The following is a sermon written by local resident Linda Kronholm.


On Being”

Scripture: Psalm 139:1-18, John 1:43-51

On Valentine's Day, February 14, 1990, The spacecraft Voyager 1, was on a space
probe, but also had another, more romantic mission. Aboard was the “Golden Record”_
a time-capsule of the human spirit encrypted in binary code on a twelve inch gold-plated
copper disc; containing greetings in the 54 most populist human languages and one from
the humpback whales, 117 images of life on Earth, and a representative selection of our
planet's sounds, from an erupting volcano, to a kiss, to Bach, to a Bulgarian folk song,
chosen because Bulgaria's Communist regime had just been defeated after nearly a half
century of reign.

As the Voyager was leaving the solar system, astronomer and author Carl Sagan asked
that another photograph of earth be taken and the camera was turned around and the
now-iconic image of Earth, known as the “Pale Blue Dot” was taken; a tiny dot against
the vastness of space. Sagan poetically describes it as, “a mote of dust suspended in a

In an exert from his “Pale Blue Dot” monologue from Cosmos,” he says of the photo_
“that great masterwork of perspective, a timeless reminder that everyone you love,
everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever
was...every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and
peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor
and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, lived out their lives on
this pale blue dot. Every war we've ever fought, we have waged over a fraction of this
grainy pixel, barely perceptible against the cosmic background of endless lonesome

If earth is only a dot in the vast universe, than a universal question becomes, who and
what are we? What significance do we have? What is the mystery of our being?
Author, Lewis Carroll asks, “Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.” Poet,
Emily Dickinson addresses this with her verse, “I”m nobody. Who are you? A young
Tolstoy wrote in his diary, “This is the entire essence of life: Who are you? What are
you?” The Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, whose poetry was already getting attention by
age ten, always wrote in green ink, because it is the color of hope in Spanish. He won
the Nobel prize for literature in 1971, and in his Nobel lecture said,”All paths lead to the
same goal; to convey to others what we are...” Author/poet Wendell Berry, voiced, “We
can never capture, note down, reduce to dull, inadequate words, who we are.” “The self
is so elusive, a constellation of intangibles.”

The psalmist also asks the question of God, “What is man that you are mindful of
him?” (Ch 8: 3-9) The creation story in the early chapters of Genesis, and the whole arc
of scripture, address a common human need: the need to know who I am and where I fit
in the world and why?

“In the beginning...God said, “Let us make humans according to our likeness...and
God breathed into man the breath of life and man became a living soul...”(use of “us,”a
reference to the Trinity) The soul, an immortal, imperishable diamond, connecting in
essential union with the body, the visible and invisible, the spiritual and the material

The soul, giving mankind consciousness, self-awareness, mindfulness; enabling us to
communicate and relate to our Creator and to each other. We were created by love and
for love and relationship. Only mankind was made in God's image and his image is our
inherent identity. “Likeness” is our personal embodiment of that inner divine image that
we have the freedom to develop_ or not...We were given the capacity for choice.

As was read in Psalm 139, God knows each of us perfectly, our every action and
undertaking, our every thought, word and deed, reaching far beyond our own
understanding of ourselves. God's involvement in our lives is personal and intimate.
Never doubt your personal significance. We are never just a number or statistic. We are
“fearfully and wonderfully made.” “Your eyes saw my unformed body, you created my
inmost being, you knit me together in my mother's womb...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, O God.... Where can I go from your presence? Where can I flee from your
Spirit?...From you there is no hiding...You have laid your hand upon me.” ...when I
awake, I am still with you...”

Whenever I read this Psalm, I am reminded of the beautifully expressed, classic poem,
“The Hound of Heaven,” written by English poet, Francis Thompson, (1859-1907),
which has been referred to as one of the greatest odes in the English language, and of the
Christian faith.” It contains a universal message of a loving God, continually pursuing
the wayward soul, who is running running, running, from his pursuit of love, thinking he
can hide from God, who is personified as “the hound of heaven,” and whose footsteps he
always hears behind him.
It is the story of ones unceasing, yearning and quest for happiness, and the many ways
we delude ourselves along the way, turning to the comfort of human love and created
things instead of to the Creator. It speaks of the souls relation to God and the hold of
God's love on the soul, in-spite of its senseless, blind flight across the margins of the
world, wandering the wilderness of confused, conflicting realities, thinking it can hide
from him.

