Message for 7/5 “Sackcloth Pilgrim or Happy Tourist”

A note from Pastor:

We will have a Food Pantry night Tuesday at 5pm. Anyone interested in
volunteering is welcome. Also a big thanks to all of our people who have
been responsible with wearing masks and keeping distance on Sundays. We
are able to continue our services on Sundays because of our people
behaving so responsibly. Thank to everyone for all that everyone is doing!

For those joining from home, here is a recording and text of the Sunday sermon.

5 July 2020 Sunday Service;  “Sackcloth Pilgrim or Happy Tourist”

Call to worship; Psalm 122 A song of ascents.

I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Our feet are standing
in your gates, Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is built like a city
that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up—
the tribes of the Lord—
to praise the name of the Lord
according to the statute given to Israel.
There stand the thrones for judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.

Tithe, Offerings, and Prayer Concerns; Father in Heaven, creator of all, Hallowed is your name above all others. Lord we thank you for all of the blessing that you have bestowed upon this little Congregation devoted in faith towards you. Lord today we commit our very selves to the furthering of your kingdom here in this hurting world. We ask that you bless our offerings and teach us to bring the very best to you.                     Amen!

Message Reading; Psalm 84: 1-5

How lovely is your dwelling place,
Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.

Message; “Sackcloth Pilgrim or Happy Tourist”

As I said last week, as of late I have been like many Americans enraptured into the news world. Each night bringing a fresh batch of appalling demonstrations of just how low our society can reach, and how painful it is when civilization wrestle with the questions of who and what do we as a people want to become in our future.

In my case, I have been earnestly trying to break free from the ever-seeming demise of Western Civilization, by trying to read more, pray more, and think more. Then when I do turn on the TV, I am attempting to watch something less traumatic than my usual. There are options out there instead of the 24-hour news cycle such as the DIY Television Network and my new interest, the building resurrection professionals on my new favorite show “Main Cabin Masters”. I know this is escapism, but I am officially addicted, and it’s much better than going around mad or imbibing in adult beverages which for me is not an option.

At least with my new hobby, there are indeed transformations for the better taking place, and the people working together are best friends and actually get along. Plus, I am learning how to redo the kitchen. Then again, there is enough strife in America without me putting my wife through more adversity. Too bad there’s not a Utah equivalent! So much for transformation at my house.

Maybe I should stick to the task and transformation at hand. My own faith walk, needs adjustment. As mentioned, I am letting the negativity of the moment cloud all of the beauty that God is providing on a daily basis. It’s time for a minor reset in my case, and as I look around, I believe, I am not alone in experiencing the spiritual deficit of the moment.

That’s when (like usual with the Spirit), I believe the Lord led me to this topic and discussion for today, “Sackcloth Pilgrim or Happy Tourist”. The idea being, how people of faith can react, and how do I want to react to what is going on all around us.

Last week, I mentioned some ideas about how we can react to things when we are upset, appalled, and even livid about the state of things. By taking our needs with prayer, and petition, with thanksgiving to the Lord. Today, I would like to reflect from a higher altitude and look at a couple of ideas of how our lives can be affected by God through our search for Him in our walk.

Today, I would like to focus on the concept of Pilgrimage. So, what is a pilgrimage. As like any other blue blooded American, when in doubt, there’s always Google. According to the expert of all things questioned here’s what Google had to say:

Pilgrimages frequently involve a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone’s own beliefs

Oh! So, it’s not quite like watching reruns of football games from years past, or the Big Valley, Air Wolf, Bonanza, and Starsky and Hutch. We are talking a real journey that is more than travelling from Cable News to Talk Radio.

So where to begin? My thought, and again this is only my thought. You have to do the real work, the heavy lifting of prayer, study, and thought, about where God is leading you in your walk with Him. My thought, first go prayerfully to scripture and see what our ancestors in our family of God have done in the past. You know what God’s people did before TV, texting, and microwave popcorn.

The Lord began the first massive pilgrimage in the form of the Passover / Exodus, when God led the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the wilderness. And yes, Google does have it right, there was a journey for moral and spiritual significance; The transformation of a people into a nation of priests who would become a blessing to all of the peoples of the world! Giving the world ethical monotheism, instead of debauchery and mayhem.

It took 40 years and a whole generation for this stiff-necked people to be transformed into a new nation of God. By the way God could have done this instantly, but God goes at the speed best for the people or person He is working with for there to be real meaning at the end of the day. The odyssey of the Exodus. Now that’s a pilgrimage!

During the Exodus Pilgrimage, God installs additional requirements for pilgrimages in the future. Through Moses God will require three trips a year for all able bodied men to come to the Lord personally. Mini pilgimages. We know from Exodus 23:14-17 God will require the travelling to continue:

14 “Three times a year you are to celebrate a festival to me.

and then to paraphrase…

  1. to “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread;…

(Passover)

  1. to “Celebrate the Festival of Harvest (the firstfruits of crops)

(Pentecost)

  1. to “Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering (when you gather your crops)

(Booths and Tabernacles)

17 “Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord.

This later (after the children of Israel had settled in the land provided by God), would begin the great tradition of travelling to Jerusalem to the Temple for all able bodied three times a year, to make offerings, sacrifices, and eat a meal with God and His Priests.

My thought is that God made this requirement, because the children of Israel at Sini, in chapters 19 and 20 of Exodus refused the personal the one on one relationship with God opting for Moses and later others to serve as the middlemen in Israel’s relationship and faithwalk in the Lord. People would come to the house of the Lord and experience at least this formal relationship in the Lord with a communal meal to boot.

