Location, Location, Sermon 08.07.11

Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-25, 45b and 1 Kings 19:9-18

I was so confused last Monday: when I checked the lectionary and found Elijah running from Jezebel, hiding in a cave on Mt. Horeb.

I knew I just preached that story!

But looking back at our Scripture readings, no I Kings. It was all Genesis.

It took two more days to figure out. I was starting to get seriously worried. Had I dreamed this sermon up ahead of time, without even knowing this story was coming up in the lectionary?

Finally, I shared my bewilderment with one of you who responded, “You did talk about Elijah in a sermon recently. Maybe you reread the story for that sermon. But we didn’t hear it in worship,’ she continued, “…if we hear the story this Sunday, we won’t feel like you are re-preaching a sermon.”

That was the clue I needed. I found it. On July 17, the sermon on Jacob’s ladder, Jacob on the run had reminded me of Elijah on the run.

Thank God, I’m not losing it completely.

Today, the lectionary pairs Elijah on Horeb — about to get sent back to work back home — with Joseph, victim of his brothers’ jealousy, getting sold to a passing caravan and carted off to Egypt (who we heard about not in Genesis 37, but in Psalm 105).

Brothers’ jealousy and evil and a famine over the horizon sets the stage for the Israelites’ migration to Egypt and the beginning of God’s great Exodus salvation drama.

A couple of weeks ago, Elijah and the still small voice coupled with Jacob’s ladder-dreaming promised God could be found in the small things — overlooked people and less than perfect or barely noticed events — as well as in the grand and glorious.

Today, Elijah alongside Joseph…
….I love how the Bible stories talk to one another, and how they talk to our lives
…today, Elijah and Joseph challenge us: God sometimes sends us to a place we do not want to go, would never get to on our own.

Dislocation. Estrangement. At least that’s how we often, understandably, experience where life takes us:

Mass population migrations or some very personal journey, haven’t you ended up places you never expected to and — truth be told — would never have gone yourself?

The surprising destination can be a physical location, like when I used to say I’d go anyplace God sent me as long as it was in the 5 boroughs of NYC. Ok, I’m not sure that I would have gone to Staten Island! …But now I can say heartfelt… I find myself feeling God meant to get me to Philly.

Or our surprise can be a more figurative place on the map of our lives:
a new, possibly strange situation,
an experience you never imagined,
some unexpected relationship,
an unforeseen responsibility,
a surprising agenda or a task you never would have imagined having to do,
… a whole new identity.

How often, as a pastor, do I hear people who end up single later in life, for whatever reason, tell me it’s just not where they ever expected to be.

Living long enough is about having living into situations that surprise you.

I suppose the most direct example of dislocation in modern America is the job transfer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mistaking HR or management decisions or the profit exigencies of a global economy for God’s will. Those are the very human causes to which sometimes we over-attribute and miss other explanations…

In other ways the comparison works well. Life is going along smoothly enough. Feeling comfortable. “Normal.” if you will. You have roots where you are. Have developed routines. You think you can see what’s coming.

And then along comes a day. Out of the blue. You are called into an office, and told the company needs you to relocate… to Phoenix. Or the whole operation is moving to Beijing; your job too.

It could as easily be a doctor’s office you’re called into to hear of an unexpected and unwanted turn of events.

Or when your spouse or partner tells you something one day that sends your life off in a direction you never imagined.

Or an experience you chose to undertake, but which had unintended consequences, an affect you never foresaw.

Suddenly you are like a young Jewish kid, betrayed by his brothers, who ends up in Egypt. Or a refugee prophet sent back to the place you just escaped.

I’m reading a book called Travelers, Immigrants and Inmates: Essays in Estrangement. Frances Bartkowski uses travel writing, the literature of immigration and the texts of the holocaust– all stories of dislocation– to paint a complex picture of mistaken identities.

Hers is an study of selfhood and displacement. She concludes that identities– ethnicity, race & gender, sexual identity, nationalism, culture, the politics and poetics of identity– are crucial because no one’s identity ever quite fits. They matter because we so often end up wearing them like ill-fitting clothes. To tight we can barely breath or so baggy we can barely keep them on.

It reminds me of Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country: the story of two fathers, living within the bounds of their lives on the same hill, but worlds apart. It’s also the story of a nation. And how those fathers and that nation all lose their sons to the inexorable pull of the city and the violent clash of race and class.

Life lead us to what it feels like to end up feeling far from home. Or like we never really had a home. Wandering. Lost.

Ours is world of migrations, forced marches, temporary housing, relocations. We’re transplants, refugees, sojourners, immigrants, ex pats.

That’s true of our personal lives too, if you really think about it.

From the time Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, dislocation and estrangement have had to do with human wrong doing and sin. But human mistakes have never been the whole story. Or, you might say, even our worst never cuts God completely out of human history.

If we believe Joseph and Elijah’s stories — and our own stories too, God can take our wrong turns and make something right of them. Somewhere you never expected to be can also be exactly where God means for you to be.

Beloved, besides acknowledging the fears and grieving the losses, as people of faith, don’t we have to ask how God has been involved in our literal and figurative travels and our long-term or temporary locations?

Sure you can point to that long line human causation or bind chance and a bunch of accidents. But still God can redeem our every trip, and even our falls.

God’s still with us, even in our dislocation and estrangement. God well may be behind or in the midst of both more than we can even imagine. Because God can turn getting lost into being found.

Jezebel and Ahab’s evil… Elijah’s desire to come back close to God… Joseph’s father’s favoritism and his brother’s betrayal… even Pharoah… all are also, mysteriously, used by God for some greater purpose down the road.

Ask yourself, where have I ended up unexpectedly.
Maybe make a list of all the times and places, figurative or real.
Then spend some time asking if God had a purpose in those locations, despite their being also of the most human of consequences?

Remember at the beginning of the sermon, how I said I thought I’d never leave New York City? I used to joke that I couldn’t wait to get old and slow, so the kids could mug me for my pension check as I was trying to cross the street.

In Allan Gurganus’ “Plays Well With Others” there’s a passage that sums up our movements– how to think about wherever we find ourselves: It goes like this:

There are just 3 days in the history of Manhattan:

The day you first see it.
The day you get to move there.
And the day, far smarter, much less intact, you still find the strength to leave.

That’s true, I believe, for all the places we’re called to make our home, whether fleeting or for the better part of our lives.

Where are you?
Where’s God in whatever your situation?
Where’s God sending you?