June 3, 2018

Pentecost 2  June 3, 2018 (Mark 2:23-3:6, 2 Corinthians 4:5-10) Psalm 139:1-18

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Perhaps it was seeing so many rabbits, Friday evening, as I walked the bike path in West Falmouth that got me thinking of the children’s book, The Runaway Bunny.

There was a time when I could tell the whole story from memory – we read it so many times when Rohi was younger. Yesterday she and I had to search hard to find our copy, buried down deep on a book-shelf full of old Rohi books. I’m glad we kept looking till we found it – because Runaway Bunny turns out to be a profound young person’s parable version of our Psalm 139…

A young bunny tells his mother he’s going to run away – and his mother replies “If you run away I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.” “If you run after me I will become a fish in a stream and swim away,” the bunny says. “Then I’ll be a fisherman, and fish for you,” his mother says. “Then I’ll be a bird, and fly away…” “Then I’ll be the tree that you come to rest in.” The dialogue continues, back-and-forth like this, through many more run-away threats and maternal responses. And Runaway Bunny turns out to be a fine all-ages commentary on Psalm 139 – As the psalmist, like a little rabbit, speaks to God, saying – Lord, you have searched me and known me…

You know my every thought… My every breath…

From before my birth till after death…

You’re with me in the darkest night…

With me in the morning light…

You formed me in my mother’s womb –

You’ll raise me up out of the tomb…

You’re with me in the raging storm…

You’re with me in the spring-time-warm

And the implied runaway theme – comes on stage, as we say with the psalmist –

Lord, where can I go – that you are not already there?

If I grow wings like an angel and fly up to the farthest heavens – you are there…

If I dive down to the deepest depths of the ocean, and swim with the bottom fish – you are there…

Even if I go down to Sheol – the Hebrew word for the first-stop-after-death – where other scriptures imply God won’t go – still our psalm assures us –  even if I go down to Sheol you are there…

There’s nowhere in heaven or earth – in the afterlife – or anywhere – I can ever go – where You, Lord are not there, already, before me….

God’s gracious promise of God’s gracious presence. So why is it sometimes hard for me to hear this… as good news?

Well, maybe it’s partly because I’m not spending enough time with the psalms… The psalms can be scary. Some psalms can still shake me up, no matter how often I’ve read them. The psalms can hot-wire us into virtually every emotion – which can be unsettling – when psalms speak of suffering – loss – lament – then jump into wondrous recollection of our best of times with family, friends, community rejoicing together… Then a psalm or two later – jealousy – anger – dismay –  remembrance of some our worst of times – only to hear again in the next psalm – awe and wonder – more glad shouts of praise to God – rejoicing with glad hallelujahs – sounding trumpets – shaking tambourines – clanging cymbals –  joyous dancing…

The psalms connect us with God and the whole spectrum of human experience and emotion. Which can be a bit destabilizing. I often need to slow down and pause frequently when reading the psalms… But I pray we always keep reading the psalms… Because I can’t think of anywhere in scripture where God’s word speaks quite so personally to us – speaking to each of us as if we were the only one to whom God is speaking.

There are truths we hear best in the gospels. Truths we hear best in the language of Paul’s epistles. Truths best heard in the prophetic poetry of Isaiah…

And there are truths that need to be sung or spoke in the language of the psalms – the prayer book and hymnal of Israel and the church from of old. Most of the psalms are meant to be sung as hymns… in the language of sacred song… Where else can we hear–

How wondrous, Lord, are all your works! And among your works, I see myself – wondrously, awesomely made.

How utterly amazing to be the work of your fingers, O Lord! You who knit me together in the womb – who knew me then – who knows me now – who will know me forever. How wonderful to be the work of your hands, O Lord!

