Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sermon from Nov 6, 2011; Veteran's Day Service; Psalm 90:1-6; 16-17

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 90:1-6; 16-17
“The Eternal Dwelling Place”
Nov 6, 2011

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” That’s the opening line of today’s psalm. When I first read it, I found great comfort; the notion of God being our eternal dwelling place.

But when put in context of the entire song, conflicting thoughts emerged.

Why would someone claim that God has been their home? Could it be that perhaps the person who wrote this is homeless?

Could it be they’ve been wandering around some kind of wilderness, waiting for a permanent place to rest their head?

Think about it: would a person who is already home in a secure place need to make the theological claim that God is home?

Or would it make more sense if that person is far away, far from momma’s homemade cooking, far from learning how to fix things with Dad, far from their beloved pets?

A person who is far from home, in a strange place, may just be the kind of person who calls God their dwelling place.

They may also be the kind of person who thinks about things like the anger of God, the sins we all harbor, and how our lives are too short and filled with too much toil.

And to what end? That we die, like a sigh, to become dust that gathers in the house of God?

These are the thoughts that fill Psalm 90. “How long?” the singer asks God. “How long?”

So, if we go back to the first line of the psalm and reread it, we can ask ourselves if it is designed to be words of comfort, words of distress, or words that are designed to remind God just what it means to be God.

Perhaps it’s all of these things; perhaps it is none.

Perhaps you’ll agree with me that regardless, this is an appropriate scripture to share for today’s Veteran’s Day service.

Can’t you imagine these words being composed by one of our men or women oversees right now? Or something one of our own veteran’s could have written?

That someone in the wilderness, always changing location, always in fear of being attacked, could write this?

That someone who knows their entire life can be ended by a bullet or a suicide bomber could write about bodies returning to dust?

My father could have been one of those men. Let me share something with you, the most emotionally valuable thing I own.

It’s a Bible that’s been in my family for three generations, passed down from 1st born male to 1st born male, used to mark an important transition in each life.

My father gave it to me in 1990 when I left for college. His father gave it to him in 1968 when he left for Vietnam.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned the true story of this Bible. When my father was oversees, his unit was the victim of a roadside bombing.

It killed my father’s friend, it wounded my father. Shrapnel throughout his body; a permanently damaged left eardrum.

In fact, the enemy (for lack of a better word), came and stripped my father of everything he had and left him for dead in the dirt on the side of the road.

Everything that is, except for this Bible.

My Dad received the Purple Heart and he returned home to start a family. Like many veterans, he carried deep wounds from the war, both physical and psychological.

I find comfort in knowing that even though he was left for dead, the Living and Eternal Word of God remained by his side.

It’s Veteran’s Day this week, and this can be a complex day to process. Traditionally, our denomination has been more of an irenic, peace based denomination.

This leaves space for theological debate: do we, as a church, as the Body of Christ, acknowledge the day or do we ignore it?

Do we use this day as a chance to go “Rah, rah! America, we’re number One!!!” or to give an anti-war message?

I personally believe that no matter where we stand as individuals, it is important that we acknowledge the unselfish dedication of what our veterans have done.

And to realize that in order for them to defend our homes, or the homes of others, they had to leave their own home behind.

What is home? In an idealized sense, home is where compassion begins, where we learn how to say “please” and “thank you.”

Home is where we discover that we are loved, we are forgiven and we are part of something bigger then ourselves.

If you are lucky, home is the place in which you are welcomed “no matter who you are and where you are on life’s journey,” and welcomed back when you have strayed.

It’s those places our veteran’s left behind for months and for years. For many, God would become the only home they could count on, even if they had to wonder “how long?” and about the toil of human life.

For the men and women who served in the military, that time in the wilderness is over. But soon our current soldiers will be coming back.

Some will return with post traumatic stress over what they’ve endured and feelings of guilt over what they have done.

Coming back with eyes that have seen death, ears that have heard gun-shots, bellies that have had their fill of bitter coffee, and questions about if God could truly exist after all they went through.

We will have to discern how to respond. But we won’t discern it alone. For after all, we have the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and guidance from this book.

And we have Jesus Christ as our example of how to respond.

What do you think Jesus Christ would want us to do for our returning soldiers?

Show compassion.

How do we do that? Provide space to hear their stories with empathy, not judgment.

Offer forgiveness for whatever they feel they’ve done that went against their nature.

To help restore their eyes so instead of seeing danger all around, they can once again enjoy a sunset over Lake Jackson and groves of fresh oranges.

To help restore their ears so instead of explosions they can hear the songs of returning birds, the croaking of frogs, even the love calls of gators.

To feed them so instead of powdered eggs, they can enjoy grits and fried green tomatoes and Mama’s homemade pecan pie.

As a church, we can welcome them home; this home. Where Goes does indeed exist.

Where they will be met not with the threat of surprised attacks but by friendly folk, where they can sing, listen, worship, volunteer and be part of something healing.

In closing, the psalmist referred to God as the eternal dwelling place. Did such a statement come from a place of comfort or a place of distress?

Is it a statement that our veterans, our men and women currently oversees can claim?

We are thankful for those who served their homes oh so bravely even when it meant leaving their own.

Let us make sure to welcome back our men and women who will soon be coming home.

Not just home as the place where they live, but home, as in here, a holy house in which the Trinity dwells in harmony.

Until the day when peace prevails, when the lion lays down with the lamb and swords are turned into plowshares, let us learn how to call upon our Lord, who is now, and forevermore, our eternal dwelling place.

Our home.

For that, let us say “Hallelujah” and “Amen.”

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