Jun 12th, Jesus as Presence, with Rev. Kally Elliott
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Rev. Kally Elliott
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Jun 12th: Jesus as Presence, with Rev. Kally Elliott.
Oh, 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 you 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 Shaol, 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 night wraps itself around me. 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 inner 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’m still with you.
Oh, that you would kill the wicked, O God, that the bloodthirsty would depart from me. Those who speak of you maliciously and lift themselves up against you for evil. Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hatred. I count them my enemies.
Earth 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.
Whenever there is another mass shooting, I can’t help but to question God’s presence. My faith tells me God is always present.
But when evil strikes yet again, I.
Can’T help but wonder when suffering happens because your mom runs to the grocery store for a gallon of milk, never to return?
Or when the last time you see.
The smile on your child’s face is.
As she waves and slams the car door shut, backpack swallowing her fragile frame. That kind of suffering is so deep and one where well meaning platitudes and.
Theology don’t even scratch the surface. But it doesn’t take a tragedy to make me wonder about God’s presence. There have been times in my life when I’ve longed for a sign, an assurance that a decision being made was God’s will, or at least not a terrible idea.
People wiser than me would remind me.
That there wasn’t a right or wrong choice, simply a choice. And God’s presence would hem me in before and behind. And there have been times when it seems that life is going as it should. But the day today has become quite mundane. And the thought that God should stick around when there are so many other problems in the world, it seems kind of selfish. This week we are finishing up Diana Butler Bass book, Freeing Jesus, with the chapter on Presence. While Butler Bass focuses on the presence of Jesus, I found myself drawn to the presence of God, maybe because of the whole Trinity three in one thing. After all, the three Corps God, Jesus, Spirit, cannot really be separated. In College, I tried being Baptist. Having been raised Presbyterian, I was intrigued by what this particular group of Baptists called personal testimonies. On Tuesday evenings at College Life, our youth group for College students, my friends would get up in front of everyone and share personal stories about how, in the midst of a difficult situation, they had experienced God’s loving presence and action and how this encounter had somehow transformed them. Sometimes the stories were light hearted, making us chuckle.
More often, the stories were quite vulnerable. Stories of neglectful parents, of loneliness, addiction, eating disorders, financial troubles, stories of doubting.
God’s presence, or even God’s existence, of feeling abandoned. But upon reflection, a deep knowing that God was holding them through it all.
Now, I had never heard people share these kinds of stories and display this kind of vulnerability in Church. Church was for sermons I couldn’t or didn’t try to follow and prayers that I would time 1 minute, 2 minutes, 5 minutes how long, O Lord? There was a lot of formality and tradition, but not much vulnerability.
But these testimonies, they were raw, they were honest, and they opened my eyes and my heart, making me more aware of God’s ongoing presence with me. Now we don’t really do personal testimonies.
In the Presbyterian Church. I think maybe they are too touchy Feely for most Presbyterians who like to stay in their head. But the Bible is full of stories about individuals and whole communities who experience God’s intimate presence. In a way, the Bible is a book of testimonies, some personal, some communal.
All about a God who comes to us and is for us. One of my favorite scriptures is Psalm 139.
When my friend asked me what I was preaching on, I said Psalm 139, to which she replied, well, that should be easy. I mean, isn’t Psalm 139 like the best thing in the Bible? I think she said that because it is a heartwarming testimony to God’s presence. It’s poetry, it’s prayer. It is a confession of faith.
I love the image of God sitting in a rocking chair, blanket upon lap, working needles through colored yarn, carefully and specifically knitting me and you, all of us together in our mother’s wombs.
I tell my own children all the time that they are fearfully and wonderfully made. The language is beautiful and the theology.
Even more so, our bodies woven together, able to carry both devastation and joy.
But then we get to those lines right before the last line of the Psalm, the ones that start with, oh, that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me. They are like a cutaway scene in a movie, an interruption of the ongoing scene with the insertion of another scene. The interruption is quick, only four verses before the author returns to her original scene. But the cutaway scene, those four verses serve as commentary to the rest of the Psalm. And yet, when my friend called Psalm 139 the best thing in the Bible, I don’t think she was thinking about the cutaway scene, those four verses because they seem so out of place, so hostile, so weird, such an awful ending to such a comforting Psalm. We don’t read it very often because.
It Mars the beautiful imagery of a.
God who hems us in, who goes.
With us, who knits us together. But this cutaway scene, this commentary, this is where the author’s testimony becomes vulnerable.
In the cutaway scene, we are able to see the author’s testimony of God’s.
Ongoing presence, that it is not one born out of innocence or ignorance or a life unlived. Something devastating has happened either to the.
Author or to those she loves. She has been, or maybe still is in deep pain, pouring out her heart, this Psalm, this testimony, is her response.
To whatever has happened to cause her such suffering. Out of her pain comes her testimony of God’s continual presence with her. So why, when evil has its way.
In the world, or even when I am simply going through life busy at relative ease, do I find myself wondering.
About God’s presence with me?
Why is my testimony one of I.
Believe, but sometimes I don’t. I trust, but sometimes I can’t.
In her book, Patrick’s Nadia Boltzweber tells the story of how, as a seminary student, she was thrown into a hospital chaplaincy without much, if any, training. On one of her first nights, she received an urgent call to the Er. I was paged, she said to the security guard at the Er desk. She continues writing about how the security guard offered me a sarcastic Congratulations look and then went back to her crossword. I’m from the chaplain’s office, I said. She pointed to a door that said no Admittance and then looked at me like I was an idiot. Apparently, my name badge allowed me to go through doors like that. I finally found a nurse who would.
