By Rev. Canon Renee
My husband got a list of over 1000 sayings on bumper stickers this past week, and I was astonished to see so many that refer to the presence of God in our lives. Let me read you a few. Some you’ve probably seen, and some may take you by surprise.
Jesus is coming–Look Busy.
Jesus loves you–everyone else thinks you’re a jerk.
OK, so God made heaven and earth. But what has He done for me recently?
Trust in God, but lock your car.
The more you complain, the longer God lets you live.
Worry; God knows all about you.
God is living in Canada and doesn’t want to get involved.
Now, this last one is important–In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned. The person with this bumper sticker is definitely trying to prove to themselves and the rest of the drivers that at the rapture, God is not going to abandon his people, but will take them from wherever they are to wherever God is.
One of the greatest fears of the human being is that of being abandoned–left alone. And one of the questions for sermon topics was just that. How do we know that God will never abandon us?
Take a moment to think of experiences you have had in your own life when you feared that God would leave you alone. Perhaps you felt it during a time of financial struggle, or a job loss, or a life-threatening illness, or in the midst of the death of someone you loved. Then there may have been times when you prayed, but didn’t feel your prayers were answered–that somehow your prayers ricocheted off a stone wall right back in your face. Or perhaps there have been times when you simply wondered if God was even real or not and if God is real, does God really care about little ol’ me? Then there is always that nagging fear of your own death and the inner dread that God will not accept you, that you won’t make it “in,” you won’t have done enough, prayed enough, gone to church enough, to gain access to the world of heaven’s eternity. We may fear hell, but an even greater fear is not being acknowledged and accepted and loved by the One who created us and breathed life into us.
One reason we have this fear of abandonment has to do with our childhood. We learn as children that those we trust and love and who are our only life support can actually leave us. Sometimes that departure can be life-scarring, as in losing a parent through death or divorce or some other major life trauma that could not be completely understood by a child. Sometimes that departure is made real through unthinking interchanges between parent and child. Perhaps you have seen or heard yourself, an exasperated mother trying to get her child to hurry up and come along. After several attempts at persuading Johnny to come along with her, she finally says, “I’m leaving. You can either come or stay,” she says as she begins to walk away. Little Johnny experiences a moment of childhood terror and usually runs quickly to catch up with mom. But what Johnny has learned is that his mother can leave him and he will be left alone. Or this reality can be brought forward into a child’s consciousness inadvertently. I remember when I was a small child, my mother couldn’t sleep one night, and she slipped out of the house and went to the corner to get a newspaper from the stand. I was safely asleep in my warm little bed when she left, but I awoke during those few moments that she was gone. I was absolutely terrified. From a child’s perspective, I did not have the ability to find rational reasons why she might not be there. I only knew my mother had gone and I was alone. I remember, even still, though I was only about 4 years old, those painful, horrifying minutes that I felt abandoned. It was so traumatic to me, that when she returned I fell into her arms weeping with gratitude, and for several weeks afterward wanted to be able to hold onto at least one of her fingers when I slept, as if holding her finger would guarantee her presence forever.
These early childhood memories are very potent. They have the capacity to shape and form us as we move through our journey into adulthood and we continue living out those images as adults. They also have the capacity to shape and form our understanding and experience of God, even though that understanding and experience may have little basis in reality. Scripture teaches us over and over and over again that God is ever by our side. That God never leaves us, no matter what we do or do not do. Listen to these words, “I will not leave you alone. I will come to you. Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the ages. I am sending the Comforter, the Holy Spirit to you. The Holy Spirit will be with you and dwell within you. I will never leave you or forsake you.” But how do we make sense of these great promises and countless others in Scripture–how do we let them move through us like a gentle balm?
In Exodus 32 Moses had gone up on Mt. Sinai to receive the 10 commandments, and while he was there the people below began to get up to stuff. You know what it’s like when the people in authority go away for awhile–we feel free to do all those things we might never have had the courage to do if they were there. Actually, I think the people of St. Andrew’s know something about this! I have heard from several of you that the people of Ben Lomond are “mountain people,” and my experience of mountain people in Idaho and desert rats in Arizona is that they like independence, like to make their own decisions, have some unwillingness to simply accept authority because an authority figure says they should! Moses was not leading mountain people–they were more the desert rats–but while Moses was gone they set up a golden calf and began worshipping it. God saw what they were doing and said to Moses, “Go back down the mountain, for the people you brought up out of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have set up a golden calf and are worshipping it. I have seen these people, Moses, and they are stubborn. Leave me alone, I will consume them in my wrath, but I will make a great nation of you.” Well, God is ticked off, and in anger he sounds like he’s ready to destroy the people. Moses says to God, “Lord, why does your anger burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Just think what the Egyptians will think and say of you! Do you want them to say, ‘Oh, their God brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth?’ Turn from your anger. Change your mind, God, and do not bring disaster to your people. Remember the promises you have made.” Well, the Renee Miller desert-rat, mountain-woman version of God’s answer to Moses is this, “Well, when you put it that way, Moses…” God says. “I guess you’re right. I can’t really leave my people.” I love this story because it reveals the power of human forgiveness and love. But where did that love originate? It originated with God. In other words, Moses loved his people, because God gave Moses that love. The love always begins with God and ends with God because God is love. Moses–a human, imperfect, limited being–had the capacity to keep on loving, keep on staying in relationship, keep on abiding with his people, keep on pleading to God on their behalf even though they had been rebellious, because God had given him that capacity. God has had to deal with mountain people and desert rats for all of history, and God has not yet abandoned the ones that he created, loved, and died for. God has certainly been angry at his people from time to time, but God’s love always wins out.
One of the prayer books out of the Jewish tradition says, “God is present whenever and wherever the soul is ready to receive him.” In the last sermon we learned that we know that the Bible is true not because of printed words on the page, but because we have experienced that truth in our hearts–it is our hearts that validate the words. Neither bumper stickers, nor the Scriptures in this case, can determine if God will or will not abandon you. It’s not Moses’ testimony that God will not abandon you that will prove it–it’s your own testimony–your own communion with God–and you can’t get that from bumper stickers or anything else the world has to offer. The only true determination is what you find in your heart. It’s easy and seductive to believe that God will abandon you when you are in a flurry of activity–not centered. But, when you get into the still and silent place of your heart and find God in that deep place within you, then God’s love becomes the really real–and in that deep, deep well of your heart you know that God will not leave you orphaned. Abandon you. Leave you alone. Walk away.
Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet writes, “If thou speakest not I will fill my heart with thy silence and endure it. I will keep still and wait like the night with starry vigil and its head bent low with patience. The morning will surely come, the darkness will vanish, and thy voice pour down in golden streams breaking through the sky.”
As human beings, we will continue to experience
difficulty in our lives and at times feel that God has abandoned us.
There will be times of loss, times when we pray and our prayers don’t seem
to be answered, times when people die, times when we feel God is absent.
These are not times when God has abandoned us. But they are often
times when we abandon God. We lose our center and find ourselves,
as the Psalmist says, “wandering around in trackless wastes,” and God seems
very far away. Whenever we feel abandoned by God, it’s a good indication
that we have lost our center. It is a time to keep still and wait
with patience. The darkness will vanish and God’s voice will pour
down in golden streams breaking through the sky. Amen.
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