A Baptismal meditation delivered by The Rev. Tim Ahrens at The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, Pentecost 18, September 22, 2002, dedicated to John Arthur Knueve on his baptismal day and always to the glory of God!
Exodus 16:2-15 and Philippians 1:21-30
Since last I stood before you in this pulpit, much has happened in the life of our congregation. On September 8th following worship, we voted to become an Open and Affirming congregation by a 98% vote. On September 11th, we gathered here for a service of memory, hope, and prayer with seven faiths represented in the service - Islamic, Jewish, Christian (both Protestant and Catholic), Baha`i, Sikh, Buddhist, and Hindu. On September 13th, there was a large feature article on First Church in the "Faith and Values" section of The Columbus Dispatch, filled with nine photographs of the church. Then last Sunday, September 15th, we had two services. First, we started with the Rally Day service in which the Rev.Dr. John Thomas, United Church of Christ President and 110 of our children (and balloons everywhere!) led us in a festive birthday party celebration for First Church. What a glorious service! In addition, 75 people gathered at 2:00pm to install The Rev. Phil Hart, our member and friend, in the ministry of Sanctorum. That was a powerful service for all involved. And of course, this morning, on behalf of Christ, we have named and claimed Jack Knueve, son of Mark and Meredith Knueve in the sacrament of baptism.
So much has happened in the life of our congregation. And so much remains before us. So,"What Do We Need for Journey Ahead?"
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our salvation. Amen.
"What do we need for the journey ahead?" must have been a question Aaron asked Moses and Moses asked God as the Hebrew people gathered their tired and slave weary bodies and souls on the north side of the Red Sea. They had passed through the Red Sea waters while Pharoah's army had been overcome by water and mud. Now engulfed by "The Desert of Sin" and eventually the hoped for promised land (only 40 years away!) they were hungry. Their hunger made them angry, and their anger made them complain.
According to Exodus 16, the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. "If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in Egypt, we wouldn't be in this mess today!" They were so hungry, death looked better than freedom. I am sure that every liberation movement in history has faced this moment. Your leaders look better to you killed, cooked and eaten than they do giving great speeches about freedom and the future. You stand in a desert with slavery behind you, mirages before your eyes, and no oasis in sight. I have often said it took God a few weeks to get the slaves out of Egypt and 40 years to get Egypt out of the slaves!
But, it is not only liberation movements that face such challenges. We face them in our daily lives. With promises of paychecks, or raises, or jobs, or promotions that are not forthcoming, we stand seemingly naked before our future and wonder - "What do I need for the journey ahead?" What can I provide for my family? How long can work and live in this environment, under these conditions, with no end in sight?
In the case of the people of Israel, their answer came directly from God. God answers his starving people, appearing in a cloud, and speaking through Moses with these words in Exodus 16:12, "At twilight you shall eat meat and in the morning, you shall have your fill of bread, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God." With those words, quail came at twilight and manna rained upon them in the morning. You might say, they received the birds of heaven and the bread of heaven. As I child growing up in Pennsylvania with quail as the state bird, I was always glad that I had not been in the desert with God's blessing of quail, because we were told quite clearly in school, that quail could not be hunted or eaten. Perhaps the Lord would have revoked Pennsylvania law or sent another bird, I'm not sure. But, it did cross my mind.
Birds and bread. Is that the answer to the question - "What do we need for the journey ahead?" Not really. I believe the answer comes from the one who created the feast in the desert. Quite simply, the answer of what "WE" need for "OUR" journey ahead is "God." We need "God." Now, Paul, in his letter written from jail to the Philippians, reflects the presence of God in the person Christ Jesus. Paul writes, "for living is Christ to me, and dying is gain" (Philippians 1:21). However, I argue that however you experience God - in Christ, in the Holy Spirit, as the Father/Mother God - in reality all we need for the journey ahead is God. While that may seem self-evident to many of you in this congregation today, it may not be as clear to the rest.
"God?" you say . . . "I came all the way downtown for worship today wondering what I needed for my journey and your answer is simply "God?" While this may seem vague and simple-minded, I assure you: it is the right answer. For while we seek outside ourselves to find so many answers, God is within us and around us - breathing and living through us the capacities of truth, wisdom, and delight. So we are told by Christian mystic, Julian of Norwich. Julian writes, "the capacity for truth sees God, and wisdom contemplates God, and of these two comes the third, and that is a marvelous delight in God, which is love." (Quoted in Christian Century, August 28-September 10, 2002, "God 101," by Roberta Bondi, pp. 20-21). Julian continues:
For God is endless supreme truth, endless supreme wisdom, endless supreme love uncreated, and our soul is creature in God which has the same properties . . . And always does what it was created for: it sees God, and it contemplates God, and it loves God . . . And the brightness and clearness of truth and wisdom make us see and know that we are made for love, in which love God endlessly protects us. (Ibid.)
To encounter God is come to know the capacity for God's truth, wisdom and love which is in each one of us. This we do through daily prayer, and worship. But placing ourselves in the presence of God's truth, and wisdom, and love must also be done in our ordinary lives. To do this, we must become aware of all people around us - not simply those we choose to become aware of, or those we seek out. How often have you been truly aware of your co-workers - not just the ones you are required to talk with - but the ones who work in other departments or pass you in the hallway each day? As students, how often are you aware of teacher's aids or office staff? In the office, how often are you aware of persons who clean the halls or type the memos, or answer the phones?
In all of these people, in all situations, in all - is GOD. Ours is a call to open our eyes to the momentary and daily miracles of living. Jewish mystic, Martin Buber speaks of "moment gods." In other words, God is known to us only at the moment when Presence and awareness are fused in vital life. This knowledge is interspersed with moments when only natural, self-contained, routine existence is present. I have found that in these moments, the only difference sometimes between skeptics and believer is frequency of faith, and not certitude of position.
In exercising the capacity for wisdom, of which Julian speaks, we often mistake wisdom for learning. We read the latest journals, get wrapped-up in the latest novels, get caught up in the latest press releases from the Bush Administration on why we need to be attacking Iraq with a preemptive strike - whatever the issue is . . . and we think we are wiser. But, wisdom is also from God. If the reading describes God's world and the people in God's world in all their aspects, then it is describing something of God's wisdom. But, if it is not inclusive, it is interesting, perhaps a nice release from reality, perhaps warlike propaganda, but it is not God's wisdom. Wisdom is of the soul. Robert Frost once wrote, "We dance round in a ring and suppose, but the Secret sits in the middle and knows." The wisdom of God is in the middle and knows.
As for delight in God: we have been created for love. Delight is not something we do. Delight is our response to God. For Julian, love was indeed everything. In her final vision, which is recorded more than 15 years after her first vision, Julian writes:
Do you wish to know the Lord's meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was God's meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did God reveal to you? Love. Why does God reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this, and you will know more of the same. But you will never know anything different without end. (Ibid).
We are living in tough times. These are times in which war and terror and the drumbeat of war and more terror try our souls. These are times in which we could get lost in our fears and anxieties. Our integrity could disappear. Our very selves could disintegrate, were it not for God, who is Love. And as we remain in God, we remain in Love. And our God whose purpose for being is Love will guide us through our desert grumblings and wanderings, through the imprisonment of our souls, through the pain of our suffering into the delight of love. What do we need for journey ahead? We need God - who Is truth, wisdom, and love. Amen.
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