God Created You from Dust

Psalm 139

The Inescapable God

O 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 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 Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15     My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 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.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.

19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
20 those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil!
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

This passage is titled “The Inescapable God.”

inəˈskāpəb(ə)l/

adjective

adjective: inescapable

  1. unable to be avoided or denied.
synonyms: unavoidableinevitableunpreventableineluctableinexorable;

assured,surecertain, guaranteed;

necessaryrequiredcompulsorymandatory;

rareineludible

“meeting the future in-laws is inescapable”

Do you find comfort in this or discomfort?  It sort of depends on how you see God or the nature of God.  If you see God as an all loving, omnipresent (all present), and omnipotent (all knowing) that’s our strength and our shield and a very present help in times of trouble, you are comforted by this Psalm.  You realize that even though God knows all you’ve done and said and the things you’ve hidden away and the deepest recesses of your heart, God loves you anyway.  Jesus scatters your sins from the east to the west and they’re not held against you anymore by grace alone.  Christ is the victor over all evil and injustice in this world and we work with the Holy Spirit to bring God’s kingdom to earth.

On the other hand, if your view of God is a task-master, one that checks off like Santa if you do this naughty thing, or that, or if you simply don’t trust God because what you see God doing in the world seems so unfair, unjust, and unfathomable, then you have an entirely different picture of who God is.  If you think of God as a vengeful God that causes all kinds of calamities in the world or in your life, then you indeed have an entirely different picture of who God is.

Scriptures abound painting with all kinds of different strokes about the nature of God, but if you take the full picture, the full painting, you begin to see that God is longing for us to return home.  Just like the father in the familiar prodigal sermon.  God’s longing for us to come home so that God can throw a party just as the father did in the story.

God created us from the dust of the earth.  God breathed his ruach into us.  God knitted us together in our mother’s wombs.  This points to what United Methodists call prevenient grace.  God woos us to God’s self, even before we knew, even before we are aware of it.  God seeks each of us out to have a relationship with God.  God calls us where we are, in all of the mire and muck of sin, and as Jeremiah 18:1-4 says, “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.”  So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.  The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.”  God, as the potter, has the power to make all things new.  As Isaiah 64:8 says, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  God creates each of us and calls us each by name.  God cares about each of us.  God seeks the heart of each of us.  To give us hope and a future.  God leaves the 99 and goes after us.

Some take theological issue with the song Reckless Love, can God’s love really be reckless?  I would say that my love would appear reckless and it would go to extraordinary lengths for Enoch or Evy.  We are God’s beloved children. Sons and daughters of the most high King.

We don’t have to define ourselves by what we do, how much we accomplish or how much stuff we have, we can claim we KNOW who we are and WHOSE we are – we are God’s Beloved Children.  Our identity should be rooted in that truth.

8th grade was a very difficult year for me.  My dad was a United Methodist pastor so we moved the summer before my eighth grade year.  The exact wrong time to move if you’re a 5 foot 11 ½ inch girl and none of the guys at your school had hit their growth spurt yet.  I grew to this height in seventh grade, but we had been in the Hartsville schools for 7 years, but when we moved to Cheraw I was fresh meat.  My nicknames abounded that year:  giraffe, Olive Oil, stick.  They made fun of me for my long fingers and after a dance where some people had gone through my purse, I went home crying and being oh so dramatic and yelling at the top of my lungs to my parents, “I hate this town and everyone in it!”  I wanted to go “home” to Hartsville.  I felt out of place and wanted my old friends, old church and the familiar status quo.  As I was teaching at the United Methodist Women’s Missionu last week, I showed them this book that my cousin Lindsay made on one of my grandmother’s last Christmases.  The study was all about the covenant with the land and it asked what land do you most relate to,  When I was 17, I wrote this poem.  “My “Ganny’s.”

