Preached on 17 July 2016 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish, WA
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11, Year C
Where did you find God this week? Remember last Sunday, I invited you to look for God in your life this week? Bet you weren’t expecting a quiz, were you? Well, it’s not really a quiz, so even if you haven’t given it another thought, take a moment now to think back on your week. Did God show up? Maybe you heard God in the President’s speech at the memorial in Dallas or maybe it was in a phone call with a friend or a loved one? Or maybe you found God in the smile of a stranger or the song of a bird, or even doing household chores or pulling weeds. I don’t know about you, but I often don’t recognize those god-moments until some time later – sometimes much later.
Abraham and Sarah find God quite suddenly and unexpectedly one day, while Abraham is sitting outside the tent, resting in the midday heat. Three strangers show up and Abraham offers the required hospitality. Lives depend on it. Hospitality wasn’t about being polite or unusually kind. People knew they were dependent on one another. Being able to count on the hospitality of others was a matter of survival. And so one had an obligation to care for the stranger.
For us to acknowledge that kind of dependence on others is counter-cultural. It makes us uncomfortable. We like to think we can take care of ourselves. Of course, we’re fooling ourselves;
In Abraham’s world, it is well-understood and accepted and so, he offers them shelter from the sun, a place to rest and refresh, water for their feet, food and drink. But Abraham does more than what is needed – he slaughters a calf and provides a feast!
I wonder at what point he realizes these are no ordinary travelers. When they ask about his wife and already know her name? Maybe it’s when they tell him that Sara will bear him a son. Or is it just something about them?
In the gospel reading, Martha welcomes a stranger into her home, too. Maybe she has already heard of him, an itinerant preacher. She busies herself with the demands of hospitality much as Abraham does. But her sister, Mary, doesn’t. I wonder what that’s really about. Is Mary simply curious about this stranger? Does she feel compelled to sit at his feet and assume the role of a disciple? OR does she sense that Jesus has something new and different to offer her?
Today’s Psalm is about entering the Temple, the house of God, the presence of God. It tells what is required to prepare oneself before approaching God: Lead a blameless life and do what is right. Speak the truth from your heart. Do no evil to your friend. Honor those who fear the Lord and so on.
But the readings from Genesis and Luke are about God coming into the presence of ordinary people. God doesn’t wait for us to go to God. God seeks us out, ready or not.
As I was reflecting on these readings and their connections, it occurred to me that through the Incarnation, God is on a pilgrimage. Which sounds kind of strange, doesn’t it?
So let’s think about pilgrimage for a bit. In ancient times, particularly after Christianity became legal and they were no longer persecuted and killed for their faith, believers looked for new ways to grow in their faith and to witness to their faith. That’s what martyr means to bear witness. One of those ways was to go on a pilgrimage. They would undertake a somewhat arduous journey in order to be with God. Often they would visit sites that had some religious significance and were thought to be holy.
Pilgrimage involves leaving behind the familiar and going to new territory of some kind; letting go of power; encountering the “other,” encountering God in a different way, in a different place, through different people, different cultures. Along the way, the pilgrim learns about themselves and about God and about their place in the world. Pilgrimage is more about the journey than about the stops along the way or the destination.
Now think about Jesus. In Jesus, God leaves behind the “familiar,” lets go of power, and seeks to encounter us in a new way. Think about the stories about various people with Jesus – the ‘holy sites’ he visits. Sites like Mary and Martha, the lawyer who tests him, and all the stories you’ve heard.
Sometimes we voluntarily and intentionally set out on a pilgrimage, and sometimes we the pilgrimage finds us. Transition is like pilgrimage. We may find ourselves in unfamiliar territory. There are different opportunities to encounter God and to try new things. The journey is a time for self-discovery as a community and for listening for God in new ways.
God is seeking you. How and where will you seek God?
Maybe a better question is, Do you want to find God; do you want God to find you? I mean, yeah. Sometimes, especially in times of trouble or sorrow. God is comforting. But God is not always warm and fuzzy. It can feel risky, this God business. Here’s what Annie Dillard writes about it,
Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? … It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping GOD may wake someday and take offense, or the waking GOD may draw us to where we can never return.
We’re on a pilgrimage, ready or not.
Along the way, what holy sites will we visit?
I wonder what we’ll learn about God? About ourselves?
What might God as of us? What might God ask of you?