The Pilgrim Psalm

Post a Comment » Written on April 27th, 2009     
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RED WING, MN (April 27, 2009) – During the Northwest Conference’s 125th Anniversary celebration Friday night, Jim Hawkinson read from a Lenten sermon on “The Pilgrim Psalm” (Ps. 107) written by his late brother, Zenos Eric Myhren Hawkinson.

The former professor of history at North Park University – grandson of an immigrant Covenant preacher who was among the early informal superintendents of the Northwest Conference and a historian of the Covenant immigrant experience – preached the sermon on April  20, 1978, to a gathering of Covenant ministers. It was Passover Night as he spoke. A copy of the full sermon can be found in Anatomy of a Pilgrim Experience. Following is the text that was shared Friday night.

The Pilgrim Psalm

And now I come to ask you, to ask all of us who are the inheritors of this tradition: do you think you own all this? Do you think it belongs to you? Have you done it? Can this remain the adhesive within an increas¬ingly diverse church?

I want to ask you about your horizons. But before I ask you about your horizons, I want to say something to you that I am reticent to say because it opens me to difficulty, and I say it with fear and trembling. The revolution out of which our tradition came has not ended; it is accelerating. The movement of those forty million Europe¬ans to the North American continent was only the beginning. There is no place on the globe today that can stand secure and changeless. It is all changing. It is changing before our eyes. No one can predict what will happen to global culture in even the near future.

If you have come out of the pilgrim tradition of the children of Israel, from Egypt to the Promised Land, and have used that magnificent opportunity only to be¬ come a Philistine, then take heed. Do you live comfortably behind high and bronzed gates, and worship regularly at the altar of Baal? Are you pleased with the prospects of Social Security and a special pension plan, or the apparent security of America’s nuclear deterrent and the overwhelming power of its society and technology? If that provides comfort, then live in fear and trembling, because it will all be taken away from you as surely as was the security of our forebears. I proclaim it.

The Egyptians who sat this night long ago knew nothing of the angel of the Lord with his flaming sword. Only those who had been told knew it – the slaves, the children of Israel, preparing for their depar¬ture. For Egyptians it was a night like any night in the year. Only in the morning would they discover their terror. The children of this earth do not understand their danger, for they believe in these things. They be¬lieve in their bombs. They believe in Fort Knox and the dollar. They believe in mortgages and segregated suburbs and high technology, and all the elegant gadgets with which we congratulate ourselves upon our immortality and our cleverness, the toys with which we while away our adult time and pretend that we control history.

Was it to make Philistines of us that our Covenant forebears were led from Europe? Was it simply to provide us with a horizon no more distant than our own retirement? Is an interest in compassion, in the progress of the world, no more distant than an easy charity, with a will¬ingness to sacrifice only when the “sacrifice” can offer a public relations return or a tax deduction? Are we so constrained by a careful, anxious middle-class consciousness that if we do not take care of ourselves, no one else will? That is the talk of the Philistine. The Lord shook the earth for a purpose. And in the shaking of the earth he revealed to us the good news, that when we liberate our spirits to the life of pilgrim¬age, all joy worth having becomes our own – absolutely, absolutely for nothing. You cannot pay for it. It is priceless.

Whatever (all) this means to you as a member of your church, as a member of our larger fellowship, and ultimately the whole church (because all pilgrims finally come to recognize all fellow pilgrims on the high road of Christ’s destiny), I appeal to you. Do not sit, in your spirit, any longer in Egypt. The angel with his flaming sword is not deterred by walls, is not impressed by the U.S. Air Force.There is no defense that human beings can built against him. Gather your spirit instead with the pilgrims of old within the doors marked for your safety by the blood of the Lamb, the spotless Lamb without blemish. For as the angel goes overhead seeking his prey, you will be spared for the pilgrim way. And in the quiet of that room and of our fellowship here, in some deep recess of your own soul, as the angel of the Lord flashes over to do his historic destiny, listen in silence for the command of the risen shepherd. Our forebears obeyed him. And you and I have joy here tonight, nourished by the roots by which they found nourishment, because of their decision.

If we are to leave a tradition for our children, we must commit our¬selves in the same decision. In this way lies freedom. You can be a pilgrim, you know, and never move. It is a question of what you are ready for. And if your bag is packed, the Lord may not call today or tomorrow or even thirty years from now; but he sees it’s packed. And if you are ready to go when he calls you, you are a pilgrim, and you are welcome – to our song and to our fireside, and to the blessedness that is in store on the other side of the river.


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