A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr C ~ Lent 2 ~ Psalm 27
[monologue paraphrasing Psalm 27]
This is so great! I never could have imagined it – it’s better than I’d ever hoped! I have sensed God’s Presence. I am savouring God’s Presence. This is fantastic. It feels so real, and true, and great. I feel alive! I feel loved. I feel strong. I feel confident. I feel powerful! I can do anything! Bring on the world! I got this! They said to seek your face, and I did, and I found it! Wow, did I find it! How could I have missed it before? I’ll never be without you again!
I sing your praises, O God! I love your Presence. You are awesome! You da man! Or woman, or, I don’t know but you are the One. You are my All In All. I’ll shout it out at the top of my lungs and I don’t care who knows it! I love you, God. I love you Ja-eez-us-ah! I’ll fill this place with praise. It’s all just so beautiful. Life is beautiful. You are beautiful. Everywhere I look, I see you. Everywhere I go, you’re already right there. You are everywhere! You are here! Thank you!
Where’d you go? Where are you, O God? I’m calling but you don’t hear me. You used to be right here! Why are you hiding from me? Why are you turning away from me? What did I do wrong? Don’t leave me! Don’t abandon me! I can’t do it on my own. I’m afraid. They’re out to get me! Everybody wants me to fail. I deserve to fail. I deserve to be abandoned. I’m worthless. I’m stupid. Everyone has walked away from me. Even my closest people don’t care.
But I know that you are still there, even if I can’t see you, or feel you right now.
I know that you’ll gather me up and hold me, even if I can’t imagine that happening right now. Teach me about trusting you, Lord. Point me to the way. Lead me down that smooth path that helps me keep my bearings even when everything’s a mess. Don’t let me get tangled up with those things that hurt me so much. Remind me that it doesn’t matter what people might say about me; what matters is that I strive to love people, and let myself be loved.
I can’t see you right now, Abba, but I know you’re there. Here. You’re always here. Always. I know I’ll be able to see that again very soon, even if right now I’m kinda blind to it. Surely, O God, you are in this place. I wish I could notice.
Soon. It comes back. It always does. We won’t play hide and seek forever.
So I’ll just stop trying so hard. I’ll stop trying to push the river. I’ll step off. I’ll wait.
I’ll breathe deep. I’ll let it be. I’ll trust. I’ll wait.
This is a powerful psalm.
I think it’s powerful because it’s just like my faith life. It describes it perfectly – up, down, near, far, joy, bewilderment, turning in an instant.
And in the end there is no resolution in the psalm. There’s no pretty bow tying it up into a neat and tidy little package.
Life’s not like that, and faith’s not like that.
It’s messy. It’s changeable. It’s human.
How wonderful it is that despite our changeability our God is constant! That doesn’t mean God never changes, or isn’t moved – it means that the essence of God is constant and constantly flowing toward us to positive effect.
So let’s think that through.
If we argue that God is constant – that God is the loving vibration at the foundational heart of the universe, and that vibration is always seeking out our centre, yearning for us to vibrate sympathetically with it, to vibrate in harmony with it – then every time we lose sight of God, or feel like God has turned away or left us, is really a time when we’ve turned away from God.
In the same way that the sun never stops shining on the earth, God’s Constant Presence never stops flooding us with awesomeness and wonder and love.
But sometimes simple things like clouds seem to block the sun.
Sometimes big, complex things like the moon shove themselves into the way and prevent us from seeing the light.
Sometimes the earth rotates and the sun seems completely absent and we’re covered in darkness – until morning.
This psalm is paired with the gospel reading from Luke 13, which is pretty dense and complicated so I won’t go too far into it except for this.
Listen to Luke 13:34. This is Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem (meaning the powers that be, primarily) about how his true message doesn’t seem to be getting through. Jesus says,
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
It’s the same imagery as here in Psalm 27:10 when the psalmist laments, “If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.”
“Take me up” – literally means to gather and take away – just like Jesus was describing. The gathering is a very tender, nurturing image.
It shows us God’s desire, God’s compelling constancy, to gather us in and nurture us in love.
And what do we too often do? Like “Jerusalem” we “are not willing.”
It’s the same imagery in the famous Footprints poem. I’m sure you know it.
A person is reflecting on their life and they see it as two sets of footprints – theirs and Jesus’ – walking along the sand together.
And then the person notices that at all the hardest times in their life there was only one set of footprints, and instantly they accuse Jesus of abandonment. Like the psalmist, “Why did you leave me?”
And we know how it ends. Jesus said, “I didn’t leave you. Those times where there’s only one set of footprints is when I carried you!”
I’ve told this story before, but it bears repeating.
Years ago while I was doing my theology coursework I became gripped by the question ‘where is God in this?’ How can a person dedicated to walking with God lose sight of their companion? Brennan Manning, one of my favourite authors writes, “In my personal life the greater part of each year is devoted to writing, thinking, and speaking about God, Jesus, faith, contemplative prayer, the gospel lifestyle, and so forth. It’s a curious phenomenon that such noble Christian enterprises distance me from God…Constantly holding forth about God does not of itself lead to being with God.”
Like Manning, despite my immersion in ‘God-talk’ I wasn’t being immersed in God.
As I reflected on this I wondered if at the times that God seems distant what’s really happened is that the Holy Spirit has gone deeper into your heart and you just lose sight of it temporarily?
For me it wasn’t a matter of feeling that God was somehow absent, nor was it a crisis of faith.
It was more the sense that God couldn’t be found in the familiar places I used to seek God.
An image came to me of my heart being like a big field in which Jesus and I walk. We’ve walked together for a long time. I “invited” him to be my companion years ago and gladly answered God’s call to ministry. Through it all we’ve journeyed together, but the relationship didn’t require all that much work – it just happened. I was present and God was present.
In school, however, it seemed that as theology coursework demands increased there was, ironically, less and less time for God.
Same’s true about the demands of work and life sometimes.
But there’s more to it than that.
My image continues with Jesus literally “diving” down inside my heart and out of view.
He hasn’t gone away but has gone deeper inside.
When God’s Presence isn’t found in the typical places you’ve found it before, you – I – initially feel abandoned, discouraged, in a panic – like the psalmist.
You flail around as if you’re drowning – which in a way may be exactly what you need to do.
It’s as though the Holy Spirit doesn’t like to be taken for granted so it burrows deeper into your heart and calls to you to try to find it.
It’s like it’s playing hide and seek with you!
To find it is to go on a quest – a journey that changes you. If the Spirit has dived deeper then in order to seek out it’s hiding place we need to dive deeper too. So we take a deep breath and risk diving in – immersing, ever deeper.
We are in relationship with an elusive God who hides in the trickiest spot imaginable – in plain sight, right smack dab in the middle of your day-to-day life, where we often forget to look.
And like the psalmist, when those strange times sneak up on us, and overwhelm us, and knock us off our lofty perch of safety and security in the easy Presence of God, we would do well to echo the psalmist’s closing words in Psalm 27.
27:13-14 I believe (I know, I trust) that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
In Hebrew, “wait for the LORD” sounds something like this: kaw-veh el ya-h’veh.
It even sounds like a heartfelt sigh of acceptance, and understanding, and trust.
Kaw-veh el ya-h’veh.
Wait for the LORD.
No resolution. Just faith.
Kaw-veh el ya-h’veh.
Wait for the LORD.