are feeling broken and hopeless. The poet is trying to remind the people who they are and whose they are by reminding them of the time when they felt God’s presence and how they rejoiced in the care and safety of God. This is not something unique to the ancient audience of the psalmist because is true for all people of faith through the ages. I must point out a risk here in the psalm. We should avoid our tendency to identify church so closely with a building that it becomes an idol for us. We certainly are not immune to idolatry today as is evidenced by our culture, even the church itself. Walter Brueggemann points out that the psalm helps us if we are attentive in our hearing of it. The chances of idolizing our church buildings are reduced if we follow in the path of our ancient ancestors who kept coming back to God. Their faith practices pointed beyond the Temple to the real focus of their trust and the source of life, which is God (Texts for Preaching Year B). Keeping God as a real and vital part of our lives is the key to living abundantly in the presence of God.
But have we truly answered the question yet of “Where does God live?” The psalmist says the Temple or in our case the church is God’s dwelling place. Yet when our ancestors moved through the wilderness God dwelt in the Ark of the Covenant. God was also on the mountaintop with Moses. God is with us in the valleys and on the mountaintop experiences of our lives. The psalmist writes about the valley of Baca which literally means “to weep.” We, like our ancestors, experience the valley of “tears” at one time or another in our lives. No matter what we experience, the good, the bad, the ugly, God is with us. God is good and provides for all our needs.
1 Kings 8: 27 Solomon says, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” Nothing then can contain God, yet we yearn for a place to focus on. Celtic spirituality talks about “thin places” which are places where the veil between earth and heaven is lifted briefly and we experience the presence of God. The church may provide that “thin place” for us. Yet I know that the presence of God has been experienced apart from the church also. There are other thin places where God’s presence surprises us. Where does God live? God is everywhere and always with us. I am reminded of the poem footprints. It is simplistic in its expression of God being with us but it serves as a reminder of God’s continuous presence. “Our very lives, then, are sacred ground, holy ground,” writes Kathryn Matthews.
To the child, youth or even the adult who asks, “Where does God live?” we can say God visits us in all sorts of places, at the playground, at school, at work, at the soup kitchen, at the Five Corner Cupboard, at the beach, in the sweet music of a songbird, in our hearts, in every act of kindness, in every smile, every hug, in our tears, in a hospital room, in the sight of a wild turkey trying to take flight (a sight that may evoke more laughter than mystery). I’m sure you can think of many other examples. God’s presence can be felt in church but cannot be contained there or anywhere on earth or heaven.
“My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of God; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God” (v.2) In the greatest of hope may you experience God’s presence always and everywhere. Where did you experience God this week?