We are launching into a trilogy series called “Chosen.”
Part One: Running to You
July 8th – “Chosen: Running to You” God Created You.
July 17th – “Chosen: Running to You” God chooses us just as we are.
July 24th – “Chosen: Running to You” God chooses us FOR something.
Part Two: Choosing You
July 31st – “Chosen: Choosing You” We choose to follow Jesus.
August 7th – “Chosen: Choosing You” We choose to step out.
August 14th – “Chosen: Choosing You” We choose to be restored.
Part Three: Chosen to Act
August 21st – “Chosen to Act” Chosen to share the Good News.
August 28th – “Chosen to Act” Chosen to bring light.
September 4th – “Chosen to Act” Chosen to love the world.
The Inescapable God
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.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 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.”
- unable to be avoided or denied.
||unavoidable, inevitable, unpreventable, ineluctable, inexorable;
assured,sure, certain, guaranteed;
necessary, required, compulsory, mandatory;
“meeting the future in-laws is inescapable”
Meeting the future in-laws is definitely inescapable and I’m glad that I have good ones. God’s love is unavoidable, compulsory, unpreventable….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. 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. 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.
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, “18 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4 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, “8 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.
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. Have you ever felt like an outsider? That you didn’t belong? Like Dorothy did you realize there’s no place like home. It’s easy for adolescents to feel that way. To hope that some day they will find a place where they fit. As a teenager I always searched for this mythical home. Even writing about it when I was 17 in a poem titled “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 relax. Simply to take off the armor we sometimes carry around in our day to day lives. Whether it is a societal shield or a learned behavior, to protect us from further wounding or to hide our hurt. Why do we remember only the negative things years later, but we forget the praises in a heartbeat? Why do we carry around our wounds? When 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.
We have to LET IT GO, as Elsa sings, or as Taylor Swift sings, SHAKE IT OFF. We have to stop all of the negative tapes in our heads that we’re not good enough, we’re not worthy, we’re not strong enough, we’re not….enough. Because that’s just Satan trying to keep us silent and feeling bad about ourselves. Our baggage is the stuff we carry; the stuff we can’t shake. At times, we carry it so long it becomes a part of us. We begin repeating it in our heads in our litany of why we can’t do something. It holds us back. It holds us down. It enslaves us, keep us in bondage, preventing us from being who God truly wants us to be. Who God truly created us to be. It can either be mistakes we’ve made or things that we’ve been subjected to be others. Nevertheless, it’s a pain festering inside of us, an open festering wound. It’s time to let go and let God. That’s where the healing begins.
It’s time to lay them all down at the feet of Jesus and he can play new words on the tape players of our hearts.
You are chosen.
You are beloved.
You are my beautiful creation.
You don’t have to DO anything to have my love. You don’t have to BE anything to have my love. I’m your home. The place you belong is is resting in my love and grace. You can hang out there forever.
If you’ve been carrying around these wounds, this baggage inside – take a moment and consider freedom from those things. If you know someone carrying around this baggage, pray for them and that God will give you the courage and the words to ask them to lay their fears, worries, tapes, baggage at the feet of Jesus.
I’m reminded of the words from Paul encouraging Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:6-10. “6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear. God wants to take away our burdens. God wants to be our refuge. A very present help in times of trouble. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are. Tell them Whose you are and rest in that. 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.
We cannot love our neighbors with God’s agape love until we first love ourselves with God’s agape love. That sacrificial love that is exemplified as Christ dying for our sins. So whatever your burdens are….Whatever separates you from feeling the love of God….ask God to reveal it to you….whatever baggage you carry with you….ask God to free you from it in Jesus’ name. 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. I’m praying as it says in Micah that we all seek to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Aberjhani, in Journey through the Power of the Rainbow says, “Love is our most unifying and empowering common spiritual denominator. The more we ignore its potential to bring greater balance and deeper meaning to human existence, the more likely we are to continue to define history as one long inglorious record of man’s inhumanity to man.”
