March 11, 2007
Thirsting for God, Desiring Sanctuary
By Jeanette Brodersen
Jeanette Brodersen is a student at Pacific School of Religion and is our Minister-inTraining for the 2006/7 academic year.
Sanctuary - it's often defined as a place of sacredness, for some even a place of refuge and safety, whether it be the sanctuary of a church (like this one), a temple, a mosque, or some other physical structure, such as your home. Or it may be somewhere in the natural world, a particular park or beach, or simply a state of emotional, spiritual, and physical calm and safety. In the case of our psalmist, it's the place where he comes to experience God, to know God, for the hunger and thirst of his soul to be satisfied by God's steadfast love. The desires of the psalmist's soul-to enter into a holy communion with God-certainly seems to me to be a universal human desire, one we hear echoed throughout both the Old and New Testaments...stories of the human spirit longing for God. In that longing, they may feel joy, refreshed gratitude, safety, rest, assurance of God's unconditional love. We, too, know what it's like to seek God and encounter God in the many sanctuaries of our lives.
But why does the psalmist "seek" God? The end of the psalm gives us a clue. Here the psalmist calls for the destruction of those who seek to destroy him. Indeed, the psalms both before and after Psalm 63 speak to some threat or fear or uncertainty the psalmist is experiencing; the very next lines after what we heard today contain a prayer for protection from enemies. The psalmist is fearful and is in need of help. So the psalmist finds sanctuary, finds safety and grounding in God; he finds sanctuary in the shadows of God's wings, in a sanctuary where he finds the wellspring of God's thirst-quenching water.
So where do we today find sanctuary? And with whom? Specifically, what happens when people thirst and hunger for God, seeking the shadow of God's wings in the sanctuaries of churches across America? Who might we find among us?
One summer several years ago, I volunteered to help with Vacation Bible School at a church in my community. On the second day, Jackie showed up with her two young kids - a boy and a girl, both with exuberant, challenging spirits. The teachers, helpers, and other children did their best to dance with these children's spirits, and Jackie's children continued to attend VBS for the rest of the week. Jackie, an economically-challenged single mom, was appreciative to find a place that accepted her and her children, and she expectantly came to the Sunday worship in celebration of VBS week.
That Sunday happened to be Father's Day as well. The guest preacher chose to extol the virtues of parenthood in his sermon that day and shared the experiences of his own deeply troubled childhood. He blamed his suffering on his absent father, and he strongly advocated that every child should have a human father-figure in their lives along with the Divine Parent one can find in God. As the guest preacher railed against his human father, I watched Jackie - this struggling, single mother who had come to church that morning with her children, tentatively hoping to encounter the safety and loving God her children had found in VBS. Instead of sanctuary under the shadow of God's wings, she experienced condemnation of her 21st century life. She left that sanctuary, thirsty and hungry.
We know the opposite of Jackie's story...of people who do enter into a church or some other community of faith, and they find sanctuary. They find a place and community where they can return, week after week, and rest in the shadow of God's wings; where they find their thirst and hunger satisfied through song and word, silence and prayer...through the cup and the bread of Holy Communion...through the love of God they find through the relationships and connections they have with others in the community. They seek sanctuary, hoping to encounter God's glory and power, God's steadfast love that is better than life. As so many people who have found sanctuary here at our church, they often say, "I feel like I've come home." We've felt it, we've heard it said.
Jackie's story and our stories remind us of the many people in our world who are longing, as the psalmist did, for sanctuary...for safety. Their souls may thirst for God, and they may seek the sanctuaries of God...oftentimes the sanctuaries of communities of faith, of churches like ours. These stories also remind us that people come to sanctuaries amid the varied realities of their lives...lives that may include single parenthood or cancer...lives filled with the complexities of this world - a world of growing globalization, economic strife and disparity, war and injustice. And they often come seeking sanctuary...they come as children of God, their souls thirsting and hungering for God, and we are the children of God there to welcome them, to invite them into the loving and grace-filled shadow of God's wings, to offer them sanctuary.
But what about the people who don't long simply for the sanctuary of God's love? What about those people who long for something more elemental, more immediate...like the sanctuary and safety of their homes, their jobs, their schools, their livelihood? And what happens when that sanctuary is violated? What happens when that sanctuary is violated?
