Monday, September 30, 2013

A Bag of Rice

Click here to watch the video of this sermon.

1 Timothy 6:6-19

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that[a] we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
11 But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made[b] the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. 16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
17 As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, 19 thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

          (The pastor takes a bag of rice, and carefully counts out ten measures of the rice placing each measure into a pot.)

            I bet you would like to know why I just poured ten measures of rice into this bowl.
            Well, I’ll tell you.
            Right now I’ve got some news to share with you. 
            I’m going to Hawaii!
            I don’t know when!  But “someday.”
            It may be ten years from now.  Or it may be next year.  All I really know for sure is that I’m NOT going this year.  Sad but true.  Right now, I don’t have the time to go.  I don’t have the money.  There are all sorts of reasons why I can’t go this year.
            But someday!!!
            Someday I am definitely going to Hawaii – as soon as I get the time.  As soon as I get the money!
            And if it works out, I hope I can afford to take my wife with me!
            Now I know you have a wish list of things like that you want to do in your life.
            There are places you want to go.
            There are things you want to do.

            What happens when the things we put off in our lives are the things God wants us to do?
            Have you ever had that experience?  I bet you have.  God is calling you to do something and your response is to say, “I’ll be glad to do that, Lord.  Later.”
            We must learn to do that as children. 
            Mom or Dad told us to clean our room, “Later.”
            Mom told us to brush our teeth.  “Later.”
            Dad told us to cut the grass.  “Later.”
            The teacher told us to do our term paper.  “Later.”
            God tells us to love others.  “Later.”
            How many things has God told us to do that we keep putting off?

            In the New Testament lesson for today, we read, “there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;  for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;  but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”

Well – most of us aren’t there yet.  Maybe someday.  But not today.
Today we are in our discontent.  Today we have food and clothing, but we have to have more.  And more and more!
But someday, later, we will be content with what we have.
We also read in today’s lesson that we are not to trust in money, but in God.
Well, someday.  Maybe later we will put our trust in God, but not now.  Now we want more money because we look at money as a means of success and security.
We also read in today’s lesson that we are “to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.”
Well, someday.  Maybe later when we have more money, then we can begin to be generous.

Let me ask you a question.
How rich are you right now?
Are you rich, poor or in the middle?

Think of a guage - like a gas gauge that you might have in your car.  But this gauge represents your economy.  Not the nation’s economy, but yours.  Where are you in this gauge?  Rich, poor or in the middle?
Most of us would say, “We’re in the middle.”  Very few of us would admit to being poor because we know others who have less than we have, so we don’t see ourselves as poor.  On the other hand, few of us would say we are rich, because we’re not in the same league as Buffet, Trump or other billionaires. 
But just to be sure, raise your hand if you think you are on the rich end of this guage.
I didn’t think anyone would raise a hand for this one – because you are too smart to admit you are among the richest people in the world – especially when you are about to ask to fill out a pledge card.
 Imagine your gauge puts you at 13%. 

Imagine!  Wouldn’t that be so cool to be among the 13% richest people in the entire world.
In fact someone in this congregation may be among the 13% richest people in the entire world.
Now I would think that if you are in the richest 13% of the world, then you are in a small club and you are probably doing pretty well for yourself.
In a world of 6 billion people – in order to be among the richest 13% how much money do you have to make every year?
A billion?
Half a million?
A hundred thousand?
You have to make $11,490 per year.
That figure, by the way, is how the US Government defines relative poverty in this country for a household of one person.  In a family of 4 people, the poverty level is $23,000.
Think about that.  If you are in poverty in this country, you are still among the top 13% richest people in this world.
I’ll tell you where I am.  I’m a preacher.  I’m in a job in which everyone not only sees my salary, but even the middle and high school kids get to vote on it.  Anyone who is an active member has a vote.  And my wife is a public school teacher.  Two professions not own for making a lot of money.
Take either me or my wife and look at what we make per year – and we are in the top 1% of the richest people in the world.
This is easy to find.  In the bulletin and on the screen at the end of this sermon, there is a link you can go to on the Internet. You go there and enter your annual income – or you can do it with your net worth.  There will find how you stand with the rest of the world.
I suspect almost every single person in this room is among the 1% - maybe 2% - of the richest in the entire world.
We have so much.
And yet, when it comes to being content with what we have, we keep saying – later.  When I have even more, then I will become content.
And when it comes to being generous, we keep saying – later.
When I have more, I’ll give more.
I’ll give to missions.  I’ll support youth ministry.  I’ll give to the poor.  Later.

