Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16;
1 Peter 2:2-10;
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” [John 14:1]. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid”, he says a little later. [John 14: 27] Words of comfort to the disciples at the Last Supper. We would surely prefer to not be troubled or afraid, but the world we live in gives us plenty to be troubled about and afraid of. If we’re not troubled or afraid, at least sometimes, we’re not paying attention.
There was a kafuffle in the news a few days ago about some words of one of the presidential candidates. He had said something to the effect that some people are “bitter” about the loss of jobs and income and that they “cling” to things like guns and religion and antipathy to people not like them. They were words he later said were not well chosen.
They may or may not have been well chosen, but they were true—as many have pointed out since then. It was the truth, but not all of it. When our hearts are troubled and afraid, or “bitter”, we all cling to things. Things that aren’t God. It could be guns. It could be antipathy to people not like us. It could be food or drugs or sex. It could be cars or clothes. It could be money or status or power. And, yes, we can even cling to religion. We “cling” to things that are less than God.
We’ve been doing it for a few thousand years. Remember the story of the Golden Calf. Moses leaves the people to go up the mountain. Their hearts become troubled, afraid, maybe even bitter. They grumble. After a while they get tired of waiting for Moses, who seems to have abandoned them. And they forget about God, who also seems to have gone missing. So they make a Golden Calf. Something to cling to.
When our hearts are troubled or afraid we cling to many things. Many things that are less than God; we have our Golden Calves.
Our Psalm for this morning [Ps. 31]: “In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge…” And another Psalm: “My soul clings to you…” In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge…my soul clings to you, O Lord. The main thing in our religion is not the “what” or the “how” or the “when”, it’s the “You”—You with a capital Y. We cling to You, we take refuge in You, O Lord.
Our religion, at its best, is about God, about our relationship to God. But religion per se is not God. “In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge,” the Psalmist says—not in my religious practice, not in my religious beliefs. In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge. It’s the “you”, it’s God himself that is the object of our searching, the object of our desire, the culmination of our deepest aspirations. Religion is how we get there. A means to an end. That which points to something greater.
This was St. Paul’s understanding. In the letter to the Colossians [2:16-17] he talks about Jewish festivals and celebrations of the new moon and Sabbaths. He calls these religious practices shadows. The real substance, the body, the σωμα, is Christ himself. So, to Paul’s way of thinking, Christ is the true Passover—foreshadowed in the festival of the Passover. Christ would be, then, the true new moon—the one who seems to have died, but reappears in the sky for all to see. Christ is our true Sabbath—the one in whom we find our true rest.
The festivals and new moons and Sabbaths—and our holidays and our celebrations, our Eucharist this morning—all these religious practices point to something greater beyond themselves. All these things point to Christ himself. To the “You” of our faith. The “You” we take refuge in; the “You” we cling to. The “You” who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
If there is a You component of our faith, a You we cling to, a You we take refuge in, there is also a We. We come before the You as a We. We come before the You as a We, even when we’re alone. We’ve been given to one another in the Body of Christ, as the Body of Christ. We don’t stand alone.
Can we cling to the We? Can we take refuge in the We? We are less than God, to be sure. But as the Body of Christ the We has a very special place in the scheme of things. This may be the one exception. If our hearts be troubled or afraid, it seems to me right and good that we take refuge in the We, that we cling to the We. We who have been given to one another. We who have been given to one another as the Body of Christ—and if we are the Body of Christ, we are the presence of Christ to one another. Even if he seems to have gone missing.
When Jesus told his disciples not to be troubled or afraid he spoke of his coming again. He would come and take us to himself so that where he is, we may also be. But he also left the disciples in the care of each other.
We are those disciples now. We are that community of mutual love and service; we are that Body to cling to, that Body to take refuge in, should our hearts be troubled or afraid or bitter. We are that community to mediate his boundless love: first, to one another. Then to those who do not yet know him.
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