Have you ever had someone who is a complete stranger come up to you and tell you something about yourself only you know, or thought only you knew? In me it would raise my level of anxiety to that of paranoia. Yet if what they said was good would you not feel a sense of reassurance? But we are Christians so we should realize that this is how God is with us; God knows everything about us and about our character, yet, let’s face it, we know little about God. Therein lies the beauty of our relationship to God; God will come to us, to each and every one of us, to me and to you and to every person in every pew in this church.
Do you believe that your life has meaning? I know it does; each and every human is unique and no one else has can do or be what you are meant to be or to do. If you think I am trying to sugar coat the cruelties and unfairness of life, I am not. I have been with families who lost a child before he or she was born and have seen infants and children face death. Everyday who knows how many people die early of disease and malnutrition; they perish in war or violence in its many ugly forms. No, this has nothing to do with the unfairness of human life as we experience it. This is about our relationship to God, a relationship that is closed only when we try to close it and even then it is not possible. It is only possible to hide and then the soul withers. This is the great sadness of humanity.
But we are in Epiphany!! This is the season of light. In the northern hemisphere it is no coincidence we celebrate light in the midst of darkness. For light shines; it shines of all of us even in the night, when we are given gifts even as we sleep. God knows us and wants to be with us, in relation to us.
Sometimes we do not understand the call of God. For in these days the word of the Lord is rare and visions are not widespread; we live in a time and place that doubts God or sees God as a tool of fundamentalism, but if you listen you will hear the word of God. Samuel, whose very name means “God has heard”, was a very young boy and needed to be instructed in how to hear and answer the call of God by a nearly blind priest named Eli, meaning “my God”. Does it not strike you as odd that he lived in the temple yet did not expect to hear the word of God there? Ironically many of us suffer from the opposite affliction!! We think we know what is the word of the Lord. I can tell you that it is NOT God speaking if what you are being asked to say or do leads to injustice. Yet you are given authority, yes authority, by God to act in God’s name. As Christians we know that all authentic calls by God are those that bring justice, peace, and healing. Samuel, the boy, when he realized it was God calling to him, understood that call was that of a prophet. God instilled in him the authority and role of a prophet. What does God have in mind for you? Do you know or are you, no matter your age, still asking what God has in store for you? I sometimes think God allowed me to live into an adventure. While I dreamt of journeying to physical wilderness, and to a small extent I have done that, I think God has sent me to a different kind of wilderness, one for which all the things I did in my prior life (and all of which I think were ways I answered a call without knowing that is what I was doing) prepared me to come to this place. It was a complete unknown for me when I first came and, had I not had the years of preparation that I did, I would not have succeeded at all. Of course you all may feel differently, but I want to say that my call was in part to learn to love all of you and try to be with you. That call was different for Samuel; he was to be a voice that often relayed the most unpleasant of God’s words. Samuel was called to be a prophet; I am called to be a pastor. And what about you? How do you see your call? If you are a good parent or spouse or friend, that is answering a call. If you give to others, if you volunteer, if you create beauty, if you help heal, if you teach or do a hundred other things, that is your calling, or maybe callings.
No one offers us more reassurance than the psalmist who penned Psalm 139. She knew that god is with us, walks with us, guides us. God is before us and behind us. God lays God’s hand on us. This is a god who walks with us, even as God transcends us. If you ever feel blue and abandoned by God, this is the Psalm that tells you otherwise. Sometimes I here people say that their spouse or a very close friend can finish their thoughts for them, or complete their sentences. I have had friends call after I had been thinking of them. I am convinced that if humans can understand each other that well, how much more can God understand us. Yet God’s thoughts are so much more than our own!! “More than the sand”. God does not control us like a robot, but God knows us. If we were mere robots, pawns of God, the world would be perhaps a much safer but much less interesting place. Instead we are asked to live into our call, live into the glorious world that God has created and that we are asked to bring to fruition. But while we are the hands and feet of God in this world, we are nurtured and loved by God for just being ourselves. When I am feeling alone, feeling like the world is against me, I turn to these words.
God loves you, and God loves me. What did Nathanael sense when he said “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel.” When Jesus spoke to him I wonder what went through his mind. I would like to believe it was not so much the words as the overpowering of the Spirit which told Nathanael in whose presence he was.
Why do we sing in church? What is it about music that will pull us into relation with God that words alone cannot do? It is a window into the Holy, a glimpse of the sacred. There is something deep in us that connects with music. We would do better to sing the Psalms that recite them, for it would touch a place in us that words alone do not reach. Nathanael said nothing good could come from Nazareth, yet Nathanael heard music when he heard Jesus’s words, he heard the deep rhythm of the cosmos that comes from God alone. Jesus was able to touch his core, for he knew all about him and could sing his song.
What song is being sung to you this week? If you hear the music you will be drawn into the knowledge and everyone, absolutely everyone, is wondrously made by God. If you are from El Salvador and Honduras you are, contrary to what certain elected officials might say, wondrously made. If you are being told your life is worthless because you are of the wrong tribe or skin color or speak the wrong language or worship God in the wrong way, all of these readings, but especially Psalm 139, raise a voice to the contrary.
These words should drive us, like the entire ministry of Jesus, to seek justice for all and justice for ourselves. For you are made by God and known by God and likewise every other human being is made and known by God. No exceptions.
I will close with this song, a paraphrase of Psalm 139, by Richard Bruxvoort Colligan.
Search Me: A Prayer for the Difficult Part of Psalm 139
Where can I hide from your knowing?
The dark to you is daylight. If be in me seeds of suffering,
break them open into life.
Where could I fly from your presence?
You knit my life together. Anger can pull me past justice;
lay your hand on me forever.
More than the sand on the seashore,
your precious thoughts amaze me Power and hatred rise in me;
lead me in the timeless way.