Make eye contact with me.
I said I was paged, but that I wasn’t sure what for. Trauma one, she said. As I stood in the trauma room, a nurse was cutting the clothes off.
A motionless man in his fifty s on a table.
Tubes were coming out of his mouth and arms. Doctors started doing things to him not meant for my eyes and sorely misrepresented on TV shows. Another nurse was hooking things up to him while a doctor put on gloves and motioned for paddles, which he then placed into the motionless man’s fresh, cracked open chest. A nurse stepped back to where I was standing, and I leaned over to her. Everyone seems to have a job, but.
What am I doing here?
She glanced at my badge and said, Your job is to be aware of God’s presence in the room while we do our jobs. Even if the nurse was administering a heavy dose of spite and sarcasm to this newbie chaplain, I have to imagine that Nadia heard the truth of her words. And I have to imagine that as that truth struck her, Nadia didn’t begin reading the Bible in her best pastor voice or laying hands on the doctors and surgeons as they fought for the man’s life. I doubt she prayed loudly over the man dying on the bed in front of her. My guess is that she probably shut.
Her mouth and opened her heart, and.
As she did so, I bet she.
Began to notice things that nobody else in the room was capable of noticing in that moment. What would it be like to stand and just be aware of God? For those who are unable to be aware themselves, what would it be like to look at the trauma and the tragedy in the news, in our very.
Lives, in the lives of our friends.
And as it rips our hearts open.
To try to be aware of the.
Love of God that is also present? It’s not an easy task. It’s much easier to only see the evil, the devastation. But if the author’s testimony or the.
Testimony of any of the biblical stories or the testimony of my friends in.
College hold any truth, God is also present.
There have been times in my life.
Where all I could see was the devastation, and someone quietly prompted me to awareness, shifting my perspective, reminding me I’m not in this alone. And I wonder if that might be our Christian vocation, to simply be aware of God’s presence and to prompt others to awareness, to remind each other, we are not alone. Richard Rohr writes, God is always present, but we are not always present to the presence.
The author of Psalm 139 says it this way.
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 Shaol, 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.
Retired pastor John Buchanan tells the story.
About when he visited a congregation member in the hospital.
He writes, Years ago, when open heart surgery was in its infancy, the patient was packed in ice to lower body.
Temperature and after surgery continued to be.
Kept that way for a while.
It was my first experience of it. The doctor allowed me in to see.
The patient in recovery, and there he.
Was, lifeless, motionless, packed in ice.
I wasn’t sure what to do, so I started to quote the only scripture.
That came to mind.
Where can I flee from Your presence? If I make my bed in Hell, you are there. If I flee to the farthest limits of the sea, even there Your right.
Hand shall hold me fast.
I said a short prayer and I left.
A few days later I visited him again. Amazingly, this patient was sitting up in.
Bed, looking a little worse for the wear, but very much alive.
And the first thing he said to.
Me was, Where can I flee from Your presence?
If I make my bed in Hell, you are there in his depths. He had heard God with him. Just this morning I woke to the news of another mass shooting, this time on a busy spring weekend in Philadelphia. At least three dead, eleven wounded. Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, another headline read, Three dead, 14 wounded. After another mass shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This after a mass shooting on the Chattanooga streets just the weekend before. I brushed my teeth and I washed my face and I crawled into bed feeling the weight of the world, and.
Again found myself wanting to believe in God’s presence, but also kind of not believing, wanting to trust that love is there.
That love was there on those streets in Philadelphia and Chattanooga, in Uvalde, in.
Buffalo, in the lives of all those I love who are suffering but also not able to trust because the immediate.
Evidence seems to point otherwise. But then I remember the testimony of Psalm 139. If I make my bed in Shaol the depth of hell, even there you are with me somewhere in the midst of tragedy and evil and suffering is the promise we are not forgotten. God was and is present in Uvalde, in Buffalo and Philadelphia and Chattanooga. And God is with us when we are continually brought to our knees, when.
All we feel is rage and grief and sorrow, when tragedy has come home.
And hope is hard to find. And sometimes the only act of faith I am capable of is naming the horror or the pain before God. It’s not enough.
Nothing we can say will ever bring.
Loved ones back to life.
Nothing will change the horror of Uvalde, Buffalo, or anywhere else the darkness seems to win but over and over and over again humans have told their stories their testimonies of tragedy and God’s presence.
With them through it. So let the testimony of this Psalm prompt you or remind you of God’s intimate presence. When your life is busy and full.
Of appointments and family and complicated relationships.
Tight schedules and not enough hours in the day God is with you you know when I sit down and when I rise up you discern my thoughts from far away o God the next.
Time you hike to the top of south sister or simply stand on one of our streets and take in the.
View of our beautiful mountains God is.
With you if I ascend to heaven 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 hold me fast and tonight when you crawl into bed.
And switch off the light May these.
Words lull you to sleep you search out my path and my lying down and if your life can only be described as hellish if you’ve tried and gotten nowhere if the lab report confirmed.
Your worst fears if the news of our world is breaking you and you look but you cannot find the light.
Hear these words If I make my bed in shaol in the depths of hell you are are there oh God friends God is with you Amen.