Tuesday, January 16, 2018

To be beloved

Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
January 14, 2017


         The underlying question in every Star Trek episode is “What does it mean to be human?” What does it mean to be human in the face of the unknown? Our next episode does this in very personal and intimate way, much like Psalm 139.

         The shuttlecraft Galileo is transferring ailing Assistant Federation Commissioner Nancy Hedford back to the Enterprise when it is forced off-course to land on planet with only two inhabitants: Zefram Cochrane, inventor of the space-warp drive, and a cloud-like creature known only as the Companion. When Cochrane was brought to this planet by the Companion he was 87 years old. The Companion reversed the aging process, keeps Cochrane young and provides for his every need—indeed hemming him in behind and before, knowing when he lies down and when he gets up, never out of sight. The Companion can discern Cochrane’s thoughts from far away; even before a word is on his tongue, the Companion knows it; they communicate telepathically. The Companion has brought those aboard the shuttlecraft to the planet as human companions to Cochrane, recognizing that he is lonely—the Companion will not let him leave the planet. Through a universal translator, it is learned that the Companion is female and her feelings for Cochrane are more than companionship.

         Like the Companion, God sounds like a helicopter parent in this psalm. This isn’t the free-range God of Genesis who seemed to wander off when Eve and Adam ate the fruit of the tree and then hid themselves among the trees, when God came walking in the garden with the evening breeze. Rather, God is a continual presence, encompassing every move, even from before birth.

You Have Known Me by Jan Richardson
The psalm is written by King David and thus it’s about their relationship, but this is also the prayer book of God’s people. Presumably David was writing about the human experience of a relationship with God from his own point of view. The relationship between God and David was special but not unique to him. God knows our coming and going; our lives are an open book to the Holy One and in it are already written all the days of our lives before we’ve even lived one of them. There is nowhere we can go where God’s love and power are not. If we wanted to sneak a smoke, God would know about it before we had a chance to light up.

         In our own time of individualism and independence we don’t always appreciate those who hover about, but I’ll bet that’s comforting in a world, in a time when one’s place in the world is precarious and unsure. Israel had a successful although imperfect king in David, but Israel was small and vulnerable compared to stronger, mightier empires around them. In the 90th psalm we read that we are lucky if we live to be 70; luckier still if we reach 80 years. Verses from Psalm 103 tell us:

As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.

         But then when are we not vulnerable? Our lives can turn on a dime. We know that no amount of helicoptering over those we love will save them. Even God’s 24/7 love and power cannot protect us from the big bad.

         Earlier this week when our president made his remarks concerning certain countries from which immigrants may come to our country, he was referring to nations that though they possessed their own strength, over centuries they were surrounded by and ravaged by stronger and mightier empires; nations now where whole swaths of people can slip through not only cracks but chasms of poverty, natural disasters and famine brought about by climate change, violent conflict, and opportunistic threats such as disease and human trafficking. Though it is not yet pervasive, we have the same cracks in our own country. We have our own holes through which our people fall. What would we give for a loving, giving companion who would safeguard our every need, keep us safe, and preserve us from all evil? All this companion would ask for in return is our freedom.

God is holding your life
But that is not how this Star Trek episode ends. The Companion forsakes immortality and, with her consent, unites with the ailing Commissioner Hedford, saving her from death and lives out a normal human life with Zefram Cochrane. Now they are able to love each other as equals.

         This is what it is to be beloved. The story of Christmas tells us that the God who companions us, loves us so much that God gives up freedom and power to become human with us, to be as vulnerable and weak as we are, even to death on a cross.


         William Butler Yeats wrote: “But Love has pitched [its] mansion/in the place of excrement/For nothing can be sole or whole/that has not been rent.”  To live the truth we must be willing to live it whole: the good and the bad, health and sickness, plenty and want, joy and sadness. We are married to life, all of it, until death parts us from it. 

         And it is love—unconditional, unlimited, extravagant love—that makes that living worthwhile; that upholds us when life is bone-scraping hard; that knits us together into a web of caring; that calls us to make justice for those who live in the holes. The love that hems us in behind and before, that knows every one of our days, is for all of us. And none of us are whole until all of us live and love that way. That’s what it means to be beloved.  Amen.

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