Baptismal Meditation delivered by the Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens, Senior Minister, The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, May 11, 2003, dedicated to my mother, Carol Lorene Kellermeyer Ahrens on her 75th Birthday and Mother's Day, to Cameron Donald Mailer and Mattes Natalia Brown on their baptismal day and to Amanda Doughty, Annamary Leonard and Brittany Rush, the 2003 Schumacher Award Recipients and always to the glory of God!
Psalm 121 and John 10:11-18
(Third in the Series: "Psalms of Zion")
"I lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth!"
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our salvation. Amen.
The Sea of Galilee is a large and picturesque lake surrounded by a range of mountains and hills to the east and west. From the north, the River Jordan flows into the sea, starting as a trickling stream high in the mountains. At the southern end of the lake, the river flows south all the way to the Dead Sea. The hills surrounding the Sea of Galilee are both beautiful and dangerous. "Beautiful" - because from their rugged terrain you can see the history of biblical truth unfold before your eyes - including the site where Jesus offered the Sermon on the Mount. "Dangerous" - because from the Golan Heights to the West, Israel faced Syrian bombardments and you can image the terror of war brought from high ground to the lake valley below. Of hills such as these, the Psalmist sang.
The hills of our lives possess beauty and danger as well. Hills and mountains possess certain things that most of us long for and need. They stand unmoving and steadfast while we in contrast often move with the latest thought and new fad. We are often swayed by our first emotion, or moved by a passing thought or a new idea in a sea which can resemble creative mush, all the while the hills and mountains are built on foundations that are deep and strong and rooted in the very structure of the earth itself. And it out of that firm foundation, they rise as a glorious reminder and trumpet sounding through the ages for creation.
While our life is brief and swift, the mountains and hills cast their shadows across hundreds of thousands of years. While we announce proudly that we have served our God in the city for 151 years, they humbly remind us that they have been servants of the most high for million years and more.
But, as beautiful as they are, the hills serve only as a reminder of the strength, the steadfastness, the firm foundation, the power, the glory and the magnificence of God. It is God who shaped the heights and the depths of the earth and all that is therein. The real ministry of the hills is to remind us forever, to look beyond. The hills beckon us to lift our eyes past what we see and what we know about ourselves and discover who we really are - beloved children of the most high, who have been created by God's love, and have been sheltered and protected by his Almighty Hand.
Psalm 121 also reminds us that God guards us. Never sleeping, God is present always. While others choose to turn away when we face troubles by day or night, our God abides. When we face assaults from all around us, God shields us from harm. The Psalmist declares, "the Lord is your shade on your right hand" (121:5). The right hand, in battle is the hand in which the warriors carry their weapons. While the left holds the shield, the right is free for battle, as such it is also most vulnerable to attack. The Psalmist reminds us that there, in the place of vulnerability and utmost danger when under attack, God protects us and provides shelter for us.
God's "keeping" us from being attacked, keeping us from all evil, and keeping us in our outgoing and incoming speaks to God's "abiding ability." When others fall prey to a host of temptations and lures, God abides. When others succumb to attack, and shrink in the face of difficulties and trauma, God abides. When others wander off, forgetting the grounding of their relationships and faith, God abides. When others choose to blame us for failings or complain about little things which amount to nothing, God abides. In fact, God abides from now until forevermore. Fear not. God is abiding still.
Robert Nathan speaks of God's eternal and everlasting nature in his poem "Now From the World the Light of God is Gone." Listen to his words:
Now from the world the light of God is gone,
And we in darkness move and are afraid,
Some blaming heaven for the evil done,
And some each other for the part they played.
And all their woes on God are strictly laid,
For being absent from these earthly ills,
Who set the trees to be the noontime shade,
and placed the stars in beauty on the hills,
Turn not away and cry that all is lost;
It is not so, the world is in God's hands
As once it was when Egypt's mighty host
Rode to the sea and vanished in the sands.
For still the heart, by love and pity wrung,
Finds the same God as when the world was young.
(Found in Day by Day: Reflections on the Themes of Torah from Literature, Philosophy, and Religious Thought, edited by Rabbi Chaim Stern, Beacon Press, Boston, 1998, pp.27-28).
Look to the hills. There you will see beauty and danger. Then, look above and beyond the hills and you will find the same God as when the world was young. Then look close by your side and deep within and you will discover the Eternal. Amen.
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