Second Sunday after the Epiphany [b] January 17, 2021
1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to Heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
In the Name of Jesus.
What do you want to be the last words spoken about you here on Earth? Those glorious eulogies, of a politician, perhaps, where all the money he or she voted to spend for bridges and buses and schools, of all the programs he or she set up to organize peoples’ lives; those eulogies where a man is always the kindest, the most caring, and ready to help anyone—what do you want to be the last words spoken about you?
The last words on Earth spoken over you and over me—not the glorious eulogy cataloging the good and whitewashing the bad, but the actual words rightly describing you and me, the realistic words showing the good and the bad, the joy and the fear—the last words spoken concerning you and me, as our bodies wait to be lowered into the ground, the pastor standing a few feet from the empty rectangular hole, the family and loved ones, with tears in their eyes standing also there the hole, and the pastor will say:
May God the Father, who created this body;
May God the + Son, who by his blood redeemed this body;
May God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be his temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh. Amen.
Nothing about how this guy being lowered into the ground loved fishing and loved watching the Broncos; nothing about how much charity he gave and how his smile lit up a room; nothing about how he will now be fishing or golfing are whatever with the angels in Heaven. Really, not anything about the man at all. Except, that this body was created by God the Father, and was redeemed by God the Son, and was sanctified by God the Holy Spirit.
Entering the ground, the body is commended to the God who resurrects it on the Last Day.
Beautiful words extolling the Lord’s gift of life in the midst of sorrow.
Those are the words to be spoken over you and me. They show the good and the bad.
The bad, that’s the sin and death. Death doesn’t belong to us. Not according to our creation by the God who made us for. He made us to live in these bodies and enjoy life. We sinned. We brought sin into all creation. Sin brought death. The dead body being let into the ground, that shows the sin belonging to all of us.
But the body being let into the ground, it is commended to the God of life. That’s the good.
So these last words on Earth spoken over us, they show us where we live, our address, even now.
We all have our addresses, of course. For us now, it happens to be Albuquerque. The addresses among us here include earlier places we’ve lived, some in Texas, some in California—you can add up the places belonging to different ones of us, Idaho, Wyoming, even England or Germany and more, depending on where our vocations have taken us.
But the one address common to all of us is the one we professed in the Psalm.
Where shall I go from your Spirit, [O Lord,]
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
When David wrote this Psalm, his address would have been Jerusalem. But he wrote of a different address he belonged to.
In the Psalm, he wrote, “Where, O Lord, shall I flee from your presence?”
But the translation we have has actually softened it somewhat. In his own language, David did not reference God’s presence. In the Hebrew what David says is more stark, more located. He said, “Where, O Lord, shall I flee from your face?”
David’s life is at the face of God. When he was running in the wilderness from Saul, he was at the face of God. When he knelt down for Samuel the prophet to anoint him to be King of Israel, David was at the face of God. When he married his first wife, it was at the face of God.
David’s adultery with Bathsheba? It was in a private bedroom. But it was at the face of God. His conversation with the prophet Nathan where Nathan pronounced him forgiven and clean of his sin, it happened in David’s palace, but it was at the face of God.
“Where shall I flee, [O Lord,] from you face?”,
said David. David’s whole life was at the face of God.
So is yours. So is mine. That’s where we live our lives, whether we know it or not. Our address is Albuquerque, or Dallas, or Denver, or wherever, but we live always at the face of God.
We see here the severity of our sin. Wouldn’t it have been better for David if, when he was committing adultery with Bathsheba, he was able to keep it in that bedroom, without God being involved? But his sin, hidden from the world, was at the face of God. And so is ours. The news on that front is bad.
But these bodies, they were created by God the Father. And redeemed by the blood of God the Son. And the Holy Spirit had water poured over our bodies and words spoken into our ears, and he cleansed us, made us holy, even while we at the same time live in these bodies of sin. So Paul says,
“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? … You are not your own, you were bought with a price.”
[1 Corinthians 6:15]
The blood of Christ, that’s what bought you.
So Nathanael was one day sitting under his fig tree. He was in the shade reading Torah.
That is, he was reading the Holy Scriptures. He was reading of creation in Genesis; of deliverance in Exodus; he was reading of salvation given to such names as Ruth and Tamar, Jacob and Joseph; he was reading of the lineage of David. That’s what an Israelite would do in the season of the Feast of Tabernacles, you sit under your fig tree and you read Torah. For in the Holy Scriptures, God is with you, and you are with him: you’re at the face of God.
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Jesus saw him. He was with him. Nathaniel’s under a fig tree reading the Scriptures, but he’s at the face of God.
That’s our address. That’s where we live.
Even while in Albuquerque, even as we live in this world which does not know God, even as we live in a generation so opposed to God’s gifts, so hostile to God’s creation of man and woman and his gift of marriage and family, a generation unwilling to protect the weakest among us, including babies in the womb, even as we live in a time of doubt, with everyone ready to turn on neighbor at the first hint of something said wrong—even as we live here, at the same time, we live at the face of God.
At the face of God, we must know our sin, for how can sin ever be any worse than if God is right there with us. But at the same time, living at the face of God, we hear his voice. And it is the voice of the Gospel.
It is the voice of God the Father who created our bodies, and God the Son who redeemed our bodies, and God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies our bodies with Baptism and the Word. And hearing his Word of Gospel, we know that he loves us, he loves our bodies, and when we are found in our sin, he wants nothing more than to forgive and cleanse and sanctify us, so that in the midst of death, we know that we belong to the God of life.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?,
Where shall I flee from your face?
That’s where we live: at the face of God. 1 Corinthians 6:19:
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, you were bought with a price.”
In the Name of Jesus.