Monday, July 28, 2014

Sacred Space; Psalm 48

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

God Knows You; Ps. 139

Leland Ryken classifies Psalm 139 as an ode. It is of course an ode to God—extolling God’s omnipresence, omniscience, and omnificence, or God’s all-creating power. But this ode doesn’t celebrate these aspects of God on a grand, cosmic scale, but on a very personal and intimate scale. It is, “God, You know absolutely everything there is to know about ME. There is nowhere I can go that You are not. You created Me.” Verses 1-6 describe God’s omniscience of us. These verses aren’t simply testifying that God knows everything, but that God knows everything about us! God knows our actions as well as our thoughts. God knows what we’ve done and what we are going to do. God knows our innermost being. The psalmist says, “You are acquainted with all my ways.” This acquaintance is not a casual knowledge but a deep familiarity. In verse 5 the psalmist says, “You have hedged me behind and before and laid Your hand on me.” A hedge can represent protection, but it can also represent imprisonment. There is no escape from the scrutiny of God. This kind of intimacy can make us feel trapped. (Who has been married 50 yrs?) Our parents don’t know us this well. Our spouse doesn’t know us this well. Today, we have social media. On the one hand, you have people sharing too much information. On the other hand, much of the communication by these same people is shallow and very superficial. It is amazing the things that are not shared. Many people truly don’t know how to really communicate. Our information comes in sound bites, and we make grand assumptions from these. I believe one of the reasons many marriages fail is that people are unprepared for intimacy, and the give-and-take that is necessary for lasting commitment. And yet, God knows everything. In verse 6 there is a confession that not only is the extent of God’s knowledge of the psalmist beyond one’s comprehension, but the truth that God knows us better than we know ourselves. The second stanza, verses 7-12, describe God’s omnipresence in that there is no place we can go that God is not. God not only knows us but pursues us. Even in the grave, God is there. The darkness is as bright as the noon to God. We cannot hide from God. There is no escape from God in either time or space. Separation from God is a choice. You’ve probably heard the saying, “If God seems far away, guess who moved.” The truth, however, is that even if God seems far away, God is not far away. In Eastern Orthodox theology there is a description of eternal punishment for the unbeliever not as a complete separation from God, but the experience of God as the “Consuming Fire” spoken of in the Old Testament and in Hebrews. For one who has sought to escape God one’s whole life and who has refused to embrace the love of God in God’s omniscience and God’s omnipresence, the presence, knowledge, and love of God is experienced as pure torture. This deep knowledge is humiliating and humbling. It is reassuring and yet terrifying. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with TED Talks, but Brene Brown has a very popular one on “Vulnerability.” As a social researcher, she found that people who are most fulfilled with their lives are willing to be vulnerable. This research sparked her own personal crisis which she shares in this talk. We all resist vulnerability because of the corrupting and incapacitating power shame. Fear and shame keep us bound. But vulnerability opens us up to opportunity. But though God knows all about us, God still loves us. In verse 10, as the psalmist contemplates escaping God in the depths of the sea, he says, “Even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.” God not only knows and sees us, but also guides us and guards us. God cares for us and loves us despite the parts of us that we would rather God not know about us. This is the grace of God. And so this intimate knowledge, from which one cannot escape can actually be freeing when you realize that you cannot hide from God. In the presence of God there is no need for pretense or fakiness. We can be completely honest because are honestly known. This love is seen in God’s omnificence—God’s all-creating power, that God has intentionally created us as individuals. This is seen in verses 13-18. God carefully crafts us in our mother’s wombs. We are planned children. We are a conscious labor of God’s love and design. Though verse 14 is most often translated, “I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” the word “made” is not in the text, and the most ancient manuscripts read, “I will praise You for You are fearfully wonderful.” Praise is due to the Lord who made us, who knows us, and who keeps us. Regardless of the original reading, we ought to praise our Maker. In this description of God’s creation of us, it is clear that God not only created us but owns us. We belong to God; we are not our own. Verse 17 can be translated, “How precious are Your thoughts to me, O God.” That is, the psalmist contemplating all that God is to him. Or it can be translated, “How precious are Your thoughts toward me, O God.” That is, we are always on God’s mind. God is always thinking about us. Hopefully our thoughts are full of God. For certainly, we are always on God’s mind. Verses 19-21, which are often left out of the lectionary, seem to indicate a shift or be out of place, but the scholars and commentators all agree that they belong here and ought not be left out of reading and study. In light of the fact that God is all-seeing, all-knowing, all-creating, and all-powerful, it becomes clear that God is absolutely holy. Wickedness stands out. The author wants to be removed from any association with wickedness and rightfully longs for the destruction of the wicked. Friedrich Nletzeche writes of the death of God in “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” According to the Ugliest Man, God had to die. He could not stand the incessant scrutiny of God. There are many today who feel this way. These are those who “speak against God wickedly.” But the author pauses. He too has known the incessant scrutiny of God and has already contemplated how to escape. But instead of escape, the author chooses surrender, which results in praise of God. And so the author closes with an invitation for God to do what God already does, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my anxious thoughts.” There is an invitation for God to share one’s fears. “See if there is any wicked or idolatrous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” The author has already been convicted of his own sin. He knows his proclivity for wickedness. He has expressed desire to not be associated with the wicked, and so invites God to search for any wickedness that needs to be confessed and repented of. The author knows that God must seek it out, for even the author is capable of denying his own sin, as we all are. He requests an examination. Do I really hate what you hate? Am I really as good as I think I am? Am I one of the wicked? This ode, which recognizes the scary fact that there is no escape from God, turns to praise and wonder when one surrenders to God. The truth is God cares about us as individuals. This is an ode by an individual about the focus of God on an individual. It is just as true for each of us as it was for the psalmist. The proper response to God, from whom there is no escape from God’s all-searching presence, is surrender. Surrender becomes sweet and freeing when you realize you can’t hide and so you don’t have to try to hide. Someone said, “You are the closest to the people who are most interested in you.” God is most interested in you. Desire to be close to God; for God desires to be close to you.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Unity of Believers; Mark 4:21-25, Ephesians 4:1-16

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