Wherever You Go, September 8

Wherever You Go

Jeremiah 18:1-11; Psalm 139:1-18; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33

The Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill United Methodist Church; September 8, 2019

 

It’s Rally Day. A new year of sorts. Summer is mostly behind us – there may be another barbecue or two, but swimming in the creek was definitely appealing in August and not so appealing on a day like this. We don’t all go to school, but there is something about the rhythm of the beginning of school that gathers us together and heads us back into solid responsibility. Good work to do, whether it’s harvesting tomatoes, shucking corn, or solving algebra problems, feels good when the temperatures dip into the 60s.

 

As this new school year begins, the lectionary offers us a return to the basics, to the solid bedrock of our faith. God is with us, wherever we go, wherever we find ourselves in the journey of life. We read Psalm 139 together. Its second and third verses read:

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down,

and are acquainted with all my ways.

 

It’s as if the psalmist is thinking of that classic prayer, ‘Lord, thank you for waking me up this morning.’ Thank you for being there and holding me even when times are tough. That’s what this Psalm is all about, and it’s at the foundation of our faith, our remedial lesson of the day. God stands by our side, knows us deeply and thoroughly, and loves us in spite of it all.

 

The psalm continues:

Where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning

and settle at the uttermost parts of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me fast.

 

Psalm 139 reminds you that you don't go at this journey of life alone. God is there and has been there, with you, holding you, loving you, encouraging you, from the beginning. Whether you stay here in Catskill or travel across the river or across state lines into Massachusetts or Pennsylvania, whether you take a cruise into the eye of a hurricane or fly to far away places, God goes with you and God's right hand will hold you. I don’t believe the psalmist was a world traveler. I do believe a poet allows for multiple meanings to the words they use. The distances referred to in this psalm aren't only physical. There will be times when you feel far from God – because of fear or shame or guilt or sadness or anger. You may even seek to run far away from God, from everything that you have known or loved or trusted, because life has disappointed you deeply. Even there, even as far as you may seek to run, God is there with you, in the deepest hole you dig, in the furthest galaxy to which you fly to hide – even the darkness is not dark to God, who will hold you, embrace you, comfort your pain, and give you a boost back to wherever you hope to be. It's a good word to hold onto, a good truth to claim as your own – you are always, always beloved and cherished of God and are never all alone in pain or suffering or loneliness.

 

I want to stay on this thought for a moment. The psalm is comforting, but it is important to recognize the real possibility that it’s not written for those of us who come to church today from a place of contentment – bone-tired, yes, from yesterday’s chicken extravaganza, but OK with how life is going and ready to face what tomorrow may bring. The psalm gives a lot of attention to the idea of getting away, far away if possible, from the eyes and ears of God. And the times in our lives when we want to run away are not times of contentment. They’re times of misery, when everything has gone wrong and nothing looks good or hopeful at all. This psalm is for the day you wake up and everything you love is gone. Your beloved has died, or you have had too much to drink yet again and your last friend has had enough. You’ve lied or cheated and you can’t face your family, and you can’t face God, either. This psalm is for those who are caught up in the opioid epidemic, who can’t get out and keep getting further into living hell. Blame doesn’t matter here; there is no mention of how we got where we are, nor whose fault it is that we’re there. It’s simply the basic declaration that God goes with us, through the darkest valleys, valleys of addiction, valleys of guilt, valleys of shame. The psalm deals with this directly. ‘If I can’t face anyone at all and escape to the ends of the earth, or to the darkness of my own soul, even there, God, you do not desert me. Even there, God, you meet me and hold me and won’t let me go.’ This is the good news of Psalm 139. The judgment from God in this Psalm doesn’t come until we’re ready for it. Until we choose to invite it. Not until we’ve given in to resting in the palm of God’s right hand and accepting that God who loves us is not going to let go of us, even at our worst. Then and only then can transformation begin. This is not to say that we are destined to sink and be miserable until we hit bottom. When the lines of our life have fallen in pleasant places, we rejoice that God is with us. God stays with us in the good, the bad, and all the times in between.

 

Resting in God’s love gives us the courage, then, to acknowledge God’s inquiry into what we do, what we offer our efforts and our hearts to. Ultimately, we can accept God’s invitation to change, to become more of the human God asks us to be.

 

One of the challenges of claiming the power of God's presence is personal accountability to that God. When we claim the promises proclaimed in Psalm 139 – I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you –we also claim the invitation that logically follows such a connection. The psalm ends with the refrain we sang with the Psalter: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

We don’t need to stay in our pain or loneliness or guilt. God loves us where we are and calls us into new life; Jesus tells us that he came that we might have life, abundant life. That life is life connected with God, living in God’s holy ways. Any holy relationship in life is two-way, sharing needs and hopes and listening to the needs and hopes of the other. God offers connection to the constant divine presence in our lives; that connection goes from God to us and from us to God. And we need not only to hear about it, as we have heard from scripture and worship and song, but to claim it, to know it as our own.

 

As we come to a new season for ministry, we are given lesson one: God is there for each of us and for all of us. We who claim God's love in our lives do it consciously, deliberately. Often it comes to us most powerfully in times of need, in days of sorrow or desperation, loneliness, despair or guilt. And God does not desert us nor forget us.

 

This is what it feels like to go to the “uttermost parts of the sea” and find God there. It changes your understanding of who you are, whose you are, and what you now can do.

 

All the songs we sing, all the texts we hear about the presence of God with us wherever we go are only words unless we claim the experience and let it change us. God's power and love and grace will go with us, will lead us and guide us, will comfort us and bless us, will challenge us and change us.

 

 

 

 

Jeremiah 18:1-11

18The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. 5Then the word of the Lord came to me: 6Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.

11Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

 

Psalm 139:1-18 (UMH 854)

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from far away.

You search out my path and my lying down,

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord,

you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning

and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,

and the light around me become night,”

even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,

intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

In your book were written all the days that were formed for me,

when none of them as yet existed.

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!

I try to count them—they are more than the sand;

I come to the end—I am still with you.

Philemon 1-21

1Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God 5because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. 6I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. 7I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

8For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.10I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.15Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 2

Luke 14:25-33

25Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.