A Sermon preached January 18, 2015 at Central St. Matthew UCC
Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18; 1 Samuel 3:1-10; John 1:43-51
There’s a lot of Bible in today’s Scripture lesson: Psalms 139, a story from 1 Samuel and some Gospel of John.
Psalm 139 is that beautiful poem about how very intimately God knows you, or me. “O Lord, you have searched me and known me . . . you discern my thoughts. (And then it gets more serious) You hem me in . . . (and then, from the inside out) the one who actually knit me together . . . I was made in secret . . . but not hidden from you, God.” Before the beginning that any of us knew, God sees and God knows!
That sounds kind of sweet and comforting when we think of God knowing us as babies. But the searching and knowing NOW — after we’ve been around a few years . . . and we have . . . shall we say . . . stories to tell — or NOT tell. And we are subject to God’s mind-reading and being hemmed in by God. Let’s go back to that “God is watching us from a distance” God, right?
And there’s the story of young Samuel. It begins with his mother — Hannah — who wanted a child so badly that she promised God that she would dedicate her young son to the Temple. That’s how young Samuel came to be in the care of Eli the priest and how he heard his name being called in the night — and how he made the honest and understandable mistake of thinking it was the priest Eli calling his name. Like a game of hide and seek, God calls and Samuel goes looking for the hidden voice. Well before Samuel knows it’s God speaking, God sees Samuel.
And then there’s Nathanael — he was seen too. Nathanael is not one of the first disciples to come to mind in a list of disciples of Jesus. Did you learn about Nathanael in Sunday School?
Nathanael thought he was meeting Jesus for the first time — on a dare from his friend Philip, really — and Nathanael was not ready to be impressed by Jesus. UNTIL Jesus said, “I know what kind of man you are,” and tells Nathanael the beautiful truth. How did Jesus get to know Nathanael before Nathanael knew Jesus? “I saw you.”
Those simple words: I saw you. Nathanael [changed his tune]: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Realizing he’s been seen — and known — and accepted — Nathanael pretty much says, “What God is up to, is everything awesome and amazing!”
God is not merely seeing — as though not blind to human life
God is not only watching us — as though we are the objects of God’s observation and amusement . . .
God is seeking us — looking for God’s own.
Think of the game “Hide and Seek” and imagine that we think we can hide from God or keep some distance between ourselves and God. Or we just don’t want to be noticed by God while we play our own game over here, and God is somewhere over there.
If the game was “Hide and SEE”: We could go away — or go about our usual things — and God would SEE; we would be visible to God. We have no God-proof invisibility shield. We couldn’t hide behind a tree or under piles of paperwork. Knowing that God is there, we might be comforted and secure in a non-threatened way. God’s over there — we aren’t alone.
If the game was “Hide and WATCH”: Not only would God SEE, but God would observe — keep track — of what we do and what we don’t do. God is watching us — still, from a distance. Knowing that God is paying attention and keeping score, we might be feel pretty good, certain that on the great God grading curve, we’re not doing so badly. Just read the news. Just think of the people you have to share the streets with, or office water cooler. Still, knowing that God is watching IS some incentive to clean up our act a little from time to time.
But if the game of life is more like “Hide and SEEK” — and God is a seeking God — and not just an all-seeing God or a “I’m watching you” God — but a seeking God: Then, God leaves home base and comes . . . well, seeking. Suddenly the game changes from “How do I want to be in relationship with God?” Now, it’s “What does God want with me?” Nowhere to hide, we know what to do, what to say, for the young child Samuel is leading us to respond: “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
We might not want to be found
Seeking God is going to be before and behind us and hem us in . . .
Seeking God is going to wake us up from our sleep or from our usual responses . . .
Seeking God is going to show up when we least expect it — with the truth and a plan . . .
Because that’s who GOD is. Who WE are is what God put together. Each of us was fearfully and wonderfully made — by God. We can hide our eyes and pretend God is surely all about seeking all of those other people that God certainly must have created with MORE of what God is actually looking for. We have some very GOOD reasons for not wanting to be found by God.
For one thing, we know where God calls people to go.
Moses, to the wilderness
Abraham and Sarah, Mary and Joseph — to an unexpected pregnancy
Philip and Nathanael and the other male disciples — leave your families and your jobs
Mary & Martha and Mary Magdalene and the other female disciples of Jesus — come in from the margins and take your place
Oscar Romero, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, Jesus of Nazareth — set your people free with love as your mighty weapon and non-violence your impenetrable shield.
They wanted to hide, too —
In Standing in the Need of Prayer, Coretta Scott King tells this story of her husband Martin’s struggle to stay in the game.
“I remember one very difficult day when he came home bone-weary from the stress that came with his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In the middle of the night, he was awakened by a threatening and abusive phone call, one of many we had received throughout the movement. On this particular occasion, however, Martin had had enough.
After the call, he got up from bed and made himself some coffee. He began to worry about his family, and all of the burdens that came with our movement weighed heavily on his soul. With his head in his hands, Martin bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud to God: “Lord, I am taking a stand for what I believe is right. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I have nothing left. I have come to the point where I can’t face it alone.
Later he told me, “At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. It seemed as though I could hear a voice saying: ‘Stand up for righteousness; stand up for truth; and God will be at our side forever.’” When Martin stood up from the table, he was imbued with a new sense of confidence, and he was ready to face anything.”
God is still seeking those, like King, who will stand up for righteousness and truth.
God is still seeking those, like Moses, who will stand with those who are used and abused by Pharaoh.
God is still seeking those like Mary the Mother of Jesus, who will sing courageous songs of justice and jubilee.
God is still seeking those like Mary of Bethany and her sister Martha, who will be faithful disciples and true friends of Jesus
God is still seeking those like Susanna, who will use their resources for the common good.
God is still seeking those like Peter and Lydia and Paul, who will grow vital communities of faith and courage . . .
God is still seeking those like Romero and Gandhi AND Dr. King, who will speak truth to power with courage AND love
God is still seeking those who go from fan of stained glass window Jesus the Icon to get-up-and -go follower of Jesus the Christ
God is still seeking . . . .
The still-seeking God is up to something amazing and is seeking YOU for a bigger game than you have yet imagined.
No reason to run.
No need to hide.
God is still seeking . . . and you’re it.