October 1, 2017 — Rev. Paula Norbert
As we head into the beautiful season of autumn on this first day of October, it is such a wonderful time to remind ourselves of how fortunate we are to live here near the coast of Maine. Our reading from Psalm 139 describes the very close relationship that God yearns to have with us. In this Psalm, we hear these lovely words, “You search out my path and are acquainted with all my ways… I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” The speaker understands that as a child of God, precious one of God’s creation that we are all wonderfully made by the expert potter, our God. And, if we embrace that, then we are invited to accept ourselves fully and lovingly… and to forgive ourselves for any of our imperfections or shortcomings or limitations, and yes, our sins…the choices we may have have put a distance between ourselves, one another and our God. Let us pray, “Loving God, we do praise you for the blessings of our lives. Help us to be reminded each day that you have made us wonderfully and that you are always with us, searching out the path you hope we might choose, the path to you, the path to love, the path to unity with all of our brothers and sisters, who also are wonderfully made.”
First a story…”There was a man who was traveling around the country visiting so many beautiful sites. He was out in San Francisco and he decided to visit one of the older churches in that city. As he took a look around, he saw a gold phone on the wall of the church which read, “Calls to God, $10,000. And he asked the minister, can I really call God from that phone, Can I really speak to God? And the minister assured him that he could, but he didn’t have that kind of money on him. He continued on his travels and stopped in Iowa where he visited another lovely little church. He was amazed to see there a gold phone on the wall inside the sanctuary. Again, it read, “calls to God, $5,000.” So he asked the priest if it was truly possible to reach God from that phone and the priest assured him that it was…if he had the money to pay for the call. Well, he didn’t but he certainly was intrigued. As he headed East, he stopped in Virginia where he visited a Synagogue. Inside, he discovered yet again a Gold phone which would cost $2500 to call Yaweh. He couldn’t believe it. He started to wonder if he should save his money and return to one of these phones and call God to ask all the important questions he’d always wondered about. Finally, he returned to his beloved home state of Maine…and heading back up the coast, he stopped at a sweet little church. Yet again, he was so surprised to see a gold phone on the wall of the sanctuary and the sign read, “Calls to God, 25 cents.” Well, he was just amazed that he might be able to afford the call. He went up to the minister and explained that he’d been all over the country and seen a gold phone as a way to call God, but those calls had cost much more, and she said, well ours only cost 25 cents, because it’s a local call here in God’s country.
When I hear Psalm 139, I am reminded of a fabulous sermon by a priest named Michael Hymes, who was a professor of Theology at Boston College. He was invited to preach at the Baccalaureate for the graduating seniors that year and he shared this important message with them He said to them, and to all of us in the congregation that day, that God loved us as we are, that God didn’t need another Michalangelo or Beethoven, God didn’t need another Mother Theresa or Maya Angelou or Jane Austen…or even Ghandi or Nelson Mandela, or so many other important men and women of history and our own present day. What God most desires is for each of us to be most fully who we are. God has set us here on earth with different gifts and our task, our goal is to continue to discover those gifts and to embrace ourselves, yes warts and all, and yet to move forward and be open to how we can be the best Michelle or Paul or Steve or Katie and on and on that we can be. It was a very simple message; it’s not new but it is something that may take us a lifetime to figure out and fully embrace.
The Psalm today reminds us of that very same message, that God has known us since before our birth and like our own parents, Our God has had great hopes for each of us, that we may continue to discover who we have been called to be. And we’re not speaking only about the kind of work we do or have done in our lives, our careers. That’s certainly a part of it, but it’s so much bigger than that. From our earliest days until we reach the end of our days here, we are invited to consider what we have to share that is of God. Who are we and who are we becoming?
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
before they existed.
If we consider the hopes we have as individuals for our own children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews…or as a community for the next generation of young people in our midst, it may give us a glimpse of the immensity of God’s hopes for each of us. What was written in the book about our lives? What gifts have been given to us or what gifts do we still need to uncover in our own lives? And I don’t mean that everything has been laid out for us in a way that we don’t have the freedom to choose our paths. We know that free will is one of the gifts we have received; of course, that’s what makes it challenging, doesn’t it? And sometimes the ways our lives unfold can cause us deep pain and suffering…and that may be when we wish we had the gold phone and could make that call to God and ask what all this suffering is about…or how we are to move forward. But that’s not how it works, but we have prayer and we have scripture and we have so many people of faith who have come before us to serve as guides and inspirations…and so God doesn’t leave us all alone. No, it’s an ongoing and dynamic process, but we do need to listen and to make time to continue to listen for God’s hopes for us, and to listen to our hearts, because often, some of our deepest hopes and dreams are consistent with God’s if we have really taken the time to be open to God’s word throughout our lives.
We have this wonderful image of God as creator of all living things but there is not just one perfect creation for God, not one perfect community… God lovingly creates our world and gives us such a rich variety of plants and animals of cultures and races of personalities and families, and we live our days in the midst of that diversity and richness, and yes suffering and division…as seekers on the path. We seek to understand what God wants for us individually and what God wants for us as a community.
The Psalmist, perhaps overwhelmed by the immensity of God says,
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
And the final line is perhaps the most important.
I come to the end–I am still with you.
I am still with you. Still with you, which of course means that the speaker understands that God has been with him all of his days and he understands that he has been with God. And so with us. May we say this today and tomorrow, “I am still with you?” I am wonderfully made? And… thinking back to the tale of the man discovering the gold phones, we surely understand that the truth is, we don’t have to pay any money to make a call to God; it’s always a local call because God is always listening. That’s how close God is to us.