And So the Journey Continues
The following sermon was preached by Paul Landahl, Coordinator for Candidacy, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Monday, March 21, 2011.
I begin this sermon on a personal note that for me is an important part of this sermon. This is the first time that I have had the opportunity to write a sermon and preach since my wife, Carolyn's, death. What is important about that is this. This is the first sermon that I have preached in years that did not first have a hearing with her. In the first years of my ministry, we developed a relationship that she would critique my sermons before they were preached. Carolyn could be brutally honest and also genuinely supportive…. And so this sermon seems somewhat incomplete because it does not have her critique. However, it does have years of studying the Psalms and much devotional time spent with Psalm 121. And So the Journey Continues.
Psalm 121 appointed for the Second Sunday in Lent this year really speaks to me on my life's journey. It was one of the first scripture passages that I turned to upon discovering Carolyn's death. Its words have comforted our family as we have gathered together doing those necessary things of putting our lives back together. "I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come?" As we look at what lies ahead for any of us, the psalmist's question can easily become ours. From where will our help come?
Too often in my ministry I have seen people looking in the wrong places for answers to the psalmist's
question. And there are self-help programs upon self-help programs to choose from. There are hucksters' messages being boomed across the air waves. And we will have to deal with one at US Cellular Field this summer.
In my work here at LSTC coordinating the candidacy program I experience the anxiety that candidates have in navigating the complexities of that journey. I hear those questions and it is my responsibility to help you navigate that journey, but alsoto point you to the real answer to your basic question. The psalmist could ask the question, but also answer in the same breath. "My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth." You see, there is more to candidacy than candidacy. There is a relationship with God that brings comfort to our troubled lives.
We are all on journeys of one kind or another. We have no fore knowledge of what lies ahead on that journey. In my years of traveling Chicago's expressways, I have seen many accidents and each time I have wondered what must be going through the minds of the victims. Why was it them and not me? Does the psalmist say that God provides some kind of protective shield over us? "Our foot will not be moved .... the Lord watches over us ...... the keeper of Israel will not slumber or sleep .... the Lord will preserve us from all evil ..... the Lord will keep our lives."
The psalmist calls us to look beyond our lives and current circumstances. The psalmist calls us to look at history, to look at God's involvement in the lives of the people of Israel. Circumstances never seemed to change overnight. 40 years of wilderness wandering, years of exile in foreign lands, but God's presence as always there. God was Israel's keeper.
The psalmist was about to set out on a journey, a pilgrimage. He needed assurance that God went with him. We are also embarking on various journeys. Faculty on sabbaticals ..... candidates anxious about internship assignments ...... candidates wondering when they will hear from their assigned synods ...... candidates concerned about their first interviews with congregations ...... candidates perplexed over their assignments. We also need the assurance that God goes with us. Do we hear and grasp those concluding words of the psalm? 'The Lord will watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth forevermore."
There are others of us whose life journeys have been interrupted in various ways, be it the death of a loved one, illness, or the gift of new life, and those same words speak to us. 'The Lord will watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth forevermore."
And so our journey continues down a Lenten road. A journey that exposes our sins and shortcomings, but doesn't leave us there exposed. For it is a journey following Christ to the cross, where there we experience forgiveness and liberation.
Bless sojourners and pilgrims who share this winding way; your hope burns through the terrors; your love sustains the day. We yearn for holy freedom while often we are bound; together we are seeking the road where faith is found.