January 15, 2017: The God Who Refuses to Leave Us

Posted on : Jan 12th, 2017 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Do you ever get tired, like drop dead tired? There is a wonderful, quirky, phrase in Psalm 121. It says “God will never doze off or fall asleep on you.”

The writer of the Psalm is obviously attributing to God very human traits. As with a lot of scripture, when you learn it from childhood, you don’t really think too critically about it. That was my experience until earlier this week. And then I started questioning, what does this mean? It doesn’t make sense when taken literally. How can God never slumber or sleep.

First of all, most of us today do not use the word “slumber.” Teenage girls used to have “slumber parties.” Slumber meant “dozing on and off.” Slumber parties were not for sleeping; in fact, the goal of a slumber party was to keep everybody awake as long as you could.   When you simply couldn’t stay awake any loner, you dozed off until someone woke you up with the next story or chatty tidbit. But even if you stayed awake all night, sooner or later you’d crash and fall into a deep sleep.

According to our Hebrew friends, their God and our God, doesn’t zone out on us. Never. Never slumbers. Never sleeps. Why was that important?

Two competing gods from Greek mythology did fall asleep. You probably don’t know them by their names, but you surely know the words derived from their names! The gods were “Hypnos” and “Morpheus.” Hypnos was the god or personified spirit (daimon) of sleep. Hypnos dwelt in Erebos, the land of eternal darkness beyond the gates of the rising sun, and rose into the sky each night in the train of his mother Nyx (Night). Hypnos was often paired with his twin brother Thanatos (Peaceful Death), and the Oneiroi (Dreams) were his brothers or sons. Our word hypnosis or hypnotism comes from this Greek god who was known for putting people into a deep sleep – and temporarily “stealing” life from the person.

Morpheus is also a god of “deep sleep.” Our word “mortified” comes from it. And those who “work” with those who are mortified are morticians. In the ancient world death and sleep were closely aligned. It may well be that because many people died in their sleep that this connection was made; it could also be that death and sleeping look very similar. You may have heard the word “wake” used to describe a family gathering when someone has died. Its origins were that once a person had died, they were “laid out” in their home and members of the family and friends gathered around the mortified body to see if s/he would literally wake up. (Yes, that is really the origin of “Wakes!” The Irish added a lot of whiskey to the party, which brought about its own meaning of being dead-to-the-world and then awakening!)

The Psalmist used these images from Greek mythology in the 121st Psalm in a different way. Psalm 121 was a Psalm that was used as a blessing for those beginning a long and arduous journey. It’s called “A Psalm of Ascent” – as in ascending or metaphorically climbing a mountain. The Psalm was a blessing offered at the beginning a long journey to a more fulfilling place. In addition to assuring us that God won’t zone out on us, it also says, “God will guard your going out and your coming in… from this day forth and forever.”

It’s a beautiful concept to think about as we begin a new year; as we remember and honor the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as we prepare to inaugurate Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States. When the journey is long and hard before us or nearing its end, God will not leave us. God will not abandon us. God will not give up on us. God will not fall asleep on us. God will not zone out of our lives. God will be there, awake, alive, engaged and present throughout our whole life’s journey.

Blessings to you and the people of our world is we awaken to the faith that is.


~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Psalm 121

Our God Never Sleeps

From The Message, a contemporary paraphrase of the Bible.

I look up to the mountains;
does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God,
who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.

God won’t let you stumble,
your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.
Not on your life! Israel’s
Guardian will never doze or sleep.

God is your Guardian,
right at your side to protect you—
Shielding you from sunstroke,
sheltering you in the darkness of night

God guards you from every evil,
He guards your very life.
She guards you when you leave and when you return,
God guards you now, and guards you always.

 John 14: 18-20

Jesus said to the disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will know that I am in God, and you in me, and I in you.

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