This place has been my haven, through life’s many storms

A constant place of refuge, where things are close and warm

It’s seen my tears, it’s seen my smiles, and it’s picked me up each time

The one place that has never changed in the journey of my life

When I have felt lost – no real “home” – and confused

Or when I thought my heart was broken and my soul had been stripped bare

I go through life as a little child trying to keep on her disguise

But in these walls my face lights up for this is where my strength and hope lies

Things are brighter, life more precious, feelings really matter

Here I find my true self, amidst the family’s chatter

This place is not a castle, a mansion, or a dream

What makes it great is not itself but the things that are unseen

The simple words full of wisdom, lack of pretense, and genuine love for people and each other

Are the things I admire and respect about my grandfather and grandmother

Although I can’t say I have the pleasure of living here from day to day

This place is my strength and my rock and in my heart it will stay

A place given from God to me, to help me light my way

A place where I can dance and sing, a secret hiding place

Everyone needs a refuge, a place to feel free and loved

There’s always a light, open door, some chocolate cake and a hug

People need a “Ganny’s” to escape our stress-filled world

A home that shows the love and grace of Jesus Christ our Lord

Everyone should have a safe space, where they can simply be.  Simply to take off the armor we sometimes carry around in our day to day lives.  The Psalmist is letting us know that the great God of the Universe created us and calls us for a purpose.  God created YOU.  God created Me.  With all of our persnicketies and peculiarities.  God calls us BELOVED.  And that was why Ganny’s was my home.  Because it was there I felt most beloved.  My grandmother said something I’ll never forget at my Gandaddy’s visitation,  She looked at us grandchildren standing there trying to slouch into a corner and said y’all were not only the apples of your grandfather’s eyes, you were his very eye balls.  That may sound gross to some of you, but it meant more than the world to us.  Just thinking about how much our Heavenly Parent loves us is mind-blowing.

No kid in school, no co-worker, no coach, no supervisor, no professor, no parent or sibling nor anyone in all of creation can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Nothing can strip our belovedness.  It’s time to lay your doubts, worries and fears down at the altar and be free to rest in the love of God.

I know what I’m saying is easier said than done.  Some of us hold tight to our woundings like familiar, old security blankets.  Ask God to work on that with you.  God created your inmost thoughts, God knows everything about you, and God desires to give you abundant life in Christ.  Not a half life.  Abundant life.  The next step is to share that belovedness with others.

We cannot love our neighbors with God’s agape love until we first love ourselves with God’s agape love.  As Mother Teresa says, “When you know how much God is in love with you then you can live your life radiating that love.”  I want us all to radiate the love of God.  Radiating the love of God is what we’re here for.

I will tell you if you let go and let God in, God doesn’t promise to take the pain away, God doesn’t promise it will be easy, God doesn’t promise you will not be challenged and face all that the world throws at you, but God promises to be with you.  In Psalm 139:18, “I come to the end – I am still with you.”

You are chosen.  God created you in God’s image.  God created all of us in the image of God and freely forgives us no matter the baggage, no matter the doubt, no matter what.  You are loved.  Claim that.  Know that.  Don’t let anyone or anything wrestle that fact away from you.  You are a beloved child of God.  And that should be a thing that we all say Amen to.

The below is a powerful testimony to living into and Being the Beloved.

God works wonders from dust…

As we face our own mortality, it can be scary…ominous even.  But I think we need it.   In this crazy, busy culture we need 40 days to contemplate, pray, and take a step out of the routine.  It is in Ash Wednesday that we are called upon to pause and reflect.  “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.” Mary Oliver says about this life “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  Ash Wednesday gives us the chance to question our priorities, our motivations, and our own sinfulness.  Dust to dust.

Here’s an old, cute story:

A little boy came home from Sunday school and went into his room to change his clothes. When he emerged he asked his mother, “Is it true we come from dust?”

“Yes, sweetie,” replied his mother, a knowledgeable and deeply religious woman. “That’s absolutely right.”

“Is it true that when we die we go back to the dust?”

“Yes, dear, that’s right. Why all these questions?”

The little boy ran into his room and came out all excited.

“Mom, I just looked under my bed and there’s someone either coming or going!”

It doesn’t have to be scary.  There’s beauty in that the great God of the universe breathed us into life and then because he defeated sin and death, they no longer bind us, even if when we return to dust.  We know that we’re going to return to dust sooner or later.  It’s how we live our lives that matters.  I like how Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran priest, explains Ash Wednesday, “If our lives were a long piece of fabric with our baptism on one end and our funeral on another, and us not knowing what the distance is between the two, well then Ash Wednesday is a time when that fabric is pinched in the middle and then held up so that our baptism in the past and our funeral in the future meet. With these ashes, it is as though the water and words from our baptism plus the earth and words from our funerals have come from the future to meet us here today. And in that meeting we are reminded of the promises of God. Promises which outlast our piety, outlast our efforts in self-improvement, outlast our earthly bodies and the limits of time.”  Promises that tell us if we run fast enough, we just might outrun death.  Say no to the fancy, shiny, new, plastic things of this world and hold tight to the true promises of God.

