Monday, June 8, 2015

Where does my help come from?

Psalm 121 I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. The lord will not let your foot slip – the one who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, the one who watches over Israel will not slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm – the Lord will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Sermon We Presbyterians aren’t always on the cutting edge of technology, we aren’t always utilizing innovation to the fullest – we tend to value timeless things like black robes and dead dark wood rather than blogs, tweets, and Facebook and that’s OK. You know what to expect out of traditions that have stood the test of time – but you don’t always know where technology is going to take you. I do have a blog, however. I use it to post my sermons. You can go to it to read old sermons of mine if you want to. Some years ago I went to this blog site to upload a recent sermon of mine and I noticed that someone had left a comment in a language I didn’t understand – I think maybe it was mandarin. I was surprised at first, but then my high-self-esteem problem kicked in and I began thinking to myself – “people in China reading my sermons… well of course they are! Why should I be surprised at that?” I scrolled across the comment with my mouse absent-mindedly and noticed that there was a link there in the comment, something I was able to click my mouse on. My imagination was starting to get the best of me, and in those few seconds between clicking on the link and the link materializing on my computer screen I was already assuming that the comment went something like, “Dear Reverend Evans. We love your sermons so much we would like to invite you to China to preach at our church. Here is the link to the church website.” So I clicked on the link. I clicked on the link only to find that I had in fact mistranslated this blog comment – rather than this link in mandarin taking me to a church’s website, I clicked on the link, now mind you I was in my office at the church, I clicked on the link and suddenly my computer screen was flooded by pictures of women in bikinis, for apparently someone was using my sermon blog to promote something besides the Gospel. I went looking for one thing – and I found quite another – and often it is the case that you go looking for one thing but you end up finding something else altogether. Our scripture lesson for today day is from the Psalms – and is certainly an occasion of looking for one thing, expecting to find it in one particular place. “I lift up my eyes to the hills,” the psalmist writes, “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence commeth my help” the King James says. I like that translation because it seems to say clearly the author’s intent – we go looking to the hills as though the hills were where our help came from. I lift up my eyes to the hills looking for help, as though God lived up on a mountain. This is part of the human condition, I suppose, we know we need something, but we don’t know where to find it. We go looking for God and so we look to the hills. But when we go looking for God in the hills we might just wind up finding something else altogether, quite possibly finding ourselves farther from finding God then when we first began. But it’s not just true for God – we go looking for all kinds of things in places that may take us farther away from what we were looking for in the beginning. We go looking for community, and to some degree or another we find it on facebook. Bored with our lives, we go looking for something to do, and on Farmville we grow virtual corn. And looking for a way to be more connected we attach cell phones to our belts, look at them constantly even though being connected to our work while we are at home prevents us from being connected to our families. We go looking for community, a 2nd chance, a connection – but the places we expect to find these things may in fact take us farther and farther away from the thing that we seek. We lift up our eyes to the hills – but what is up in those hills – and do the hills bring us closer to the help that we need? Our scripture lesson, from the New International Version, says it like this: I life up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from – and here it is clear that the Psalmist doesn’t make a statement, but asks a question because whatever the psalmist was looking for won’t actually be found where the psalmist was hoping to find it, but can be found somewhere else: I life up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from – my help comes from the Lord. We do go looking for community, because we need community, but we will not find it to the degree that we need it on facebook. We do go looking for a chance to start over because we are sinful creatures, but re-inventing yourself on-line won’t change who you are the way true confession, the assurance of God’s grace, and the opportunity to repent and start again will. That’s why this camp and conference center matters. We want to be connected to other people, we need to be connected, but is it any wonder that when we finally turn off our I-phones that we regain the ability to connect to our families and to our God? There is an epidemic, an isolation epidemic in our culture. We are drawn to each other, but human inhibition makes real community, real intimacy, and real encounter with each other and the divine difficult. So we are tempted to go looking for these things in places that offer cheap substitutes – not real community, computer community where I can hold others at arm’s length - not real intimacy, internet intimacy where I gain satisfaction without putting my own feelings on the line – not real gospel then, because where these technological substitutes may well supply us a piece of what we want, we are also drawn farther and farther away from the thing we are trying to find. It’s the same as looking to the hills for help while the real thing meets us face to face. There were two leaving Jerusalem. I don’t know that they were running for the hills, but they were certainly leaving a place where they thought they would find something but didn’t find it there, when they were met along the road by someone they didn’t recognize at first – but in the breaking of the bread their eyes were opened. It is at a place like this camp, places where people look to each other face to face, break bread together, face to face, remove themselves from enough to actually listen – they encounter the divine as they encounter each other. We don’t want to believe it’s that easy, but we don’t need to go looking to the hills, at the table, in the family, where there are two or more gathered together – Christ is there still. So take time today to see him. Amen.

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