Passage: Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18
Date: September 4, 2016
Preacher: Rev Laurie M. Newman
Guest Preacher:

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When I was in the fourth grade, my best friend was Shari Lane. We were competitive with one another, in our Girl Scout Troop and in school. There were all those Scout merit badges that we were so eager to obtain: Outdoor Safety, Music Maker, Horsewoman, Creative Writer, Explorer. . . Most memorable to me, though, was the school spelling bee in which we were the two finalists. We had spelled our way all the way through our spelling book and were doing new words. I not only wanted to win the prize (a badminton set), but I wanted to prove that Shari couldn’t beat me. The tension was mounting with every word. The teacher gave Shari her word:

“Switch.”  “S-W-I-T-C-H. Switch.”
The teacher turned to me: “Knapsack.”
I had it! “K-N-A-P-S-W-I-T-C-H! Uh. . .Knap---switch—oops. . .”

    In that vulnerable moment, when I realized my failure, Shari rubbed it in: “Dunce!” She said. (See, I still remember this stuff!)

    We hate to be vulnerable, don’t we? We feel pain and disappointment when we are
vulnerable. Vulnerability in our culture is seen as weakness. In our culture, we have a “merit badge” mentality. We worship success. We believe that we get what we deserve, what we work hard for, and what we are worthy of. It’s hard for us to think in any other way. Think of what we dare to post on Facebook, for example: our victories, our best photos, our best image. We usually do not post our failures, which make us vulnerable. But any expectation of merit or
reward actually keeps us from the transformation that happens by grace. In vulnerability is strength, because that is when we are most likely to need and be aware of God’s presence.
Maybe the idea of God being always present is foreign to you. In fact, maybe you even struggle with the idea that there IS God. And perhaps your image of God is not that of someone who loves intimately. If so, I ask you to momentarily suspend your doubt for a bit, to understand the perspective of the psalmist.

    “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.” There’s nowhere we can be where God is not. This is not something we can easily see.

This scripture describes a very intimate relationship with God: One who knows us through and through, even our very thoughts. Being known like this makes us vulnerable, for it means all our flaws, our fears and mistakes—God knows all of that—and loves us through and through.

    The question is, how do we believe and trust that, in a world that sometimes seems to show so much evidence against God or a God that cares?

    Part of our work as church, as faith community, is to point out God to one another.
It’s what we do, ideally in worship and service together. And each of us can nurture our ability to see God in the world by practice. Practice comes with daily discipline: praying as listening for God, reading scripture, and spiritual reading. It’s like playing an instrument or excelling in a sport or in an art: you must make the time to practice, and over the course of time, those
spiritual “muscles” become your daily default. It’s important to find a practice that works for you.

     Years ago, when I first came to Westminster, I had a toddler and a kindergartner. The biggest challenge I had in my spiritual life was for balance. There seemed little time for spiritual practice and self-care. Nothing I tried seemed to last consistently. Then, during the Lenten
season of 2013, we received a clear marble (used in vases for floral arrangements). The marble looked like a drop of water. It was meant to remind us of our baptism. The then head-of-staff, Jim Moiso, said that he put his marble drop where he could see it every day when he bathed so that he could remember God’s love and his belonging. That idea really caught my attention since I swim laps most mornings and love the water. So, that spring, I began a new discipline. In the morning, every time I feel the water on my skin (in the swimming pool or shower) I
imagine God saying these words to me: “You are my beloved daughter. I have been with you from the beginning. I am with you now. I will be with you at the end.” I have been doing this practice for over a decade. It has shaped me in a deep way. Over time, I began to remember and really feel that God’s love holds me and everyone. In the soothing waters that hold me, I feel that love.

    “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. . . I come to the end and I am still with you. . .”

We live in God's grace. That is not a merit-badge culture. We need not labor to get God to notice us, to like us. We are not in a cosmic competition. We are not even separate from God.

 Rather, this grace-filled world is where God is always with us, even when we are not aware. (That’s the heart of Jesus’ teaching.) But we likely need to slow down and pay attention so that we can see and share our experiences of God, and we keep open to it through worship and in our service together.

We remind one another to seek God’s love in action, and in others and in ourselves. And yes, we can more readily know God’s love when we have cultivated a spiritual discipline.

Today we will eat the bread of life and drink the cup of salvation. Salvation has
everything to do with living right here, right now, and knowing a beautiful and fully accepting God is this very moment giving to you. All you can do is sit down at the banquet and eat. If you can enjoy heaven now, you are totally prepared and ready for heaven later.

How do you live out your faith? Are you in a merit-badge world? Or have you
experienced that love of God that holds us, right in this moment? What if we were all able to remember this every day? How would our world be different, then?