“Enduring Love”

“Enduring Love”

Psalm 100:1-5

It is wonderful to be back with you
after our pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Without a doubt
it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
I went expecting to see and learn and experience a lot and I did.
But for today there are two experiences I want to share with you. Experiences that I did not expect.
Things that I had not anticipated.

The first was something that I never considered possible.
Something that every experience in my life up until that point
told me would never happen.

Even as I am about to say it
I can hardly believe it and I know you will find it
just as unbelievable but I assure you it is true.

I, Mike Desotell, won 12 games of Euchre straight. STRAIGHT!
It was a miracle.
It didn’t matter who my partner was
or what nonsense calls I made I couldn’t lose.

For the first time in our marriage Bri actually wanted
to be my euchre partner because she was assured victory
if she sat across the table from me.

And I know what you are thinking.
“Pastor goes to England last year
and visits the most historical and meaningful sites of Methodism
and his first sermon back he preaches about Gordon Ramsay. Now, after a trip to the HOLY LAND of all places,
he comes back with a fantastic tale of miraculous card playing.”
But really folks, after all this time,
would you expect anything less from me?

It started out simple enough.
We knew our itinerary
had us hanging out in the hotel after dinner each night
and so we brought some cards in the event
that we found other euchre players
who wanted to discuss the wondrous events of the day
over a friendly game of Euchre.

Every night, the whole time we were in Israel,
we played a couple of games or three.
And every one of them ended with me on the winning team. (Though the streak did end our last night in Jerusalem).

Understand that for me this was miraculous
because I almost never win.
I may win a hand or even score enough points
to feel like I might win the game
but it is a rarity for me to win an actual game.
So 12 in a row was wondrous.
And no coincidence either.
12 tribes of Israel. 12 disciples. 12 euchre wins.

The streak finally broke
because my friends discovered that I have a tell.
Apparently, when I have a good hand,
like when I am holding most of the trump cards
and am assured of winning the hand, I whistle.
It was completely unconscious on my part, but there it is.
If you are ever playing euchre with me and I start to whistle,
watch out.

The second story I want to tell you about our trip
takes place at the Western wall.

If you remember, before I left,
I asked for names of people you would like me to pray for
at the Western wall.

This is a section of the foundation wall of the second temple.
I am sure you have all seen images of Jews standing at the wall,
touching it, praying at it, and leaving notes, prayers to God,
in the cracks.

The day we visited the Western wall was a very full day.
In the morning we walked the Via Dolorosa
ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered by many
to be the holiest site in all of Christianity.
This church is built on one of the two sites
traditionally believed to be the place of Christ’s crucifixion,
burial, and resurrection.

There are several chapels in this church.
One of them features an altar
were you can kneel down and stick your hand in a hole
and touch the rock of Golgotha
where the cross of Christ was raised.

And, if you have the time,
you can wait in line to walk into the tomb itself
(a 4 hour wait this time of year,
if you get up early enough to beat the crowds, that is).
It is all very beautiful and a bit disturbing
and easy to tell the difference between
those present for the spiritual
and those only interested in the spectacle.

After lunch
we made our way through the Jewish Quarter of the old city
and to the temple mount where the Western wall is located.
Our guide gave us a brief history
and then set us free to go and pray
or take pictures or whatever we wanted to do.
I wanted to pray.

To approach the wall men have to cover their heads.
Thankfully they provide a yarmulke
if you don’t have one of your own.

The wall is huge
and there are lots of people around
praying in all sorts of different ways.

And so I decided to stand back and watch for a minute.
As I did I noticed that there were a lot of notes on the ground
at the base of the wall and young Jewish children
were running back and forth collecting them.
I never saw what they did with them,
but I assumed there had to be some process
for cleaning out the wall from time to time.
Perhaps the kids were part of it.

I walked in and approached the wall with my bible in hand
and my notebook with the names you had given me
and the names I had added on my own.
I got to the wall, and I touched it,
and I bowed my head to pray, and that’s when it happened.

The strangest feeling. I froze.
I tried to pray and I fumbled my words.
I just couldn’t find the words to pray.
You all must know by now
just how weird it would be for me to have nothing to say.

I know how to pray.
I pray all the time but somehow, for some reason,
in that place, the words would not come.
I tried looking at the list of names.
I tried addressing God by different names.
But try as I might I could not pray.

It was disheartening.
As I stood there with my hand and head against the wall,
distraught at my inability to pray, something hit me.

Not insight,
but rather literally, something hit me in the head.
Several somethings actually.

Notes, prayers left in the wall,
were literally falling from their cracks down on my head
and onto the ground.

As I looked down to where the notes fell at my feet
I remembered the bible in my hand.
And I knew that if I didn’t have the words my bible certainly would.

And so, standing in front of this huge wall,
this wall that has stood witness to countless millions of prayers,
this wall standing just as tall and imposing
as it did when Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem,
I opened my bible to the Psalms,
the Hebrew book of worship, and I began to read.

I read one of my favorites, Psalm 51 (if you want to check it out later). And at that point,
after I finished praying through Psalm 51,
the flood gates opened, and my heart poured out.

I don’t know how long I prayed but it was a while.
And at some point I had begun to cry
because as I folded up the note full of names
I noticed that some of the ink had been smudged by my tears.

I had decided that I was going to put the note in the wall
and take a picture,
and then step back a few feet
and take a wider picture of the wall with the note in it,
and then I was going to pray through another Psalm
before I went and joined the rest of my group.
So I put the note in the wall.
I snapped a quick picture of it.
I stepped back and started to frame the wider picture.

