Re-Imagining God

Re-Imagining God
Psalm 145
Rev. Liz Kearny
Longview Presbyterian Church
July 25th, 2021

“1 I will extol you, my God and King,
   and bless your name for ever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you,
   and praise your name for ever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
   his greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall laud your works to another,
   and shall declare your mighty acts.
5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
   and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6 The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed,
   and I will declare your greatness.
7 They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness,
   and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful,
   slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The Lord is good to all,
   and his compassion is over all that he has made.
10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
   and all your faithful shall bless you.
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom,
   and tell of your power,
12 to make known to all people your mighty deeds,
   and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
   and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
The Lord is faithful in all his words,
   and gracious in all his deeds.
14 The Lord upholds all who are falling,
   and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
   and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand,
   satisfying the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is just in all his ways,
   and kind in all his doings.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
   to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfils the desire of all who fear him;
   he also hears their cry, and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
   but all the wicked he will destroy.
21 My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
   and all flesh will bless his holy name for ever and ever.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

The word “all” pops up 13 times in this Psalm. At first glance, it looks like the writer is using that word as a tool to talk about the totality of God’s power and goodness in the world. And I’m going to be honest: my first response to that theme coming on the heels of the year and a half we’ve just had is one of deep skepticism and resentment. Because it feels hard for me to see the God I’ve grown up learning about in the mess that’s all around us. Basic voting rights under attack. The results of American imperialism in places like Afghanistan and Haiti laid bare in the news. Houseless siblings dying in heat waves. All of it. When I read a Psalm like this one, I can’t help but ask: If God is “all in all”, why don’t I see this God solving all these awful problems? Where were those “mighty acts” of God when over 4 million people died from COVID since the pandemic began? Where are those “wondrous works” now as we fight a handful of billionaires and corporations so that they don’t literally burn up our planet up before they launch themselves into space? 

What I realized as I sat with my resentment and skepticism towards God is that perhaps what I’m feeling says more about how I imagine God than how God really is. Close your eyes for a moment. I want you to be honest, at least with yourself, about the very first image that comes to your mind when I ask you this: What does God look like? Open your eyes. I hope there are a multiplicity of images for God that sprang up for you, but for me, I have one image that always comes first: An older white man with a beard and a golden crown sitting on a large, impressive throne in the clouds. I imagine God as a powerful king, the CEO of heaven, who orders everyone around and exercises power in a top-down manner. 

And we do indeed get that king image in this Psalm, where God is called a king! But if we read closely, we get something else too, because it’s almost like different parts of this Psalm are in conversation with each other, inviting us to imagine and then re-imagine and then re-imagine again how God shows up in our lives. Between verses 8 and 19 in particular, the psalmist invites us to imagine a variety of situations we’ve all been in before as places where God meets us in unexpected and surprising ways we may never have thought of as “divine”. The psalmist asks us to use the fullness of our senses to detect how God meets us – touch, taste, sight, our whole selves. Minister Candace Simpson (Minister Candace Simpson, Liturgy that Matters – July 25, 2021 – Psalm 145:10-18, “Enfleshed: Spiritual Nourishment for Collective Liberation.”), a commentator I read this week, suggested a meditative practice of reading through these verses and asking what images of God’s activity come to mind. So let’s try that together. I invite you to close your eyes again as I lead us in an adapted reading of Minister Simpson’s invitation to meditate on these verses. Pay close attention to the images and memories from your life that come to your mind.

14 The Lord upholds all who are falling,
   and raises up all who are bowed down.

The last time you fell down emotionally, physically, spiritually, who showed up for you? How did they raise you up? Did they go on a walk with you and just listen? Did they call you on the phone when they sensed your depression was taking over? Who was with you when you broke down in tears? Who made you laugh until your sides hurt on a low day?

Take note of the images coming to your mind.

15 The eyes of all look to you,
   and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand,
   satisfying the desire of every living thing.

Where have you seen abundance and generosity in your community? Who has been feeding those who are literally hungry? Who are the helpers in your community, who show up on the front lines to show care in a society that oppresses some for the benefit of a few? Is God in the overflowing generosity of community gardens that share their produce with the neighbors? Is God showing up through our Indigenous water protector siblings who are putting their literal bodies on the line to stop the desecration of the earth’s waters, the source of “every living thing”? Who comes to mind for you when you think of someone who feeds others, who satisfies the desires of all kinds of living things?

17 The Lord is just in all God’s ways,
   and kind in all God’s doings.

Who is that person who calls you out and calls you in when you are being unfair or when you’ve caused harm? Who are the ones calling for justice for the oppressed? How does God show up in you, through you, for you when you take risks to disrupt the systems that are hurting other people? 

Take note of the images coming to your mind.

18 The Lord is near to all who call on God,
   to all who call on God in truth.

Who is the one you can call in the wee hours of the morning when you need to tell someone what’s really going on? In your last emergency, your last time of distress, who came to where you live to answer your cry for help, your cry for friendship? Who was a safe person to tell your most vulnerable truth? 

In these last moments while your eyes are closed, review in your mind’s eye all the images that came to you as you meditated on these verses and questions. Watch them like a slideshow, one after the other. And now, open your eyes. What does God look like now?

Maybe the 13 times we hear the word “all” in this passage is a repeated invitation to look in “all” kinds of places and ways and modes that God is showing up in the world, places we may have overlooked because they don’t fit the dominating, forceful pictures of God we might have been raised with. And this invitation, dear ones, is good, good news. Because perhaps God is not far away, distant, or removed in the world’s trouble. Maybe we’ve just forgotten to re-engage the fullness of our senses and our imaginations so that we can actually experience God’s presence when they appear in the dear friend’s voice on the other end of our panicked 2am phone call, in the fresh greens from the garden shared with a hungry neighbor, in the protest songs sung at the senator’s door, on the couch with that person who didn’t try to fix our tears, but simply made space for them, in the eggs, milk, and bread the parent places in their shopping cart at the food bank, in the truth a friend speaks to us that both stings and sets us free. Fred Rogers, Mr. Robers, one of my favorite theologians, said it well when he too looked upon the suffering of our world: “When I was a boy,” Mr. Rogers said, “and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Maybe God shows up through the helpers who find us, who are us, at every turn on this broken, hurting planet. And maybe that means we will never find a place where God is not alive and well and meeting us with compassion and grace. 

I learned this week from commentator Jerome Creach that “Psalm 145 is an acrostic poem… [with each] successive verse begin[ing] with a new letter of the Hebrew alphabet… composed for ease of memorization…” (Jerome Creach, “Commentary on Psalm 145:10-18,” Working Preacher.) And in a way, I think that tells us all we need to know about what we are called to do with the verses in this Psalm. I believe we are called to use all our senses this week and in the weeks to come, and ask ourselves, what does God look like, taste like, smell like, feel like to us now? And then, as suggested by the very form of this psalm, commit those new images of God to memory, not to pin God down or lock God into one way of being forever, but rather to add another bead, and then another bead to a never-ending necklace that we can hang with love around our necks, an ever-growing reminder of all the ways God shows up for us, telling us that there’s nowhere we can go where God will not find a way to be with us. Let’s imagine, re-imagine, then re-imagine again with the fullness of our senses what God looks like in this world. Maybe then the last line of this Psalm will be truer than ever: that all flesh will bless God’s holy name for ever and ever. Amen.

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