[The following sermon utilizes Pslam 139, the theology of Paul Tillich, and is fueled by the music of Marvin Gaye]
“Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” These are powerful words from the 139th Psalm. The psalmist proclaims the utter inescapability of God’s presence. The futile works of humanity to hide from the divine creator. The incalculable waste of evil working to unravel the goodness of God and the fearfully and wonderfully made creatures God hath created.
This week has been wrought with suffering, pain, and woe. Boston, West, Chicago, Pakistan, China, and the countless and nameless or faceless people that suffer and die in this world. How can this be O God?!? We just witnessed the resurrection miracle of Easter. We have spent weeks hearing about the resurrected body of Jesus the Christ visiting his friends and family. We are waiting for the Glory of Pentecost to take up the mortal coil of Christ and deliver unto us the Holy Spirit of God.
How long must we wait O God?
I don’t have an answer for this question. I am exhausted from all the pain, suffering, and woe that seem to fill this world. The injustice visited upon people because of the color of their skin, who they love, and who they are is a heavy burden. A burden I am not sure I can bear any longer.
How long must we wait O God? How long must we wait for justice? How long must we wait for peace? How long must we wait O God?
This is the condition in which the psalmist writes, “O God, 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.”
We are spent. We are searching for answers. We want the pain to subside and that promised joy to return. We search for a scapegoat, someone, or something to pin this on. We cannot bear it alone. Our neighbor, whom we love, cannot prop us up any longer. We have become vacant.
We bargain with God. God you know all about me. Not a thought crosses my mind without your knowledge. How about you letting me in on some of that knowledge? You seek to flatter God with the understanding that you are not worthy of the knowledge that you seek. You press on in flattery hoping that it will eventually be seen as or turn in to humility. God has not changed. God will not change.
In humility, when tears no longer flow and the voice of prayer has escaped us we enter the psalmist midst by saying, “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.”
We have always known God intimately. Before we were here we resided in the bosom of God. There God fashioned us to be mighty works of peace. We are wonderful works of divine quality.
We cry out, “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” and then we collapse in a huddled mess of humanity or perhaps we ignore it all and get numb.
“Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” There is no place in creation that does not have the stamp and seal of God. This is sometimes comforting and in other moments this can be sheer terror.
This week I find comfort in the fact that God is present in this mess. God never left the victims, the cities, the first responders, or even the bombers. God still has not left. Then where is God?
If God exists, then why do bad things happen to good people?
If God did not leave us, then where is God’s presence?
I ponder these questions searching for answers. I wish I could stand here today with a sack full of candy and pass it out in celebration of the soothing balm of knowledge I have to offer you. But as the psalmist proclaimed, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.”
I stand before you here today, tired, hurting, longing for peace, on the verge of giving up and letting go of hope. I am near the breaking point and am flirting with the Dark Side of the Force. My anger blinds me. My frustration fuels me. My ignorance compels me. My faith prevents me.
Why is it that when I have nothing left to give. Nothing left to offer God carries me through. “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.” God already knows the script. We are actors in this prime time situational comedy drama.
This is not to say that our actions bear no consequence. After all we are the hands, the feet, the hearts, and the minds of God. We are the bearers of Christ’s good news to the world. We are the space between sentences. We are the margins of the page in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
In the face of great tragedy we are called to respond in prayer. We are called to respond in hope. We are called to respond together. The war has already been won. We are to fight the daily battles of faith, hope, and love. Offering over our entire mind, our entire heart, and our entire will to God. As Bishop Desmond Tutu reminds us, “Goodness is stronger than evil, Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than darkness, life is stronger than death; Victory is ours, Victory is ours through God who loves us. Victory is ours, Victory is ours through God who loves us.”
“Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” The answer is nowhere and no place can you escape the spirit and presence of God.