“Lovely Dwelling Place”
August 26, 2018 – 14th Sunday after Pentecost – Year B
“Oh God, the center of Your will
Is truly the place of fulfillment.
I long incessantly
For the peace and security of walking with you.
Therein only is purpose and meaning for my life.
Even the birds of the air
And the animals that inhabit our forests
abide within your orbit and destiny for them.
Thus it is that persons who discover and follow Your course for them
Are forever blessed.
How enriched they are
Who draw their power from You,
Whose hearts are focused on You!
Even as they wend their way
Through this fractured world,
They become springs of healing reservoirs of power,
To the sick, weak, and empty lives
They touch about them.
God look with loving mercy upon those
Who have yielded their destinies to You.
Just one day in the centre of Your will
Is incomparably better than a thousand
Spent in the pursuit
Of self-centred aims and objectives.
It is more fulfilling to be an underpaid clerk
In the service of my God
Than to be owner and director
Of some huge and wealthy enterprise.
O God, nothing that is truly good and worthwhile
Is with-held from those who walk
Within Your will.
The person who trusts in You is very rich indeed!”
Writes poet Leslie Brandt as he retells the essence of Psalm 84.
Today’s psalm beautifully captures the theological significance of the Temple for the Israelites. It was God’s home on earth, the place where the Presence of God could be encountered and engaged. The psalmist longs to go there not because it is a beautiful building but because the human soul longs for God.
Notice the movement in the psalm. It was probably recited by pilgrims as they approached the doors, but even beyond this practical understanding, the assumption is that people need to move towards God. Making pilgrimage is not simply about going to a holy place, it is about actively choosing to approach God, to walk in God’s ways, to seek out the values and perspectives and dreams of this power. James L. Mays says, “Pilgrimage to God’s place is a ritual of entry into God’s order of reality and the conditions of human life.”
Throughout Christian history we have used this psalm not so much to refer to the Temple as to refer to any of the churches and shrines where we experience the holiness of God. We go to God in our own sacred places. We go to God by the choices we make for our lives. We find the presence of God in many different ways, but we can join with the psalmist in celebrating the joy and the blessing of feeling at home there.
Our Psalm is one of the most popular of a group of pilgrimage psalms that would be sung as pilgrims arrived at the temple. It probably was written before David’s time and refers to the time when Zion was a Jebusite holy place. The psalmist notices birds nesting among the beams and acknowledges God’s presence and providence for all life. A single day as a pilgrim at the temple gates is deemed to be worth more than a thousand days spent elsewhere.
A colleague tells “over the weekend, we discovered a sparrow had taken Psalm 84 literally. It had flown in the front door and was lodged high in the narthex by windows that could not be opened. After days it was weaker, but still had not come down. Not having a St. Francis who could charm the birds from the trees, I was resigned to waiting for the inevitable fall to the ground. That night, however, I received a call from a member of our Bible study group who had consulted the New Jersey Audubon Society . It seems that birds, blithe spirits, are phototropic! The way to get them out of a building is to wait until shadows fall. Shine a bright light where you want them to be. Stir them up. And they will “go toward the light.” I can attest that it’s true!”
Birds are attracted to light and so are most people. In this story, the bird follows the light out of the church. How good are we at shining the light of Christ to attract people into the church. Do we provide the light their souls long for? I wonder?….
So, getting back to reflecting on the background to this psalm. Psalm 84 is song of pilgrimage and worship, perhaps sung as whippers entered the Temple. This psalm evokes a sense of the mystery of the Temple and the emotions of those who came to worship there. Longing, fainting, yearning, and singing for joy are all felt in an atmosphere of pageantry and feasting. The psalmist even notes the birds that nest in the Temple pillars near the alter. Those who make their way to the Temple find refuge and strength in God to whom the Temple is dedicated.
What an amazing place of acceptance and inclusion. Throughout the psalm we hear echo of the inclusiveness of God. No one is excluded. It is God’s open house. In God’s open house you can talk to all people of faith. Over the last number of years we have held a Peace service in September. Although the turnout hasn’t been enormous, nevertheless, those of us who seek peace and want to learn how other faith communities are doing on their peace journey – we gather. We do so, because God’s dwelling place is lovely because it is open for all people.
I can’t help thinking of the many places where I experience God’s dwelling place. This sanctuary is one of them. Years ago it was on the shore line at Camp Kasota West, in Alberta. I love Linden gardens as a place where God and I commune. Where is your place where you experience God’s dwelling place? Where do you encounter God’s dwelling place in a profound way?
James Taylor, writer and poet offers a contemporary re-telling of Psalm 84. He entitles it, A Passionate Lover:
“My heart races when I am in your presence;
My blood pulses with joy when I think of you.
You never turn anything away from you.
You encourage swallows to nest under your eaves
And worms to tunnel in your earth.
Each creature plays its part in your universal symphony.
Whatever strength we have, we get from you.
Refreshed and renewed, we rise eager for each new day,
And find that every road leads us to you.
In apartment blocks and office towers,
High-rise filing cabinets filled with despair, you comfort us;
When narrow minds turn into cold shoulders,
You renew us.
When we cannot cope, you carry us.
You see us, you know us, you look into our hearts.
You lift us up when our knees melt with weariness;
You hear our prayers.
You stand beside us, even when we cannot recognize you.
So we call on you, oh God of Gods.
Creator of the universe, hear the plea of your creation.
Take me as your lover.
I would rather be dirt swept before your broom
Than a polished brass plaque in anyone else’s boardroom.
An hour in your company is more stimulating than a day at Disneyland.
You are like the sun that burns away the morning fog;
You are as fresh as the air after a spring shower;
Deceit And deception have no part in your personality.
You are the kind of God I want to live with.” So writes James Taylor
May you delight in God’s Temple, where-ever that may be for you. May you find peace and deep grace. Let the happiness that is God, dwell deep within your soul. Amen.