November 20, 2016; The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

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Proper 29, Year C

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Like many of you, I’m still processing our recent election. The reaction to an outcome that was unexpected for most people has run the gamut. One universal response is that this election has shaken things up. When so many of the journalists, pollsters, pundits and predictors “got it wrong,” it’s hard to know where to turn for wisdom and understanding.

Over many centuries, a major source of comfort, wisdom and perspective for God’s people has been the Psalms. This book of songs, prayers and poetry covers the breadth of human experience and emotion. There are psalms for celebration and for lament. There are angry psalms and joyous psalms. There are psalms that deal with the intensely personal and others more concerned with the political. Often all of these aspects and more are expressed in the same psalm. When we read or recite psalms we are praying the prayers and singing the songs that our ancestors in the faith have prayed and sung for millennia.

It took me a while to turn to the psalms in order to deal with my own response to recent events. One of my favorites is Psalm 46, which we recited together today. It begins with those most comforting words, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Sometimes the events that shake up our world are natural disasters. The psalm describes the movement of the earth and mountains being toppled into the depths of the sea. I’m reminded of the destruction and disruption that the landslide in Oso a few years ago caused. I’m also personally aware of the shock and devastation a huge earthquake can cause. When I was a little girl in Alaska, our family lived through the largest recorded earthquake in North American history. There are floods and fires, tsunamis, hurricanes and even very large storms that disrupt lives and are really, really scary.

The psalmist also writes about waters that rage and foam and mountains that tremble. Those who try to prepare us for disaster say that Puget Sound is a likely location for a big earthquake, a tsunami or both. And even though I’ve begun storing water in the garage, these possibilities don’t really worry me… yet.

Right now it’s my dreams that cause turmoil. I’m in a boat that has lost power and is being tossed by the waves. I’m tumbling about in the surf unsure of which way is up or down. I wake up startled and disoriented with my heart pounding. And when I have the sense to pray, the words come again.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Once again nations make much ado and kingdoms are shaken. Some of our leaders and guides have turned out to be flawed and false. There is nothing new here. Jeremiah wrote about bad shepherds who divide the sheep and scatter them so that they are vulnerable and lost. He warned against leaders who are only interested in their own gain. He lamented over God’s precious people, the sheep and lambs who are taken advantage of and who are afraid, dismayed and lost.

In the midst of turmoil, despair and danger God makes us this promise. God promises to be with us. God will bring together those that have been scattered and divided. God will raise up shepherds who protect the most vulnerable, who stand up against those who would fleece the sheep and use them for their own gain. God will seek out the lost and the missing. God will execute righteousness and justice and stand against corruption and deceit.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Here’s the shocking thing. God has done and is already doing this but in ways that are very different from our ways. God does all this in Christ Jesus. God is with us in the one who was crucified, died and is risen. God works in weakness. God demonstrates glory, not on a gilded throne but on a wooden cross. God changes the world, not by retaliation, attack or defense but by the sacrificial, self-offering of the crucified One.

The whole world was watching as Jesus hung on the cross. Roman soldiers whose power came from their weapons and military might found in Christ a different kind of power that awed them and brought some of them to their knees. Weak and unprincipled religious and political leaders cynically posted a sign proclaiming the seemingly weak and powerless Jesus as the “King of the Jews” not knowing that their positions of power would pass away and that Christ would reign for ever and ever.

Jesus, who had been betrayed, denied, beaten, bullied and bloodied demonstrated real power as he proclaimed a message that continues to ring through the centuries, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”  The Good Shepherd of all the sheep stretched out his arms of love on the cross and embraced the whole world–all of us who are failed and flawed–in the arms of his embrace. At the end of his life, in the most horrific circumstances when it seemed like the whole world had gone mad to execute the Lord of love, Jesus shared the message of God’s Kingdom, the paradise where he is with us today, this day and always.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.