OK, are you wondering what this pot of rice is all about?
I brought it to illustrate a story about one of my experiences in India.
I went to India on a mission trip a few years ago.  I visited a number of schools.  I visited a number of churches. 

India is a beautiful country and there are a lot of people there who are well off, but a lot of the ones I met were the poorest people I have ever encountered.
In this one neighborhood where I went to preach at a church all of the homes were nothing more than tents.  The tents were made of moldy, rotting cloth.  Everything was jammed together.  There was hardly any room to walk between the tents.  There was no water system, no well.  People drank water that was running along the gutters of the streets.
And in the midst of this slum was a little church.
It was nothing more than a concrete block building.  Four walls with a doorway.  The roof was nothing more than some metal sheeting laid on the top of the building.
It measured about 10 feet wide and 20 feet long. 
            You could have moved that church and put it into the narthex area of our church and still had room on each side.
 Inside there were 30 people.  They were all crammed together, sitting on the floor and they gave me a chair to sit in at the front of the church.  If I had crossed my legs I would have knocked out three people on the front row.
We did everything Christians do in worship.
We sang.
We prayed.
I preached with an interpreter.
And there was an offering.
I’ve seen poverty.  I’ve been to third world countries.  I’ve worked in Haiti.  And in Haiti, the poverty is universal.  But here – the poverty was so deep.  These were the poorest people I’d ever met.
Here in America, poverty is defined as earning $11,490 per year in a family of one.
In this country, 96.1 percent of American households living in relative poverty have a television to watch, and 83.2 percent of them have a video-recording device in case they cannot get home in time to watch the football game or their favorite television show and they want to record it for watching later. 
Among America’s poor, 98% have refrigerators.  93 have microwaves.  83% have air conditioning.[1]
You know how they define poverty in India?  I was told that the definition of poverty is to have less than a full meal per day.
And there are these people gathered in this tiny little church.
And when it was time for the offering, every single person gave. 
They gave eagerly.
They reached and strained to put their single coin into the offering.
One lady had no money. 

She gave a single, tiny bag of rice.
After the service, I asked what they used the offering for.
Part of it was to pay the pastor’s salary, which was not much. 
Part of it was to buy Bibles for the church.
Part of it was to go to Missions.  Imagine that!
They can’t feed themselves, but they are giving to missions.
And then part of it goes to feed the poor.
Feed the poor?  I can’t imagine that there are people more impoverished than these folks!
And then I asked about the lady who gave the bag of rice.
I was told she never had any money to give.  But IF she had food to eat during the day, she would carefully measure out the food and set some of it aside.
Every day – IF she had food to eat, part of it was set aside for the offering.  A tenth of it.  A tithe.
And on Sunday, when she came to church.  She would bring her bag of rice as an offering – so it could be used to feed the poor.
Imagine doing that on Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and on up to Friday.
And imagine not having any food at all on Saturday.
Church is tomorrow, but there on the table is the rice you’ve set aside every day.  It would be tempting to reach into the bag and cook that rice.  Skip church.  Or go to church and skip the offering.
But no, she never did that.
The pastor told me she always brought the bag of rice.
And here we are.  The poorest among us is still among the world’s richest – and yet we keep saying “later.” 
Our New Testament lesson tells us, “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.”
But we say, “we’ll be content later.  When we have enough.”
Our New Testament lesson tells us, “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”
But we say, “Later.”
Our New Testament lesson tells us, “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.”
But we say, “Later.  When we have more, when we have enough, then we will become generous.”
You know, I kept thinking about that woman.  I kept wondering when we, here in America, will be as wealthy as that woman.  When will we have enough so that we can be as generous as she? 