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.” These are the words of David, but they could express the emotion and commitment of Martin Luther King Jr. as well. The “end” nearly came sooner than later.
The year was 1968. The place: Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis Presley is living at Graceland with his wife Priscilla and newborn daughter Lisa Marie, and is enjoying the Grammy he has just won for his second gospel album, “How Great Thou Art.” In the minds of many, he is “The King.”
Another King comes to town on April 3, 1968. Several death threats have been directed at King, and tension is high, but he feels that it is important to press ahead and speak at a rally on behalf of the sanitation workers. In the course of this address, he tells the story of an earlier attempt on his life, one that brought him perilously close to death. According to Ralph Abernathy, his friend and successor, Martin Luther King stood up that night and just “preached out” his fear.
“You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, “Are you Martin Luther King?” And I was looking down writing, and I said yes. And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, you drown in your own blood, that’s the end of you.
It came out in The New York Times the next morning, that if I had sneezed, I would have died. [Some time] after the operation, after my chest had been opened and the blade taken out, they allowed me to move around … and to read the mail that had come in from all over the states and the world. Kind letters had come in. I read a few, but one I will never forget. I had received telegrams from the president and vice president, but I have forgotten what those messages said. I received a visit and a letter from the governor of New York, but I forgot what was said.
But there was another letter that came from a young girl at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I will never forget it. It said simply, “Dear Dr. King: I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.” She said, “While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I am a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing to you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”
And I want to say tonight, I want to say that I [too] am happy that I didn’t sneeze.”
In his autobiography he wrote, “If I demonstrated unusual calm during the attempt on my life, it was certainly not due to any extraordinary powers that I possess. Rather, it was due to the power of God working through me. Throughout this struggle for racial justice I have constantly asked God to remove all bitterness from my heart and to give me the strength and courage to face any disaster that came my way. This constant prayer life and feeling of dependence on God have given me the feeling that I have divine companionship in the struggle. I know no other way to explain it. It is the fact that in the midst of external tension, God can give an inner peace.”
He died the next day after giving that speech in Memphis. In the course of his life, Martin Luther King walked through many dangers, toils and snares, but through it all he knew that God was walking with him. He had the very same faith as the writer of Psalm 139, the ancient poet who said to the Lord, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”
After this week of unspeakable tragedy in our nation, “sides” being picked in our offices, homes and especially on social media, and children being afraid to go outside and play in their yards, we can draw comfort from the knowledge that God made each and every one of us, God is with each and every one of us, and God works all things together for God for those who love God. God was with those who were shot, God was with the people at the rally in Dallas, God is with the ones that are recovering, God is with their families, God is with each of us as we grapple with the who’s, why’s, and how’s, as we explain such events to our children. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy.
I will close with this prayer that Beth A. Richardson wrote after the awful tragedy and deadly violence in Orlando.
The news is bad.
We are outraged and horrified.
We are shocked and afraid.
We are overwhelmed and numb.
How many more times will we awake to such news?
Some of us sit in front of the television,
Search the internet for stories,
Watch, listen for something
That will help make sense,
That will soothe or comfort,
That will bring order back again.
Some of us can’t bear the words, the images.
The press conferences and scrolling news feeds
Freeze our brains, our hearts, our guts.
Some of us pray.
Some of us escape.
Some of us rage.
Some of us cry.
God, have mercy on our world.
Have mercy on the powerless and the powerful.
Have mercy on the first responders and those in ministry to the brokenhearted.
Have mercy on the victims, their families, their friends.
Sit with us in our terror, our sadness, our hopelessness.
And let us hold the space for others as we
Sit or cry, light candles or pray,
In solidarity, in hope, in love.
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. Don’t let anyone or anything wrestle that fact away from you. You are a beloved child of God, a fearfully and wonderfully made creation. May we all feel , after this particularly hard week, God’s tangible love for each of us that calls us to a new, higher way, when we will all journey home.