God’s Sustaining Presence

Presence

Exodus 17:1-7
© Rev. Hilary F. Marckx, Ph.D.

I know there is no place to go
where I can hide from God’s Presence.
And, why would I want to, anyway?
Why would I doubt its goodness, either?

The wonder of Presence!
The power of Presence!
The strength of Presence!

I am carried by Presence,
loved by Presence,
sustained by Presence.

Holy One,
let me stand
in the bright light
of your Presence,
and let me
be forever
warmed and protected by it.

God Around Me

This is the way it is on any given day: I am not alone, I am not adrift, I am companioned and anchored by God–I don’t remember this.  How easy it is to forget what I can’t see!  I suppose that this is what faith is about: remembering that the unseen is more of a Presence than that which I can see.

We live in a world where each competing political/religious system, through self-serving chauvinistic tribalism declares itself  as “the real deal.”  The Big Game.  Each world considers itself just as more real than the others.  Christians think they are the Big Game.  Jews do.  Muslims do.  Buddhists do as well.  Americans think their Capitalism is the Big Game.  Of course Communists do as well.  I guess the truth of it is that there is no Big Game, just a bunch of little ones trying to elbow their way in the the front row.

At the Heart of All That Is

There is, however, something that underlies all the elbowing and squabbling.   Something at the heart of all that is.  We don’t need to call it God or anything at all.  It is simply present.  It is more than benign.  It is kind and loving and forgiving.  It is what some interpret as Presence.  It might be termed, divine, but it needs not to be called anything at all–it just is.

This entity was, in some way, at the beginning of all things, and will in some way, be at the end of all things.  It is certainly here in the middle of things.  Presence is present!

No Need To Believe/No Need Not To Believe

I do not need to believe in this presence.  I do not need to follow some human’s idea of what the meaning of this Presence is.  I do not even need to worry about not believing in it.  Atheists stand before this presence unknowingly.  Members of all faiths follow this Presence in the same unknowing way as do non-believers, and no one wins or loses, because we are all in the heart of this heart of all hearts.

I call this Presence, God, because that word represents my own tradition and my own linguistic comfort zone.  Others may term it something else, or nothing at all, and be just as accurate as I.  But know this:  the Presence to whom I refer, is my hope and my salvation, and I do not need to see it, smell it, touch it, hear it to make this claim, because this is simply and for me, a claim of faith.

And it would be only right and proper for someone else to make a counter claim.

The Courage to Escape

Do We Have the Courage to Break Out of Our Self-Imposed Prisons?

© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved
Exodus 16:2-3

How badly do we want to escape
from our own little iniquities?
How much is it worth to us to
flee from the chains of sin that bind us?
Not the obvious, big ones, you know, like
murder, theft, rape, adultery,
but the “little” ones like
verbal abuse, prejudice, racism, sexism,
ageism, nationalism.
You know those small violences we do that
steal the humanity from others—
and consequently, from ourselves.
How badly do we want to escape from these?

Would our friends even recognize us
if we weren’t in some way broken?
Would they still feel comfortable around us
if we were truly healed
with the Light of Christ shining
brightly from our visages
as if we, ourselves, were transfigured?

Would we, in blasphemous unease say,
Kill me now, Lord, don’t make me be different!
Let me die in bondage!
I couldn’t face my friends if I were truly healed!?

How badly do we want to be like Jesus, anyway?

Why Did the Sea Flee?

Why Did the Sea Flee?

Psalm 114
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

We walk so far and so often
in places where we fear for our well being:
Dark places,
narrow, precipitous paths,
open, shelter-less spaces,
wastelands, flood-lands,
rough, rocky, war-zones
where enemies lurk
and fear is ever-present.
We pray to a silent universe,
and often receive no discernible answer.
We function, but just barely.
We survive, but almost not.
We keep moving though almost stalled out.
Then, when we finally reach that point
where there is no return,
and the last maneuver has been made,
and it seems our last race
has been run and is lost,
some little thing moves,
some obstacle is displaced
some small hope is manifest,
and we are able
to move on through to safety.

Yet one more time
God waits until the last second…

September 11, 2001 and What it Has Meant to Us

Preached on September 11, 2011.

