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Lamentations 1:1-6;Psalm 137; 2 Timothy 1:1-14;Luke 17:5-10
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
October 6, 2019 –Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
We gather to celebrate communion with the world…the night Christ gathered around himself the ones who had followed him…those who had been enthralled by him…left their fishing nets behind them to be close to him.
They were also the same men who would not stay awake with him, who would flee from him…desert him…deny him…betray him. So Christ would find himself hung on a tree…crucified on a Roman cross… alone. Is this someone you would trust?
Even knowing all that, he would call them to himself, bless them, ask them to partake of the meal he had paid for…and would pay for…with the breaking of his body and the pouring out of his blood.
It is fitting, then, that we should gather to remember…re-member… this sacred moment…this sacra-ment…on a day when we also read that Jerusalem has fallen.
The once-great city…this great capital of a once-great nation…stands in ruins. What is to be done? That is the question our first Lamentation, the one we read this morning, asks.
Lamentations is a series of five poems that witness to unspeakable tragedy in a way that only poetry can open our hearts to. It is all over. Now the holy city of our generations…the symbol as a people in the world…is no more.
The Promised Land of the people of God has collapsed. At least one of the promises of God to Abraham …the promise of a land…has been broken. The promise of God to David…that one of his descendants would be on the throne of Israel forever…is to be kept no longer.
The people who have lost their land have also lost their culture…and it might appear that their God has been overcome by a greater force. The day they have celebrated ever since their days in Egypt has passed.
The words of a song come to mind. “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
This week I got to spend some time at the Flathead Camp with people who came to Montana’s third Academy for Spiritual Formation from Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, Vermont, Washington, and Montana.
We were fortunate to have a great first teacher, Amy Oden. She taught Reformation at my Course of Study at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. The Rowdy Bunch just finished her book on mindfulness, an ancient practice that is now very ‘in’ again.
Then it’s a half hour of silence and you can do anything. Most of us walked around the camp. Those from the South were delighted to see snow and we all processed what we had learned.
Then it was back to the classroom to talk about what we had learned. This was an excellent learning procedure because others in the class had seen what you hadn’t seen and you had seen other things and we found ourselves teaching and learning from each other.
Then it was time for midday worship and on to lunch, then back to the classroom where we received a presentation from Le Xuan Hy, a Vietnamese national who has been in the country since April of 1975 and is now an American citizen.
He was 16 then and he and his father and one brother escaped as the U.S. was pulling out of the country. When he told us his story he had the recorder turned off because there are those who might still want to do reprisals against him for his family’s role in the war.
He has about six degrees and smiles and laughs through all of his presentations, in spite of the pain he certainly must feel. He talked about Happiness and the research that is being done in that arena today. He gave all the money in his pocket, for the native plants that were being planted that weekend because of our Academy. It made him happy.
Then it was silence and free time again and we came back into the classroom to process our learning once again. After that, we celebrated communion and went to dinner.
Free time followed dinner until it was time to be in our family groups where we shared in smaller groups. One of the great lessons we received through the week was that everyone has a great story.
This is my family group. We were from Washington, Iowa, Colorado, Texas, Missoula, Lakeside and Bigfork.
At 8:30 we went to evening worship, which ended in a time of silence.
That was the rhythm for four days and we found ourselves wearing it like the easy yoke that Jesus talked about.
We got very close and the sharing became deeper and more painful… and joyful…as the week went along. Hy gave us an insight into what was going on.
He said he was so lucky to be living in a foreign country. He sees what is missing here and what is unique here. We have blind spots he can fill in. He also sees what was missing in his home country as he looks back from America. He proclaims, “I am an American!” It is a great blessing to him.
I told him about the ebb and flow of our little church with people going away at the end of the summer and coming back in the spring to remind us year-‘rounders what is here that we have stopped seeing and how special the things we think are ordinary.
“You are blessed in many ways to live in such a place and to receive such a valuable learning…without even having to leave your beautiful home!” I asked him to come back in February to snowshoe with us. I am not sure, but he might.
The last afternoon of this rhythm I went down to a place at the camp that used to be a promontory into the lake, just at the opening of Rollins bay. Erosion has taken the place where as a youth at camp we used to sit and talk and exchange mailing addresses.
I felt sad and nostalgic, which is why I think I went there. I realized that I had not been out on the dock yet so I headed that way and came across the first labyrinth someone created in a little clearing among the pines.
I has been superseded by a much larger and more carefully constructed structure and this new feature was used quite a bit by pilgrims during the silent times between presentations.
As Paul writes to Timothy and us today, hopeful of our spiritual growth and praying that goodness might find us, “God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled.”
This is the spirit that seemed to arise in us as the week full of holy rhythm and authentic sharing went on. My family group friend from Texas was in Afghanistan when the American ambassador was assassinated and she made us think of Hy’s story as she told us about being evacuated on an overloaded 747 in an atmosphere of chaos.
It had been many years, but it was like she was there. We sympathized with her, but she was unwilling to take on the victim’s role. It was an honor to serve the United States then and she would do it again.
Jesus reminds us today, as Linda did that night, that servants do not need to be congratulated for doing what they are expected to do. There were many who did more, and after all, the ambassador gave his life. She had it easy.
I finally got to the dock and walked out on it. It has just been rebuilt this spring, by Gary Bolhuis and Rick Trembath and NOMADs, and as I stood there I remembered an old dock with the diving tower, that was there in 1963, and the feeling of nostalgia welled up in me again.
It was in a special place and I had had a powerful week, I found myself mumbling. So why did I feel so sad? Why was this series of old thoughts coming back to me?
I was spending my last silent time of a very powerful week. The silence was ending. The sharing with people I had so quickly come to confide in and who had confided in me was about to pass.
This special week, like the old promontory, the old labyrinth and the old dock was about to become a memory. But the memories were important to me, even precious, like the supper we remember Jesus had with those he loved.
He was perfect. They were not. Because they banded together and continued the work that the Messiah had showed them, they changed this world…for the good.
They stumbled and fell short in many ways, but they did not quit …because of the one in whom they had placed their trust.
Once the feeling of too many things happening all at once had passed, they remembered that last supper, what Jesus had said to them on that last night, and all that he had been telling them ever since they had begun to move toward Jerusalem and toward Passover …ever since that first summer they had come to church camp.
That last supper was their Passover meal and now they could see that Jesus had offered himself as the lamb. He set the prisoners free as completely as Moses had and no one can take that gift of freedom away from him…or us…that gift from the one in whom I’ve placed my trust.
O Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world through us …through me…this day? Amen.