You see Lent is a time in which we’re seeing our own mortality clearly in our failings, in our sins, but that only points us still more to the One who never fails us and scatters our sins from the east to the west.  Ann Voskamp says this about  giving things up for Lent, “I can’t seem to follow through in giving up for Lent. Which makes me want to just give up Lent.  Which makes me question Who I am following.  Which may precisely be the point of Lent.”  If you’re following Jesus that is the only thing that matters.  Hear me again, if you’re following Jesus that’s the ONLY thing that matters.  If you put your trust in yourself, in your own goodness, or in your ability to exercise self-control than you’re bound for disappointment, however, Jesus will never disappoint.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to give up something or add spiritual practices like a daily quiet time or writing things that you are thankful for or fasting one day a week.  Those are all great additions.  Giving things up like chocolate, caffeine, or social media is meant to symbolize when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days.  Adding things is just what we need before Easter and maybe they will turn into habits.  Just by being intentional this Lenten season, you are practicing a “Holy Lent.”

Jo Ann Staebler in her book “Soul Fast,” says, “In the deep stillness of prayer my soul fasts.  Fasting, at its heart, is turning away from what keeps me from God.  Two things I must leave:  the walls I build around the space that was made to be God’s dwelling; the absurdities I keep in that space, so jealously hoarded.  Taking down the wall that protects the false self I have been building, all these years…risking exposure, emptiness, loneliness.  The fast is silence, ocean-deep and prolonged.  Shard by shard, the wall begins to fall.  Inch by inch, the space clears, and Love lights the shadows.  I come unprotected, and learn that God alone is safety.  I come unaccompanied, and find that Christ alone is Friend.  I come hungry, and receive the only food that satisfies.  In letting go is abundance.  In emptying I am filled.  This is not denial, but freedom.  Fast is feast.”

It doesn’t matter to me what you do, I just want you to be intentional in this Lenten ritual.  As most things in life, what you put into it, is what you’ll get out of it.  It’s only a tool, a ritual, to draw us closer to Jesus when *WE’RE* deep in the wilderness of life.

Hear these powerful words from the artist and poet, Jan Richardson, in her poem “Blessing the Dust,”

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

God can work wonders from dust.  God made you in your mother’s womb.  Psalm 8:3-4 says, “When I look up at your skies, at what your fingers made — the moon and the stars that you set firmly in place — what are human beings that you think about them . . . that you pay attention to them?”

God can do mighty things through us.  Our Rabbi Jesus can lead us to do some crazy, awesome things as we follow his teachings.  The Holy Spirit can fan the fire to make diamonds out of dust.  God can take your one, wild and precious life and work wonders out of it.

I will say while putting ashes on your forehead.

“God can work wonders with dust.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return. Amen.”

 

  •  I read many commentaries, blogs, articles to gather these quotes including this one not directly quoted:  http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2015/2/18/ash-wednesday-meditation.

Timothy

Sweet starts this chapter with these words, “We are all treading in someone else’s footsteps.”  We all work within the framework of someone else’s legacy and to those that have gone before in the great cloud of witnesses.

2 Timothy 3:10-11 says, Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness,my persecutions, and my suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.”

A Timothy is a protégé, an heir, and an apprentice.  A Timothy knows your mind better than anyone else.  They can anticipate your every move even before you make it.  A Timothy is not an Andy and a Paul is not a Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, where she will have to gopher all of Miranda’s every whims at all hours of the day or night.  But, they would have spent an awfully lot of time together.