This reminds me of our Call to Worship today Psalm 122, 3-5 a song of Assent

Jerusalem is built like a city
that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up—
the tribes of the Lord—
to praise the name of the Lord
according to the statute given to Israel.
There stand the thrones for judgment,
the thrones of the house of David.

In fact there is a grouping of Psalms 120-134 that are songs of assent, sung by the pilgrims as they walked first to Jerusalem, and then up to the mountain of God at the Temple to praise, glorify, and magnify God’s holy name.

Over time, it became a tenant of faith, for a person to be with God, they had to come to the House of the Lord, the Temple in Jerusalem. Even though God wanted a real relationship individually with His creation. Just look at the relationship with David as a boy shepherd writing and singing love songs to God, known as the psalms.

God demonstrates that He is not confined to the Temple or Heaven. That He can be everywhere, and we learn this in the Book of Daniel and Daniel’s prayer. God shows this with His answer through the Archangel Gabriel.

Daniel 9:20-23

20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill— 21 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision:

God can do stuff like that and does so in our own lives, but we as human beings still fixate on having to go someplace, somewhere set aside, special and away to meet with God.

Today, there are Pilgrimages all over the place for personal transformations, and for all kinds of reasons. There are pilgrimages to Mt. Everest to climb the world’s highest mountain, leading the place to be completely full of trash of all kinds from repeated expeditions. There’s the semi-monthly pilgrimage my wife and I take to Salt Lake City to visit the Used Book stores. Some go for the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio. Others to Nashville for Nashville stuff, and some try to visit every single Cracker-barrel Restaurant in the country, just for the Meatloaf. My grandfather wanted to do a pilgrimage to Milwaukie, but settled for the factory tour of Anhieser-Bush in St. Louis Mo. when he came to visit family decades ago. Perhaps a Pilgrimage is what you make of it, and how you live it.

There are the no kidding faith-based pilgrimages. For those with the money and time on their hands, available by walking across Europe. Two that come to mind are the Camino de Santiago, where it begins wherever you want to start in Europe and you walk to Spain to the Tomb of St. James through a network of trails, cathedrals, and city rest stops. Additionally, there is the Via Francigena, a traverse from Canterbury England through France, Switzerland, Italy, to the Vatican in Rome.

These Pilgrimages can take on a life and a faith all of their own. Many go because they are trying to find themselves, trying to find God, their faith in God, or escape from what is ailing them. Like the burning of cities or the mistreatment of people mentioned before. I suppose for some it’s a way of finding God in the beauty that He has created by appreciating the wonders of our Father’s World. And even in this, it is possible that we can go overboard and lose track of what is trying to be accomplished.

It reminds me of Saint Augustine of Hippo who 17 hundred years ago spoke about the human condition and the wander lust of some people when he wrote:

… And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty billows of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, and pass themselves by;… (from The Augustine’s Confessions Book 10 Chapter 8.)

 In other words, people travel all over the world to admire the beauty of God’s world, but many never take the time to reflect on the masterpiece within ourselves, and our relationship with others, and the one who made us.

Maybe, just maybe the beginnings of a pilgrimage start with the intentions of the traveler. So many times, we get lost in the actions of the moment before we even start to ponder what is actually going on inside of us to begin with. A start needs a beginning with determining if we are running away or towards something in our quest, and then asking the age-old questions:

  1. What am I looking for?
  2. Why am I searching in the first place?
  3. Am I looking for answers or to get healed?
  4. Is this just an adventure?
  5. Is God my destination?

If the answer to the last question is yes, then my thought is the answers to the others will come in time, through prayer, reflection, and being open to the Spirit of God. There are examples in scripture that are available for the reading.

Beginning with the Father of the three monotheistic World Faiths of; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Yes Abraham. Who was a son to an Idol worshipping family in the region of Ur in modern day Iraq / Kuwait.

From the author of Hebrews 11: 8-10 we have:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Because Abraham was open to the promptings of God’s spirit, he was selected by the Lord for a whole new life. Not running away from an old life of idolatry, but towards a life and a faithwalk in the Lord God of all creation.

Setting the stage for a whole new breed of people on this earth who through faith would do the seeming impossible. People who had a vision of a plan bigger than their own lives, and that vision was provided by a God who wanted a personal relationship with the humanity that they would inspire over the centuries.  As instructed in Hebrews 11: 13-16:

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Making us who follow them tourists in this walk of life.

Perhaps at the end of the day, a pilgrimage is more than going somewhere for the sake of going somewhere. Maybe it’s the state of our minds, and the quality of our relationship with God and other people. Maybe Google was right in the second part of that definition I read earlier when it stated about Pilgrimages; although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone’s own beliefs.

       Perhaps a more profound way to look at a pilgrimage is that it always is a journey into what we believe, and since we are a people of faith in Jesus Christ; A journey or faithwalk into a deeper relationship in God with a unique quality, not like anyone else’s.

Making our message reading take on a newer deeper meaning than before when we read:

Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,
Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage…

Perhaps for some of us, a sacred pilgrimage begins and ends in our faithwalk in the Lord. Searching for deeper meaning and answers to why bad things happen to people we believe to be innocent and good. Or how we can make this dark fallen world that we are born into a place of light and joy.

In a book that I recently have read by Timothy Egan on his Pilgrimage, there is a question that is asked about how is the best way to conduct a pilgrimage. The answer is as basic and true to the point as it is profound; always keep your ears open, listen!    (And thanks to him for the Augustine quote earlier in this message!)

May you also keep your ears open to the promptings of our Lord, for He has plans for you in your own quest at a pilgrimage into yourself with Him, not in sackcloth, but as a happy tourist in this walk of ours.

Amen!

Benediction; based on the 23 Psalm.