Ten years ago today the United States was attacked on its own soil by terrorists, and we have been in shock ever since.  Questions were asked:  Why Us?  How would they dare do this to us?  Did we bring this on our selves through bad foreign policies?  did God bring this down on our own heads because we are sinful?  How fast can we get revenge?  But the question I have not heard spoken too much is, how will we find the strength to forgive them?  America has been changed profoundly by the September 11 attacks, but not, I believe, for the better.

As a nation, we have grown mean, paranoid, selfish, and accusative, and we have not looked good because of it.  Our financial status has grown gradually worse.  We have become more war-like, more greedy, less generous sharing the American Dream, and protective of our borders to the point of xenophobia.  Economically, the terrorists may have beaten us.  And while we may be now living under fear of the other we, are certainly less safe from ourselves that since “The Great Fear” of the 1950s.

Discovering the Truth of our Christian-ness

If we were the Christian nation many in America purport it to be, I believe we would have acted differently.  After the attacks of September 11, many of the same Christians who, ten years ago, ran around wearing pins, bracelets, and such asking the truly important question, What Would Jesus Do? demanded revenge and vomited hatred and vitriol against Muslims.  Shame on you!  What did Jesus do when he was tortured, ridiculed, spit upon, and hung on a cross to die?  Well his last dying breath was to forgive those who were doing this to him.  America’s Christianity seems pretty sad in this light.  Sometimes I believe that I’d be better off as a non-believer because I wouldn’t have to do so much apologizing for my faith.

What Can We Do?

I suggest we start by asking the objects of our fear and meanness to forgive us for the wrongs we have committed by our thoughts and actions against them.  I also suggest we ask God to teach us to be the people we brag we are.  AND, I suggest we shut our whiny mouths for a moment and listen to those we have injured, and learn from them.  It might do our souls some good.  We need redemption more than vindication.

Why did the Sea Flee?

The sea fled because God moved it back.  God’s people were at risk.  They were afraid, and being pursued by their oppressors, and called out for help.  God came to their aid.  God made  a path for them through the sea, and made their escape from Egypt possible.  Every once in a while the Hebrews got it right and placed their trust in God, and every time they did God came through for them.  As a nation we should this: God will take care of us, we don’t need to live in fear, and we do not need to become oppressors and tyrants and war mongers to be safe.  How I understand the work Jesus did on earth was to show us another possibility, an alternative to the violent, psychopathic, YHWH of the early Hebrew Scriptures, and model for us the Deity he knew and loved, and called, Father–Christians are to follow this loving, just, all forgiving God of which Jesus teaches.

Economic Storms, Justice, and Kindness

Economic Storms

Economic Storms, Justice, and Kindness

Micah 6:8 & Isaiah 58:6
©Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

I get so tired of trying to
think about the woes of the world,
the singular pains of
each piece of life
on the planet,
that my head spins.
I want to care about justice,
but injustice is so great
that I simply throw up my hands
and stagger off feeling the futility
of a low-grade depression.
I’d like to help out,
but the steady progression of ills
marches past me in a macabre parade
of suffering,
and I quail in the face of my lack of solutions.

All I seem to be able to do is
make my decisions with honor and care,
choose my own path to do the least harm,
pray for the presence of grace
in the lives of the downtrodden,
donate some small piece of my small earnings
to the helping institutions,
and sometimes, when I am able,
to speak out in favor of the least.

It is just all I can do…

A Nation of Whiners

Last week I preached on how we should give up our carping about what our opposing political party is doing an give praise to God for all that is in our lives–both good and bad.  I suggested that we do ourselves and the notion of grace an injustice when we complain and whine about politics, and whatever else inconveniences us.

There is a force and a power within us that could change the nature of nature it we would believe it, access it and act on it.  It is the power of praise and thanks.  No, I am not being a dreamer or a pie-in-the-sky-guy.  I am being as serious as it gets.  there is no excuse for our complaining and grumbling, and there is reason to give praise and thanks.