Copyright 2013, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.
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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Get Shrewd - Luke 16:1-13

New Testament Lesson                                                           Luke 16:1-13

16:1 Then Jesus said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property.

16:2 So he summoned him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.'

16:3 Then the manager said to himself, 'What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.

16:4 I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.'

16:5 So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'

16:6 He answered, 'A hundred jugs of olive oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.'

16:7 Then he asked another, 'And how much do you owe?' He replied, 'A hundred containers of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill and make it eighty.'

16:8 And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.

16:9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

16:10 "Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.

16:11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?

16:12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?

16:13 No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."


I had a terrible experience this past week.

            I was on Facebook and there was a discussion on my high school’s alumni page.  Several people were posting what year they graduated from this little high school in this tiny little town in South Carolina.  One person, whose name I did not recognize, posted, “Class of 1972.”

            That’s my class.  Now there were only 52 people who graduated in that class in that little high school in that tiny little town in South Carolina – and I did not recognize her name.  Her first name was Jan, which is common enough, but I did not remember a Jan in our clas.  I looked at her Facebook page and she had some photos of herself including one with her in a high school graduation gown– and I saw that photo of her as a young person, that’s when I realized, this was my old girl friend.  Back then she went by the name Janet, and she went by her maiden name.  But her current photos were also there – she now has grey hair.  Her formerly youthful, soft skin now has the look of tough leather.  She has all these deep, deep wrinkles.

            She was a painful reminder that time is marching on.

            Now I suppose that if she looked at my Facebook page she would wonder what happened to that slim, trim boy she used to know – and what’s with the grey hair in my beard and the reverse yarmulke in the back of my scalp. 

            Time marches on! 

            Every person here is running out of time.  Each of us is a fleeting breath.  We are flickering candles that could be blown out at any moment.  We are, as Isaiah put it in the Old Testament, flourishing like a flower of the field, and then the wind passes over the flower, and it is gone.

            Now before you take this as a reason for despair, don’t!

            That time is marching on is not a reason to be depressed about the shortness of our lives, but to instead embrace the reality of the brevity of our lives and to feel the same sense of urgency that this man in the New Testament felt.
            This man – this “dishonest manager” in the New Testament lesson is a man whose time is short and he suddenly embraces the reality of urgency.

            He has been given notice by his boss!  He is about to lose his job because of mismanagement and dishonesty and he figures out a way to save his neck.  He does not become the model employee, but rather he does what he has always done – he acts dishonestly.  He acts in his own self interest.  And Jesus tells his disciples, we have to be more like this man.

            Oh really?  We have to be like this dishonest man? 

            This is a difficult parable, and a tough one for us to understand.

            The parable of the “Unjust Manager” is the all-too-familiar story of corporate greed and crime.  The CEO of a corporation discovers a trusted employee who has been charged with being a manager, but who has been negligent, dishonest, cooking the books, taking money under the table – you name it, this man has done it.  And he is caught and called on the carpet.

            The CEO comes in and says, “What is this I hear about you?  You’ve squandered and pilfered resources of the company.  You are giving us a bad name.  Get out of here!  You’re fired!  Security will escort you out of the building after they watch you clean out your desk.”

            The man in the parable goes into a full-scale crisis mode.  He is in a state of panic.  “I’ve run out of time!  What am I going to do now?  I’ve lost my job.  I have no other skills.  I’m not going to get a reference from my last job.  I’m too old and weak to dig ditches or work in manual labor.  I’m not about to go begging on the street.”

            He worries, he stresses, he agonizes.

            He’s gotta do something and he’s gotta do it now!

            And then he comes to a great solution. 

            It’s not a Christian, saintly solution.  But it is a savvy solution.

            He gets the lead out and begins to contact each and every one of the company’s clients.  He reduces their accounts payable. 

            “How much do you owe us,” he asks.  “You’ve been a good customer.  I tell you what I’m going to do.  I’m going to cut your payment in HALF.  And by the way, if anything should happen to me, don’t forget we had this little deal.   I scratch your back, you scratch mine.”

            In other words, he is using every bit of his energy, intelligence, and creativity to find a way to survive.

            This is a difficult parable.  It is hard to understand why Jesus is lifting up this crook as a model by which Christians should follow. 

