Friday, November 12, 2010
Moses leading the Israelites by a pillar of cloud
Psalm 98; Job 19: 23-27a; 2 Thess. 2: 1-5, 13-17
Woodmont United Church of Christ, Milford, CT
November 7, 2010 – All Saints Sunday
November is a season of migration. Flocks of Canada geese and sand hill cranes, millions of monarch butterflies, herds of bison and pronghorn, even rattlesnakes and bats, are making their way from their summer homes to their winter camps. In this month’s National Geographic magazine I read that “animal migration is far grander and more patterned than animal movement. It represents travel with long-deferred rewards. It suggests premeditation and epic willfulness, codified as inherited instinct.”
Evolutionary biologist Hugh Dingle has identified five characteristics that apply to all migrations: a prolonged voyage that conveys animals outside their familiar habitats; a tendency to move in a straight path rather than a roundabout way; special behaviors in preparation for migration, such as overfeeding; an extraordinary distribution of energy; lastly and most importantly, an undeterred and focused attention to the journey to the exclusion of all else. You might say that animals that migrate have a higher sense of purpose.
Sand hill cranes
We who journey with God are also on a migration of sorts—a spiritual voyage spanning millennia, bearing the same five qualities, though in differing forms. In the wilderness God’s people were led by pillars of cloud and fire. Through the centuries we’ve traveled by the wisdom of prophets and the inspiration of ordinary individuals. We who call ourselves Christian look to Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. We strive to follow the Holy Spirit who continually urges us onward to the unfamiliar territory of the kingdom. Special behaviors are required of us in preparation, such as being fed through study, prayer, giving, service and worship. As we all know in the Church vast reserves of energy are demanded of us as God’s hands and feet in the world, hence, the need to be fed. All of this is channeled into our higher sense of purpose, the kingdom of God’s grace, compassion, justice and peace.
A life of faith is a migratory path. There is no standing still, there is no status quo, despite the efforts of some to fashion the Church into an unchanging monolith. So often it is easy for us to be distracted. We hear the culture warmongering against the way of peace and justice; our spirits rise and fall with the financial market and our checking account; we are often tempted to measure our faithfulness in terms of what we do rather than by the softness of our hearts.
The infant church in Thessalonica had been temporarily thrown off-course by reports that Jesus had returned without their knowledge, that the kingdom had arrived and they had missed it. Paul, or someone close to him writing in his name, encourages this small congregation to remain steadfast, to remember that they were chosen by God for faith and they are witnesses to the fruits of this faith. He reminds this fledgling church of the tradition that has been handed down to them by those trustworthy in the faith.
We too have a source of those trustworthy in the faith: those saints who have passed on before us, who entrusted us with the tradition of following the Holy Spirit wherever she goes. Migratory paths are taught from parent to offspring, from one generation to the next. We follow in the path of folks like Diane and Carlos, Charlie and Eleanor, Hal and Herb, Marjorie and Cecil. They knew that the path of faith is one of long-deferred rewards; that it requires reflection, planning and an epic willfulness, codified as inherited instinct—inherited from those who came before them.
Sometimes in the Church we inherit dysfunctional patterns—self-defeating habits that perpetuate unhealthy congregational behaviors which can take us off-course. It is up to every generation, as in every family, to decide what we’re going to hold onto and what we need to let go of. What was handed down to us may no longer work. It doesn’t mean we are disloyal to their memory. Rather we honor them when we remember that the greater mission is the kingdom of God, which does not change.
But our migratory path toward the kingdom is not linear nor is it spiral or zigzag: it does not even exist in time. In truth, at any given moment the kingdom can come to us. It comes when justice is lived, when we are at peace with ourselves and our neighbor, when mercy is done, resources shared, forgiveness spoken, when bread is broken and the cup poured out. The kingdom is eternally now, entering into our journey with God, when the invisible becomes visible in us and through us.
All of this we do step by step, one day at a time, feeling our way on this great migration. Our guidance system, our homing beacon is a mystery that tells us that God is very real, made known to us through the creation in which we live out our faith; for it is God who first showed us the way and continues to lead us home. And sometimes the only way we can articulate this faith, what we know to be true, is in song:
“Who taught the sun where to stand in the morning?
And who told the ocean you can only come this far?
And who showed the moon where to hide 'til evening?
Whose words alone can catch a falling star?
“Well, I know my Redeemer lives.
I know my Redeemer lives:
Let all creation testify;
Let this life within me cry
I know my Redeemer lives.”
"Redeemer"©Nicole C. Mullen