And why shouldn’t there be?  We live in a First World Nation.  Even many of our poor have more than most of the average people in a Third World Nation.  Yet, we of America’s middle and upper classes, who should be grateful for all we have been given, act as if we were the most put upon of the world.  Whiners one and all!

The Inconvenience of the Gospel

We actually are what we believe we are, and we become what we proclaim, and so much of the misery, though self-inflected is indeed real.  The Book of Micah is quite specific in the mandate to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  Many would like to pretend this was never said.  There are other claims in the Bible that are much more convenient for us to hold dear.  One would be the eye-for-an-eye/tooth-for-tooth one, which fits better with the human make up.  Some Christians love Paul better that Jesus, saying that Jesus doesn’t have as much to say to them as does Paul (yes, it was actually said to me by a Fundamentalist Christian).  The legalists who love Paul and feel uncomfortable with Jesus’ notions of justice, overlook the fact that Paul was establishing Christian communities that today would look to our paranoid and fear-filled right-wing Dominists much more like a 1950s Communist Cell or a present day terrorist group than simply a group of Jesus-lovers.  It’s how the early Christians looked to the Romans.  We need to be careful with how we pick and choose out of the Bible.

There is a Means by Which to Turn Disaster into Glory

We can undo the harm of our fear of helping the stranger if learn to praise and give thanks to God.  Ignoring the Justice mandates of scripture is disastrous for the soul, for others and to the community that Jesus was attempting to establish on earth.  We are to help build a community of grace, not of discontent.  I know that may sound silly in the face of all the political crap that’s going on in our nation, but nonetheless, that is what we are expected to do.

Think of it this way.  What is generally termed, the Kingdom of God, is in truth a community of grace.  It is where grace happens regardless of what’s going on around us.  This is a community where praise is the official language.  This is a community where thankfulness and thanksgiving, oh yes, and forgiveness, are the mindset and way of life of its inhabitants.  I do not think that God made these ideals the foundation of the community.  I believe it was planned, deliberate, on purpose.

But I am not thinking of what is termed, a Dominionist system, whereby the Dominion of God is the political system, a theocracy.  Actually I believe that Dominion theologies are by their very natures cynical, and are supported by people who have given up on the Gospel of Jesus and the scripture mandates.  What I mean quite specifically is a spiritual realm of the inner person, and a community of like-minded forgiving, grace-filled thankful people, who dwell in a community of mutual grace.  This community lives within our existing and broken political/religious communities doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly.

If we will give up our cynicism and our fear of the Gospel Mandates, then we will bring about the true Gospel Community.  If we will give of our wealth, and we have wealth, in the aid of others and of the Gospel, then truly grace will abound.  We can no longer vote for our bank accounts, vote because our fears, vote out of our need for convenience, vote in ways that enable our inherent stinginess and selfishness, and vote out of the full power of the Gospel Mandate and grace will abound in our nation.

Grace  Needs a Chance, Not shareholders

Labor Day brought on this sermon and as I was thinking about how America’s weak politicians have caved in to the needy corporate shareholders, and how they are working to gut our unions, how our unions were good but became corrupt, how no one in the business structure of America truly cares for the workers. I realized that stockholders do not need a chance, grace needs a chance.  I also realized that this is not a voting matter, it is a praying matter.  Christians need to learn once again how to be Christians instead of pious, greedy, legalistic puppets for politicians to manipulate.  Can we do that?  I think , for the sake of the Gospel Community we need to try.

If you have any comments you would like to add to this, please feel free  to use the Comment Box, thanks Hilary

Praise in the Night

Praise in the Night

Psalm 134
© Hilary F. Marckx, all rights reserved

Dark.
Fear palpable!
Lost to the dark.
Hours from morning’s dawn.
Dark: Adrift in it, caught within it,
abandoned to it—stuck.
I was resigned to an existence
coexisting with the fear
of an unknown so large
I could hear it breathe and move.
This is how I existed for years:
caught in a trap of darkness!

And then I learned about praise.
Praise as a tool,
praise as a method,
praise as a weapon,
praise as a way of life,
praise as my only
and last hope!
And then the dark cracked,
the light broke through,
I was warmed in the dawn,
and I broke out of my trap.

I learned to give praise
in the middle of my night!