Sermon of the Week
Be Thou My Vision: I Ever With Thee.
Keywords: Loneliness, Omnipresence, Sue the TRex, O’Hare, You Are Loved, Stewardship.
Sometimes all we want is to be left alone.
Any teenager has felt that way,
with their parents hounding them to clean their room
or to get their homework done.
Any parent has felt that way,
seeking just a few minutes to collect themselves, please,
after a stressful day at work
and coming home to a mountain of needful things to accomplish
and the dog and kids all have stuff to get done. Right. This. Very. Minute.
Whether you’re happily self-parterned, like Emma Watson,
or you’ve have been married for 60 years,
maybe you have a place where you can go to just get away from things,
an epic man-cave,
or a quiet room with a chair and a throw and a place for your book and your tea,
or a place where you can turn your music way up or play your instrument really loud.
Introverts and extraverts alike
can feel this need to be left alone,
and while often for different reasons
the underlying feeling isn’t all that different.
Sometimes we don’t want to be engaged, or connected, at least not right now.
A little bit of space, please, would help put things into context,
clear out the chaos a little bit,
maybe make engagement again, in a few minutes please, a bit more healthy.
A little bit of privacy, of knowing that this is just between me and me,
helps us retain a good balance between
giving all that energy and emotion and time to others,
and exercising important self-care.
Then again, there are times when we are aching for connection, for relationship.
Sometimes the loneliest I have ever felt have been in crowds of people.
Have you felt that way too?
One year, I think I counted walking through Chicago’s O’Hare airport
maybe 15 times.
Once I was there on a super-long layover
some plane needed a repair done to a folding tray or something,
and I found myself wandering around in parts of the airport I’d never been before
over in the American Airlines wing
and found that to be quite the same as over by the United flights,
which is to say
thousands upon thousands of people, most of them in a hurry
maybe a bit anxious or stressed,
trying to get to some gate way over there
and not quite happy about the prospects of speed walking for the next 15 minutes
to get there.
O’Hare is a huge airport.
I actually think it is beautiful, in its own way.
The architecture soars.
The public art is quite lovely.
I particularly like the way that they display enlarged versions
of kid-drawings from local Chicago Public Schools
in one of the skyways between terminals.
If you know where to go,
you can even see a four story tall replica of a Brachiosaurus dinosaur
looming large over those rushing by…
an invitation to visitors to go check out the Field Museum
where you can see the even more impressive
Tyrannosaurus Rex they’ve got, lovingly named Sue.
But even in this hustle and bustle airport,
I have sometimes felt so alone.
Everyone rushing by,
only stopping, if at all,
to visit the powder room,
or grab a bite to eat on the go.
There are all these shops at the airport:
you can get a leather coat,
a new blazer,
Oakley sunglasses, a five-gallon tub of popcorn
and some south-west inspired artistic figurine…
without ever really looking up,
making eye contact or sharing a smile or a hello, even once.
The sales transactions at the cash register are often perfunctory,
because the travelers are rushing to their gate,
ready to speed-walk with their new purchase stuffed into their carry-on.
It feels so weird to be at a place like O’Hare and NOT be running all over the place.
I once had a conversation with one of the janitors at the airport:
“Yeah, one of the busiest places in the world,
and I almost never have anyone say a word to me.
You’re the first person that doesn’t work here
to say ‘hello’ to me in more than a month.
It isn’t that I think people are rude or anything.
They just have better things to do.”
It isn’t that hard to feel disconnected in places like that.
There have been moments when I’ve been away from family
and I’ve been really, really ready to get home
to see people I know and love and miss
and to be stuck in the airport for hours
and feel really isolated.
Truth is, though,
if you are lonely,
even if it’s a temporary loneliness,
or something more regular,
it doesn’t matter whether you’re in a large crowd,
or at a more manageable place,
like a coffee shop, or a city park,
you just feel alone.
For some, this is ok.
Suits them just fine most of the time.
But for many of us,
that’s just not a very enjoyable feeling at all.
One of the most accurate descriptions of the human being was Aristotle’s:
We are social rational animals.
By which Aristotle meant we are a type of creature that stands somewhat distinct
among the other animals
by our cognitive abilities on the one hand—
human language, philosophy, science, mathematics, excellent dad jokes—
(I’m not entirely kidding…
Aristotle had an entire category of thought about the theory of humor…
which, as a purveyor of dad jokes, I’ve come to appreciate)
Aristotle pointed out not only our rationality,
but also our relationality,
our connectedness to one another.
We are social creatures, as much as we are rational ones.
And we need one another, in greater or lesser degrees, to thrive.
This is why we build friendships,
stick close with our family,
or many of us fall in love and get hitched.
This doesn’t mean we all need to have people with us, all the time.
We all sometimes need to be alone.
And not all of us need to have the same kind of relationships.
Some of us do better partnered,
and others do better when we focus on our friendships and family
and have less a need for a partner or a spouse.
Once again, thank you, Emma Watson.
Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire may have melted hearts
when he told Renée Zellweger “you complete me”
but we don’t all need romantic coupling to be complete.
We do, though, need other people: friends, neighbors, family, maybe partners too,
people we love and who can love us in return,
people who can help us laugh, and grow, with whom we can share life
our joys and our sorrows.
One of the most powerful, and perhaps misunderstood,
themes of holy scripture
is the abiding presence of God.
Sometimes we think that this is a heady, philosophical construct—
something Aristotle or Plato would have rambled on about…
the omnipresence of the Supreme Being, or some such thing,
and there have been Christian Thinkers throughout the ages
who have taken that idea and have run with it.