Who is Timothy?  Of all the early Christian workers on behalf of the Gospel, Timothy was the closest to Paul.  It’s often the case, that Paul pushes Timothy to the beginning of his letters to a particular church.  For example, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians, all start this way.  Paul looks on Timothy as a son in Philippians 2:22.  He was from Lystra in Asia Minor.  He was born of a Greek father and a Jewish Christian mother.  Timothy was young when he first joined Paul and Silas, but his co-workers in Lystra and Iconium spoke so highly of him that Paul decided that he could handle this journey.  Although Timothy’s mother was Jewish, he had not been circumcised.  Paul was concerned that this would impede his authority among the Jews to whom he would be preaching, who knew his father was Greek, and so he circumcised him personally and ordained him as a preacher.  His mother Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, are noted as examples of piety and faith. 

What kind of legacy will you leave your descendants?  Alan Jamieson says it like this, “Like Abram, the question that we, too, must consider is whether we will have descendants:  not children in our own line but descendants in faith and life.  Will we love and care for others in such a way that they become descendants?  People to whom and through whom the lessons of faith we have learned are passed on?”  What’s our legacy going to be?  Will our descendants be numerous as the stars or will they all be extinguished when the mere flicker of doubt sends them running for the hills?

Before Paul had a Timothy, he first had to BE a Timothy.  Paul was a protégé of Gamaliel, the most important rabbi in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus.  Gamaliel was the grandson of Hillel, one of the greatest interpreters of the Torah in Jewish history, as evidenced by the title bestowed on him of Rabboni, “our teacher” rather than Rabbi, “my teacher.”  Even though Gamaliel recommended patience with those who claimed that Jesus was the Messiah, his star pupil Saul didn’t agree with him and stoned the “blasphemers.”  Before becoming an evangelizing Paul, Gamaliel’s star pupil was a persecuting Saul.  In Acts 22:3 Paul tells a crowd in Jerusalem, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.” 

A mentor is someone who is a wise and trusted counselor and teacher or an influential senior sponsor or supporter.  Synonyms for mentor are an advisor, master, guide, or preceptor.  We all have mentors that shape us and mold us as we ask vocational questions or continue on our career paths.  That make it easier for us to not walk this journey alone.  It depends on the relationship how hands on the teaching is, how personal.

Osmosis was how protégés like Timothy learned from Paul.  He traveled with him, watched what he did, and then was given “tests” or assignments to complete to see how well he was developing his potential.  Wherever Timothy went, he carried the aura of Paul’s authority and name with him.  For example, the Assistant Directors are leading the leadership meeting this afternoon, and I want y’all to treat them the same way y’all would treat me….only better.  The Timothy relationship cannot develop without the patience of presence.  A Timothy needs a balance of instruction and silence to process the teaching, and the trust you place in him or her to do the job.  You don’t have to say a word, or call every other day, to let him or her know you still care.  That’s the difference in a Timothy relationship, you care.  You care about how well their soul is doing.

I will have dinner with three of my Timothy’s tomorrow night in Atlanta.  I’m meeting with Angela, Jessica and Jon at the Vortex, a hamburger joint in Little Five Points.  Angela spent two years with me.  She was a rising Junior when I got to Winthrop Wesley, needless to say that first semester our relationship was rocky.  She didn’t want anything to change and she liked Wesley small, which would never work for me.  I’ll never forget taking Angela on her first camping trip or her first rafting trip.  Stories abound, and I will tell you about her first camping trip Wednesday night.  She saw me at my best, and at my worst.  And she’s the only one that has ever experienced the joy of Enoch projectile vomiting on her when he was an infant.  She’s now the campus minister at Georgia State Wesley, and I’m exceedingly proud of her.   Jon and Jessica are in their second year of Candler, where I went to seminary. Jessica worked for me as my student assistant for 3 years and Jon lived for two years at Wesley in a small room that we had on the side.  So they certainly saw “my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness.”  The good, the bad, the ugly.

I could name students that are not ministers, lest you think I’m creating little spawns of me.  Josh and Jaime that work at the CDC, Jan that’s a neuro nurse, Ashlee who some of you met in New York, that got her Master’s in Social Work from Columbia University.  I am incredibly proud of all of them and I’m hoping that they’re creating a ripple effect of being God’s hands and feet in the world.  A healthy tree is not a single tree, no matter how beautiful it may look.  A healthy sycamore tree is a tree with heirs, a sycamore community with trees in various stages of growth and development.  You must always look at trees successors before you judge its health and vitality.

