Pitching A Tent on Church

Notes from www.billbrucewords.com
Reign of Christ Sunday, November 26, 2017

Text: Jeremiah 32:1-15

Today we tuned in once more to Jeremiah, the miniseries for 3 Sundays of our move from a long-time location to a new short-term one.  Do you remember the first 2 episodes?  (If not binge-listen or read them again online, here or at ‘tuckitchener’ or www.trinityunitedkw.org) 

Jeremiah is in Jerusalem, 500 years after David and Solomon, in a city and temple nearly that old.  The united monarchy split early, then Israel in the north fell to the Assyrians, but Judah carried on as a nation.  ‘World class’? In their dreams! Like Israel before them, they lost the thread of the original vision, no longer shared the benefits, burdens, and control of all God gave. Defenceless!

Now Judah in the south, and Jerusalem its capital, were besieged by the Babylonians, (Iraq), who were on their way back from pillaging the riches of Egypt, and mopping up what they’d missed on their way south. Nebuchadrezzar looked unbeatable, so Jeremiah advised Judah not to try.   Pick your battles, live to fight another day!  Why waste young soldiers, repeating past futilities?

The prophet is a prisoner inside the court walls, by today’s chapter 32 passage.   He is charged with treason, sedition, or general defeatism King Zedekiah repeats the prophet’s warnings back to him.  ‘Why do you talk like this?  You’re ruining morale during a siege!’  Why not resist Babylon, and leave Zedekiah to meet Nebuchadrezzar ‘face to face, eye to eye’?  (We are assumed to know gruesome truth, that Zedekiah’s eyes would be presented to Nebby back in Babylon, but without the rest of the king’s body, all too soon.)

When all this happened, nobody knew the future: Jerry, Nebby, or Zeddy. Nobody knew of a new temple, sponsored by Iran a century later, then expanded under Greeks, then Romans.  Nobody knew Jesus was coming (500 years later).  Nobody knew that in 70CE, this Second Temple will be razed by Romans.  All they knew was that bigger forces threatened Solomon’s temple, in Jerusalem, the city of David.  

Can you imagine being in a 500 year old tradition under siege and threat, and hearing a leader challenge a prophet for being defeatist?  Of course you can – you’re a North American Protestant in 2017CE!  Some of you prophets have been ‘defeatist’ for 40 years, or at least a decade, acknowledging trends besieging our old configuration of Trinity’s ministry in red bricks and mortar.

Jerry tells Zeddy  ‘It’s like this – I felt it coming. Cousin Hanamel, Uncle Shallum’s kid, was up to his neck in debt, about to lose the family farm.  Did I sneak out across the siege line?  I’m a prisoner locked up here! (Chapter 27 suggested Jerry did sneak out.) Sure enough, Hanamel shows up with eviction notice, about to be foreclosed.  You know the old neighbourhood, over in Anathoth township, by Bethlehem, in Benjamin county. Nice land!’

As immediate family, Jeremiah got first refusal over the other creditor, to pay off Cousin Hanamel for his title.  The cousin pays his debts, takes his shame, but the family honour and farm is saved.  What does anybody want with a land deed during an invasion?  That’s where the word ‘investment’ comes from: what the attackers spend to lock in their interests, to pay off when the city falls.  Babylon won’t respect Jewish land claims! They are not worth the paper!

The deal is signed, sealed, and delivered.  Wax seals the scroll, but an open copy is wrapped around it. Our barbarian ancestors in Europe used to tear the open copy in 2 parts, so the illiterate parties could match them by their ‘indentures’ and prove an long-term obligation Baruch takes it, to put it in a clay jar, to store in a dry cave, like the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ found about 2500 years later.  The prophet is talking in a long haul, saying ‘this too will pass’.  God knows, houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.  

I spelled that out, in this first sermon at ‘Trinity on Church’, quoting Churchill after El Alamein:  ‘This is not the end.  This is not even the beginning o the end.  It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’  We don’t know the future, but we do know hope, bigger than the specific wishes of specific land titles.  We hope for community, society, meaning and purpose for people.  We trust in rooted humanity, always on the move, as in our call to worship today.

In 1841, 176 years ago, Methodists put their foot down here.  We built on this high ground, a place of worship on this hill.  By the turn of the 20th century CE, we’d moved downtown, about 3 or 4 blocks, to another spot.  We sold that building to St Matthew’s Lutheran, and worshiped at the Opera House, until we opened 74 Frederick St.  

As another century turned, in 2000, we planned to redevelop our old shop, built for another time and society, but we couldn’t conclude a deal with partners, so as Luther said, ‘Here we stand’ – for now, not forever, ‘pitching our tent’ on Church St.  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, imprisoned by Nazis in the 1940’s, wrote before his execution, to his fiancée, that planting his feet in commitment was part of his faith: ‘I fear too many Christians who live with only one foot on this earth, will find themselves in heaven with only one foot planted as well.’

Will late consumer capitalism and its digital technologies reshape this city? Yes.  Will people work differently, and spend time and money in new ways? Of course!  Will our children have faith?  Will our faith have children? I hope so.

John Wesley preached to another revolutionary time, with changing technology making massive change to societies and economies.  Young evangelical Anglican Wesley preached ‘Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can’, and lived on nearly nothing, to the discomfort of his wife and children.  

Decades later, old Wesley worried about his ‘Methodist’ followers because of their upward mobility.  They earned and saved well – but did they give well, remembering their roots?   Marx wrote a century later that Wesley cooped the revolutionary potential of the first industrial age, by promising ‘bread for today, pie in the sky when you die’.  The Gilded Age, and world wars, followed.

What about deeds and land titles on this moving day?  What about aboriginal title to what the Europeans called terra nullus, base on a ‘doctrine of discovery’ now repudiated by our churches, if not by our courts.  

We live by the Grand River, on land promised to the Six Nations, indigenous to territory further south, as allies of the British during revolution and civil war. Instead, the Queen’s Bush was ‘granted’ to discharged troops from Napoleonic wars, or to the urban poor.

Resettling displaced economic migrants was a colonial imperial tactic.  Georgians and Victorians spoke of ‘flushing white trash’ into the sewer of the New World, to clean up their European streets.  

This is not all about land, and who owns it, rules it, commands and controls us through it, but of our right relations with creation, and with other creatures:  through houses, fields, vineyards we make life, culture, society.  Humanity is rooted, and always on the move, trying to be all that God made us to be, and to do all that God made us to do, sharing this Edenic garden.

So let’s ‘pitch a tent’ here awhile, before we ‘ride off madly in all directions’, as Stephen Leacock wrote of Lord Randolph.  Let’s pay attention to the investments being made by the besieging powers that be, which threaten us.  Let’s hold on to the indentures that re-present our long-term commitments.   Let’s plant our feet, rooted here in downtown Kitchener, without ignoring the call of lech lecha, ‘get up and go’, always on the move.

We began with an exchange, ‘Lech Lecha’, responding ‘Let’s get up and go!’.  Arriving on site at ‘Trinity on Church’, we said ‘We’re pitching a tent on Church’, responding ‘Mark it well!  We’re pitching a tent on Church!’  Let’s remember in the time remaining here for us, the hope we shared today.  Below is the text of our call to worship, between those ritual exchanges:

Our humanity is rooted
In the heart of Africa, 
the sources of the Nile
Hunting, gathering, migrating
homo sapiens, 200,000 years ago
‘Great Leap Forward’ cultures, 50,000 years ago
Before the Common Era (BCE)

We tell stories
of Adham and Ishah,
From clay and breath, 
to labour East of Eden,
From brick tower Babel, 
to scattered babble
From Noah’s Ark, 
to rainbow peoples
Humanity, always on the move,

‘Lech Lecha’ - Let’s Get Up and Go!
 Mark it well!  We’re ‘Pitching a Tent’ on Church!

Our humanity is rooted
In a memory of a Promised Land
A hopeful Holy Land, 
land of milk and honey
What our ancestors were seeking,
Hapiru, refugees out of Egypt, 
Wandering nomad Arameans,
Coexisting in Canaan, in every era

We tell stories
of Abram and Sarai,
Our ancestors
given and chosen,
Itching to leave land, kin, familiar space
Seeking blessings, 
to bless the world in turn
Humanity, always on the move,

‘Lech Lecha’ - Let’s Get Up and Go!
Mark it well!  We’re ‘Pitching a Tent’ on Church!

Our humanity is rooted
In Trinity, in Kitchener, in Canada, 
On Haudeneshaunee, Anishanawbe, Neutral lands,
Colonial settler culture of European empire,
Multicultural, intercultural, 
out of Asia, Africa, America
Beginning a 3rd millennium
of Common Era (CE)

We tell a story
of us, here, now
Once Methodists
in an agricultural market town
Then United Church
in an industrial modern city
Digital immigrants now, 
entering an urban future,
Humanity, always on the move,

 ‘Lech Lecha’ - Let’s Get Up and Go!
Mark it well!  We’re ‘Pitching a Tent’ on Church!

God who creates us rooted in given-ness,
We give you thanks

God who renews us always on the move
We ask your presence

Move in us, around us, among us,
Move ahead of us, beside us, behind us,

Bless us, to be a blessing in your world.