September 8, 2013
16th Sunday after Pentecost
"Where Is the Twinkle In Your Eye?"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
This morning's sermon title, "Where Is the Twinkle In Your Eye?", came from a little piece written by Rev. Walter Cowen to something he had read in Dear Abby. He said, "Dear Abby, since I am a pastor with 43 years' experience, I'd like to offer this suggestion to the inexperienced young minister who didn't know how to handle a very bold woman in his congregation who had designs on him. "Whenever I noticed a romantic twinkle in the eye of a woman in my congregation, I always checked to make sure it wasn't caused by a reflection from the gleam in my own."
So I had the question in mind, "Where is the twinkle in your eye?", because it's a good reminder to check the reflection in our own eyes. I even came across a nifty illustration, to remind all of us that forgetting to keep an eye on our focus can sometimes be life-saving.
It seems that there was a certain pond on an Eastern farm with two ducks and a frog. These three neighbors were the best of friends; all day long they use to play together. But as the hot summer days came, the pond began to dry up and soon there was such a little bit of water that they all realized that they would have to move. Now the ducks could easily fly to another place, but what about their friend the frog?
Finally it was decided that they would put a stick in the bill of each duck, and then the frog would hang onto the stick with his mouth and they would fly him to another pond. And so they did. As they were flying, a farmer out in his field looked up and saw them and said, "Well, isn't that a clever idea! I wonder who thought of it!" The frog said, "I did ..."
I was even thinking of following up that anecdote with a real Aesop fable about a fox and a crow. The crow sat in a tree holding in his beak a piece of meat that he had stolen. The fox saw him and determined to get the meat. It stood under the tree and began to tell the crow what a beautiful big bird he was. He ought to be king of all the birds, the fox said; and he would undoubtedly have been made king, if only he had a voice as well. The crow was so anxious to prove that he had a voice, that he dropped the meat and crowed for all he was worth. Up ran the fox, who snapped up the meat, and said to him, "If you added brains to all your other qualifications, you would make an ideal king."-
I had thought about those things, because one of the lectionary Bible passages was two parts of Psalm 139. Like so many psalms in the Bible, this one was written by David to be used in worship services of the Hebrew people as they reflected on the nature of God - especially God's all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful nature. However, it seemed that my heart felt that the whole psalm be read today.
Psalm 139 The Message (MSG)
1-6 God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight. You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence. I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too— your reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful— I can’t take it all in!
7-12 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? to be out of your sight? If I climb to the sky, you’re there! If I go underground, you’re there! If I flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon, You’d find me in a minute— you’re already there waiting! Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark! At night I’m immersed in the light!” It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.
13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.
17-22 Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful! God, I’ll never comprehend them! I couldn’t even begin to count them— any more than I could count the sand of the sea. Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you! And please, God, do away with wickedness for good! And you murderers—out of here!— all the men and women who belittle you, God, infatuated with cheap god-imitations. See how I hate those who hate you, God, see how I loathe all this godless arrogance; I hate it with pure, unadulterated hatred. Your enemies are my enemies!
23-24 Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— then guide me on the road to eternal life.
Thank you, Michael. After hearing Michael read last week, I could just hear his voice read this morning's passage - in all it's glory. I had intended to talk about how God knows us so intimately, and even with that knowledge, allows us a free will to chose what we will say and what we will do.
And then the Stapleton story began pressing down, not only on my heart, but on so many in this community. With such sadness and all the other stuff that surrounds this family, how could an upbeat service, one that focused on praise of God, make any sense, much less have any application to any situation, from politics to grief, transitions to mental illness? And then there is the question: does God create people to be autistic, handicapped or any other thing we think of as negative? The answer is, I believe, no, but how does real life correlate to this Psalm?
The answer lies in one of the verses that was not suggested to be used today, verse 7. "Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?" David suggested all sorts of places and situations, but the bottom line is that there is no place where we can get lost from God - no matter how we feel, no matter our situations, no matter what.
There was a time when the depression in my life caused me to think that I was somehow unworthy of God's attention, much less love. Everyone else was worthy, but not me. But to believe that would be to deny the truth of Psalm 139, verse 7. Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? If it is true for everyone else, then it must be true for me. If it is true for me, then it is true for everyone else, most especially everyone in this room.
There are some who might use this Psalm to make a case that if God knows what we're going to say before we say it, then aren't we like puppets in the hands of God? But despite the work of Carlo Collodi, who wrote the Pinocchio stories, we aren't wooden wanna-bes. How do I know that to be true? Simply because of some of the stupid stuff that falls out of my mouth! If it is true for me, then it true for everyone else, and I'm guessing most everyone in this room can attest to such moments of human brilliance.
Which is part of what this Psalm is all about. No matter who we are, God is with us. No matter the time or the day, God is with us. No matter what we have done, or left undone, God is with us. No matter how sad, how bad, how incredible or unbelievable, how good, how not good, there is no place where God cannot reach each one of us. If it is true for each one of us, then it is true for everyone outside these walls, too.
And here's the cherry on the top: knowing all about us - the good and the ugly parts of our lives, the beautiful parts and the parts with warts, David tells us that God's thoughts about us are beautiful.
What I love about David is how human he is. As he gets all wound up in this Psalm about God, David gets back on his high horse. "And you murderers—out of here!— all the men and women who belittle you, God, infatuated with cheap god-imitations. See how I hate those who hate you, God, see how I loathe all this godless arrogance; I hate it with pure, unadulterated hatred. Your enemies are my enemies!
Yeah, David, about your soldier friend, Uriah, whom you killed - murdered - after you got his wife, Bathsheba, pregnant.... I don't know who said it, but "Criticism is often a form of self-boasting." Equally true, but less direct; "staring up to admire your halo usually creates a pain in the neck." I also love this anonymous thought. "God never intended for us to pat ourselves on the back. If He had, our hinges would be different." Then there's this one. It is the person who most knows himself liable to fall that will be most ready to overlook any offenses from his fellow men.
The question behind the sermon title should more accurately be "where is the gleam in your eye?" If it's not on God, then we set ourselves up for a heap of trouble we donn't need. If our gleam is directed at the right or wrong of someone else, then we've taken our eyes off God, and we run the risk of making fools of our selves.
Life is what it is, and there are times when we lose our focus. Until we enter into eternal life, we are susceptible to doing things that make us look less than the fine creations that God made us to be.
At Crystal Gardens, as you drive up to the parking area closest to where you pay for your things, there is a pile of broken clay pots, and since I've not been there for a while, I don't remember the clever saying they have over those pieces of pottery, except not to take them. God has no such broken pile of discards. There are plenty of cracked pots, but that's for another day. For today, it is ours to consider our focus, and why we can praise God - even if we don't fully understand this life, no matter what our circumstances, so let us pray.
God of each one, sometimes it is hard to realize that we may have taken our focus off you. For those of us who may feel unworthy, we pray that you bring our gaze back to you - to our worthiness in you. For those of us who may feel vitriolic, we pray for your grace to rinse away the bitterness and criticism and fill our view with all that is good and right, because you give us a lot that is just that. For those of us who get too wrapped up in ourselves and in the lives of others, we pray for balance in our focus.
Most especially God, we thank you for knowing us so intimately, yet never putting us away. Thank you for being every place, that we are never alone. Raise all of us, Great God, and lift our heads to you as you guide us to the road of eternal life. And so all of us pray, as all your people say, Amen.