Acts 17 & Psalm 139
My message to all of you today is a simple one. God is present with us at all times and in all circumstances. Even when we can’t seem to find God in our midst, God is here! God is present during this current pandemic, God is with us in our isolation, in our times of uncertainty and fear, as well as in our moments of joy and times of celebration. God is present among, around, and within all living things. God is here!
“Now, that’s all fine,” you might say, “I like unicorns and rainbows as much as the next person, but what about those times when God seems distant? In my fear, in my distress, in my grief, in my loneliness, what about those times when I can’t feel God’s presence? Is there something wrong with me? Is there something wrong with my faith?”
Well, as we begin to investigate these questions and attempt to understand this premise of a constant and consistent divine presence, I think we may need to take on a new perspective. What do I mean by a “new perspective”? Well, Marcus Borg, in a devotion called How We Imagine God Matters, helps us out a bit here. Borg tells us that “…the Bible is not God’s story of God. But rather, that the Hebrew Bible is ancient Israel’s story of God, and the New Testament is the early Christian movement’s story of God, especially as revealed in Jesus. How did these two ancient communities see the central character in their story? How did they imagine God, and God’s relationship to the world?”
On one hand,” Borg says, “the Bible often uses personal imagery to speak of God. God is spoken of in personified images. We say that God is like a king, or a parent, or a shepherd, or a potter, to cite a partial list. Now, the sheer number of images points to the fact that they are metaphors. God is not literally any of these, but is like a king, like a parent, like a shepherd, and so forth. But when we take these human-like metaphors literally, we generate a way of seeing God commonly called “supernatural theism.” That is, we see God as someone “out there” who created the universe a long time ago as something separate from Godself. God does occasionally intervene, especially in the more dramatic events reported in the Bible, but most of the time, according to supernatural theism, God is “out there.”
On the other hand, the Bible also describes God’s relationship to the universe as “right here” as well as “more” than right here. This way of imagining God sees the deity as an all-encompassing Spirit: a non-material dimension of reality that surrounds us and indwells everything around us.[I]
Now, our reading for today from the Book of Acts describes God in this way. Paul says that God is “…the one in whom we live and move and have our being.” In other words, God is not somewhere “out there” but rather, God is all around us: we live and move “in God.”
The same can be said for Psalm 139. The Psalmist asks, “Where could I go to get away from your Spirit?” He then imagines journeying through the ancient three-story universe: ascending into the heavens, descending to the depths of death, and traveling to the furthest corners of the earth, and yet, the author concludes, God is always present.
Now, it’s important for us to know that it’s alright to speak of God in personified terms. These images helps us to begin to understand the nature of God in terms that we can wrap our minds around. But we cannot rest there. We must continue to grow in our understanding of God as ever-present. Especially when the storms and struggles and pandemics of life surround us.
I read a devotion this week by Kenneth L. Samuel that helps us to begin to move in that direction. He writes, “Jesus invites us to not only believe in God’s eternal existence [but] to believe in God’s very present-presence. The presence of God in you and among you, right now.” He goes on to say, “The presence of God is expressed in the dedication of health care professionals. And food suppliers. And grocery store workers. And sanitation and cleaning service personnel. The presence of God is expressed in the challenge we all now face to differentiate that which is tangential to life from that which is essential to life. The presence of God is expressed in calls and texts that touch the hearts of friends and loved ones. [And finally] The presence of God is expressed in giving our planet some time to breathe from the relentless assaults of environmental abuse.[ii]
My friends, God is present in all of these ways because in the end God isn’t a person or some distant entity. God is expressed in all of these ways that Kenneth Samuel describes here and more, because God is love. God is wisdom. God is compassion. God is found in generosity, and in kindness, and in respect; God is discovered in blossoming relationships and in long-time partnerships; God is present whenever we reach-out to others, whenever we pray or meditate or reflect on the greater good for all. My friends, God is present when we work for justice, when we love in the name of compassion, and when we seek a lasting peace both within ourselves and among nations.
Beloved, as we continue to be the church, to be community, separated in body but unified in spirit, may we all come to recognize that we do so in the presence of a Loving God who’s here right now and will continue to speak to each of us as we go forward.
Amen & Amen.
[ii] Kenneth L. Samuel Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled (firstname.lastname@example.org) 5/10/2020