YOU KNIT ME TOGETHER IN MY MOTHER'S WOMB
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You may have heard this story from Pastor Abby as she’s the one who told me about the show. It’s called “Greenleaf” and you can see it on Netflix and I believe the W network. It’s about a church in Georgia and the family that founded it and largely leads it. The patriarch of the family is Bishop Greenleaf. The first episode has his daughter Grace returning home with her young daughter and she’s recently divorced. She becomes an Associate Pastor in the church and one Sunday morning is asked to deliver the sermon. As Grace gets up to preach she tells the congregation that she is tearing up the sermon she had originally prepared as she wants to address an issue that had been plaguing the church and very much on people’s minds and on her mind.
This September we introduced a new element into our worship service. It wasn’t formally introduced so we can consider this the formal introduction. It happens before the Scripture reading and we call it the foreWord. It functions something like the traditional children’s story or children’s moment but we wanted to broaden it somewhat. We considered what it would mean to talk about something that tied into the morning’s message or some foundational truth of our faith that would easily understood by the younger members of our church family and maybe speak something particularly into the lives of say teens or tweens. We wanted to consider things like “What we learn about God from babies?” for example.
This morning I want to bring these two stories together. Like Grace Greenleaf I’m going to put aside the sermon that was prepared for this morning. I want us to take the next little while to consider what we might learn about God from babies. I think it’s apt for a morning when we are looking forward to a baby celebration after church (and I do hope you can all stay). I want us to recognize this in a special way. The other thing that is going on this morning is that our community is hurting. We’re called to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn, and this morning our family is doing both. Maybe these two things aren’t as far apart as we think they are. We can be so overjoyed that we are reduced to tears after all (and why do say reduced to tears like crying or showing strong emotions is somehow making someone less). Have you ever had an experience where you weren’t sure if someone was crying or laughing or the lines between the two were blurred? Perhaps it’s happened to you.
We’re celebrating new life today! We’re celebrating three new additions to the Blythwood family and the joy that they have brought. What can we learn from babies? Is the question. I know that Abby and Bruce and Matt and Amanda have already learned and will learn more from their sons about what God’s love is like. The fundamental truths about God that we’re spending our weeks this fall looking at through the letters of John. I know this.
At the same time if you were like me, you heard the news about Gina’s twins and maybe got a little ahead of yourself. Maybe you pictured 5 boys running around here or said something like “I wonder what that Sunday School class is going to be like?!” This weekend we found out that this will not be the case.
I wondered yesterday what the best thing to do was. What are we supposed to do in the face of such joy and such sorrow? We don’t want to ignore grief and we don’t want to ruin anything either. What to do…
And so we heard most of Psalm 139. What is the thing that this Psalm reminds us of? The thing that enables everything to hold together. It’s called the Inescapable God in my copy here. It’s a title that’s been added by the translators but I think it’s good. O Lord you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up (or when I roll over or when I wave my arms and legs) you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down (which is very popular with Jonah and Oliver and Miles right now!) and are acquainted with my ways. You know me. You love me. Even before a word is on my tongue (or even before I can make a sound because my little vocal chords aren’t yet fully formed ) you know it completely. You hem me in behind and before (you’re all around me like a blanket nest) and lay your hand upon me.
God’s hand is on us. Your hand shall lead me, the psalmist sings and your right hand shall hold me fast. The importance of contact. The importance of touch. Skin to skin as they call it. You parents are familiar with this. Start it right away out of the womb. Skin to skin contact. Hand hugs if your baby is in an incubator. These reminders that we were made for connection, that we were made for connection with God and with each other, this is what we talked about last week. Communion with one another, communion with Christ, communion with God the Father through the person of the Holy Spirit. The reminder that nothing can break this bond. If I say “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night” even the darkness is not dark to you: the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. (11-12)
This is what God has created us for. Before this is the fundamental truth that we have been created by God. We’re loved by God. They have this poster up on the wall as you walk in the neonatal intensive care unit at Sunnybrook. A person is a person – no matter how small. A person is imbued with inherent value because they have been created by God, no matter how small – even at 25 weeks. They are named and held and fed and cleaned and cared for – all of this teaching us something about how we are loved by God not because of anything we have done. I often say, is it any wonder that Jesus spoke of being born from above or born of the Spirit because becoming part of God’s family is not based on anything that we have done any more than we talk about a baby’s accomplishment for being born! (though we proudly tout our children’s accomplishments!) Helpless. In need of help for every part of life. Loved and cared for and held and touched because…. Life.
This is what we learn about God from babies. We look at them and how can we not consider these words – “For it was you who formed my inmost 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 well.” We’ll be praying Abby and Bruce and Matt and Amanda that you are coming to know this and that your sons will too.
God’s knowledge of us. God’s presence with us. God’s presence with us no matter how young or how old. God’s hand holding us. God’s hand creating us. God’s eyes on us.
We come to the end our passage with verses 15 and 16. “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”
We live in the unknown. I know this may come across as trite or cliché but I think it bears saying. Too often we want to feel we can control everything. We live amid conditions which are beyond our control – beyond the control of the best medical care in the world even. I’m sure that being a parent is an exercise in loving in the midst of uncertainty. It’s simply a fact of our lives here on earth to not know what the future holds. I would never have thought that the next funeral we would be involved in would be one for a baby. I just wouldn’t have thought that would be part of our story. You’ll have heard me quote Mordecai when he told his niece “Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” Who knows? What do we do in the face of this uncertainty? To what truth should we cling as we live our stories together?
We cling to what we do know. What we know in our hearts by faith. The Psalmist puts it like this “In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”
We live our own stories, yes we do. We face a lot of uncertainty as we live our stories. We face a lot of joys and a lot of sorrows. We are celebrating today that we get to share in the stories of little Miles and little Jonah and little Oliver. For this we are so thankful. Life changing! At the same time we know that sometimes the story does not go the way we thought it would. There won’t be two sets of twins running around here and we grieve for this along with Gina and Marlybe and little Ethan too. How do we hold these things in tension?
Knowing this friends. That little Felip’s story did not end yesterday. We grieve because he has left us but that’s not the end of his story. We rejoice and we grieve in resolute confidence that the story that God has written, the story in which we are invited to take part through the reconciling work of Christ and the transforming and comforting work of the Holy Spirit, is going to end in a joyful reunion. A reunion that’s been compared to a great banquet. As we gather to celebrate in a smaller scale (but still really good!) way in a little while, may we be reminded of this. It’s my prayer that we all know this hope. It’s my prayer that Miles and Jonah and Oliver will come to know and live in this same hope, along with Felip’s little brother Vince.
May this be true for us all that we hold onto this hope together, and may we all continue to learn more about God in the depths of our hearts through the lives of these beloved children.