Sunday Preaching: Psalm 139

Psalm 139:1-18
(New International Version)

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

As we may all know, we are celebrating this September 11, the 10th Anniversary of MCCQC and the 25th Anniversary of MCC in the Philippines. This Sunday opens a month-long period of celebrating God’s faithfulness in MCCQC. I hope this reading shall help us further appreciate God’s role in all those years.

A verse in our reading, Verse 14 has both been used by pro-Life and LGBTQ activists as Biblical basis for their respective arguments, but let’s include 1-18. To further understand our reading this Sunday, I resorted to the 2016 edition of Notes on Psalms by Dr. Thomas Constable. This psalm praises God’s three attributes: omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence yet it also talks about God’s relationship with an individual. We should take note here that the writer of Psalm 139 had been accused of adultery and was awaiting trial. According to commentaries written by German theologians that I have read in preparation for this sermon, in this Psalm, David calls upon God to attest his innocence, appealing to God’s complete knowledge of him and his circumstance. It is in this intersection of God’s role in the collective history of people, nations and churches and in the individual narratives of people like you and me that I will try to make portions of this Sunday’s reading relevant.

But first, if we are to appreciate the powerful messages and literary beauty of Psalm 139, we have to briefly see the role of the Babylonian exile in the life of the Jews. Around 600 years BCE, the Babylonians defeated King Jehoakim and Judah became a tributary of the more powerful kingdom to the East ruled by Nebuchadnezzar. The deportation of the Jews from their homeland was not a single event, lasting for a period of more or less 16 years with the dates, number of deportees and numbers of deportations varying. But was life in exile totally bad? No, the Jews were allowed to worship and do businesses, but it did mean having lost their independence as a sovereign kingdom. A humbling experience for a entire people!

After the fall of Babylon to the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE, the Jews were allowed to return to Judah, and again, rather than a singular event, it happened gradually. It is in this post-exile context that Psalm 139 was written. It must have been a great period, to return from decades of exile and have the Second Temple rebuilt by 515 BCE. It must have been both an exciting and difficult time, to rebuild a nation.

In retrospect, the last three years I have been attending MCCQC, I became part of rebuilding it. By the time I joined, it already found a new home here, the Second Home in Cubao, with a different set of leaders under the helm of our then pastor and still our beloved Kakay Pamaran. I have stayed long enough to reach this period of transitioning to a new set of leaders under the helm of our current and just as beloved Pastor Joseph San Jose.  I am tickled to draw parallels between this period of the lives of the Jews who have returned from exile and started to rebuild the temple and that period when this Yellow Room first opened to people including myself.

Psalm 139 gives us three messages. Verses 1-6 tells us of God’s omniscience and may I relate this to our mission, vision, goals, plans, hopes, and struggles, and the first message is this: God knows all about MCCQC. The key words here to understand this message are Legacy and Remebrance. In 1969, the year after the first service was conducted by Rev. Troy Perry, the same year I was born, decades before most of the current members of our church were born, and 47 years before this sermon, God already knows about MCCQC. In that year God certainly knows – note how I use the present tense – that MCCQC would earn its affiliation in 2008. God certainly knows about the events here eight years later in the Yellow Room during the last two Sundays of August 2016 where members and leaders held workshops to guide us in our transition.

But let me ask, so what if God knows all about MCCQC, its affiliation, creation and all its mision, vision, goals and plans for the coming three years? How should we be guided by the knowledge that God knows about us? The Jews were going to be in exiled in Babylon but God did not abandon them.  The difficult struggles caused by an unscrupulous leader rocked  this church to its very core from in 2012 but God never abandoned us in the succeeding years, sustaining us in its time as a mobile church and towards the establishment of our second church home here. Are you not glad to hear of the assurance that God knows about us? God heard the prayer of MCCQC exiles and new people came, including me. More people will come, but are we truly prepared for it and able to sustain our actions?

