THE TRUSTWORTHY HAND OF GOD
A Pastoral Message on God’s Trustworthiness based on Psalm 139:1-10
for St. John’s Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC, by The Rev. Dennis Foust, PhD, on October 10, 2021
Hands leave fingerprints that are often unseen.
Would you please look at your hands?
Consider all of the things your hands have done.
You may be sorry for a few things you have done but most of what you have done with your hands have left fingerprints of service, commitment, hope, encouragement, & sacrificial love.
Your hands are actively faithful extensions of God’s trustworthy hands in today’s world.
Hands leave fingerprints that are often unseen.
A little more than five years ago now, I took hold of two hands and joined them together.
Through the years, I have asked hundreds of couples to join hands as they repeat their vows.
But, on September 5th, 2016, I focused less on vows and more on hands.
Those were the hands of our daughter, Rachael, and our son-in-law, Dave.
Although I officiated the weddings of our sons, I wanted to walk Rachael down the aisle.
For those brief moments, I wanted to sit beside Paula and just be a husband and a father.
These hands that placed Rachael’s hand in Dave’s hand needed to bless their union.
These hands held Rachael at her birth, a surviving twin weighing in at 5 pounds 11 ounces.
Through the years, these hands held her tight when she cried in pain or fear or rejection.
These hands laid her in the crib for sleep and lifted her in her awakening.
She held these hands to gain her balance as she learned to walk.
These hands steadied her bicycle as she wobbled down the street.
These hands hugged her on her first day of school and worked to provide opportunities for her.
These hands were actively involved in her childhood & adolescence – assembling playsets,
untangling necklaces, repairing broken dolls, playing games, & helping with homework.
These hands handed her the keys to her first car and moved her into the university dorm.
So, I wanted these hands to leave fingerprints on their hands as they entered marriage.
Hands leave fingerprints that are often unseen.
Even amidst chaos and suffering and all kinds of disasters and unsettled times of transition, God’s hand is active; leaving fingerprints that are often unseen.
Not long ago, Arthur Ross was sitting on a rooftop at dawn, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. As first light gleamed behind the mountains, the cool air was greeted by crowing roosters and barking dogs. To those sights and sounds of nature, it seemed to be another beautiful day. Yet, there had been earthquakes, hurricanes, and more political exploitations.
Haitians were angry, afraid, hungry, homeless, unemployed, disappearing, dying and fleeing. In the background he heard donkeys braying as shopkeepers unloaded goods in the market and bells ringing as shoeshine men clamored for customers. A quick glance up a side street showed some women going to a freshwater well not disturbed during the earthquake. Amidst those scenes of poverty and suffering, he looked across the street where a sanctuary’s open doors and loudspeakers allowed him to hear the priest reading, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me… you hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me…If I take the wings of morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.”
These words of inspired scripture have been handed down century after century.
These words speak to our deepest longings and our highest visions as human beings.
And, these words reassure us that God is always working on our behalf no matter our circumstances.
Imagine other settings in which Psalm 139 has been embraced over time? Consider second century Christians imprisoned for their faith, Muslims persecuted by Christians during the crusades, Jews in Hitler’s death camps, slaves on plantations, soldiers in foxholes, patients awaiting surgery, addicts contemplating their future, prison inmates living with a life-sentence, etc. Each one reading: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me… you hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me…If I take the wings of morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.”
Throughout this pandemic, many people have looked for the fingerprints of God’s hands.
As if awaiting the glimmer of dawn’s first light, people have asked,
“Where is God at work in this pandemic?”
A variety of theological and spiritual answers have been offered – both pathetic and profound.
Many people are confused.
Some think God causes everything to happen.
Others choose to believe God is with us in the good times and the bad.
Where do you see God at work during this pandemic?
Even God’s hands leave fingerprints that are often unseen.
Here in Psalm 139, the psalmist uses anthropomorphic language to bring the Cosmic God close.
Biblical scholars refer to Psalm 139 as the pinnacle Psalm regarding God’s trustworthiness When the Psalmist realizes that the Cosmic God desires a personal relationship, it is profound.
As the Psalmist comprehends that God knows him completely and is always working for his
good, the Psalmist is astounded and erupts in wondrous exultation and praise.
This realization only becomes deep conviction through life experience & profound reflection.
