That Constant Presence

 Deuteronomy 26:1-11

By Chuck Griffin

The above text will be, God willing, the heart of my sermon this Sunday. When I wrote about it here more than a year ago, I focused on our dependency on God.

I had this Jewish offering recitation on my mind yesterday, which was very different from my usual Monday. I had a midday church-related meeting in Alcoa, Tenn., and being in the area, I had dinner with a clergy friend in Knoxville that evening.

In between these events, I worked in some sermon planning, but I also had about an hour to walk around the University of Tennessee campus, something I had not been able to do in several years.. I graduated from UT’s College of Communications in 1988.

The nature of change was on my mind all day. I had spent time discussing the impending split of our denomination; later, my friend and I talked about the terrible personal change he has experienced.

The campus walk seemed surreal. I passed from the completely familiar to the astonishingly new as I moved from block to block. Buildings where I had once taken classes—buildings that had been surrounded by large swaths of green space—now sat huddled in the shadows of gleaming new structures.

I actually was excited by all I saw. The new buildings are wonderful additions, and the campus seems to have a sense of continuity that it lacked 34 years ago.

Strangest of all: There are wheeled delivery robots roaming the streets, less than knee-high and politely waiting their turns at the crosswalks. They must be very new, as the students were as intrigued by them as I was. One young man bent over to examine one, and then patted it as if it were a dog.

A day like I had yesterday, a day marked by thoughts of change and evidence of change, can startle us. Sometimes, it can even depress us. It helps to have some sort of recitation in our minds, a narrative account of how all that we experience fits into a larger story, one with some constancy to it.

When good Jews recited these words from Deuteronomy, they were anchoring themselves in the great truth that God loves them. When there was change, God was there to lead them through it all. Disease, invaders, famine, whatever, they remembered they were children of a wandering Aramean, and ultimately, the children of God.

As Christians, we use a similar strategy. The Apostles’ Creed reminds us of all those points in history where God has intervened to make us, redeem us and sustain us, and it promises God is in control into an eternal future. In our individual lives, we learn to tell the stories of how God has reached out to us, incorporating us into that larger story.

When faced with change, perhaps we could learn to recite a story beginning along these lines: “Mine was a wandering heart, brought home by an always present and loving God.”

Lord, keep us constantly mindful of your presence. Amen.

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