Although we can try to imagine, our limited human minds simply cannot fathom God’s timeliness and timelessness. The Creator has given us the mental faculties and physical means to understand the past, to allow us to breathe in the present and to work for the future. We have full ten years of existence as a church and it has been almost four years since the exodus from Mindanao Avenue, the exile in Kamuning, and the creation of the Second Home in Aurora Boulevard. God knows all about these. And these are among the best reasons to celebrate! God did not bring us out of our personal Egypts or Babylons for nothing.

Anniversaries are in order – to remind us of good things and be wary of our mistakes, both at the individual and collective level. There is the consistently relevant human need to commemorate things and God has been telling the faithful to continuously keep track. “Do this in remembrance of me,” said the Greatest of all Men the night He was given up to die for us thousands of years ago. Through the sacrifice of the Son, God has instituted such a celebration to remind our finite minds and by the grace of the Spirit, we are able to experience the reality of God’s unquestionable love that stretches for all infinity.

And this leads me to the second message, which has something to do with how we carry out our mission, vision, goals, plans, hopes and how we deal with our struggles. Verses 7-12 talks about God’s omnipresence, and the message is this:  MCCQC members and leaders cannot hide from God.  And yes, the key words to understand this are Accountability and Humility. As leaders and members we are accountable to every peso, we are accountable for the execution of every plan or activity and we are accountable to every person who walks in and out of that door.

There is joy in accountability, which includes acknowleding our commitment. Don’t you feel good after being able to complete your obligations? Don’t you feel better after having completed a task, or after having ran a race or having done your gym routine? I feel good after completing my minimum eight-round Muay Thai practice, and lately I reached 10 rounds per session. I do this because I want to stay and keep healthy. I am accountable for my own health.

In the equation of completing assigned or voluntary tasks, we may put in temperance and a realization that no one can do these tasks in church alone all the time. As Hebrews 13:17 reminds us:  Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” There will be no benefit for all of us in MCCQC  if there is grief or heaviness in the hearts of our pastor and the LCAB, for their spiritual strength shall be our strength too as we follow them. If each of us fail to support our LCAB and pastor, what will become of us?

Humility is perhaps the greatest ingredient in the hearts of anyone who wants to serve and to everyone coming in through those doors. As Hebrews 13:1-2 tells us: “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” There will be so much benefit for us in MCCQC if we are able to show hospitality to each new or old member. Let us allow everyone to have the opportunity to come, taste and see. Not everyone who comes through those doors  will stay. But I do not want to become accountable at the end of time when I am asked: What did you do for the one who came in through that door?

I saw, I tasted, and I came again and again and again. I wanted to know how to reconcile spirituality and sexuality, and this had not been easy. Just like the Jewish deportation and return from exile, I learned that this will not be just one event. Hindi siya one click solved na. It took me years to really deal with the stuff I got from the ex-gay group I used to belong to. My attendance to MCCQC has helped me deal with such stuff, heartache after heartache, failed dates after failed dates, arguments after arguments. I have read somewhere that the “basic element of humility is the acceptance that whatever we possess we owe to God who has a planned duty for us.”

This brings me to the third message. Verses 13-18 talks about omnipotence – God knows you and has named you, because God created you and this has something to do with our individual and respective roles in the church. In Verses 17-18, David concluded that God’s plans for his people are very good and comprehensive and the key words here are Intention and Ministry. Pastora Kakay once gave a sermon about loving the unlovable and the nameless. We all have felt unloved and nameless once, and to this may I read my translation into Filipino of a very short poem “Dein Name is dir verlorengegangen” by Nelly Sachs, a Jewish German poet who had suffered and been traumatized under the Nazis but managed to escape with her mother to Sweden before being deported to a concentration camp. She nontheless kept a forgiving attitude towards the succeeding generation of Germans:

“Nawala mo ang iyong pangalan, ngunit ang mundo ay madaling nag-atubili at binigyan ka ng malaking hirang. Ikaw ay umiling, ngunit ang karayom sa dayami ay minsang nahanap para sa iyo ng iyong Irog. Makinig: Tinatawag ka na niya.”

Nelly’s Now Narrative speaks to us, of how we have lost our names, of the experience of someone finding that needle in the haystack for us, of being called. We have always branded ourselves LGBTQ and Christian. Why don’t we reverse the order? And being first a Christian and LGBTQ second, and this love and calling is at the heart of why we celebrate our 10th year and why we look forward to another 10 years, even if part of our experience is having to see only haystacks and none of the needles.