            But understand, Jesus is not talking here to the world at large.  He is in a staff meeting.

            Luke 15, the chapter that comes immediately BEFORE today’s New Testament lesson, begins this way…
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”   Then Jesus told them this parable…”  He tells THEM, meaning the Pharisees and teachers who are the outsiders.  And to THEM, he tells the loving parable of the 100 sheep.  One little lamb is lost, so the shepherd leaves the 99 and finds the one lost lamb and rejoices. 
And then Jesus tells THEM – meaning the outsiders – the parable of the lost coin. 
And then Jesus tells THEM – those same outsiders, the parable of the lost son.
And then Jesus, at the beginning of our New Testament lesson, turns from the outsiders and begins to have a private staff meeting.  The doors are closed and Jesus addresses the few, the noble, the twelve disciples.  And the New Testament lesson for today starts this way:
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.”
And then Jesus tells them about this dishonest manager. 
Now if you think the parable is going to end with the master not only firing the dishonest manager, but also having him thrown in jail, think again. 
            When Jesus concludes this parable, he says, “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”

            Jesus, in speaking privately to his disciples, are telling them, and us, that we should show the same energy, intelligence, and creativity in being good as the dishonest manager showed in being evil. 

            Jesus is no longer talking to THEM – those outsiders.  He is talking to the inner circle and he is telling them – we’ve got to be more like THEM.  The worldly unchristian people use every bit of energy, creativity and imagination, and they are doing these things with the sense of urgency as if they are running out of time  – and you need to be like them.

            Jesus calls them “shrewd,” and there is nothing wrong with being shrewd.  In the Greek language, this word appears several times in the Gospels and is translated in a variety of ways.  “Prudent.”  “Intelligent.”  “Wise.”  “Savvy.”

            Jesus is telling us, we need to be like that.

            Jesus tells us we can’t serve two masters – so we need to be very devoted to the ONE master, God Almighty.  And we need to serve our master in a way that is shrewd, prudent, intelligence, wise, savvy.  We need to use the sort of energy that this dishonest manager used.

            Jesus sounds discouraged when he makes the observation, “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”

            Some of you are probably unaware that prior to entering the ministry, I worked in the South Carolina Department of Corrections.  One day, one of our coworkers locked her keys in her car.  Several of us tried to help.  We all gathered around with a bent up old coat hanger and each of us impatiently saying, “let me try, I can open that door.”  And each of us tried and each of us said, “I’ve almost got it, I’ve almost got it.”  But of course, none of us were able to open it.

            And then it dawned on me.  We are at a state prison.  All we have to do is go look in the files and pick someone who was incarcerated for grand theft auto.  We picked one.  Brought him to the parking lot under the watchful eye of a corrections officer. 

            Two seconds.

            This man was an artist.  He opened that door with such ease it was amazing.

            It was then that I began to revise my view of the inmates.  Where I once looked at them as poorly educated, I now realized that they were highly trained.  They may not know who wrote Moby Dick, but they knew how to break into a home.  Where I once looked at them as lazy, I now understood that they were hard working at their craft.  It took time and energy to plan an embezzlement.

            Jesus is saying that all of that time and energy and skill that inmates put into their criminal activities, we need to put that time and energy and skill into our godly activities.  Jesus is saying that the kind of energy that the evil manager put into his self centered and devious form of preservation, we need to put into loving our neighbors.


            We need to act as if there is a sense of urgency.

            Because time is passing.  Opportunities to serve God NOW, might not be with us next week or even in the next hour.

            There is an opportunity to volunteer to be a mentor at school.  The opportunity is now.  But unlike the dishonest manager who wisely, shrewdly and prudently rushes to strike while the fire is hot, we sit back and casually think, “I’ll do that later.  When I retire.  Or next year when the kids are out of school.-”

            There is an opportunity to volunteer with the youth in our church.  The opportunity is now.  But we wait.  Maybe later.

            There is an opportunity now to teach in Sunday School, assist in worship, call on the sick or the lonely.  But we think later is better than today because there is no urgency.