Joshua in the Old Testament, did not pass the baton, he had no heirs.  Then came the judges, spawning the most horrible times recorded in the Hebrew Bible for Israel.  When the baton is passed, we tend to grab the wrong end of the stick, where our mentors are holding.  We want to be clones not heirs.  Joshua is not Moses’ clone.  Timothy is not Paul’s clone.  What we find is a “mash up.”  Mash-ups remix the same song with a different beat, sometimes in a different key. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FPsAVg2DNU 

Glee made mashups popular again.  Do you see what I’m saying?  They’re not the same song, but there are some similarities and you can tell it is the same vein.   

The process of being a Timothy is a gradual revelation of the song your life is composing, that one-of-a-kind, unrepeatable, irreplaceable song that only you can sing.  Remember Winnie the Pooh in the story about losing his song?  He gets his friends to go on the hunt for his song and then he finds that his song is within him.  “A friend is someone who, when you forget your song, comes and sings it for you.”

When James Mawdsley was imprisoned in Burma, he sang to give himself courage, “After [the prison guard] left, still unable to sleep, I began singing “How Great Thou Art.”  My voice got louder and louder until I was belting it out.  I could feel strength coming back to me; I was not going to bow yet.  A gaggle of guards came running and told me to be quiet.  They were excited and afraid.  I sang to the end of the song, congratulating myself on my defiance, then crumpled back into bleakness.”  Let Jesus sing through you.  When God sings in and through us, liberation happens.  The sound of a voice calling from the darkness can pierce through that very same darkness.

The primary organ a Timothy must possess is ears.  Jesus says when Pilate confronted him, “Everyone who belongs to the Truth hears my voice.” Sweet says if anything indicates the success or failure of a Timothy, it’s the ability to listen.  “Some things can only be heard by those with ears to hear.  The more layers of interference—iPods, iPhones, cell phones, the tv, Netflix – the more our inner voice is blocked and the more help we need to hear.

Astonomer and atheist Carl Sagan said, “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”  Sweet makes the supposition that more either becomes better or different.  More as better means doing what you’re already doing, except doing it bigger, faster, with added value.  In contrast more as different means doing something unique and outside the box.  As Christians, we don’t live better than others.  But we sure as heck better be living different.  They will know we are Christians by our love.  Timothys have to take some leaps into the unknown when they do the different route.  How about you, when someone says, “You sure are different and you think different.”  Do you take it is a compliment?  Is it meant as a compliment, or is it almost always negative in its implications?  What about when we say it to others?

Charlie in the Broadway Show Kinky Boots, is set to inherit his father’s shoe business, but he has other plans of moving to London with his girlfriend Nicola.  When his father suddenly dies, he must take over the shoe business.  His doubts are expressed in a song “Charlie’s Soliloquy” and I would like to play it for you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E81VXIDSxe4

Charlie:
Do I belong here?
Am I what’s wrong here?
Know what I’m doing?
Or am I a fraud?
Do I fit in?
Where do I begin?
Same old Charlie,
Frightened and flawed.
So, I pretend
and keep my head up like I
Know how this will end.

Maybe these pieces
Are falling together.
Making me feel like
I’m not alone.
Punching holes
Into this leather
This kind’a feels like
I’m back home.

I’m watching myself
And I know what to do.
Hey look at me now
It’s a shoe.

Charlie was feeling alone with the burden and the weight of his father’s legacy on top of him.  But then he realized that he’s not in it alone, he’s got a community behind him.  He’s got a cluster of sycamore trees rooting for him, quite literally.

I couldn’t help but call to mind the Rob Bell NOOMA video “Dust”  so I’m going to end there.  Because anybody can be a Timothy, if they want to be.  Anybody can follow if you have a willingness in your heart.  Just pay attention to be on the lookout for mentors.

Dust – 9:30-13:49

 

Let us pray.

Holy and Gracious God, may we be covered in your dust.  May we earnestly seek you and to do your will in our lives.  May you give us hearts to follow, but also hearts to mentor, to guide, to lead.  Like Charlie may we find reassurance for our doubts.  May you speak truth over our lives and may we hear your truth and not brush it to the side.  In Jesus’ name I pray, and I pray as you taught your disciples to pray, saying…