Funny thing is, the Bible has a lot to say about being a stranger. In fact, the Bible seems to regard being a stranger as the normal human condition—maybe even the necessary condition for hearing the voice of God. Today's Scripture reminds us that we always need to keep in mind our status as strangers. "Treat the stranger right," it says, "because you've been strangers yourselves." So I'm going to talk today about one of my experiences of being a stranger. It's all about the many years that I spent—and am still spending—at Warm Springs [reservation in eastern Oregon]. That's why I'm wearing this ribbon shirt—it's one of the gifts I got while I lived there—some other gifts are on the altar today. But the greatest gift I got there was learning how to be what the Bible calls a sojourner—a stranger at home.
Now, we can look at the mechanics of this eruption in our lives and see nothing but devastation. Or we can search for the meaning and find the first fragile signs of our new creation. The first plants to come back to Mount St. Helens were the wildflowers. Nice touch. So, if you are ever lost in the ash fall, read Psalm 29 and remember this: wherever the oaks are whirling, the deer are surely calving. Wherever something is being destroyed, something else is being created. Isn't that, after all, just what the Gospels are saying? Doesn't Jesus spend a lot of time trying to tell his disciples that he must suffer death in order to bring new life? Doesn't Paul say we have to be united with Christ in a death like his in order to be united with Christ in a resurrection like his? [Romans 6:5] You see, this relatively young volcano and this New Testament witness to the very same truth: the old creation must pass away or get blown away so that the new creation can come, and we're going to come, one of these days. [2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:22f; Revelation 21:1-5]
My faith story today is about a very difficult time in my life in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many of you will remember that this was a time of great turmoil in the country. Last week, we heard a 50th anniversary reading of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a memorable plea for peace and brotherhood. In addition to the Civil Rights Movement, there was another significant source of tension and contention in America, namely the Vietnam War. Both the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War weighed heavily on my generation, both when I was in high school from 1962 to 1965 and when I was in college from 1965 to 1969.