Think Thomas Aquinas, or some of the mystics,
people who have gone away on months-long isolation voyages,
holed up in a cavern or a monastery,
intentionally alone, pondering about God and meaning and existence.
I sometimes wonder if they truly, deep in their spirit, got lonely, those mystics.
Did they ever get a longing to call around and invite a friend over to watch the game,
go out for a drink and a show, something like that,
something to connect us to humanity, to people, to a reminder that we belong?
The bible is so much more personal than a philosophical construct, is it not?
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go where you are not, says the Psalmist.
Which is surely a way to talk about omnipresence,
God’s abiding presence,
but using more real, everyday language:
If I go to heaven, you are there.
If I go down to sheol…which is the resting place of the dead in the Old Testament,
If I go down to sheol, you are there.
If I go even to the furthest limits of the sea…
remember, people once thought the sea dropped off and “thar be dragons”…
even THERE, your right hand shall hold me fast.
Scripture talks about God’s abiding presence
in loving, personal, intimate terms.
And even though there are times when we really want to be left alone,
which I think God understands,
or even when we want to run away from God,
we’re looking at you, Jonah,
trying to run away to Tarshish so you don’t have to tell the Ninevites to knock it off…
God is there, even so.
Sometimes we get this wrong,
thinking about God as a spy,
a nanny-state God watching our every move,
keeping a list of good things we do and bad things we do,
and deciding whether we’re worthy enough,
But this isn’t how God works.
Our worth, in God’s eyes, isn’t measured by the number of points we score
on some cosmic test.
We seek to be GOOD people,
not to gain God’s favor,
but in thanksgiving for God’s goodness to us,
and because we seek to treat others as God has treated us.
At its core, this idea of God’s abiding presence is meant to be two things:
a message of affirmation, and a message of comfort.
God’s abiding presence is a message of affirmation,
because we all have moments of loneliness, or stress, or even doubt.
Do I matter?
Do people care about me?
Am I worthy of love, of companionship, of relationship?
And the answer to those questions is yes, without qualification.
You are worthy of being cared about and loved,
because God made you, wonderfully and fearfully,
God, who has some pretty big things to think about, wouldn’t you say,
God dotes on you, knows your thoughts, ponders your days,
or, to use another image, walks along-side you wheresoever you go.
Maybe the most important message I bear with me, as a pastor,
is this one: to affirm to all people that they matter,
not because of how much money they make,
or the clothes they wear,
or the phones they use,
or the grades they get,
or the successes of work or relationships or family…
they matter, because they just do,
because God loves them,
because God makes them beautiful and good and loveworthy,
each and every one of us,
no matter our skin color or political party or sexual orientation or physical condition.
We are all fearfully and wonderfully made, and loved, and welcomed by God.
There is rarely a pastoral situation where I don’t have cause to remind people of this.
We’re often swimming in our doubts,
or drowning in our fragility,
and need to remember that we are loved.
Or, sometimes, people think that this sort of love is really just for them,
not for those other people too,
at which point we need to say, well, that’s not quite what God has in mind.
This is a message of affirmation:
that God loves you, and there’s not much you can do about it.
You can mess up.
You can be deep in despair.
You can be thoroughly exhausted and at your wits end.
You can lose those closest to you…and God is still there
mourning with you, holding your hand, walking along side,
carrying you on her shoulders.
And therefore it is also a message of comfort, of consolation,
that there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can separate us from that love,
as Tabe read for us this morning from Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Paul was just putting into a Jesus framework
this ancient psalm,
and the ongoing, persistent theme of scripture
that God is with us,
caring for us, leading us,
correcting us, when we need it,
guiding us towards justice and reconciliation and peace and love.
We’re in stewardship season,
which means we’re exploring how we can care for the things that God cares about,
putting our energy and our passion and our resources there,
maybe thinking about this world more in terms of God’s abundance
than our worries about scarcity, about there not being enough to go around.
This is true not just with regards to money, or time,
but also with regard to relationships, and self-worth.
Our focus this stewardship season is on the hymn Be Thou My Vision,
and here’s how the second verse of Be Thou My Vision goes:
Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true Word;
I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord;
thou my soul’s shelter, and thou my high tower;
raise thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.
When we sing this hymn,
or O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go, like we will in a few minutes,
or Abide with me, fast falls the even’tide
or Jesus Loves me, this I know,
or really anything, rooted in scripture,
we’re reminded of these steadfast, unbreakable bonds that we have
because of the depth and breadth of God’s love.
We’re reminded of this when we celebrate the sacrament of baptism,
the ritual act of welcoming people into the beloved community of the church.
When we baptize people, we remember our own baptism,
which is a funny thing to say,
since many of us were baptized as infants and remember absolutely nothing about it.
But we remember, by way of reminder,
that the waters of baptism are just a sign and a seal
of that love that precedes baptism,
because God’s love was with us before any of our days existed,
and that love follows with us every day of our life,
and particularly so as member of the Christian Community,
where we can celebrate God’s presence with joy and purpose.
We’re reminded that we have all that we need to make a difference,
to play our part, to take our place within God’s story,
that we have a family of people who are called together into the church,
and that we belong together,
because God is at the heart of it all.
And so, during this Stewardship season,
may we remember God’s unfailing presence,
and give thanks for it,
and give voice to it,
as we claim our worth and the worth of our neighbor,
our most valuable assets,
and commit to investing in one another
for the sake of building a community
where all are known and loved and cherished
as the beloved children of God that they are.
May it be so.