A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C.
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord,
Abide with with me.
I do not think I really understood the Bible until I moved to the state of Nevada. You may think I joke, but I am quite serious. I personally have never visited the Holy Land, never visited the Middle East, and so the state of Nevada is the closest I have gotten to a desert landscape—as depicted countless times in Sacred Scripture. And it is beautiful, but my friends it can be quite harsh for this southern girl who is used to green grass, and giant magnolia blossoms, and fishing for crawdads in the creek.
But here in the summer, sown in the Washoe valley, that sun is scorching and the heating rising. And even at Tahoe, in the mountains, the earth becomes dry and dusty, and the land is parched. Yet friends, soesn’t it seem far from that at this present moment in time? You may be asking yourself: “When is the snow going to stop? When will the abundance cease? Will I ever be able to put my feet up and my shovel down?” Now is a time of plenty of precipitation—whether it be that fluffy powder or Sierra cement.
And the reality is that we all face such seasons of life. We do not always remain in a time of abundance, for we all encounter such desert landscapes, such harsh wildernesses, such drought and devastation—like today’s words from the prophet Jeremiah. Now we may not feel as he does. We may not be in Jeremiah’s shoes—a refugee whose home and holy city has been destroyed and now lives in exile within the far reaches of the Babylonian empire. Although we ourselves have probably not been in Jeremiah’s predicament, his words might resonant with you. You may have felt like you are withering, or like the darkness is overwhelming, or like you will never experience abundance again.
Haven’t we all had our wilderness moments? Of drought and devastation in the desert? Of suffering and trepidation? Perhaps your wilderness is the death of friend—like our local Incline school teacher, Michelle, who died suddenly this past week. Or perhaps your wilderness is the dissolution of your marriage—striving, wishing beyond hope that reconciliation was possible, while feeling like you were grasping at straws. Or perhaps your wilderness is financial struggles—as you discern how to make ends meet and worry about all of the unplanned expenses to come.
Yet like Jesus—whose wandering in the wilderness we commemorate in the soon to be season of Lent—, God walks besides us in our suffering. God holds us in our suffering. God is with us in our suffering. We are not alone.
Yet I have witnessed throughout my time as a follower of Jesus, that if we come to God and ask for God just in our struggles, just in those inevitable wilderness moments, it may be difficult to discern God’s presence in such times of trial. Instead we are like a shrub in the desert, and cannot see when relief comes.
However, my friends, we are in need of God at all times! Reliance upon God is meant for all seasons of our lives. As Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel: “woe to us,” or “cursed,” which could also be translated in more contemporary terms: “there’s trouble ahead”. There’s trouble ahead if we only ask God to abide with us in the times of despair and not also the the times of abundance—in the days covered by clouds and not also in the in-breaking of sunshine. Not because God is not with us, or because God causes our suffering, no! But because without a deep well of living water to draw upon as we cultivate our relationship with God, it becomes that much more difficult to discern the Divine presence while we are walking in the wilderness.
Instead, our trust is in God all the days of our lives. This is the reason we come to church on the good days—during the times of abundance and plenty—, because we know from whence our blessings come. And we know if we pray now, if we worship now, if we read Scripture now, if we come together in community now, if we receive sacrament with one another now, we will be like that tree planted by water. Sending out its roots by the stream. We shall not fear when the heat comes, or be anxious in the midst of the drought. We fill up our cup, our well now, so that we can draw upon our prayers, our worship, our readings, our fellowship, our reliance upon God, when life gets too dang difficult to bear. We rely upon God in the good times, so that we have that sacred reservoir to draw upon in the bad times. Then even in the desert, even in those places where we feel far from blessed, we will blossom and bear much fruit.
And like the snow dumping snow on snow, our souls will store up for all of those the difficulties of being disciples of Jesus in this time and place. Our reliance upon God, our trust in the Lord, will embolden us, strengthen us, build us up—not only for the times of trial in our own lives. But it also emboldens us, strengthens us, builds us up to transform the times of trial in the lives of those around us. So that we will bear much fruit even when our society screams scarcity. So that we can speak out when we see injustice running rampant in our midst. So that we may bless the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the persecuted, in the name of the God of love.
If we ask God to abide with us we will blossom in the desert. We will be a light in the darkness. We will bear God’s good news to a broken world.
Store up with God now, whether it be piles of snow to water the earth into spring and summer or the spiritual wellspring that comes from the Divine. Trust in God now, so that we can discern God’s presence in all seasons—in both tears and in laughter; in both suffering and joy. Abide with God now, and you will have life abundant beyond measure.