Covenant Presbyterian Church – Athens, GA

“Stay Close” (Ps.1, Lk.6:17-19, and Jer.17:4-8, 13)

“Stay Close”         (Ps.1, Lk.6:17-19, and Jer.17:4-8, 13)                     February 17, 2019

I guess it might be one of my very first memories as a toddler, for my family visited Ruby Falls when I was just shy of 4 years old, and I have one picture in my mind’s eye that must have been from that trip.  I know my family told me stories about it through these past 60 years, but there’s a special feeling tied to this picture in my mind, so I think it must really be a memory all my own.  It’s not of the beautiful waterfall, or all the colored lights in the cave.  Instead, it was what was most important to me that one moment – when I saw a huge canyon to my left along the path and to my right was my father’s pantsleg and big warm hand holding mine tightly.  I was scared of the dark deep canyon, but I kept on walking the path because I knew I wouldn’t fall, so close to him and held by his strong hand.  A few years later, he’d also take me up, up, up into the scaffolding of an enormous sanctuary he was helping build.  Again I remember being pretty scared of falling, except for his hand to hold and his guidance, telling me where was safe to step and never letting go, as together we stood so high, just under the rooftop.  What a view!  And what a good memory to stay close in my heart – for he helped me be braver than I really am, showing me amazing & beautiful things in this world.

Where else have you used or heard the phrase, “stay close”?  Maybe in some big chase scene in a movie with 2 or more running to safety.  The leader says “stay close” or stick together, knowing if some straggle behind or wander away, they’ll be isolated and unprotected and maybe not make it out alive.  Maybe you heard it from your parents when you were in a huge crowd of people and they didn’t want you to get lost.  Stay close.  Maybe you heard it from a grandparent reminding you to love your brother or sister your whole life long, for they will be the ones who remember who you are and where you came from.  Stay close.  Or maybe you heard it from a child who needs your comfort and support, before stepping out on stage or into a ball game for the very first time.  Stay close.  We all need connections to make life good.

No wonder God continues to call to us, reminding us to stay close to the very source of life itself.  For the abundant life is God’s desire and delight for us all, yet it will never be found without the realization of our need to connect, with God and others.  The Psalmist may seem to be writing about happiness, but isn’t it really more about our willingness to be taught, our openness to God’s guidance, and our own desire to drink in the Spirit of the Lord?  As theologian Clinton McCann has written (Texts for Preaching, Year C, 145), such openness to God is what all the Psalms do describe as happiness, prosperity, and fullness of life.  For only then, like trees planted by a stream, are we never without a resource to sustain life in any kind of circumstance, whether drought or rain – not so much as a reward for right living, but instead as a result of such connectedness to the power of God.  The wicked then suffer the inevitable outcome of their choice not to stay close to God, blown away by the wind, with no foundation or rootedness to the wellspring of the Lord.  As Charlie Cousar, former pastor of Covenant, put it (141) – the beatitude, the blessing, then becomes – “Happy are those who live under God’s reign, who live in dependence on God rather than self, entrusting our lives to God, even when facing life’s worst,” for then we will truly live in God’s ways.

No wonder there was such a crowd then around Jesus that day, wanting to be close to him as they were facing life’s worst, coming from north & south, from city & countryside, from mountains & on up the coast toward Lebanon & Syria.  Word had traveled far and wide about his healing words, his healing touch – and those who heard & trusted came to receive what he had to give, the very power of God’s Spirit going out from him to create new life for them, as the very nearness of his presence relieved their dis-ease, their troubles, their broken hearts & minds, and as the redirection of his teachings opened them up to new possibilities for life together.  Those who were enraged by Jesus remained locked in by what they could accomplish on their own, in obedience to the Law.  But those who were freed by his words found relief, as their thirst was fully satisfied and centered now on their Creator God who loved so much, as to come and live with them in Jesus, and to live within them by the sharing of his Spirit.

How could we then ever choose life without God, resigning ourselves to fear & worry & hopelessness?  As the prophet Jeremiah said, only a life of faith & trust will bring the nurture & growth we need, as we drink from the spring of living water who is our Lord, as we stay close to its life-giving power, and as together we recognize God’s kingdom come on earth – – in the community of Spirit which in each generation rises to meet oppression, poverty, sickness, grief, and violence with the new songs of God’s praise and the new expressions of God’s love for all, around the world in the lives of believers made one in the Lord.  May this “kindom” of connectedness so near to the heart of God give our hearts courage for such a journey and strength for the task at hand, as we stay close to the One who made us and gathers us together.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.                                     Beecher Mathes