July 23 Sermon


Map of Grace
A Reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
For July 23, 2017
Based on Psalm 147:1-11

When you look at this labyrinth, you can see it has four very distinct quadrants. I always assumed it was part of the geometry created to divide the pathway evenly within the circle. I learned it actually has a greater symbolism – symbols connected to historic practices.

Roman cities were built at the intersection of two roads, and the city wall was often a circle whose center was that intersection. This is why we still call a section of a city a “quarter” of a city. So the symbol for a city was a circle with an x inside.

When Emperor Constantine ordered the reconstruction of Jerusalem[1], it was done on a Roman plan. For Christians Jerusalem is the place where Christ died, so the city symbol for Jerusalem was rotated 90 degrees: the X became a cross. On the larger maps detailing the city of Jerusalem, you can see this cross shape following specific roads along well-known landmarks.


Two examples of Situs Hierusalem

When you look at medieval maps, Jerusalem is placed as the center of the world. The idea was that God’s presence was strongest at Jerusalem and radiated outward to the rest of the world. That was why a pilgrimage to Jerusalem was so essential for medieval Christians: it got you as close as possible to the place where God’s presence on earth was the greatest. It was as if the closer you could get to God then God’s grace might rub off on you – actually the idea is more that God’s grace permeated you, more like we think of radiation but without the negative effects.

If you couldn’t get to Jerusalem, then there was a hierarchy of other shrines you could go to – shrines that also radiated God’s grace through the relics associated with God’s actions on earth or the actions of saints who were conduits of grace. Here’s where it comes together.

At the end of the 1100’s, access to Jerusalem was lost to Europeans. This was the end of the Second Crusade and would launch the Third Crusade. It was dangerous to travel to Jerusalem – or for that matter to Rome. So pilgrimage became a more local journey. Rather than traveling the Three- or four-thousand miles from London to Jerusalem, now English pilgrims traveled the 65 miles from London to Canterbury. And starting with Chartres in France, great cathedrals began placing a symbol of the shorter pilgrimage on their floors.

The labyrinth represents the holy city divided by a cross. Walking this pathway, with all its contours, was a pilgrimage like the one to Jerusalem. No, this is not the center of the map, no this is not the center from which God’s grace radiates – but you know what, it could be. This could be the new Jerusalem from where God will send out grace. So walk this pathway, pray along the way, and discern how God is calling you and me and us to change this place so it may become the center of God’s transformation.

And then remember: when you depart from this labyrinth, you are concluding a pilgrimage. You enter into to the world transformed; you enter into the world to walk as though you remain in God’s presence. Whoever you are, wherever you go, you are in God’s presence – and so it could be the center of God’s radiating grace reaching outward to transform the world. Not that you are the center of God’s grace but rather God’s grace is the center wherever you may place your feet.

This labyrinth on the floor, the labyrinth on the piece of paper, when done well become symbols of the many prayers of your life.

Morning Prayer

We come to you each week, Lord, with different moods. Sometimes our worship is full of joyful praise, other weeks it is somber and reflective, and yet other weeks we find we are filled with sorrow over injustice or grieving losses. Thank you for receiving us in our moodiness, for loving us across the many moods we bring to you.

Today, it is difficult to name our mood. As individuals, we can name how we feel, but identifying our shared mood is much more complex. We are delighted to sing our praises to you, God, and yet we also know the ongoing discernment processes seem overly-long, much more complex than we had anticipated, much more demanding than we would have guessed two years ago. As our patience seems stretched, as our perseverance is tested, we ask you for signs that this confusing work is benefitting Lyonsville as a congregation.

We’re coming here today after a day of mourning in our building, a day when Gladys and Charles Clendenin were memorialized – and through remembering them, we also remember others whom we have lost. May our grief deepen our compassion for others. As we remember all who grieve, we remind you of all who hurt. People’s hearts are broken from distressed bodies, ailing minds, and overburdened spirits.

As we thank you for the beloved communities through which we have come to know you, we ask your restorative love be extended to those who hurt. We are grateful for the displays of grace which have shaped our lives and brought us to this moment. As our prayers move us away from this labyrinth, away from this building, may our feet move us toward your realm. As we sing songs in this place of worship, may we be encouraged to sing your praises throughout the world. In Christ’s name, we sing and we pray. Amen.

[1] Around 325 CE

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