Weekly Sermon (12)

Sermon – July 23, 2023

…you will be found

July 23, 2023

Scripture: Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24

Every day, each one of us hears a lot. Between our own personal conversations, and even those just within our own minds there is plenty to consider. But when you combine that with the onslaught of noise and static that daily comes in from the outside world, it is hard to deny that we are often subject to input overload. And that same overload is usually trying to get us to think or to act in a particular way…to ‘so’ something in response…often taking away time that might have been spent in other less stressful pursuits. In other words we end up being just too busy! But it doesn’t have to be this way…at all.

In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster talks of this habit we have of filling our lives far too full saying, ‘In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in ‘muchness’ and ‘manyness’ he will rest satisfied. Psychiatrist Carl Jung once remarked, “Hurry is not of the devil, it is the devil!”.’

So I wonder sometimes…knowing my own habit of filling my plate far too full, how much do any of us hurry needlessly? How much of our lives do we spend hurrying up to go somewhere or to get some thing? How much do we constrict, or hem ourselves in by the choices we make, by whatever choices we decide are the most critical?

In truth we all are ‘hemmed in’ to some degree by both internal and external forces…some by choice…and others for different reasons. So it is possible, as the psalmist says, to imagine ourselves as being ‘hemmed in’, both behind and before.  As though our every action or decision is somehow closely tied in with everything else that is seeking our attention.

However I am quite sure that the psalmist is speaking of a different kind of ‘being hemmed in’ than one which we may do to ourselves. The author of Psalm 139 pointed to God as the one responsible for doing the ‘hemming in’ saying, ‘Oh Lord, you have searched me and known me…you hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.’

 I believe that the psalmist is speaking here of the presence of God within the life of one who seeks to be in relationship with holiness. I would characterize this divine ‘hemming in’ as ‘interior’, as the inner substance of a life in God.  The psalmist is obviously dependent on and very trusting that God will continue to provide, as his words cover every possible aspect of one’s life…from waking to sleeping and from life to death. The writer of this psalm must have had profound experiences both of the need for God, and of God’s amazing benevolent response.  

When I think back on my previous understanding of the idea of being ‘hemmed in’, somehow it seems that it was something not all that great, something that served to restrict or constrain in some sense…something involving some loss of freedom.  The online Dictionary/Thesaurus defines ‘hem in’ as, ‘To surround so as to force to give up’, followed by a number of other examples all of which are tied into some sort of forcible behavior or militaristic terminology.

So to speak of this type of action as something that God might do is both strange and intriguing.  Finding a balance between what our external circumstances or voices seem to demand from us, and this internal voice of the Spirit of God that is in some way constraining us, seems challenging to say the least. But if we can hold both at the same time and agree to consider deferring more to the voice from within than the clamor without, then perhaps we will find small measure of God’s peace.

In my wondering and pondering of Psalm 139 this week I remembered a story I wrote long ago…a story of my life that still stirs deep within my soul.  I would like to share it with you…just to see if we all might get a better sense of what it means to be ‘hemmed in, behind and before’ by one such as our God.


He was not sure how they had gotten to this place…to this extreme level of desperation and need. To be sure their opponent was strong and determined but he had never gone up against one such as this…not a single break in the pressure, no let up in the force applied in seeking to conquer. In fact, it had been so long he could not remember when the whole situation started, or how he had come to be so completely hemmed in on every side. There used to be options, ways to turn if the choice was made to flee or to disengage and back off…but now it seemed as though every potential exit or escape route had been blocked…almost as if the opponent knew what he was thinking before he did.

Truthfully, he regretted his decision to pursue this particular quarry, for indeed initially the quest had been his…however when initial reports began to filter in as to the strength and seeming power of this One, he had tried to back off, tried to escape the notice of the one he had just finished scouting out. But it was too late…his opponent had in fact seen him all along, and his opponent’s scouting abilities were evidently far superior to his own and now he had been unable to shake him for what seemed like such a long time. 

 And so…now it was that he found himself in a most unfortunate position…backed into a small corner of safe refuge, the sounds of his opponent’s steady and sure approach grew louder and louder each day. Surely he could not hold out much longer against one as powerful and determined as this.

So an emergency council was held that morning. All remaining resources were tallied and the strength to continue to resist was pondered. Unfortunately, there was very little of either remaining. But the stubborn will that had carried him safely this far held on for just a little longer. Even as those remaining pillars of strength and resolve slowly crumbled before him, even as it became clearer and clearer that he alone would remain to fight…even as he stood alone on that final day, poor and defeated, he felt a tinge of pride deep within his heart that he had lasted as long as he had against such a mighty and superior opponent.

