Praying the In-Between.

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2011-01-02 by Jeremy Clarke

Preacher: Phil Wood
2nd January 2011
Reading: Psalm 23 (referenced/quoted later in sermon)

I said this Sunday that my reflection was a ‘sermon in a suitcase’. Like a lot of UK Methodist preachers (I was a Methodist before I became a Mennonite) I learned my craft from William Sangster whose idea of sermon preparation involved lengthy incarceration in the study. With my books in boxes and hours of worry about mortgages and removals my head was clearly not in the ‘zone’.

But in a way the past weeks have been fruitful. Prayer has been hidden in the detail. Sometimes we talk about experience as if we could fast forward between one certainty and other and conveniently omit the messy middle part. Often the journey is as important as the destination. The way a decision is made is usually more important than the outcome. All of us know about the in-betweens. Degrees of homelessness. The frustration of hope. A lapsed friendship. The bundling together of life and death. Silence between the notes that create music. The pauses that make sense of a sentence. A mid-life crisis. Work left unfinished. Malachi to Matthew. A boat in a storm. The gap between ‘our Father’ and ‘Amen’. Cross to Resurrection.

Psalm 23 (NIV)
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

On Sunday it was Psalm 23 that was our in-between reflection. The Psalmist rejoices in the table of hospitality and the cup of life but this is a feast in the teeth of fear. It is a meal celebrated in the dreadful valley and in the presence of deadly enemies. The rod and staff offer further support but they are good for walking and hardly for standing still. Wilderness is the in-between place, but not a dwelling place. Only at the end is the in-between resolved in the Psalmists’ tantalising, exhilerating ‘forever’.

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