Rev. Rebecca Heilman
Even before the pandemic, my dog, Sadie, has the acute ability to not only know where I’m located in my house, but she knows my routines in and out. Well, another way to put it that’s less poetic, my life revolves around her routines. We’re up by 7am, no later than that. And not for her to do her business outside, but for her to enjoy breakfast. Then she knows she’ll settle in for a long nap, until our lunch time walk and the pattern continues until supper time and then bedtime following that. She doesn’t miss a beat and even when she’s sleeping, she’s fully aware of my whereabouts, keeping a constant eye on me. When I go into the other room, she’s never too far behind. Douglas’s dog is even more concerned about our whereabouts. If he’s in one room and I’m in the other, Nymeria, his dog, has to pace between us to make sure we’re both staying in line, are safe from whatever might get us and assuring herself that Sadie isn’t getting any more attention than she is. This behavior, as neurotic and annoying as it might be somedays, brings me such comfort and care. Sadie and Nymeria live into the full meaning of unconditional love and concern. They embody the love I try to preach about God each week I’m here. A colleague of mine puts this idea into a poem she wrote titled, What My Dog Taught Me About God. Sarah Are, the author, writes,
“I have noticed that when my dog
does not know where I am
she will look for me
in every room.
Nose pushed under bed covers,
paws patting down the hallway
until she hears me,
until she sees me,
and then she is running my way.
Sometimes I think God and I
play this same game –
each one of us seeking the other.
So if I can’t find God,
under covers or behind doors,
down the hall
I try to stay still,
because I know –
God will check every room.
And I know –
God will never stop seeking me.
The Holy Spirit is running my way.
My dog taught me that”
Sadie taught me just that too. Our beloved dogs and this poet, Sarah Are, are channeling the spirit of the Psalmist’s understanding of God this morning – wherever we are, whatever we might be carrying, no matter how far we go, God will find us and be right there with us. This has been a Psalm of comfort for centuries. And it’s suggested that by the placement of this Psalm in the text “it served to express both the assurance and the wishes of the post-exilic community.” It is a reminder to the those who have been exiled away from their home that God is a personal God. That God reaches out and across the mountains and oceans, hills and valleys, pandemics and floods to be with us. We see how personal it is through the ‘I’ statements, referring to the Psalmist, and the ‘you’ statements, referring to God. This psalm is as personal as it can get. As the theologian James Mays writes, “God is not a passive sphere of existence,” but God is a “knower, presence, actor, a personal vis-à-vis to every dimension of the psalmist’s existence as person.” From the beginning, the Psalmist uses the Hebrew word for ‘known’ at least seven times. And the members who participate in the Well class as we study the book of Revelation knows that the number seven suggests wholeness, a completeness. That the Psalmist and every individual person is completely and fully known by God.
But what does that mean to be fully known by God? The Psalmist both sees this as a gift and in the language, we get the sense that the Psalmist is also a little bit ambivalent about being fully known by God. A little put off that God knows the Psalmist completely – the good thoughts and the bad thoughts, the gifts and the faults, the love and the hate, the lazy moments and when the Psalmist is full of passion and energy. To be fully known is to be completely vulnerable with God. Even on the days we want to hide, we can’t ever hide our true selves from God. God embraces our good thoughts and our bad thoughts, our gifts and our faults, our love and our hate, our lazy moments and our passions and energy. God absorbs every part of us because as the Psalmist sings, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Steve and I have mentioned Dr. Brené Brown in the pulpit before. She has dedicated her life’s work to the study and research of vulnerability and shame. The very last thing any of us really want to talk about or even study. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené invites us to release the definitions of a perfect and even an imperfect life and instead asks us what it would mean to live an authentic life. She essentially invites us to live a perfectly imperfect life and to be comfortable with just that. She invites us to see ourselves as God sees us in God’s eyes. It’s not easy. She writes, “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” Brené reminds us that saying these words and cultivating courage, compassion and connection – living the wholehearted life – is a practice. A daily practice. Sometimes it’s easy, other time’s it’s as gruesome as remembering an embarrassing moment. She also reminds us that “Because we’re human and so beautifully imperfect, we get to practice using our tools on a daily basis. In this way, courage, compassion and connection become gifts – the gifts of imperfection.” Oof! When preparing this sermon, I thought we would talk about our perfect gifts. The gifts God calls us to. The gifts of calculating numbers, of being a helper bee, of writing and editing, of building a table, or teaching a class. The gifts we are proud of. The gifts we want to share and shout to the world. The gifts we lend to the church and to lift God’s peoples and God’s desires for God’s followers. I thought we would talk about those good and hearty and necessary and idealist gifts. But where’s the challenge in that? We already know how to do those things. Where is our growing edge?
What about our imperfect gifts? The gifts we continue to cultivate and work on and maybe sometimes, fall short. The gift of forgiveness, the gift of love, the gift of listening and hugging and wondering about God. The gifts of speaking up and advocating, of standing up to a bully. The gift of comforting those in pain. God calls us to logistical gifts and even more, God calls us to gifts that make us and others better human beings. The Psalmist is telling us that those gifts that we work on and are ultimately imperfect, are woven within each of us by God so that each day we can authentically embody and live into practicing those gifts.
Listen to these words again.
“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 out my path and my lying down
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
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.”
God knows our perfect gifts and God knows our gifts on the growing edge. As we ponder this sabbatical summer about who the church will be when we come out of Covid, may we be authentic and perfectly, imperfect. May we cultivate these gifts that are woven deep within and define ourselves as truly as God defines us. May we not run from God, but stand in God’s presence, accepting the vulnerability of being known and then growing and learning from just that.
 Sarah Are, “What My Dog Taught Me About God”, writingthegood, Instagram.
 J. Clinton McCann, Jr., The Book of Psalms: The New Interpreter’s Bible A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1235
 James L. Mays, Psalms: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1989), 427.
 Psalm 139:13-14a.