Gather Us In

Scripture Passage:  Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-12 (Lent 4B Psalter)

1O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. 2Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble 3and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south…

17Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction;18they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. 19Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress;20he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction. 21Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. 22And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

This psalter is one of thanksgiving, thanking God for the promise of deliverance and for deliverance and redemption itself.  We left out some of the other trouble (in the verses that were skipped) but these words deal with illness and distress.  It also reminds us of the reading about the snakes in Numbers and God’s deliverance and healing.

I love verse 2 and the image of God gathering in the redeemed from all the lands, from east and west and north and south.  It reminds us that though there are many ways that we are separated from God—illness, desperation, our own transgressions—there are even more ways TO God.  And maybe the words of this Psalm are meant to remind us of that.  After all, we are human.  We tend to get mired in where we are.  When things are going well, we forget to reach for God.  And often when the darkness descends upon us, we often deem ourselves “not ready” to do the reaching, as if we need to “clean our lives up a bit” before we let God back into them. 

Whichever applies to us at any given time, we somehow identify with “some who were sick”.  Other translations read “some were fools and took rebellious paths.”  In some ways, that’s even more uncomfortable for us.  After all, we can blame “sickness” on something else.  But when we play the fool, it somehow is laid completely on us.  But, regardless, God redeems.  God ALWAYS redeems.  We don’t have to wait until we’re better, or cleaned up, or “prepared” to let God in.  God is just there, always ready to either deliver, redeem, or just walk us home.

But the Psalm continues.  The Lord sees and knows our pain, our distress.  God delivers us, sometimes picking us up and setting us on our feet headed toward the way that God calls us to go.  And then we give thanks.  We give thanks individually and corporately.  The whole community rejoices with thanksgiving and retells what God has done with great joy.  (That sounds like the Communion liturgy, doesn’t it?)

Worshipping together…that used to be so easy.  You just got up early (and once a year even an hour earlier!!!)  and went to church and planted yourself in a fairly comfortable pew (probably the very same pew each Sunday) and you did your thing.  But the last year that has changed.  We have been forced as a community to revisit what worship is.  I think (and, I have to say, I even hope) that it will change the way we do “church”, the way we look at “church” forever.  For most of my life, church has probably been somewhat inconvenient.  There’s been a wrestling with the surrounding culture for “Sunday” and “church” has had to increasingly share its day with professional sports events and, increasingly, other activities. (Like we forgot that our Jewish brothers and sisters have ALWAYS shared a day!) So, churches have entered the realm of competing for an audience.  (Ugh…THAT’S not good!  That’s getting a little too close to that merchandising God thing again!)

Maybe the pandemic has finally made us realize that we have been asking focusing on the wrong thing.  Corporate worship is not about attendance; it is not about measuring success on how many “butts are in the pews”, so to speak; it is, as the Psalm says, about gathering, gathering in from all directions, gathering in those that are hurting, those that have given up, and those that think they have everything figured out.  And gathering involves opening—opening up the doors, opening up the streaming services, opening through Zoom connections. 

This Lenten season as we wander in the wilderness of not only a journey to the cross, but also a journey through a pandemic, a journey that is sometimes a lonely one, let us focus on gathering.  Let us focus on ways to gather, ways to worship, ways to be together, and then find the myriad of ways that we can tell people what God has done and is doing in our lives.  Maybe if we shift our focus to “keeping Sabbath” rather than “going to church”, we will discover a God who has been there all along—wherever we are present.      

Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish—separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world.  But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinctions we make between the two.  Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars. (Barbara Brown Taylor)

Grace and Peace,