Looking for Jesus
I had the wonderful delight this week to read the memoir of Robert Dale Hudson, singing tenor in our gospel quartet this morning, as he does every week. It is his story of growing up in a poor, often dysfunctional family, of resolving to make a better life for himself, of discovering the trumpet and music and orchestra, and of rising to great success as a composer, conductor, and vocalist. It is called Honky-Tonk Row, a reference to the string of shacks that doubled as dance halls and bars on the south side of Birmingham.
His life, like yours, has been a journey, a struggle, even a pilgrimage toward that which is good and righteous and honorable. I honor you today Robert and thank you for writing this book, this narrative of your journey.
This psalm we read today also describes a journey, a pilgrimage up to Jerusalem, or to Zion, is it called often in the Hebrew and in our songs. “We are marching to Zion” is an old gospel song inspired by psalms like this.
We can sing that song and recite this psalm and engage our own journey toward the place we need to be, toward the people who travel with us, toward our destination of being the person God want us to be.
We make this journey, this pilgrimage we call life keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our journey of faith. We make this pilgrimage, seeking the people, the cohort, the congregation who will travel with us. We make this life journey following that one person who calls us, guides, us and promises to be with us every step of the way, Jesus our Lord.
The pilgrims described in this psalm were looking for a place. They called it Zion or Jerusalem or the temple. They were search for a place and so are we.
Many places described in the biblical narrative are marked by an Ebenezer, a stone of help. Here is where God spoke to me, the stone signals. Here is where Jesus healed me, here is where the Spirit filled me with new tongues and new life and new direction. I want to mark it with these stones, an ebenezer.
Those ancient people like us were pilgrims. They were on their way to a special place. Here in the temple in Jerusalem, on Mount Zion, was the place where God placed the divine and holy Name. It was in some sense the place where God dwelt. The temple dominated the history of Israel as well as the horizon of the hill country. It replaced the tabernacle and the various altars around the countryside.
We also yearn for a place. Our place. Our sanctuary. The place where you were married or met a new friend, where the church blossomed and worshipped and serve the people in need. The place where people important to you preached and sang and played and prayed, where you were shaped into the person you are. We love that place and rightly so.
But that attraction to a place, a specific place, is balanced by the displacement of God. God is not confined to a place. Omni-present is the Greek theological word. It means “in all places.” God is everywhere, as likely to be there as here, as likely to be in a new place as an old place, as likely to be beside a stream as in a sanctuary.
Isn’t that what Jacob found? On the hill now called Beth-el? “Surely,” he said upon waking from his dream, “God is in THIS place, and I did not know it.”
We have been pushed out of our place. At 120 Oakland Street. That virus pushed us out. A few have found our way back. But we have found a new place—a bigger place, an expansive place, a cyber space.
God told Solomon when the temple was finished and dedicated, King Solomon prayed a prayer, asking God to make the temple a place of stability, of peace, of justice, and of forgiveness. But he also prayed this: Will God really live on earth? Not even the highest heavens can contain you. How much less this temple I have built! It was his way of acknowledging that God dwells not in this place or that place, but everywhere, anywhere, wherever you are.
We are on Sanibel Island and Savannah Georgia. In Lexington and Owensboro Kentucky and Indiana and Texas and Tennessee. We welcome you and honor you and reach out to you in the name of Jesus. You are part of us and part of the larger Christian community and together we are part of the larger human community.
We have found a new place, a good place, a powerful place; and it is right where you are.
Stanza one of this old psalm uses the singular I, and stanza three quotes the Lord and it also uses the first person singular, I. I will not sleep until I find aplace to build the temple.
But here in verses 6-12, the language includes all of us. Stanza two of this ancient hymn features the plural pronoun, We.
We heard and We found, in verse 6; let us go and let us worship, in verse 7.
The language shifts from first person to third person. It has the group in mind: May the ministers be clothed in godliness and may your servants sing for joy!
As they march, these pilgrims had in mind the group, the congregation, the community of people around them: some relatives and some strangers, some leaders and some followers, some faithful and some faithless, some teaching and some learning, some young and some old.
It wasn’t just the place they had in mind; it was the people. They were looking for a people, a certain kind of people, a certain kind of community.
So also with us, as we march along life’s highway.
What kind of people are you looking for?
This year we have spent some time thinking about phrases that we want to describe our church. Let me present these to you as descriptions of the kind of people we want to be and the kind of people we want to travel with.
First, we embraced that phrase, Sing with Joy, live with hope.
We are a joyful people. We are a singing people.
We are not pessimistic about life, about our church, about our country. We are hopeful and therefore joyful.
We are confident that God is doing a good thing in our church, and so we are hopeful.
We are confident that God is doing a good thing in our country, and so we are hopeful.
We are confident that God is able and willing with our help to bring peace, justice, and life itself to all the world.
We look forward to celebrating these things during the season of advent and Christmas; and we are eager to sing our joy and speak with hope.
We want our joy to be deep and wide, to be contagious and compelling, to be rooted in the gospel and nurtured by the spirit of the living God.
Sing for Joy! What a great phrase! Live with hope! What a spirit of life!
I can tell you what I am not. I am not looking to abandon the church of the living God. Yes there are some churches I will not attend and I left one last year because they lacked the courage of the gospel.
