God Pitched a Tent Among Us
Pentecost 11, Common Lectionary Year B
©2018 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones
There is something magical about pitching
a tent under the stars.
You feel like you can almost touch heaven.
That night sky, unbleached by city lights,
is at once cold, dark, vast,
but the gaiety of pinpricks of light
splatter-painting a crazy lace veil
above our heads hints at…
I used to imagine that the stars were gaps
in the floor of heaven,
allowing us to peek up into the cosmic party,
the heavenly fiesta with all God’s saints and angels!
Have you had that experience of the vastness of the night sky, the glimpse of eternity?
Science only deepens the wonder, for me,
realizing that I am seeing distance and time
stretched out in eons above me.
I am even more in awe at the Creator!
….That’s if you look up, of course!
It’s also very humbling to dwell in a tent,
particularly for most of us urban/suburbanites.
No Lazyboy rockers, plug sockets, hairdryers,
no expansive countertops and dishwashers..
Even the simple act of getting in and out
of a little tent puts us to our hands and knees,
close enough to the earth to feel her liveliness,
her sweat, to smell the soil,
to encounter creatures we cannot name,
and aren’t too keen to touch!
Pitching and dwelling in a tent may be fun
if it’s on a vacation,
but as too many displaced people in this world today can attest,
it is also basic, hard labour,
cramped, not so very clean,
privacy an unknown luxury,
it is life stripped down to the bare essentials.
To be a tent dweller is elemental.
So then, this wondrous poem of John’s,-
In the Beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, the Word was God….
the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…
and we have beheld its glory,
full of grace and truth.
It captures our spiritual imagination,
it lifts us to the stars,
we sense the cosmic wonder
of this story of God’s incarnation…..
we’re soaring on a rising
cathedral choral crescendo,
and then …..
if only we let the Koine Greek speak through, beyond the lofty tones of the King James Version,
we are astounded at the crashing to earth-ness
of that last verse:
God, taking on flesh, taking on humanity,
and putting on the Keens or the gumboots,
sticking the poles together,
heaving the skin or canvas across the frame,
and pitching God’s tent,
next to yours, just down the line from mine.
Choosing to dwell with, to pitch in alongside us,
here, and here, and here, and here. slides
I may speak to the slides as they show, otherwise just click through.
That is the crazy upside-down Gospel for today
and indeed for the whole month.
(It may well take us that long to sift through the implications of God pitching God’s tent among us.)
This image is as old as our faith.
From the nomad Abraham in every generation,
the image recurs, is concretized in the tabernacle,
the tent of meeting, the structure of the temple with its cloth door to the holy of holies.
It’s a theme which persists throughout both Testaments of Scripture, in part, I dare say, because it’s so hard for us to grasp,
so easy to fall one side or the other,
believing only that God is up in heaven,
distant and in control,
OR that God, being so earthbound, is not so mighty after all, and therefore impotent, to respond to earth’s plight.
Within these two polarities lies the paradoxical centre in which we as people of faith
are called to live.
To live trusting that the Creator of the farthest flung reaches of universes beyond our knowing,
that God, that God of light,
and eternal forgiving love,
is pitching in alongside you and me
in our struggles, pains, hopes and dreams.
That the God of Heaven
chooses to stoop down low enough,
on all fours,
to gain entry to this human existence,
to live beside humanity
in whatever terror it is that haunts our night,
and in whatever giddy delight it is that takes our breath away with joy and gratitude.
This God, this Breath, this Word, this Light,
this Way this Truth, this God-life,
has pitched in alongside.
If we would but notice.
Knees bent, pink hat, rainbow or Me Too banner aloft,
potato peeler, or scalpel, or vaccine in hand.
I wonder, if it is when we see God like this,
mirrored in the best of our loving and living,
that we truly see God’s glory,
full of grace and truth?
For this month, shall we?
Shall we notice?
Shall we keep watch for God’s tent pitched
Feel God’s presence in the night,
at the bedside, and the graveside,
in the dock and on the bench,
in the soup line, and handing out the sandwiches?
We may be tongue-tied and word lost,
trying to name this
tent-dweller God alongside us,
cosmic companion, nearer than heartbeat,
stronger than death,
but let’s begin, shall we?