Sunday Sermonizing: The Abandonment of Gift Store Theology
All the water in all the oceans cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside. Nor can all the trouble in the world harm us unless it gets within us.
We saw a Christian book and gift shop the other day.
Those stores used to be a ubiquitous part of the landscape of every town in America. Now they’re a rare find. Usually in the old, soulless part of town where there’s nothing but fast food and strip malls that need a facelift.
Book stores are great. Gift stores are not my favorite. Making gifts “Christian” is disconcerting.
This morning I am speaking at a tiny church in rural Tennessee. We’re talking about Psalm 121.
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? - Psalm 121:1
I would wager that this verse is plastered on something in that Christian Book and Gift Shop. Probably something with a serene photograph of a mountain with the implied meaning of “I lift my eyes to the mountains and I see God there.”
Of course, that’s not what this verse means at all.
In fact, it means the opposite. There’s no help in the mountains. That’s where the idols are worshiped. Help comes from the One who made the mountains.
Sometimes we get the promises wrong.
Sometimes we assume that promises of help and assistance along the journey of this life mean problemless living. A life free of problems, stress, anxiety, and pain. When that doesn’t happen, then something must be wrong. Something must be wrong with me. Or with my faith. Or with the church. Or with God, himself.
Maybe the idols in the mountain would be better. Or maybe just the mountains themselves.
But we misunderstand the promise. There’s nothing in Psalm 121 (or anywhere else in the Bible) that promises a life free and clear of the hardships of this world. Sickness and sadness and mental illness and death go right alongside the vibrancy and joy and exhilaration that is a part of this thing called life.
Here’s the difference.
We know that Christ is in us, with us, and all around us.
This is the power of St. Patricks breastplate prayer. God rules the universe and flings stars and galaxies at will. And he’s also concerned about you and your laying down and rising up.
This moves my heart from gift store theology to something strong and solid. Ancient and relevant.
Today is a good day to remember and take comfort in that.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.