Posted on Sat, May 5, 2012
Rev. Dr. Merritt's Sermon for April 22, 2012
God with Us
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
April 22, 2012
Hear my paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm, based on the translation in The Message.
God, my shepherd! I don't need a thing. God has bedded me down in lush meadows and found me quiet pools from which to drink. True to God’s word, God lets me catch my breath and then sends me in the right direction. Even when the way goes through Death’s valley, I am not afraid when God walks beside me. God’s trusty shepherd's crook makes me feel secure. God serves me a bountiful meal right in front of my enemies. God revives my drooping head; my cup runs over with blessing. God’s beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. So I return home to the house of God for the rest of my life.
Matthew Fox writes, “Beauty saves. Beauty heals. Beauty motivates. Beauty unites. Beauty returns us to our origins, and here lies the ultimate act of saving, of healing, of overcoming dualism.”
My sisters and brothers I stand here this morning to proclaim a very simple message. God is an awesome God. God is more beautiful than diamonds, more precious than gold and more beautiful than roses and lilies. God has been with the people of God throughout the ages, God is with God’s people today and God is with us right here and now in this place. So let’s take a moment right now to recognize that God is with us in this very moment. I’m going to pray slowly and if you feel moved to pray a sentence or two out loud, you go right ahead and pray as the Spirit moves. Brothers and sisters, God is here. Let’s give God a witness.
“So Jesus…stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see.” They still had a very difficult time believing and yet their hearts were full of joy because Jesus not only said, “Peace be with you,” but he also said, “Peace, I AM WITH YOU.”
Rev. Troy Perry can tell you about this God who is with us. After being completely demoralized, divorced, defrocked and in many ways dumped out on the street, Troy says he got in the bathtub, slit his wrists and waited to die. In a way that had never occurred before a neighbor friend sensed that something was wrong, entered Troy’s apartment and stopped him from bleeding to death. Troy says, “I heard that still small voice of God saying ‘Troy, I love you, and I did not make a mistake when you were born.’” Troy knew God had a plan for his life and I am 100% for sure and certain that if God had not been with Troy and with his friend that night, not one single one of us would be sitting here this morning. My sisters and brothers, God was with Troy Perry that night. God was with him in all the days ahead. God was with him on the day they founded MCC with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir providing the music…on a record player. And even if you’re considering killing yourself today or tomorrow, or maybe you’ve set a date out somewhere in the future, yes, I know about that, do not worry and do not be afraid. Hear the voice of Jesus saying, Peace be with you. Peace, I AM with you. And feel it, really feel it as God wraps God’s loving arms around you just like God did with Troy all those years ago. God was with Troy Perry that night, and God is with all of us, too.
God was with the ancient mystic Julian of Norwich, too. Hear her words.
"[Christ] Our natural mother, our gracious mother, because he willed to become our mother in everything, took the ground for his work most humbly and most mildly in the maiden's womb…. Our high God, the sovereign wisdom of all, arrayed himself in this low place and made himself entirely ready in our poor flesh in order to do the service and the office of motherhood himself in all things.
…. A mother can give her child milk to suck, but our precious mother, Jesus, can feed us with himself. He does so most courteously and most tenderly, with the Blessed Sacrament, which is the precious food of true life. With all the sweet sacraments he sustains us most mercifully and graciously. That is what he meant in these blessed words, where he said, 'I am that which holy Church preaches and teaches you,' that is to say, 'All the health and life of the sacraments, all the virtue and grace of my word, all the goodness that is ordained for you in holy Church, that I am.' " (pages 191-192)
"To motherhood as properties belong natural love, wisdom and knowledge - and this is God. For though it is true that our bodily bringing forth is very little, low, and simple compared to our spiritual bringing forth, yet it is he who does the mothering in the creatures by whom it is done.
The natural loving mother, who recognizes and knows the need of her child, takes care of it most tenderly, as the nature and condition of motherhood will do. And continually, as the child grows in age and size, she changes what she does, but not her love. When the child has grown older, she allows it to be punished, breaking down vices to enable the child to receive virtues and grace.
This work, with all that is fair and good, our Lord does in those by whom it is done. Thus he is our mother in nature, by the working of grace in the lower part of love for the higher. And he wills that we know it, for he wills to have all our love fastened to him.
In this I saw that all the debts we owe, by God's command, to fatherhood and motherhood by reason of God's fatherhood and motherhood, are repaid in the true loving of God. This blessed love Christ works in us. And this was showed in everything, especially in the noble, plenteous words, where he says, 'I am what you love.' "
My brothers and sisters, God was with Julian of Norwich in 1342 when she was born. God was with her in 1416 when she died and in fact, God was with her throughout her life. She struggled. People questioned her sanity and people questioned her intellect, and I am completely sure that in spite of all that God was with her. And I know you have been questioned, like her and hear me very clearly this morning. God is with you.
For some of us the very foundations of our faith have been shaken lately. Catholic priests on trial for child abuse while the church persecutes nuns for being “too involved” in helping the needy. Imagine that. This week a high ranking and formerly highly respected Southern Baptist leader got caught plagiarizing the work of another even as he tried to use it to support an ugly racist statement. How dare he do that using what I grew up believing was God’s church to do that? How dare he? So much seems out of control, and in this moment God’s word is so important to us. “I am with you.” This makes me excited and I know it’s not Christmas anymore, but I just want to shout and sing, “Immanuel, Immanuel, his name is called Immanuel. God with us! Revealed in us, his name is called Immanuel…and he’s with us today. He’s been with us in the past and he’ll be with us tomorrow. Say it with me, Immanuel, God With Us.
Immanuel, God is with us.
God bless you today.
The Wisdom of Matthew Fox
“Beauty saves. Beauty heals. Beauty motivates. Beauty unites. Beauty returns us to our origins, and here lies the ultimate act of saving, of healing, of overcoming dualism.”
“[After a man was healed, Peter said] By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.”
Luke 24.36b-39, 41-43
Jesus…stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see… 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.