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“A Dance with the God of the Universe”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 139
Jeremiah 18:1-11

 

Psalm 139

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,
 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
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.
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;
I come to the end—I am still with you.

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil!
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

 

Jeremiah 18:1-11

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 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.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.


 

Repentance is a turning.  It is a 180.  It implies turning away from evil AND turning toward good.

In this scripture, we find God speaking to Jeremiah as he gazes on the work of a potter.  Just as the pot went bad in the potter’s hands & the potter then chose to make it into something else, so is our relationship with God.  It is a relationship!  Like a dance partner, God is responding to our every move.  God is not only attuned to all our goings & coming, all our words & thoughts, all our actions & inaction.  God is also responding to our choices.

 

How amazing is this, that the God of the universe is interacting with you and with me,

Dancing with you and with me.

 

Have you ever given it much thought?

 

We are not controlling the outcomes.  We are not manipulating God.  But God is responding to our lives and choices.  So when we do good, God builds us up, and when we turn toward evil, God sets out to put a stop to it and keep us down.  When we align ourselves with evil, we set ourselves against God.

Our God is a holy God.  Thanks be to God, evil is an intolerable violation of God’s goodness and truth.  Thanks be to God, we have a God who comes beside us in doing good.  Our lives matter.  And each life matters.  Therefore, evil is not benign or acceptable.  Not at all.  Evil kills and steals and destroys all that which is good and holy and true.  And our God takes action.

So we need to make decisions.  Everyday we are faced with the choice to follow or to turn to our own way.  Everyday we are faced with temptations and shortcuts.  Everyday we are faced with opportunities to love and to serve.  We are faced with the opportunity to speak truth or to lie.  Everyday we are faced with the choice to build up or to tear down.   Everyday we have the chance to bless or to curse those with whom we come in contact.

 

So what is the trail of our lives?

What is in our wake?

What story do our lives tell?

How many have been impacted?  And has it been for good or for evil.

 

God is responding to each of our choices, our decisions, and indecisions.

 

Do you want to align your life with God, coming alongside God in doing justice and loving mercy?  Do you want to set yourself in opposition to God and all that is good and holy and true?

 

Some have interpreted the Presbyterian concept of pre-destination to mean that God arbitrarily favors some over others, saving some and damning others.  That is not what I understand from the Bible.   While our actions have consequences and we can choose to step out of God’s life and salvation, I read that our God wills that all shall be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.  I read that Christ came, not to condemn, but to save the lost.

Our God has met us more than halfway.  Our God knows that we are made of dust.  We are not expected to be perfect.  And God knows we will stray.  But our God is inviting us, over and over and over again to return to God.

It is never too late to return to God.

And this scripture assures us that if we will but turn from our wicked ways, God may turn aside the consequences we had coming.  Because our God loves mercy.  And when we turn TOWARD God, we find a God ready and willing and waiting to welcome us back home.

 

Our lives are not planned out for us in advance.

The dance is not mapped out.

Our words, our choices, our actions matter.

And our God is here.

 

May we be a people of returning.

May we continually turn away from evil and toward God.

May we allow God to take the lead…

that we might indeed live into that fullness and quality of life Christ died to give us.

“Answering the Call”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Jonah 1:1-3, 15-17; 2:1,10; and 3:1-5,10
Psalm 139:7-12, 16b-18

Jonah 1:1-3, 15-17; 2:1,10; and 3:1-5, 10

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up.

So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its
raging. Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish.
Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, thatgreat city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a threedays’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Fortydays more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Psalm 139:7-12, 16b-18

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,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
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;
I come to the end—I am still with you.

Jonah… I love this guy. I love this guy because I see us in him.

As many of us have longed for, God openly speaks with Jonah. I don’t know if it was an audiblevoice of God or a strong stirring of his heart. I don’t know if he heard it in the silence or thenoise. But what we know is that God spoke and Jonah heard.

And Jonah was faced with a choice.

Now unlike so many of us who have grown up in church – knowing the right answers and wanting to appear holy, while all the while secreting wanting to do things in our own way – it does not appear Jonah has or pays any mind to others. There is no audience in this story, judging and weighing Jonah’s choices.

No, Jonah is a free man.

And with that freedom, that many of us may only feel in the dark or away from prying eyes, Jonah chooses to ditch the call of God and get as far from God as possible.

Unfiltered. Unrestrained. He intentionally and openly walks away from the call of God. In fact,walking wasn’t enough, he sought a faster means. He purchased a ticket and boarded a boat bound in the precise opposite direction of God’s call to him – seeking, scripture says, to go away from the presence of God.

Now this is gutsy stuff.
You can’t deny Jonah that.
He hears from the God of the universe and says no, as he runs in the opposite direction.

Gutsy or foolish, perhaps. But one needn’t doubt where Jonah stands. He steps on theopposite side of what God is doing, clearly and decisively.

What about you?

Can you recall moments when you’ve felt God calling you to do or say something? Can yourecall a time when you heard God directing you in the way you should go?

What did you do?
Did you WANT to do what you felt God directing you to do?
How did you feel?
Were you glad to sense direction from God?
Did you joyfully follow God’s leading?
Did you turn up the noise and try to tune God out? Did you start running in the opposite-most direction?

Jonah was not the first and was certainly not the last to decide that HIS way was better thanGod’s way – that God’s call just wasn’t for him – that he wanted to get as far away from God’scalling as possible.

With hearing comes responsibility. With knowing come accountability.