In one of the books we read together last summer, The Sun Does Shine, Anthony Ray Hinton tells his story of living nearly 30 years on death row in Alabama for a crime he did not commit. He struggled with his faith in God. But, he knew that his mother prayed for him every day. He also knew that he did not want to break her heart. At times, when he was close to losing hope, he would hear her voice. She once told him, “Ray, God can do everything but fail.” She emboldened his faith in the trustworthy hands of God. Every day, his mother prayed for the Lord’s hand to protect her son. She died in 2002. He was released in 2015. During those intervening 13 years, each time he started to lose his sense of assurance and give up, he would see his mother’s face in his imagination and hear her voice saying, “Ray, God can do everything but fail.” Today, Ray is an activist for prison reform.
Beloved, when you realize that the TRANSCENDENT CREATOR OF ALL THAT WILL EVER EXIST desires a personal relationship with you, and is always working on your behalf, it is a WOW beyond all other wows!
Jesus taught this same truth when he spoke about every sparrow being known by The Living God and every hair of your head being counted. Borrowing symbolic language, Jesus taught that God knows you and is always working on your behalf. God is TRUSTWORTHY!
Jesus was teaching what Paul later described in Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.”
This image, ‘the hand of the Lord is upon you,’ means that you are blessed and claimed.
You should understand this phrase, ‘the hand of the Lord is behind me and before me.’
Have you ever accompanied a child in a parking lot or in a large crowd?
When the Lord’s hand is before you, it is speaking of restraint – don’t’ go too fast; don’t go too
far; stay close; pay attention to your boundaries; don’t get ahead of Me; let Me lead you.
When the Lord’s hand is behind you, it is speaking of encouragement and empowerment – I’ve got your back; I am here to affirm you; I am here to help you move forward with my strength.
The Psalmist also speaks of the Lord’s right-hand upholding or supporting.
In this Psalm, the transcendent, omniscient, omnipresent God is more than a theological idea or a distant deity. The Lord who is beyond us, all knowing, and always present is also personal.
This God is not so personal that each person gets to have an individualistic god.
Yet, this God IS so personal that each person gets to have assurance that God is trustworthy.
God knows you and is always working on your behalf.
God knows everything about you – and God loves you still.
God knows your failures, your sins, your fears, your burdens, your commitments, your temptations, your desires, your struggles, your half-heartedness, your gifts, your guilt, your shame – and God still desires to empower you, protect you, redeem you, strengthen you, give your life purpose and meaning and lead you in the way of everlasting salvation.
God is Trustworthy! And God calls you to a relationship of trust.
Then, God commissions you to a ministry of trustworthiness.
Last Sunday, I reminded you about God’s Face; God’s Presence always being with you.
I also introduced you to the idea of ‘BEFORENESS;’ Living Before the Living God.
Today, I remind you that God’s Presence always includes God’s hand.
The TRUSTWORTHY hand of the Lord is always working on your behalf – protecting you, providing for you, guiding you, blessing you, claiming you, and commissioning you.
Imagine your hand in God’s hand, placed there by Jesus, like I place Rachael’s hand in Dave’s hand.
As you look at today’s world, you see crises, problems, challenges, violence, injustice, disaster, prejudice, racism, catastrophe, trauma, diabolical manipulations, lies, war, and other evils.
Yet, God is trustworthy. And, we must show up in actively faithful ways to do our part.
In a recent interview, Walter Brueggemann said,
“God will see us through all of this. However, God will not do our work and we have huge work to do. We cannot neglect our work and leave it alone in God’s hands.”
Today, I want to encourage you by asking you to take a closer look at the world.
On this glass there are now hundreds of fingerprints.
From where you are seated you may or may not be able to see them.
But please trust my trustworthiness when I tell you they are on here.
This morning, I carried this glass around to several Spiritual Growth Groups.
And, last week, I carried this glass around in the building asking people to hold it for a second.
At first, I told them it was so the FBI could find them.
Actually – these fingerprints are part of today’s message.
The fingerprints on this glass are here whether you can see them or not.
And God’s fingerprints are on the world every day whether you see them or not.
God’s fingerprints are on your life every day – whether you realize it or not.
And beloved, as you touch the world every day, because the hand of the Lord is upon you – you are leaving the fingerprints of God’s hand wherever you go – whether people see them or not.
May you remember the hand of the Lord is upon you using your hands to leave fingerprints on the world that are often unseen. Amen and AMEN!