            In the parable for today, Jesus said, “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”

            Wouldn’t it be great if we turned the tables on that? 

            Wouldn’t it be great if we began to serve the Lord with that same sense of urgency?  Same energy?  Same creativity?

            In the Old Testament lesson, Jeremiah’s voice is so sad.  It is so desperate.

            My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick… Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?”

That phrase, “a balm in Gilead,” was part of the African American hymn that we sang a few minutes ago.  It is an old hymn, and one that was quoted in Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem, THE RAVEN -

"Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!"
Quoth the Raven "Nevermore".

            But the Raven was wrong.  Christ is that comfort to us, and we in turn are to be the comfort to the world.  Whenever joy is gone, as in Jeremiah’s time, and grief is upon the people, that is when the church should respond.

            And we need to do that with creativity, intelligence, wisdom and urgency!

            NOW is the time to serve the Lord.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Someone Is Watching You! - Psalm 139

Psalm 139

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
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.

139:17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

139:18 I try to count them -- they are more than the sand; I come to the end -- I am still with you.

            Most of us like a sense of privacy.  We put curtains on our windows.  We erect fences in our yards.  We safeguard our medical information.  We vote with secret ballots.  We take great care about what we put on Facebook. 

            The constitution of our nation does not address privacy per se, but there is that great line in the Fourth Amendment that refers to “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

            Privacy is nice, but we live in an age in which it is threatened.

            Over 15 years ago, Will Smith played a character in the movie, “Enemy of the State.”  As the movie opens, an official of the National Security Agency murders a congressman in an effort to ensure the passage of a bill that will enable the NSA to expand the surveillance powers of the government.  The bill in the movie was named the “Privacy Act,” but as one of the characters in the movie observes, it is really the “Invasion of Privacy Act” because it would enable the government to wire tape and eavesdrop on the telephone conversations of every American, without a search warrant or without cause.

            As the movie unfolds, Will Smith becomes the innocent person caught in the middle of this suspense film and he spends most of the movie on the run trying to save his life. 

            It is an exciting movie, but throughout the film the viewer gets a creepy look at what it would be like to live in a world of George Orwell’s 1984 classic with Big Brother watching our every move.

            But, it is now 64 years after George Orwell’s 1984 was published, and 15 years since Will Smith’s Enemy of the State, and now the real NSA has been in the news with concerns about our invasion of privacy by the government.
A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that the real National Security Agency—“which possesses only limited legal authority to spy on U.S. citizens—has built a surveillance network that covers more Americans' Internet communications than officials have publicly disclosed … The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic.” (“New Details Show Broader NSA Surveillance Reach” by Siobhan Gorman and Jennifer Valentino-Devries.  August 20, 2013.)
This is the nightmare that turned Orwell into a household name.

This is the nightmare of NSA.

And - this is the theme of Psalm 139.  Only, in this case it is not Big Brother or the NSA or an internet industry trying to track our spending so they can sell us more stuff – it is 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.

Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?

            It can be an unsettling experience – this lack of privacy.  It is one thing to know that the government might be snooping on our email, but to know that God Almighty, the one who will judge the living and the dead, snoops into our email and even into our unspoken thoughts.

            So – what can we do?


            Theologian Paul Tillich observed that when people sense they have no privacy from God, they want to kill God.  They want to force God out of their lives.  In fact, it was theologian Friedrich Nietzsche who found this divine invasion of privacy so unbearable that he is given credit with coining the phrase, “God is Dead,” which eventually became the famous cover of an issue of Time magazine many years ago.

            In his classic work Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche said that God “had to die: God saw with eyes that saw everything; God saw man’s depths and ultimate grounds, all his concealed disgrace and ugliness. God crawled into my dirtiest nooks. This most curious, overobtrusive, overpitying God had to die.”

