“A Scattered but Gathered People” 09/08/2013 by Rev. Stacy Swain (Click on title for audio)

Micah 4:1-4
Matthew 4:25 -5:12

It is very good to be together with you all again. Mid June, when we had our last regular Sunday service seems like a very, very long time ago.
I remember when I first started with you all, I was told that the reason the Union Church in Waban does not have regular Sunday services over the summer was because God goes to the Cape or to the Adirondacks or to Star Island or to the Berkshires; and being such good and faithful people you, of course, must follow God to those lovely places.
But, I am starting to think that is not entirely true!

I am starting to wonder if the real reason we go our separate ways over the summer has everything to do with what we are doing here today — has everything to do with Gathering Together again. Of experiencing the deep delight of reuniting with old friends and of welcoming new ones. Of stepping again into the rhythm of song and word, thought and prayer that is so unlike anything else we do all week and that at its best can open us to the “more-ness” of life that so many of us seek.
I wonder if an unexpected benefit perhaps of being a part over the summer is that we are reminded in our gathering of how precious the gift of being together in this special way — this way that we call church really is. How precious a gift it is to share our selves with each other and with God in this gathered community of faith
As I reflected on this cycle of scattering then gathering that we do each year, I was struck by how so much of the biblical witness, of the story of God in the lives of God’s people, follows this same pattern of scattering and gathering. Time and time again, God’s people wander off or are left wandering. Time and time again, bonds of mutuality that hold the people together in loving community break down. Time and time again, chaos seeps into the cracks in communal life as violence and greed replace compassion and solidarity.

Adam and Eve wander into temptation and then wander as outcasts somewhere East of Eden. The people of Jerusalem wander away from covenant seeking not God but the idol of their own self glorification. The Hebrew people wander oppressed and afraid as Rome’s power and dominance grows.

Scattered and wandering peoples, however, are not just part of the Biblical story but are part of the human condition and times of dislocation, disruption, disillusionment and despair, times of scattered and wandering people, ripple down throughout the ages.
I dare say we are in such a time now. In the last week alone, I just happened upon conversations with four different people who are not a part of this community. And in all four, I saw in their eyes and heard in their words a shadow and a pain. Each one of them in their own way, shared something of being scattered, wandering, lost. I am sure you have had similar experiences. Did someone share something with you that gripped your heart? Was there a look of such sadness on the face of the stranger across from you on the subway that brought tears to your eyes?

I fear that we are in a time when the bonds of mutuality that hold people together in loving community whether that be on the scale of neighborhoods, nations or as global citizens are strained and snapping. And into the fissures in our global life together rush, it seems with increasing ferocity, the violence of war, of environmental degradation, of economic exploitation, and of human rights abuses that seem to go on and on. Ours, I fear, is a time of scattered and wandering people.
But the great Biblical promise and lived experience of people across time is that those who are scattered will one day be gathered! They will one day share in the joy of coming together again in love and friendship, settling into the rhythm of living in a way that opens to joy and to the more-ness of life.

So it was, so very long ago, when the prophet Micah stood up and spoke. And the love of God flowed through him as he spoke to the scattered people of his time. His words opened to a beautiful vision of reconciliation among all people and nations, of people drawn as one to live in the light of peace, where there would be enough and when deep joy and contentment was possible. And as they heard his words, they could feel it coming to be in their hearts. When you hear those beautiful words that Tori read, cannot you too feel it start to take form in your hearts?

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

The love of God that flowed through those words drew the people into such beauty and truth, drew people out of their wandering and gathered them to the source of which is beyond words. And I imagine those words gave the hearers of Micah’s day as I believe they do in our day, hope, direction and purpose.

And then, in his time and place, Jesus like Micah stood up and spoke to all people in all times and all places. And this time he did not just speak of a vision but he became that vision. The people streamed up the mountain to sit at his feet. And he spoke to them with such power that that of which he spoke began to take form inside of them. The love of God that flowed through him drew the people out of their wandering and gathered them to the source that truth and beauty that is simply beyond words. And I imagine the words that Jesus spoke gave the hearers of his day as I believe they do in our day, hope, direction and purpose.
Earlier in the week, when I began preparing my words for today I pulled out the scripture that I had choose way back in mid June, as a small group of us began planning for this our gathering Sunday. As I read them, they sent a shiver down my spine for I could not have known then, back in June, how timely these readings would be for us now, as violence and atrocities mount in Syria and as our nation debates whether to strike with the sword of our military might.

So as we gather today as church, as we come together and are renewed as the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today; as we gather week after week, gathered in from our wanderings, drawn into the love of God that flows so freely weaving us one with another in a beautiful tapestry of such grace and possibility, I wonder what words we have to speak, what vision we have to share with the scattered and wandering people of our time? How can our life together be not just for ourselves but for the lost and despairing of our world? How will we bring God’s vision of hope and possibility to places of despair and dead endings?

Filled with God’s love and lead by God’s grace, may we as this beloved gathered community of faith, life boldly into these questions and into the calling of our time. Amen.