I can tell you what am not. I am not preparing to overthrow the government. Yes, here are too many Christians who think the government is evil and is run by evil people. Many of them arm themselves and gather into militias and build bunkers and plan for the end of the world. Not me! Not you!
We are people of hope. We are people of the song. If you want to sing, you have come to the right place. If you want a fresh jolt of joy, this is the people. If you feel a call to renounce negativity and a fear of the future, then sing with us:
Come we that love the love and let our joy be known. Join n our song with sweet accord, join in our song with sweet accord, join in our song with sweet accord and thus surround the throne. WE are marching to Zion, Beautiful, beautiful zion, the beautiful city of God.
Here is another phrase. Welcome and Wonder. Or as Glenda has expanded it, Waves of Welcome and Wonder. She is down there on Sanibel Island making waves or watching the waves or sitting in the waves! But we want to make waves of Welcome and Wonder right here in the mountains.
We remember and rejoice in the words of Jesus. Come unto me, Jesus said, all you who are weary and are heavy laden.
And we can add: Come unto me, any of you who are weary of the wickedness of the world, the competition, the suspicion, the constant tension of power, and prominence, and position.
Come unto me, Jesus says, to all you who are worn down by addiction, and failure, and sickness, and struggle, who yearn for some space where you can find peace, and friendship, and goodness, and kindness.
Come unto me, Jesus says, to all you who are tired of the narrow and nasty version of our faith, any of you who are longing for the wideness of God’s love, a deepness in God’s mercy, a kindness in God’s grace.
Some of our fellow Christians today remind me of those first followers of Jesus.
They were traveling with Jesus, on their way to Jerusalem. Just like those in the psalm we are reading today. Only Jesus and his band of merry men and women were traveling through the hill country, coming down from the north, while our pilgrims were walking up the Jericho Road.
Jesus and his band came to a city of the Samaritans who did not roll out the red carpet for Jesus. This irritated his disciples; it offended them. It made them mad. So, they said to Jesus: Shall we call down fire from heaven and consume them?
The spirit of judgment and narrowness and violence was there right from the beginning!
Jesus turned around and rebuked his disciples! He did not rebuke the Samaritans, for their supposed indifference to his arrival! He rebuked his own people, those who are called by his name.
I will tell you why we do not rebuke them or condemn them or cut them off. It is a wonder that any of us are saved and secure. It is a wonder that God’s grace overlooks our sin and our selfishness and our shortsightedness.
In reading this story in the nineth chapter of Luke, you get the feeling that Jesus sympathized more with the Samaritans than he did with the Christians! Join the club, Jesus!
Too many believers today are running around calling down judgment and fire and damnation. Their fellowship is too tight; their circle is too small; their welcome is too narrow. Jesus rebukes such unholy gospel!
In your text of this episode, there is a verse that was added to the story, and for good reason. Look at the footnote and read it: it says, “You don’t realize what your own hearts are like! The son of Man has not come to destroy people but to redeem them.”
And it is you and I who need redeeming!
This is the great wonder of the world: that God loves me and loves you, and loves and receives every person, red and yellow and black and white, liberal and conservative, democrat and republican, male and female, gay and straight, married and single, rich and poor, the powerful and the pitiful.
There is a wideness in the welcome of God and that is the wonder of it all.
I read yesterday of a cruise around the world in 2024. It is a visit to the seven wonders of the world: China, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Italy, India, Jordan. Seven structures built by humans. I would like to see all these things.
But more than that, I am glad I have seen Jesus, the greatest wonder of the world.
This pilgrim psalm, Psalm 132, is a celebration of the anointed one of God. We know him as Jesus Christ.
Yes, I know those pilgrims did not know about Jesus. But this psalm ends with this glorious affirmation, verses 17 and 18: My anointed one will be a light for my people…. He will be a glorious king.
This is a prophecy about Jesus the great king. Today is Christ the King Sunday in the Christian calendar. We honor Jesus the royal one who reigns with righteousness and justice, with peace and mercy.
Jesus the precocious kid, Jesus the courageous prophet, Jesus the miracle worker, Jesus the discerning rabbi, Jesus the suffering and crucified savior, Jesus the Risen Lord, Jesus the coming King---These are the seven wonders of the world.
One of his earliest disciples wrote to encourage you and me with these words: Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus!
The preacher will disappoint you. Keep your eyes of Jesus.
The church will fail you. Keep your eyes on Jesus.
The Christian community in America will sometimes disgust you. Keep you eyes fixed on Jesus.
Jesus lived with joy and hope, and so will we.
Jesus welcomed saints and sinners, and so will we.
Jesus had a heavenly mission to renew the earth and redeem humanity, and we join him in that mission. It is called the great commission.
That mission and its joyful, hopeful, welcoming and wonderous leader is the great wonder of the world.
Let our songs abound, let every tear be dry.
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground,
we’re marching through Immanuel’s ground,
to fairer worlds on high,
This world, God’s world, is on the horizon, descending out of heaven. The revelation of John says, the new city of Jerusalem is coming, with the river of life. On both sides of that river of life is the tree of life and its leaves are for the healing of the nation. For the healing of the nations.
We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion, the beautiful city of God.
Come and go with us!