Many of you may be aware of the ICE (the Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids that took place this last week in San Rafael's Canal community and in Novato. Here in San Rafael, supposedly in possession of federal arrest warrants, the ICE knocked on the doors of Canal community residents early in the morning, taking into custody an undisclosed number of people, including at least one child whom many witnesses have cited as being a legal US citizen. In the days that have followed, fear and uncertainty now plague these communities where the raids took place. Residents are afraid to go to school, or to the store, or to even answer their door. Their sanctuaries have been violated.
I want to say that immigration rights and regulations are complicated, and I don't have an easy answer to the issues and concerns of immigration in the United States. Julianne was quoted in the Marin Independent Journal as saying, "I understand our laws but the methods are wrong. I don't approve of the methods used, particularly with the children." She attended, as did others from our church community and the wider Marin County community, the Friday morning vigil in support of immigrants in the Canal neighborhood. I, too, echo her sentiment about the laws...yes, I understand they are needed, but why the method of raids...of instilling terror and fear in the neighborhood?
My concern is not just about immigrants' rights but about human rights...about human dignity. In a country where our leader stubbornly persists in wanting to fight terror "out there," beyond the geographical boundaries of the United States, we find judgment, terror and fear perpetuated in our own borders, against our own citizens, against God's children. In our country, racism, ageism, sexism, classism, and homophobia, to name a few, all continue in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways to exert fear and terror in the hearts and souls of so many people.
- Just think, nearly 47 million Americans (16% of the population) are uninsured, lacking health care coverage (includes 8.3 million children). Just think how many of them live in fear of unexpected illness and accident...simple because they can't afford adequate health insurance.
- Or think of the single parent, living paycheck to paycheck, worried about losing one of her jobs because she must stay home for two days with a sick child; potential loss of that job means she can't pay her rent.
- Or what about the fear and terror the people of New Orleans experienced and continue to experience after Hurricane Katrina...fear and terror perpetuated simply because of their skin color, or the part of town in which they lived, or their physical or mental health condition.
- Or what about the young teenage boy who, uncertain about his sexuality, finds his parents forcing him to attend an ex-gay conference (place where people try to deprogram his homosexual tendencies)...simply because a portion of our society seeks to judge and condemn an expression of his God-given humanness.
- Or the fear induced in an immigrant who, even though he or she has gone through or is going through the immigration process, must still worry whether or not their home will be raided...simply because of the part of town in which they live...simply because they do not "look" American because of their ethnicity or skin color.
No, this isn't just about immigrants' rights, or workers' rights, or women's rights, or gay rights...it's about human rights-the right to live safely, as individuals and as communities, without the threat of malicious judgment, fear, or terror from others. The sanctuaries of these people's lives, of God's children, are constantly being threatened. They live in fear and terror, just like the psalmist in Psalm 63 did, over 2000 years ago.
We hear the stories of Jesus of the Gospels, who ate with tax collectors and sinners and socialized with the outcast. He preached for the Kingdom, the Reign, of God where acts of love, mercy, peace, and justice lead to respect, dignity, and inclusion of all creation. The prophets of the Old Testament, the scripture of Jesus' education, pointed out the injustices of their communities and called their people to acts of right relationship. The prophet Micah says, "What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). And the writer of Psalm 63 reminds us of our source of being, of the wellspring that quenches our thirst; of our God, who we meet in our sanctuaries, where in community we praise God and where we are called out to acts of peace and justice; where we become channels of God's sweet, living water to our neighbors in the world.
In this season of Lent, may we be drawn, as the psalmist was, to God...to the wings of protection, to the sanctuaries of safety and praise, to the wellspring of love and well-being known in God. In doing so, may we be refreshed and may we be then drawn outward from our sanctuaries, into the world...to be in solidarity with those who find their sanctuaries violated by judgment, fear, and terror...and to affirm their human right to live free of judgment, fear, and terror...and, in the words of Canal Alliance Director Tom Wilson, "to help them breathe freely again." In doing so, we resurrect the words and actions of the ancient prophets. In doing so, we become the living, breathing body of Christ in the world today, pouring out the thirst-quenching love of God.
May it be so for you and for me. Amen.
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