Psalm 139:1-19; Acts 16:9-15
May 22, 2022
- AWE at God’s worldwide provision
What if I said, “You are so amazing that you are scary,” or in other words,
“You are frighteningly amazing.”
You might tune me out right there, assuming I am just trying to curry your favor with flattery. Or maybe you welcome the compliment, even if it sounds a little different from typical compliments. Or maybe the very notion intrigues you and you want to understand more about what I mean by such a curious description.
Well, I mean what I said. Each and every one of you here and out there and even reading this sermon sometime in the future – you yourself are so amazing that it is frightening.
I have enjoyed sharing Psalm 139 with church folk this week in my visits with people. It occurred to me that I would love to hear your thoughts about this passage I had planned for this Sunday. A good number of us are sitting at home or in a facility because our bodies are struggling more significantly and more severely. We are hampered by the limitations and weaknesses of our bodies and not able to be out and about as freely as we once were. In the midst of all of that comes the words of Psalm 139; we are fearfully and wonderfully made – not just wonderfully but also fearfully. We are scary amazing. God has made us scary amazing. As one of the residents of Brookview pushed me Wednesday, maybe since we are made in the image of God, our image is bigger than we realize. God is right impressive. God is to be feared with holy reverence. Maybe some of that awe rubs off on us, too. The psalmist who wrote 139 seems to think so. When taking into account how complicated and intricate and well-designed the body is, God’s handiwork is scary good.
A great sense of awe flows through all the reading today. In Psalm 139, we are awed by how God tends to us wherever we might be, even in the Old Testament expression of hell – Sheol. Even there, God tends to us. From the very beginning of our lives, even before we are born, God has a hand in crafting in us something that is scary good and gives us all of our days. The awe spills over into the book of Acts with Paul hitting the road with the gospel. He knows he needs to go and has places in mind to share the good news, but the Spirit has other plans and prevents him again and again. He was not even allowed to go back to his home area. Of course, we don’t know what it looked like for the Spirit to refuse Paul, but to Paul this was very clear: “You will not enter here.”
When the Spirit gets mixed into something, though, things are always more interesting. You heard about the vision Paul had to head into a brand new, never before entered area for ministry. The levels of awe here are creeping up. This whole experience is becoming something Awesome to Paul. Paul, Silas, Timothy, and maybe Luke himself now pack their bags and head into uncharted territory in faith. God is doing something really new and different here. It was so new and different that it was also Awful.
Bear in mind that both awesome and awful have awe as their root. Both really mean “full of awe.” There are shades of difference in the roots, but they are polar opposites in English. Awesome to us is great; awful to us is horrible. Both words are grounded in awe. We can be stunned, overwhelmed, amazed by good things AND bad things. It is all about our perspectives. That’s why we might not actualy see ourselves as so wonderfully made. Maybe we lean more fearfully made. Once we see life a little more from God’s perspective, it is easier to be amazed.
Paul was demanded, envisioned, led, driven by the Holy Spirit of Jesus to trek to a Roman town where there was not even a synagogue. He was not among his religious people. Ordinarily, he would begin his ministry at the Jewish synagogue where he could find people who shared his background, a common ground. Here, he has to go outside the city to find people to talk to. Ordinarily, his conversations, his messaging, would be given to the men. Culturally, men were the ones active and out and about in public life. Here, he is only among women. Ordinarily, his greatest success was among people with whom he shared a common view of the God of Abraham and Sarah, his own people. Here, he finds someone ready to receive good news in a gentile woman. This is so scary it is awful.
How long ago was it that here in America society basically expected to women to stay in the home and tend to the family and house? Many of you remember those days. Even in my briefer life, I was raised in a family where my mother was essentially a housewife, working only in churches as a musician on Sundays. Otherwise, she was home baking all kinds of things that a growing boy needs. And, yes, she was good at that.
Here, we have a powerful, single woman in a male dominated world taking care of Paul and his team. How do we know she was powerful? She was wealthy. How do we know she took care of his ministry team? Luke tells us that she impressed her hospitality upon them multiple times. They stayed with her. Once they had hospitality rights in Philippi, they were in a better position to work in the town. How important is Lydia in the early church in this area? She would have been very important because Luke is going to lengths to tell us this story of her coming to faith. Were there other women in the ministry? Absolutely. Do we hear anything about them? Mostly not. Do we know their names? Often not. Here we have comparably lots of biography about this woman who was a great support and blessing to Paul and his ministry. Her story here blasts the doors off the expectations of the early world and proves how the Good News was changing everything. We should be full of awe at God’s plan at work.
Of course, not everyone felt the same way in Philippi, and we will get into that next week with the rest of this chapter. For now, I need to dwell a little more in how we are in awe of God. Some of you are awed by how long you have lived. I was amused the other day to hear the Farmers both confess that neither one of them has expected to live as long as they have, and I would say doubly for the fact that they have both lived that long together with next month being 73 years of marriage. It seems to me that once we grasp that each additional day is a gift of grace from God, we really begin to see those days with greater meaning.
Some of you are awed by the places you have been able to go and the things you have seen. I asked the folk at the Communion service I did this week at Brookview where they had been in the world. Several of them had been to faraway places, including Asian countries. I have been to India, myself. I was curious whether they felt more or less distant from God away from our land of Christian churches on every street corner. Everyone agreed that God was close wherever might be. Psalm 139 was singing there.
Some of you are awed by what you have been able to do in this life, how much you have accomplished. I don’t think any of us feels this way more than Dickie Crallé. He is amazed every time he talks about how things are going.
Some of you are awed that God actually cares about you and that you have a place in this family of faith.
Some of you are awed that we are important, not only to God but also to each other. And this really is the essence of our life together. Not only are each and every one of us precious to God, but we are also very important to each other. If you have been here for a while in our church, you know how important these relationships have been to you. One of the marks of this church family is how precious this shared life is.
Our sense of awe, our sense of wonder, is essential to a person of faith. It opens us to what has done and what God is about to do with appreciation of how amazing God is, even when it might be hard to see. There are plenty of people who look to their lives and see regrets, brokenness, tedium, existence, and disappointment. This misses the blessings that God gives, even in our frustrations. There is new territory, uncharted territory out there to which God is calling us all. We can embrace the grace and love that carries us to new places, new times, new people, and new ways. We can be awed by God ongoing care in every way. We can choose to see awesome or awful, but I know which is far more enjoyable. To God be the glory. Amen.