Monday, June 24, 2013

Black Forest Fire (June 22-23, 2013); 'I was glad when they said to me . . . "

It is good to see everyone today; like so many others, I have longed to be together in the house of God, and together with God’s people.

  • To the 37 families of Our Lady of the Pines who have lost homes, our hearts and hands go out to you this day.
  • To the 18 families in OLP whose homes have been severely damaged in the Black Forest Fire, we are greatly saddened by your loss.
  • For the two members of our community who lost their lives in this firestorm, we grieve and mourn.
  • And for an area that lost 512 homes in only a few days, we are stunned and silent in the face of such devastation.
  • And to those who have lost anything, we pledge to stand with you, and for you, in this your time of greatest need.
For those who have known loss, it is good to be here; for those who have known the fear and uncertainty as a city--and even our nation--held its breath, and as we hoped and prayed for our survival, it is indeed good to be here. And to gather at Our Lady of the Pines, for 53 years a beacon of faith to the Black Forest, we are glad that she is still with us today. But we remember the words of St. Paul “when one part suffers, we all suffer."

I have chosen a few biblical texts timely to the moment at hand, primarily from Psalm 122.
Song of Praise and Prayer for Jerusalem

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

1 I was glad when they said to me,

“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

2 Our feet are standing

within your gates, O Jerusalem.

3 Jerusalem—built as a city

that is bound firmly together.

4 To it the tribes go up,

the tribes of the Lord,

as was decreed for Israel,

to give thanks to the name of the Lord.

5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up,

the thrones of the house of David.

6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

“May they prosper who love you.

7 Peace be within your walls,

and security within your towers.”

8 For the sake of my relatives and friends

I will say, “Peace be within you.”

9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,

I will seek your good. (NRSVCE)

This Psalm is in a collection of Psalms called the Psalms of Ascent, which were pilgrim songs for those traveling to Jerusalem to partake in one of the three annual feasts. This Psalm has special meaning for us today, as we gather, wandering pilgrims, some of whom have suffered much to be here. Today this is our song of pilgrimage, as we serve Jesus Christ as we journey to our Jerusalem.

v.1—the writer said, “I was glad”…literally it means “whenever” they said to me—let us go to the Lord's house. After a long journey, it’s good to be in the Lord's house. After a long and dangerous pilgrimage, it’s good to be home.

V.2—and here we are! I remember all over again how good it is to be here. It will be good to pray together, to give for the needs of others and for this church, to commune around the table of the Lord in a way that the earthly temple only foreshadowed, in a new and better way, and to enter the holy of holies by the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

v.3—And Jerusalem is a built strong as a city, a city whom the gates of Hell shall not overcome, it is strong, and it is secure, and our place there is secure. It is secure not because of the strength of its walls, or its physical protection, but only by virtue of the One who made it and still protects it.

It’s the one who said
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. John 14:1–3 (NRSVCE)

It gave strength to another Pilgrim on his road, as St. Paul said:

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 Corinthians 4:16–5:1 (NRSVCE)

You see, our Jerusalem is strong, it is the church of Jesus Christ, it is our eternal home in heaven . . .

I rejoiced when they said to me, let’s go worship (this is a memory for this pilgrim; he stands in the Jerusalem of his memory, wondering how he has made it this far (you know, sometimes all you have is a memory), and in his rejoicing in that memory, he overflows to praise….and his soul is now standing there, just as real as we are standing here….and yes, Jerusalem is strong….to there the tribes go up….and there have been some wandering tribes these past few weeks.

We come here to worship, we come here to give thanks. We come before the throne of grace to receive mercy in our time of need. We come before Christ, we partake of his body and blood, and we find viaticum, precious food for the journey. Our rejoicing to go up to Jerusalem to worship turns to praise, our praise gives us hope, and now, our hope turns to prayer for others….

We have the Pilgrims’s Joy, made all the more precious because of the harrowing nature of the journey….

Like the psalmist, we take on the
Pilgrim’s Praise, as we understand that our feet are not standing on the shifting winds of fate or happenstance, but they are standing in Jerusalem, a strong city, built up, compact, together with the tribes. Nothing I can’t do if "the tribes" of Black Forest are here. It has been so good seeing others around town, at their homes, in the midst of this, and the strength we get form each other is real. And we are going to need it in the days and months to come.

We have the Joy of the Pilgrim, the Praise of the Pilgrim, and so it leads us to the Prayer of the Pilgrim.

"Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem." What do we pray after this week? We pray for peace, true peace and security—
shalom and shalvah—a play on words in this Hebrew song.

So for the next few months, let’s pray every day for our peace, for the security of our brother and sisters. Let’s lend a hand…we will have very practical ways to give and to serve. We can all lend a hand here, and daily, we can pray for our Jerusalem.

I know some of us are cleaning up, we are rebuilding, we are getting back to something that looks like normal…but in these last few days I know we have all recognized that here we have no enduring city, that our possessions are way too big to fit into one or two cars, that there are more important realities than things—that the people in our lives are what give it meaning and purpose, and that our faith will triumph even in the midst of such tragedy…

Let me close by telling you about Jerusalem, not in the distant memory of the Pilgrim, but the new Jerusalem, being built by the Father in heaven for us.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:1–5 (NRSVCE)

Amen, come Lord Jesus!


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