In the end, when all other dreams have failed and the pursued one is brought to his
knees, he realizes he has been running from the perfect Love and understanding he has
been seeking the whole time.

It is a very long poem and written in Victorian dialect, thus can be difficult to
understand, but I want to read just some of the verse, because I think we have all done
some “running” in our days:

“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him down the arches of the years,
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from him and under running laughter
Up vistaed hopes I sped....
I stand amid the dust o' the mounded years__
My mangled youth lies dead upon the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream...”

This poem becomes all the more meaningful, with the account of the author's life.
Francis Thompson was born in1859 into a Catholic, well-to-do family, and grew up as a
shy, introverted boy, who loved the classics and attended Upshaw College, a Catholic
institution. He then studied medicine, complying to his father's wish, who was a doctor,
but Francis never practiced medicine. He went to London aspiring to be a writer, and did
various and somewhat menial jobs. Eventually, he became addicted to opium, after
consuming it as a medicine for poor health. He became destitute and ended up as a
vagrant, living on the streets and attempted suicide at some point. When he collapsed in
the streets, a prostitute cared for him and he referred to her as his savior.

He scribbled some poems on soiled, sugar paper and mailed them to the publisher of a
Catholic literary magazine, Wilfred Meynell, who recognized his genius and published
them and was able to track Thompson down.

When he and his wife became aware of Thompson's living situation, they rescued him
from the verge of starvation and self-destruction. He was under a doctor's care for
months, living in a Franciscan community and was able to overcome his drug addiction,
but his health was permanently injured and he died at age 48 of tuberculosis. Meynell
published three volumes of his poems and other works and essays.
Throughout both the OT and NT, we see God approaching, calling and using a wide
diversity of individuals of varied backgrounds, both men and women to reveal and
accomplish his purposes. Jesus in his earthly ministry, often singled out individuals
from the crowds, and addressed, questioned, healed, instructed and summoned them to
follow him.

In the first chapter of the gospel of John, Jesus is selecting his disciples. He had
chosen Andrew and Peter, who were brothers and the next day, Jesus leaves Galilee and
finds and chooses Philip. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one
Moses wrote about in the Law and about whom the prophets also wrote__Jesus of
Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Nathanael is skeptical and replies, Nazareth! Can anything
good come from there? (Nazareth, Jesus' hometown was a rather obscure place and
Nazarene was virtually a synonym for despised.)

Philip tells Nathanael to come and see. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he
said of him, “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.” This surprised
Nathanael and he asked Jesus, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you
while you were still under the fig tree, before Philip called you.” Because Jesus knew
him, Nathanael believes, and declares, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, the King of
Israel.” At the end of John, Ch 2, it says that... “Jesus knew all men. He did not need
man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a person.”

When we stop running and surrender to God, the span between the soul and God is
bridged. Without losing ourselves, we find ourselves in a whole new and much larger
field of meaning, purpose, belonging, connection and identity. In Ephesians we read,
“For we are God's workmanship, “works of art,”created in Christ Jesus to do good
works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.” God has plans for each of us,
that only we can fulfill and his Spirit “poured into our hearts in love,” enables us carry
them out. (Romans 5:5)

We are each created differently and know, it isn't always easy “being me.” But we
must discover and accept what part of the divine mystery we are to reflect, to bear our
own reality, to trust our divine image and grow in God's likeness. God reveals himself to
us through what unfolds in our life and with every visible thing around us . Our life is to
be one of transformation. The question becomes, not who we are, but who we are
becoming? What likeness do we bear? “O' to be like thee, Blessed Redeemer, this is my
constant longing and prayer...Jesus your perfect likeness to bear...” words from an old
hymn remind us of our purpose, our part in the “mystery of being.”
Poet, Mary Oliver wrote,
“Understand, I am always trying to figure out
what the soul is and where hidden
and what shape__...
I believe I will never quite know
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know, our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching and loving...”
How beautiful it truly is that we exist. How marvelous just “To Be.”

Linda Kronholm
St. James Presbyterian Church
February 4, 2018