And now as he stood, weakened in body but strangely victorious in heart, even though broken and in much pain from resisting such a long and protracted siege, he saw across the distant battlefield his opponent steadily approaching. Fear once again gripped his heart as he wondered if it had all been worth it…after such a long fight, how was it going to end? Would the opponent just come up and finish him off? Would the opponent offer some possibility of surrender? Did it have to end so senselessly? Was there no compassion in the heart of his conqueror…the one who had battled him every moment since it all began, the one who had countered his every move, thwarted his every attempt to retreat, blocking the way before he even got there? Was his story one that would have no end worth the telling, was his just a life now fully spent in worthless struggle, would anyone ever remember him, how gallantly he had held out until the very end, how hard he had fought to fend off the dogged pursuit of this opponent?

The opponent drew ever nearer as time suddenly seemed to stand completely still…there was no noise, no evidence of anything else save the broken soul…and the conquering foe.  And now, as his opponent finally came face to face with him, the defeated one could not even raise his eyes to look into those of his opponent. So broken was he that he just stood there and waited for the death blow he knew was his most certain fate. And for a moment they both stood there in the heavy and tense silence charged with the emotion of past battles fought…with every feeling now wrung dry from the protracted struggle.

A moment passed…then two…and finally the man raised his eyes to look upon his opponent, to look upon this one who had so long pursued him. And as he did so he was shocked to see his opponent smiling and even chuckling in obvious delight. Catching the broken and tired soul up in a bear hug of an embrace the opponent laughed with seeming joy as he almost shouted out, ‘Where have you been my child, my love?  I have been searching for you for so long! I am so incredibly happy that we finally have a chance to meet. I love you so much and I have so much to tell you, and we have so much to do together!

The man was shocked beyond belief…he had no words and even less understanding. How could this be the one he had fought against for so long, how could this be the one who had pursued him so doggedly and for so long? How could this be the one he had been so afraid of, the one he was so sure was out to end his life and completely destroy him?  How could it be?

And though somewhere deep in his heart he knew the answer, as though some ancient and buried memory of stories past had broken open and allowed a glimmer of understanding, he felt he still needed to ask, although even talking was a chore given the tightness of the embrace within which he still was locked. ‘Tell me’, he began, ‘Who are you? ‘  ‘And why did you fight against me and counter my every move for so long’? 

At that the embrace finally loosened a bit and the opponent held onto the man’s shoulders at arms length so as to see him better. The light of love in the eyes of his opponent was now so strong it filled the air and made everything around the man seem light and alive, as though pulsing with grace and goodness. ‘My dear one’, the opponent began, ‘I am the one who has always loved you, I am the one who walks next to your deepest soul, I am the one who has watched over you since the day you were born…I am, the Lord of Love’.

At that, the man’s tears began to fall and as his chest heaved in uncontrollable sobs of relief and now goodness. And as the toil of the struggle began to lose its grip on his soul, he somehow felt lighter and more alive than he ever had before. Again looking his opponent directly in the eyes the man said the only thing he could muster…‘Thank you Lord for finding my soul with your incredible love…for chasing after me…for not giving up. I truly was lost…but now…I truly am found!

        It is our God of love and grace who actively seeks to ‘hem in’ your interior life, while the world and all that is in it works to ‘hem in’ the whole of your life. Finding the balance between internal grace and external needs is key, for it is not enough simply to rest in God while avoiding the work that can only be found in a broken world. If we are to truly live into the life God seeks to lead us into, then we will need to harness the inner grace that comes from this presence of the holy within, and use it to reveal that same love to the world. Grace involves a personal, interior relationship with a living and speaking God. But the will of our Lord requires that we share that love and light back into the darkness and injury of the world. 

God seeks to fill our lives with purpose and meaning far greater than any of the world’s notions of success or security.  There is nothing more restrictive, nothing more confining than trying to live a divided life, actively responding to all of the world’s requests on the one hand, and finding internal contradiction or discord with no outlet on the other. God pursues us all the way to the end. Giving us space to be fully ourselves, as well as insisting that we learn the ways of compassion and gentle love-in-service-to-others at the same time.

Does your exterior life leave room for an interior experience of our Lord? Can you see your way clear to finding a ‘God pleasing balance’ between living fully within the world and giving yourself over into a witness-graced life of goodness in God’s embrace? The exterior demands upon us are real, but the action of God upon our souls is going to happen whether we want it or not. God is after each one of us seeking to lead us into lives much richer and deeper than we can even imagine…there is just no escaping the love of our God. It is that simple…and that profound. We can allow ourselves to be hemmed in by all sorts of important tasks…

…or we can allow the Lord of Love to hem us in, both behind and before…and to guide and direct our every step.

Look for God in your daily walk…every day…for I tell you…most surely you will be found…


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