God is where you are
A sermon on Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18, & John 1: 43-51, by Jill Friebel, 19th January 2003

What happened for you tonight when the silence surrounded you and let you ‘be’, alone with your present experience and the words of the readings ringing in your ears? It is only in the stillness and quietness that we become aware of how much happens on the inside. There is a constant conversation of voices within us and it is not until we stop that we begin to discover how noisy and demanding they are. Ten minutes is a long time for some of us to be left without some outside stimulation to distract us from our doubts, insecurity, fear, or anger. These feelings lay just below the surface of the ‘face’ or ‘mask’ we show to others. For some you may welcome this time and open yourself up to receive the love and acceptance that flows from the presence of Jesus. The icons may even help you with your human need to touch and see images that can speak deeply into your soul. Others of you may not be moved in the same way, and even the thought of those around you experiencing God in their prayer just drives you further into your own aloneness, inadequacy and fear. Is it a relief that no one can guess what’s going on inside or how bored you are?

The Psalm we read tonight says
“You have taken a good hard look at me, Lord,
…..and you know exactly what makes me tick….you can read my mind like an open book….you know all about what I do and why.”
This week I came across the following heart response of a young woman as she reflected on this Psalm.
“No pretence. No point. All is laid bare. God knows what makes me tick…I’m still trying to work it out. If you could see me before I was born…if you made me….you know my potential…who I can be and I am beautiful because you wouldn’t create anything ugly. When I give up trying, you can show me the whole part of me. I’m not obstructing you then. I’m not trying to create myself then into my own image of the perfect me.
Sometimes it would seem easier, if you know what I am going to say or what course of action I am going to take, for you to take control by force if your hand is on my shoulder at every turn…. I wish you would bloody well stop me. I wish you had the other day. But then I would be angry. I’m so confused and everything seems too complicated, but you can see life laid out so you must have the answers. But sometimes the answers seem out of grasp…. they are in your thoughts…. but then it is a relief because I don’t have to say anything. I can sit in your presence. Just sit. I don’t have to ‘be’ anything. No point. No pretence. My greatest complication/confusion is simple yet not simplified in your presence. It almost feels like an indulgence to be lost in the timeless place that you occupy where wisdom seems just little bit more accessible, where beauty is just that much more heightened in your creation…. a place where I sense bursting joy and excitement…even your pride in me your creation whispering to me. I long sometimes for my mothers womb when I hadn’t felt grief, loneliness, despair, fear and shame, when my mother’s heartbeat comforted me, but tonight I can almost feel yours’ and I sense you, and its too much to bear but I don’t want the moment to go.”

The psalmist and this young woman had heaven and truth opened for a moment. They knew they were known intimately by God. They were beautiful. For a fleeting moment they were able to remove their masks and were surprised by a presence much closer than they ever imagined. A loving presence of one who longed to fill their deepest needs. The sadness and disappointments of their lives exposed their vulnerability and losses but drew them closer to a new awareness of God’s love and care for them. These moments are gifts of grace, and evidence that God encounters us where we are. They may be fleeting or sustained but they can change us. They invite us to keep coming back for this is where we belong, in communion with the God who made us for himself.

Pretending to be the image of our created selves is exhausting and self-defeating. We not only put pressure on ourselves but also allow the pressure of others to dictate to us what we should be and how we should live. We end up wearing masks that hide the real us and keep us distant from each other and remote from God. The result is confusion within us. The potential of who God intended us to be is distorted and marred and his work of beauty in us is frustrated. We spend our efforts pretending to be something we aren’t and we can feel the pain and disappointment in the fibres of our being. Pretence puts us on edge for the fear always exists that we will be exposed for who we really are, and the possibility of being rejected is real. This fear of failure and of not being able to perform drives us relentlessly to prove ourselves worthy of acceptance and love. I felt the fear when I began to prepare this message.

A disconnectedness from our true God-created selves results in distortions of thinking and perceptions and left to ourselves we are simply unaware of our state let alone the need for a solution. We long for things that destroy us, and do anything we can to obtain them, whether it is relationships, status or belongings. Our destructive acts affect not only ourselves but overflow into the lives of others. The uniqueness and potential of our real self is stunted and obstructed by the fear that drives us from within to satisfy our needs. Is there any way through this?

If God knows what we are going to say and what action we are going to take why doesn’t he stop us? If his intimate knowledge of our unique individuality is the result of his own design and creative love why isn’t he more forceful to make sure it happens? He alone knows how we tick, what we need and what we could become. He didn’t create us to be frustrated, with a potential to be something, which we could never achieve. That would be a bad joke and anything but a loving act. Along with all this potential, God offers the gift of freedom, which is the greatest gift and risk of all. We can choose to be masters of our destiny and create ourselves in our own image. It is often in the moments of despair, aloneness and disappointments that we stop to reflect and can choose to listen to the heartbeat of God. The unlimited love of God, which flows out of his exhausting creative labour, is precarious. It can be misunderstood, misjudged and rejected.

In the gospel reading we heard how spontaneously Nathaniel trusted and exclaimed “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!” What transpired to evoke such a life-changing response? It was no more or less than the discovery that Jesus knew him.

Jesus knows you. He is not surprised by anything; there is no point in pretending or putting on a performance. He comes to you and says, “I know” even when you pour out your disappointments, griefs, shame and failures.

This is in sharp contrast to the messages we hear from the other ‘gods’ that clamour for our attention and worship. The ones we pay homage to daily with repeated rituals. They promise fulfilment, happiness and security but leave us hollow and empty, for even after all our effort and performance to appease their demands it’s never enough. Their voices are loud and persistent and they are honoured and respected in our society. We are all caught up unawares in performing the ritual to these gods but at the centre of our being feelings of unworthiness and insecurity begin to tear at the fabric of our soul. They pressure us unconsciously and drive us into a deeper resolve to fill the gaping hole of need with still yet, something else. Life becomes meaningless.

The times we feel affirmed by God may be few. It takes a conscious effort to come aside and be quiet, to listen for the Word of the Lord through the Scriptures and his creation, a place where heaven is opened to you. Put yourself in the place of hearing his affirmation often. The competing gods that seek to consume and devour you from without and within are thoroughly convincing. Keep a conscious check on where you are. A rhythm of prayer will keep you more aware and focused on God’s presence around and in you. SYB’s Guide to Daily Prayer is a helpful tool to use consistently.

Can our small community here at SYB continue to live out the kingdom to each other and then to the world in deepening and transforming ways? Can we defy the world’s standards of beauty and success for acceptance and receive each other as Christ receives us, just as we are, with no pretence. That is a tall order and one that will take love, patience, time and tears to achieve. The masks we wear are often unconscious and protect us from our vulnerabilities. They are complicated and confusing. We cannot know each other as Jesus knows us for it is not possible and our messages and motives are always mixed. But by affirming the gift of our beauty to each other, we can release ourselves to have the courage to look within, to find the unique potential that lies within our true selves, and become aware of the compulsions that presently drive us to fulfil our own destiny. The creative richness of each individual is the most precious gift the community has to offer one another and to all we meet, for we are the human hands and feet of Jesus.

“I saw you coming from afar and you are beautiful.”