When we built our worship center nearly 10 years ago,
our community was in a time of transition.
A long-term senior pastor had recently left
to assume a denominational position,
a kind-hearted interim had come to guide us
through the building process,
and I was serving as general encourager and history-bearer for all of us.
Construction took a little over two years,
and as we neared the end of it all,
we invited the entire congregation to travel over
from the gymnasium
(our worship-home for ten years)
to the still rough-around-the-edges new space.
We handed out felt markers to everyone
and gave this word of instruction:
“Everywhere you see plain concrete beneath your feet,
take a marker and find a space that is yours alone.
Write down your name,
and if you have a family, write down their names, too.
Then, next to your names, write a favorite scripture verse
or other words of worship.”
For the next hour or so, about 300 people spread themselves
across the front of the sanctuary
and down the aisles, right into the foyer.
And everyone got down on the floor and wrote.
When it was finished, we had a wild looking collection of
words, names, dates and love.
There were hearts and flowers,
there were whole sections of scripture.
One adolescent who sang in choirs
wrote out the entire mass — in Latin.
It was a stunning and beautiful sight to see.
About six months later,
as all the final details were coming together,
we laid down some lovely, soft, green carpet over it all –
all the words, all the promises,
all the names of the body of Christ in this place at that point in time.
Anyone who was not a part of us then would not know this.
But those of us who are still here,
who cannot imagine being anywhere else –
we know it’s there.
And we thank God for it.
It is a beautiful picture, a hidden treasure,
a reminder of bedrock,
our foundation, the ground beneath our feet,
the place on which we stand.
When times get tough — as they always do –
we remind one another:
“Remember that Sunday? Remember those words?
Remember how blessed we were to see it all spread out like that?”
We carry that sweet, secret autograph party in our hearts,
and when we need to, we pull it out and look at it, again and again.
We were not sad that day,
though we were feeling the weight of transition.
We were not fearful that day,
though we wondered what sadnesses
might lie ahead of us.
Since that time, surely not always or even very often,
we have indeed had occasion
to feel sad,
to feel fearful,
even to wonder where God is,
to sense an absence where once there was presence.
Such wonderings are a part of life, a necessary part of life,
providing a necessary season of lament from time to time.
Why spend time in lament?
Because we all need to remember who we are,
and who we are not;
to remember that we need saving;
to remember that we cannot do this life well
to remember that there is a Shepherd
who truly loves us crazy, lost sheep.
The broken ones,
the unhealthy ones,
the frightened ones,
the wandering ones,
the little ones.
The ones who fake it really well,
and the ones who don’t.
The ones with gigantic chips on their shoulders,
and the ones who always think somehow,
they’re to blame for something or for everything.
The ones who cheat on their taxes
or their spouses,
the ones who sit in judgment on everyone else.
The ones who cannot hold things
shared in confidence,
the ones who cannot find the courage
to share the things that matter.
The ones who bleed neediness,
the ones who don’t know
how truly needy they are.
ALL of us need to remember where help is found,
to remember again the things that are hidden.
We all need to know that we stand on the promises,
we stand on the Word,
we are loved and kept and saved,
even when all feels lost.
“Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us
that we may be saved.”
Three times, the psalmist cries out these words in Psalm 80.
In the midst of confusion,
loss, painful suffering and sin,
the only hope for the community of Israel
The people are ‘eating tears,’
the vine of Israel is dying,
Where is God?
Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire;
at your rebuke your people perish.
Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
Then we will not turn away from you;
revive us, and we will call on your name.
Even here, if we read with the eyes of the early church,
even here, buried in the ancient, worshipping words
of a traveling, tribal people,
we see signs of the Shepherd,
the one who tends the sheep and who is the vine,
the New Vine,
to whom we are grafted,
and in whom, we are found.
The One to whom we cry out: “Restore us, O God.”
My thanks to Don Johnson for his fine sermon on this psalm this morning, to Bob Gross and Pam Herzog, our intentionally small worship team, to Jeanne Heckman and Martha Johnson, who fought back their natural urges to create an altarpiece with a dying vine, to Sherry Peterson who offered such beautiful words in prayer (many borrowed from Flora Slosson Wuellner – if you don’t know who she is, you should),
and to Jon Lemmond, who read scripture, powerful scripture,
for us to contemplate as we entered into the preaching time.
Joining with Michelle, Jen, Laura, Jennifer, em, and Ann today: