Selah Sunday #1: A Pilgrimage
Last week I had a realization: I was done with John Chapter 6. As wonderful as it is, after three sermons, I was struggling with the fourth, knowing a fifth would be coming soon after. It wasn’t happening. So I decided to cut the series short, and ahead of the next five-part series, this time on the Book of James-- not just one chapter but the whole deal-- I would preach the assigned psalm of the day: Psalm 84.
After a little research I learned this was a pilgrimage psalm, sung or prayed by Jewish pilgrims as the journeyed to Jerusalem for religious festivals. For the sermon, I would focus on the idea of spiritual pilgrimage. Before I get to that, I had another idea about the nature of preaching sermon series.
I’ve always gone from series to series, like Bread of Life straight into Straight Talk (ha; the upcoming James series). But what if there was an inbetween Sunday to sort of let people and me catch our collective breath? Maybe the inbetween Sunday could focus on a spiritual discipline or action-- like pilgrimage?? In Psalm 84 and many other psalms, you’ll see the word Selah sometimes. This is thought to be a pause or break in the singing… a moment of centering before continuing. It could also be the equivalent of saying “amen,” as in “yes,” or “I agree.”
So I played with this idea today, and received some very good feedback. I’m going to try it again in a different format on the next Selah Sunday-- October 3-- before a series on Hebrews (or possibly Job) begins for five weeks. By the way, which would you prefer in October: Hebrews or Job?
Pilgrimage-- a Selah Sunday
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
Happy are those who live in your house,
ever singing your praise.
Happy are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
the God of gods will be seen in Zion.
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed.
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than live in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
he bestows favour and honour.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
happy is everyone who trusts in you.
It was a very heavy week, and I found myself in need of quiet and sort of catching my breath. The news of the people in Afghanistan, forced to leave their home country, the number of coronavirus cases exploding not just in our local area but across the country, and concerns for kids and teachers beginning a school year. It was too much. I found this prayer very helpful:
Give us discernment
in the face of troubling news reports.
Give us discernment
to know when to pray,
when to speak out,
when to act,
and when to simply
shut off our screens
and our devices,
and to sit quietly
in your presence."
- A liturgy for those flooded by information, provided by Douglas McKelvey, author of "Every Moment Holy"
I have been interested in taking a spiritual pilgrimage for some time; a former parishioner from many years ago, Jerry Coats, walked the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage to the west coast of Spain, where the remains of the Apostle James were believed to be discovered. Camino de Santiago = Way of St James. It’s a 500 mile trek across Spain that takes about a month to complete. Seeing Jerry’s reflections and pictures, I wanted to go. And I was just about ready to request the leave to go when coronavirus hit (2020). I am hopeful to do this in the next year or two.
But pilgrimage can be a spiritual discipline we can all participate in without even leaving home.
In its essence, “pilgrimage is a journey nearer to the heart of
God and deeper into life with God,” Eric Howell explains. “The hope
of all pilgrimage is realized when we have renewed eyes to be happily
surprised by God’s mysterious presence in all times and places, even
“Pilgrims are persons in motion passing through territories not their own, seeking something we might call completion, or perhaps the word clarity will do as well, a goal to which only the spirit's compass points the way.” – H. Richard Niebuhr
“The discipline of pilgrimage reminds us to slow down and take life
one step at a time. It reminds us that life is an emotional, physical, and
spiritual journey that requires upward and inward conditioning. It
moves us from certainty to dependency, from confidence to brokenness, from assurance in ourselves to faith in God,” - Christian George
He also said, “A regular diet of spiritual disciplines like pilgrimage can splash our
dehydrated Christianity with fresh faith and gives us a greater hunger
for the holy.”
Remember the psalm? The pilgrims walk through the Baca Valley, which is an unknown place, but it’s a desert-- drought is the norm. But when the pilgrims arrive, the place floods. Jesus offered a woman living water that would become a perpetual spring gushing to eternal life. Every pilgrim is thirsty. God provides.
“There is in you something that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have.”
- Howard Thurman
N. T. Wright said a pilgrimage can be “a metaphor, even a sacrament, for and of the pilgrim’s progress through the present life to the life that is to come.”
The very word “pilgrim” comes from the Latin peregrine, which means ‘foreigner’ or ‘wanderer’; someone who travels in faith to another place in an experience far from their normal lives. For this reason Abraham is recognised as the first pilgrim described in the Sacred Scriptures because he was called to journey to the land chosen by God. Centuries later, Abraham’s descendents embarked on their pilgrimage to the Promised Land from Egypt. The birth of Jesus himself is marked by the pilgrimage of the Magi, the three kings who followed the star to pay homage to the Messiah and it is recorded that Jesus himself travelled on pilgrimage many times to Jerusalem.
“Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and everyone” (Luke 2:32). That’s God’s will for us, to grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and everyone.
by Teresa of Avila
Let nothing trouble you,
Let nothing frighten you,
God does not change.
Attains all things;
Whoever has God
Lacks for nothing:
God alone is enough.
Lift your thought,
to heaven it rises,
for nothing worries you,
Let nothing trouble you.
Remain in Jesus Christ
with great heart,
and, come what may,
Let nothing frighten you.
See the glory of the world?
The glory is vain;
nothing is stable,
Aspire to the heavenly
Which always endures;
faithful and abundant in promises,
God does not change.
Love that which is worthy
but no love is skilled
Let trust and living faith
maintain the soul,
that whoever believes and hopes
Attains all things.
Harassed from hell,
even if she sees it,
whoever has God
will evade its fury.
Helplessness may befall her,
God being her treasure,
She lacks for nothing.
Go, then, worldly good;
go, vain words,
even if everything is lost,
God alone is enough.
Traditional prayer of blessing for a pilgrim (shared in the liturgy at the Camino de Santiago)
May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your cheeks.
And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.