When out of nowhere a young, redheaded, Jewish boy,
came running down the length of the wall
and snatched my note out of it,
ran a few more feet, and began to unfold and read it.
I was shocked.
Just as speechless as when I first got to the wall.
I didn’t know what to think or what to do.
My first thought was to chase the kid down
and get my note back.
But I didn’t want to cause an interfaith or an international incident.

Instead I chose to believe that it was part of the process.
That this young child took my note
so he too could pray for all of you
and all of the names you had me put on that list.
After all, even if that wasn’t the case I had already prayed.
God had heard my heart.
A note in a wall, at that point, is really just a note in the wall.
Its not magic.

So I stuck to my plan,
I snapped another picture,
the one on the cover of this weeks bulletin,
and I opened my bible and prayed another Psalm.
This time it was Psalm 100,
which I had actually forgotten
I’d planned to be our Psalm for this morning.
But I found it very fitting.

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.”

What I love about this passage
is that joy, gladness, singing, thanksgiving, praise, and blessing
are all expected to be in us,
and not in us because of our present earthly circumstance
but because of the reality of our relationship with God.

The reasons the Psalmist gives for these joyful noises,
and singing and gladness and thankfulness,
are not because we are wealthy
or because we are powerful,
or because all the world around us is at peace.

The reason for the joy and thankfulness and gladness and singing,
is in knowing that God MADE us, God CHOSE us,
we belong to God.
And the God that we belong to is faithful
and provides us with a love that endures forever.

We can walk into God’s presence with singing because,
where it counts, where it matters,
we are holding all the cards.

Just like when I whistle at euchre.
When you are holding all the cards, it’s easy to be joyful –
because even if you miss a trick or two,
you have confidence in how the story is going to end.
When you’re holding all the cards, you can have peace and joy –
and in this case the cards are being God’s creation
and the object of God’s enduring love,
when that is the reality you live in
it’s ok when some kid steals your prayer off the wall.

Because I am still created by God.
I am still the object of God’s love and faithfulness.
And God still hears our prayers,
whether we cram them into an ancient wall
or whether we’re sitting in a pew thousands of miles away.

That reality never changes.
The only thing that changes is our willingness to live in it.
Our ability to see through the muck and the mire to the truth.
We are loved by the one who is faithful and true
and because of that, we cannot help but sing.

Given recent events though
I cannot help but point out that this call to make a joyful noise,
is not a call to Christians, or to Jews, alone, but to all the earth. All of creation. All of humanity.

One of the other great things that happened
while on this pilgrimage
was getting to visit the biggest and oldest mosque in Egypt.
The fourth oldest in the world.

It was there that our guide Essam, we call him Sam,
told us about his faith.
Most of us had assumed,
based on his knowledge of the bible
and his reverence for Christ, that he was a Christian.

He isn’t. Sam is a Muslim.
Thoughtful questions were asked and answered.
And I was tremendously grateful for his story
and his faith and his respect for mine.
I made a point to tell him as much.

And then, at dinner that night,
some members of our group (that weren’t from Michigan),
had a conversation, only a table away from Sam,
about how evil Islam is
and how Sam is going to spend eternity in hell.

Sam heard them. How could he not. But he tried not to pay attention.
I apologized to Sam for their words
and thanked him again for sharing his faith with us.
And we finished our trip a day or two later and flew home.

A day or so after that we all saw on the news,
a story of a horrible attack on a mosque in North Sinai.
One part of Islam attacking another.
Like Right wing Evangelicals attacking a Roman Catholic Church.

People who differ on the interpretation of their faith.
People for whom peace only seems possible
when all that is different than themselves
has the life driven out of them.

Sam is fine.
This is not one of those stories
that ends with the lovable guide
being senselessly maimed or killed.
But hundreds of others – hundreds of others who I never met,
but who have families and friends and faith of their own – hundreds of others are not fine, and never will be again.

And the attitude of the Christians who judged Sam
as unclean and headed for hell
is the attitude that breeds this kind of hatred.
This kind of violence.
The belief that one is better than another
is the belief that keeps religions of peace looking like anything but.

When we begin to look at each other
and see our differences as something to despise.
When we can listen to another human being explain
what he or she believes and how they practice their faith
and our reaction is to judge them as evil
and on their way to hell,
that is when the seeds of violence are sown.

That is when churches, and mosques, and concerts get shot up.
It happens when we allow ourselves to forget
that we all belong to God.
We are all loved by God. And God willing, we will all return to God.

Don’t forget that friends, don’t ever forget that.

It’s easy to make angry noises.
It’s easy to accuse and complain and criticize and judge.
It’s easy to sit in sullen silence;
it’s easy to close our mouths and look the other way.

But we’re not called to do any of that.
We’re called to make a joyful noise:
to shine some light in the darkness;
we’re called to have faith, to spread peace, to share joy –
because we believe that God still holds all the cards,
because we believe in the love that God has for us,
and not just for us, but for all the world.
That’s why the psalm says,

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, ALL THE EARTH.
Because all of us are created by God and belong to God.
The God who is faithful, the God who’s love is never ending.

So Make a joyful noise Christians
Make a joyful noise Hebrews
Make a joyful noise Muslims
Make a joyful noise Hindus
Make a joyful noise Buddhists
Make a joyful noise Atheists
Make a joyful noise Agnostics
Make a joyful noise Pagans and Heathens of all sorts

Make a joyful noise
because the God of enduring love and faithfulness created you,
and to that God you belong.
Created, chosen, called, and cared for.

Give thanks and be glad.
Let that song fill your heart, and share it:
because when you do, hate will fade
and the peace of God will be upon the face of the earth.
Amen? Amen.

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