January 14, 2018
Rev. Fritz Nelson – First Presbyterian, Columbiana & First United Presbyterian, EP
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; If I make my bed in the depths, you are there
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
Psalm 139 begins with another set of powerful verses:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search our my path and my lying down; you are acquainted with all my ways.
We are known. Our God knows us. John’s gospel contains a little story about Jesus calling Nathanael, one of his disciples. Nathanael’s friend Philip introduces Nathanael to Jesus. As they come toward Jesus, Jesus says to Nathanael: “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” A shocked Nathanael stammers back: “Where did you get to know me?”
Our God knows us. Our God knows the person we are and the person we’re called to be. Our God knows the journeys we have taken and the journeys we could take to become complete. Our God knows the mask we put on for others, the lies we tell ourselves, and our true self – the person God created:
It was you (God) who formed my inward parts
you knit me together in my mother’s womb
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
God knows the person God created, the person he knit together, the person he called good.
Bedtime reading at the Nelson house often involves one of the many books in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series. The series features four heroic children: Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy who magically pass between England and Narnia, a parallel world filled with mystery, wonder, adventure and spiritual truth.
Beyond the classic The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Eric loves The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – a sea going adventure taking the children to the furthest edges of this magical world. Joining Edmund and Lucy is their cousin, Eustace. Eustace, Lewis tells us, “Liked bossing and bullying; and, though he was a puny person who couldn’t have stood up in a fight, he knew that there were dozens of ways to give people a bad time if you are in your own home and they are only visitors.” Eustace was one of England’s first class brats. In Narnia, as an unwilling participant in a first class adventure, he was downright intolerable.
After a fierce storm, the children’s ship – the Dawn Treader – puts in at an island for repairs. While the others labor at their tasks, Eustace sneaks away, climbing a nearby hill and getting lost. In the course of his wanderings he finds the treasure filled lair of a dragon. He falls asleep dreaming of all he could do with the treasure he discovered. As he sleeps he turns into a dragon. “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard,” Lewis writes, “with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, Eustace had become a dragon himself.
Being a dragon had one advantage: Eustace could fly across the island and find his way back to the ship. But its mighty hard to be a boy when you’re a giant dragon. Then one night, as he was not sleeping, Eustace the dragon saw a giant lion coming toward him. The lion led Eustace up into the mountains, to a lush garden, containing a giant well. Undress, the lion said, and bathe.
Dragons don’t wear clothes, so Eustace clawed at his skin. One layer fell off. Then another. Then another. But under every hard, ugly, scaly layer of dragon skin was more ugliness, more hurt, pain, anger, frustration and brattiness. Finally the lion reached out a claw, dug deep and pulled the entire thick, ugly scaly mass, revealing a much smaller dragon – vulnerable, sensitive. With his paw the lion threw the descaled Eustace into the water. As Eustace the dragon touched the water, Eustace the boy emerged – different, changed, the Eustace knit together by God in his mother’s womb, the Eustace fearfully and wonderfully made, the Eustace God had declared good.
In Lewis’s Narnia the Lion – Aslan – represents Christ. Aslan is not always visible, but always present. Aslan knew Eustace as the world saw him – the bratty boy, the dragon – but also knew who Eustace could be. Aslan never abandons Eustace – no matter how bratty, annoying or tiresome he became. And, at the right time, when Eustace is ready, willing and able, Aslan opens up the path for Eustace to become the person God created him to be.
Just as I am, the old hymn says. Just as we are. God searches us and knows us as we are – even if we do not know him, even if we do not care to know him. God walks with us where we walk – “even the darkness,” the Psalmist says, our darkness, “is not dark to him.” God searches us, knows our heart, knows our secrets, and still walks with us. God searches us and knows whom he created, and opens the pathway for us to become that person.
Just as Aslan never abandons Eustace, his human companions never throw him overboard. Oh, they want to. He’s a royal pain in the rear before he becomes a dragon and a mighty bother after, but they stick with him, they care for him, they worry about him when he disappears, they make visible Aslan’s grace, his commitment to relationship.
God knows us, God journeys with us, transforming us back into the fearful and wonderfully made people he knit together in our mothers’ wombs. Likewise we journey with each other – despite our differences, despite our perceptions of each other, despite even if we like each other – for let’s be clear, nobody liked Eustace. We become a community held together by God’s grace, form community held together by God’s grace and the shared desire to experience the fullness of a life fearfully and wonderfully made by our God.
Search me, O God, and know my heart – says the Psalmist.
Test me and know my thoughts
See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.