And we are a people who have heard. We are a people who have experienced the love andmight and power of God. We are a people who have received the stories of God’s fiery justice and unfailing love. We have been entrusted with the stories. We have met God in oneanother. We have experienced God’s love calling to us in the darkest hour, speaking hope intoour despair, light into our darkness.

I suspect many of you have heard God calling, in a myriad of ways, for much of your lives –though perhaps you may not have called it God at the time. You may have experienced it to be a lingering thought, a sense of importance, a nagging idea. You have felt compelled to act or to speak. You may have felt your truth burning in your chest, ready to explode if you didn’t give itvoice or feet or wings.

God speaks to us in so many different ways. For Elijah it was in the silence, after the earthquake, storm, and fire. For Moses, it was through the burning bush. For Balam, a character in one of those obscure, surprising Old Testatment stories, it was through his own donkey. And for Jonah, God makes Godself clear through the storm at sea and then in the belly of the large fish.

God speaks in a number of ways.

At first it seems God speaks to Jonah quite plainly. But as Jonah runs and turns away from God,God’s message and discipline get more and more creative. And this is the thing about God –God knows exactly how to speak with each one of us – unique and particular and peculiar as we are. God knows how to get across the message.

So when the tempest picked up and the sea came alive, threatening to swallow up all on board that ship to Tarshish, Jonah knew. He knew it was because of him. He recognized the consequence of his choice and how it was threatening all those around him.

And he makes a choice, in that moment, to take responsibility for his choice, to confess his running from God, and to be thrown overboard that all the others might be saved.

Interestingly enough, it seems, they may have been saved in more than one way, as scripture says this incident caused them to fear God and pay their vows to God.

So here,…even in this brazen act of self-determined disobedience and the severe consequence that followed, God was turning it all into something good…

And then there’s the big fish.

At this moment I confess my mind immediately jumps to finding Nemo. My son was little when Finding Nemo came out, and I watched that movie over and over and over again!

Nemo is the story of a young clown fish and his father Marlin. The gist of the story is that Nemo, in a self-defining act of rebellion against his Father, ventures into dangerous waters on adare from his friends. This one act leads to his Father’s greatest fears being realized, as his sonis discovered by divers and scooped up to become someone’s new pet fish. The Father races after his son, but he’s no match for a motor boat, and soon he’s left swimming fast after avanishing trail, with no hope of ever finding his son.

It’s in this moment that he literally runs into an angel fish Dory who is eager and willing to help but suffers from short-term memory loss. An unlikely pair, they travel together, venturing far beyond the safety of Marlin’s reef, in search of his son Nemo, using only a Sydney Australian street address to guide them (in the ocean!).

At one point in the film, they’ve just come off the East Australian current and have beendumped in what appears to be no-mans-land. With no fish or vegetation in sight, all directions look the same, and they find themselves swimming in circles, lost in a haze of murky water for what seems like hours. Their differences take center stage at this point, and despairing of ever finding his son, Marlin begins laying into Dory, laying on the criticisms, … just as many of ushave been found to do with the very ones walking beside us in our lowest moments…

That’s when they spot a large shadow in the distance. It moves, and seems to come and go.They suspect it to be a whale, so Dory confidently breaks into her best “whale voice” and triesto communicate that they need help getting to Sydney. Marlin, highly doubting Dory’s whalecommunication abilities and fully convinced that Dory is only make things worse for them, piles even higher his criticisms and complaints, just before a school of quail breeze past them, saying,“Run away! Run away!” Peicing together than whales eat quail, it dawns on them that a whale is indeed coming for them, just as they are swallowed whole and find themselves in the belly of that great fish.

And this is why I think of Jonah.

Here in the belly of the whale, Marlin is convinced that they are dead meat. Literally. Dory, ever the optimist keeps talking with the whale in her best whale voice, asking the whale’s helpgetting to Sydney, while the cavity around them begins to drain of water. Believing that the water is definitely draining into one hungry whales stomach, Marlin tries with all his might to swim against the flow and hold on for dear life. What he doesn’t know is that in letting go, thewhale is saving them both, blowing them right out into the Sydney harbor.

And so we return to Jonah in the belly of the great fish. Convinced he is dead meat, he is resigned to his death. He deserves it. He has run from God, disobeying the most high. But on the 3rd day in his dark, nautical dungeon, he prays. Even running from God, God is with him. God speaks and he is amazed, because he knows he is undeserving, and he recommits himself to God, the Great Deliverer.

And this is when, what appeared to be his end, becomes his new beginning, his rebirth. The fish spits him out on land.

And there on the beach, God speaks to Jonah again, saying, “Go to Nineveh and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

What does Jonah willfully do? He turns and goes to Nineveh. He walks through it, proclaiming God’s Word to them, and this greatly wicked city responds. They repent of their sins. They turn away from their violent, wicked ways. And God has mercy upon them. God does not bring the calamity upon them that he had planned to do.

God was giving both Jonah and the people of Nineveh a second chance – the chance to hear to obey, to listen and to follow, to turn away from death and enter into life. And in their different ways, through very different paths, they both returned from great disobedience, to true obedience, from running away to pressing into, from evil to goodness.

God is calling still.

God knows there is much wickedness in the world. Many have blood on their hands. Many have risen on the broken backs of others. Many have built their kingdoms at the expense of our planet.

God knows there is much brokenness in our world. Many despair. Many have given up on trust or hope or justice. Many have given up believing that good is more powerful than evil, that light is more powerful than darkness. Many have given up on the church.

Our God is here. Our God hears. And our God is calling.
To you and to me.

May we be found
to trust and answer the call.