 

I’ve been feeling oddly calm and deeply blessed this week…with repeated saying and hearing of this psalm – with all it’s repeated affirmations of God’s presence – with me, even me – even just as I am – even just as I was – even in those dark times when I was feeling farthest from God – shaky and iffy in my faith and understanding… Now I hear the psalm confirming God’s loving presence – with me all the days of my life…Thanks be to God…

This psalm is a wondrous celebration of our blessedness as people fearfully and wondrously made in the image of God. This psalm is also deep consolation for us as people made in the image of Adam and Eve. Made in the image of failed-flawed-fallen-humankind – and made in the image of God, Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer of the universe… And –

The challenge in our psalm is to be eyes-open aware of our human frailty and fallibility – and even more aware that we nonetheless bear the image of God in our bodies, minds, souls and spirits…

As children of earth and children of God, we yearn for intimacy with God above all other yearnings… Though we often rebel against the intimacy we most desire and depend upon…because of our human nature…

Sometimes we may even hear God’s presence as a threat more than a promise. When we feel this way, it’s usually a matter of us being overly anxious.

There are times, however, in scripture, where God does encourage sanctified anxiety – to remind us we cannot escape accountability –  precisely because God is everywhere. The prophet Amos tells Israel – ‘don’t be eager for the day of judgement – when you’ve been mistreating the poor who can’t defend themselves. On that day you’ll try to escape my presence, but there will be nowhere to run, nowhere to hide’ – as the spiritual says – I went to the rock to hide my face, the rock cried out – ‘no hiding place’ – There’s no hiding place down here.

God’s justice is necessary for the weak and powerless to flourish as God intends. But God’s deepest hope and intention is for all to repent and know God’s mercy… And intimacy with God is still the very deepest of all blessings. And Psalm 139 is still high up among the most intimate images of God we find anywhere in scripture….

Which, paradoxically, serves to remind me of some of the many times, many ways, I’ve rebelled against intimacy, human and divine. Some of this is inherited behavior. (No excuse, but…) I remember my dad (God bless him) reading the newspaper at the dinner table. Mom (God bless her) saying “Dear, put the paper down. Time to eat together…” Dad grunting ‘uh-huh, uh-huh…’Continuing to read till mom says it several more times… or he gets to the end of the article…whichever comes last. Me too. Most of my siblings too. We all learned by watching and doing what we saw done…Like children everywhere.

And I suppose there may be times when we actually need to keep reading – writing – praying – singing – whatever – if we’re truly caught up in seeking God’s will in what we’re doing – maybe sometimes supper can wait. (That’s my excuse, anyway, when I’m working on a sermon…or reading a great book….)

But if we’re habitually so focused on our particular task – however worthy it may be – to the extent we’re ignoring other people made in the image of God… Chances are pretty good we’re actually using our apparent busyness (even in godly work) as a way of avoiding actual intimacy with God. (Again I speak from experience…)

I know my craving for intimacy. I know my fear of intimacy. Intimacy can make me feel vulnerable. The more deeply we care for one another, the more vulnerable we are emotionally. I’ve tried to flee human intimacy, fearing  vulnerability – fearing also giving up my personal preferences and priorities for others. Fearing the inevitable disappointments that come with even the best human relationships. (Forgetting, all-too often, the greater rewards that come…as we lay down lives organized around personal preferences and self-interest…and take up lives re-organized around love of God and one another.)

I’ve also tried to flee intimacy with God. Fearing, I suppose, the dying to selfish wants and wishes that I know God asks of us all…I can relate to the little critter in Runaway Bunny sometimes… I too have imagined running away from God…

Which is why I need to keep saying this psalm all-the-more… As a reminder – that at the end of all evasions, as the psalmist says – God is always still with me – God is always still with us. No matter how many times we may attempt to runaway –   still, God is with us… Like an All-Loving Mother Bunny –

Who relentlessly pursues her wanna-be-runaway-bunnies through all the places creative children can imagine – saying – ‘Child, no matter where you go – I will be there, looking for you – I will be there, waiting to hug you…

To which, the little bunny in the book finally says “Shucks… Then – I guess I may as well stay here with you.”

“Have a carrot,” his mother says.

“Have a blessing,” God says…

Lord, you have searched me and known me….  I say…

 

Thanks be to God. Amen.