            Now of course, one cannot kill God – so we can do the next best thing – flee from God!
Throughout the Bible whenever anyone encounters God in a real and dynamic way, there is no joy, no excitement, no gladness – but fear and a desire to be left alone.
Moses hid his face from God when he met the Lord in the burning bush on Mount Sinai – because he did not want God to see the real Moses.
In the New Testament, when Peter first realizes that Jesus is the Messiah, he says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
Jonah in fact went to the extreme of getting in a boat and trying to put as much distance as he could between him and God – a plan that did not work out well for Jonah.
God knows every secret, and that can be so unsettling.
What you do in the privacy of your home – God knows.
What you said about your boss to a coworker whom you trusted – God knows.
            Every lie you ever spoke, every drug you ever took, everything you ever did while under the influence of alcohol, everything you did when you were 13 years old but got away with and no one ever found out –
            God knows.
            Imagine being stopped by a police officer who asks, “Do you know how fast you were going?”  Now imagine being judged by God who doesn’t ask, but tells you every thing you ever did, or thought.
            It can be unsettling to be so intently known by 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.

            Think about the fact that this was written by King David.  That saint of God was far from perfect.  He fell in love with Bathsheba, they had an affair and she became pregnant.  Her husband returned from the battle to report to the king and in order to hid the scandal, David arranged for Bathsheba’s husband to be killed on the battlefield, a victim of friendly fire.
            David did everything humanly possible to hide his scandal, and yet in this Psalm he acknowledges that before God there is no privacy.
            So – Option 1, Fleeing from God does not help. 
            Option 2?  Straighten up and fly right.

            I mean if God is going to see everything you do, it is probably in everyone’s best interest to be sure we live a pretty good life.
            No more cussin’ fussin’ or feuding.  No more getting angry.  No more getting wasted.  No more cheating on income tax.  No more gluttony – ouch, that last one hurts!

            When I was in the first grade my teacher called us down for misbehaving in class.  At some point she warned us not to try anything because she had eyes in the back of her head.
            Now as a first grader, I believed that – why would my beloved teacher lie to me?  And it freaked me out – just the thought of that third eye back there, behind her grey hair. 
            But you’d better believe we started behaving.

            And now comes God and the Lord sees EVERYTHING.  He knows our inmost thoughts!
            So we had better fly right. 
            Now this sounds much better than Option 1 – fleeing from God.
            I John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…”
            And St. Paul in Romans says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God.”

            So what to do?
            Here is God almighty, who judges the quick and the dead, keeping us under constant surveillance. 
            What to do?

            The only other option is – relax.
            Take comfort.
            Be assured.
            Maybe – just maybe this Psalm was not written to disturb, but to comfort.
            Psalm 139 was not meant to instill fear to those sinners in the hands of an angry God, but assurance and peace.
            The atheist Nietzsche was terrified of a God who knew him so well, but when Paul Tillich reviews the work of Nietzshe, Tillich concludes that Nietzsche doesn’t really know what he wants.  Tillich sees correctly, I think, that the ultimate terror Nietzsche fears is not to be totally known, but to be totally unknown. The price of the anonymity that our society offers is to be quite alone in the universe. When I die, will anyone know, or more important, will anyone care?
            Psalm 139 is not an invasion of privacy to be feared.  It is a word of comfort to give relief to a society in which people desperately want to be known and understood – and more than that – to be loved.

            The Heidelberg Catechsim is a question and answer format of a statement of faith written centuries ago.  The very first question asks, “What is your ONLY comfort in life and death?”  The answer, “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ…”

            I am not my own.

            I belong to God – to a loving God.

            I belong to a God who has invaded my most private thoughts and knows all my secrets, but my secrets are safe only with God.

            You see, in this day and age when we are concerned about privacy, we know that when our dark and bad secrets get out, people will respond with gossip.  They will use our secrets against us.  God will use our bad secrets to nurture us – God will forgive us, correct us and set us on the right path because God knows our inmost thoughts.

            In the movie, Enemy of the State, Will Smith portrays a character named Robert Dean who was under surveillence, and he wanted out.

            Psalm 139 tells us that we are not so much under surveilence, as we are under care – and we want in.

We want in with the God who knew us and loved us when we were no longer than a speck of invisible cell growing in our mother’s womb.

We want in with the God who knows our every actions, along with the motivations, but who loves us anyway. 

We want in with the God who knows our thoughts that we would never dare speak, but who has mercy and compassion.

It could be terrifying to be watched – or it could be comforting.  It all depends on who is watching.