Are our intentions sexy and attractive enough for us to come every Sunday or at least listen through FB live? Are they tasty enough for us to remember the messages we hear Sunday after every Sunday? Are they strong enough for us to see and feel with our eyes closed how God loves us? Or all these diminish at the first hour of Monday morning when we go to work, open our dating apps, and when wake up to a lonely bed?  Not everyone who enters these doors will stay. Not everyone who stays would like to be part of a ministry. But God knows why you came.  Your talents and intellect, aptitudes and inclinations are all part of your human form. Are we putting to much emphasis on the letters LGBTQ and not really putting emphasis on the letter C? Remember this is what sets us apart from most churches and strongly links us with others, we are Christian and LGBTQ at that.

And because God knows all about MCCQC, and we cannot hide from God, who knows us and created us, let me tell you that you cannot hide from your calling as one of God’s creation, whether we shall be like Job, Jeremiah, or Jonah.  We can ignore it, but we cannot hide from our calling. Be it in your home church or here as an MCCer, or as an employee to your company, as a supervisor to your colleague, as a brother or sister to your sibings, as a son or daughter to your parents, as a partner to your beloved, as a friend to your chosen set of friends, as a stranger to the person next to you on the train ride home, or as a diva among divas. I hope that Rev. Troy Perry’s legacy lives not only in the chairs you are sitting on, but in your hearts, translated into action. I would like to end the sermon with a MCCQC’ed queer version of Psalm 139. Pls. pray with me:

“Gets mo kami, Parent God.  Gets na gets mo. You have searched MCCQC and you know us. You know when we have our services or not. You know our thoughts and wishes. You discern all our lectio divinas, rampa, chika at chismis, rites, meetings and auras, lakad and outreaches, post-service dinners and coffee chats. You are familiar with all our ways, ganap at ugali, eccentricities and tendencies, likes and dislikes. Before a prayer is on our tongues and even written down to be placed on the table during Communion, you, Parent God, know it completely. You know all our real life posts, status updates, and replies, and all the names of our leaders, members and friends – past, present and future – living and departed – appear on your wall. It’s wonderful to the point of bewildering, Parent God, to know that you know all about our little church and our struggles.”

“Where can MCCQC go from your Spirit? Where can we flee from your gaze? If we go to our home churches and denominations, no matter how unwelcoming they may be to LGBTs, you are there. In Baguio, Marikina, and Makati, and in Los Angeles and elsewhere where there is MCC, you are there. Even if we hide under the rainbow flag on Pride March, you are there, for you made the real rainbow. Surely the pulsating music at the clubs and aurahans shall drown your calls, but the music of Be MCC is in our hearts. And that is hard to silence. Oh, how can we hide from you?”

“You already had MCCQC and all the other MCCs in the Philippines, its leaders and members in mind when Rev. Troy Perry had that gathering in Hunington Park, you knit us together from the time Fr. Mickley stepped out of the plane at the NAIA in 1991 to the day the first public service was held in East Fairview in 2006. You continued to knit us after gaining our affiliation in 2008, from the day we left Mindanao Avenue to the day we opened the doors of the Yellow Upper Room. We praise you because our church has been so queerily but progressively made. Your works are just fabulous, we know and have come to know that very well.

Our intentions why we have come to MCCQC are not hidden from you, at the time we made that decision to join our first service or Life Learners, and at all the times we have experienced being hurt, left behind, rejected and marginalized, even by members of our own families and chosen communities. Your eyes see our congregation, understand our hunger for the Word. All our Sundays services are written in your book. How precious to us are your Words, speaking from translations of verses thousands years old and from the vibrant Now Narratives. The sum of them is more than the Pokemons we would ever find, even on unlimited data; and if we were to count the answered prayers and the good things that happened here in MCCQC, they would outnumber all the lures combined. And when we wake tomorrow, Monday morning, the traffic and beyond, you are there. Amen.” Happy Anniversary to us all!

Preaching by MPPuzon

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