Kick-the-can ruled many summers in our neighborhood. The yard of my childhood home provided excellent cover for hiding spots. I don’t remember the last time I played, but I can remember the thrill of the chase and trying to outsmart the one who was “It.”
I’ve been thinking about that and other hiding games as I prepared for the past Sunday’s sermon on Isaiah 43:1-7.
I used to love playing hide-n-seek and kick-the-can when I was a kid growing up in suburban Detroit. My parents owned three lots right next to each other on our road, with our house in the middle lot. The one to the west had a huge line of pine bushes dividing the entire lot and providing excellent cover when you hid. Besides the fields behind the street, our property provided the biggest playing area for the neighborhood, and kids often came over during the summer. At times, some 15 or more kids hid around the various spots of our yard hoping to win the game.
Robert Fulgham reminisces about his childhood hiding games in his bestselling book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. He describes how there used to be that one in kid who hid unbelievably well and could never be found. That kid could hide for what felt like hours until everyone else got annoyed and just wanted to quit and find something else more entertaining to do. He’s reminiscing because that kid was hiding in his yard.
He writes, ‘There is a kid under a pile of leaves in the yard just under my window. He has been there a long time now, and everybody else is found and they are about to give up on him over at the base. I considered going out to the base and telling them where he is hiding. And I thought about setting the leaves on fire to drive him out. Finally, I just yelled, ‘GET FOUND, KID!’ out the window. And scared him so bad he probably wet his pants and started crying and ran home to tell his mother. It’s real hard to know how to be helpful sometimes.” [ref]Robert Fulgham.All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten Ballentine, 2004. Pg 25-6. [/ref] Get found, kid.
The Prophet Isaiah begins his words from the Lord we heard this morning in this way: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel.” God created and formed them, just like God created and formed humankind and the entirety of the universe. In fact these are the same two words used in Genesis 1 & 2: bara and yatsar. The first connotes sculpting, creating. The second conjures up the image of a potter working with clay. Just as God had once formed the heavens and the earth and all of humankind, so also God creates and forms the people of Israel to whom Isaiah proclaims these words of the Lord. And it’s not too far of a stretch to say the same for us too. God creates and forms us, God sculpts and gets muddy hands in the clay to make us.
And so when the Word of the Lord comes to these ones descended from Jacob, we can listen in too. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. … you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…. Do not fear, for I am with you.” Precious, honored and loved by the one who formed and created the totality of the cosmos. We should not be afraid for God is with us. God calls us by name. We are God’s.
But the question we need to ask is this: When God calls us by name, do we listen? When God reminds us that we should not be afraid because God has redeemed us, do we believe it?
I think there are times when we just don’t want to take God at face value; we do not truly trust God’s words. Either because we somehow feel we are beyond the range of God’s call or because we refuse to believe God’s words come to us. Or maybe we just like hiding and want to stay there, unwilling to come out from under the pile of leaves.
Robert Fulgham continues his essay with these words, “A man I know found out last year he had terminal cancer. He was a doctor. And knew about dying, and he didn’t want to make his family and friends suffer through that with him. So he kept his secret. And died. Everybody said how brave he was to bear his suffering in silence and not tell everybody, and so on and so forth. But privately his family and friends said how angry they were that he didn’t need them, didn’t trust their strength. And it hurt that he didn’t say good-bye. He hid too well. Getting found would have kept him in the game. Hide-and-seek, grown-up style. Wanting to hide. Needing to be sought. Confused about being found. ‘I don’t want anyone to know.’ ‘What will people think?’ ‘I don’t want to bother anyone.’”[ref]Robert Fulgham.All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten Ballentine, 2004. Pg 26. [/ref]
Too often we adults expect we need to go it alone, that we need to face the challenges ahead of us as best we can with the strength we can muster because that’s just how it is. At times the fear we try hard to mask shows through, and we long to hear those words from the one who formed us, “Don’t be afraid, I have redeemed you; I’ve called you by name, you are mine.”
Our identity comes from God, of course, and not from our accomplishments or the lack thereof. We are beloved children, formed and sculpted and created by the Almighty who calls us each by name. We are God’s. Our culture tells us emphatically that our value comes from our jobs, our looks, our resources, our address, our education. And that message is one fraught with anxiety and fear: We are not good enough, we do not measure up, we will be overwhelmed.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. … you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…. Do not fear, for I am with you.”
This identity of ours lies fully in our baptism when we were sealed and marked by the Holy Spirit as Christ’s own forever. We are God’s beloved children. We are loved. God is with us.
But we need reminders of this; we need to remember who we are. That’s why the font is open on this day as we rehear the story of Christ’s baptism, so that we can physically remember by feeling the water once more on heads and in our hands. At some point during the service I invite you to dip your fingers into the waters of baptism and then make the sign of the cross. Hear and remember the words that you were formed and created by God, that you are precious in God’s sight and beloved. You have nothing to be afraid of because God goes with you. God will shelter you amidst the churning waters of life. Do not be afraid.
There’s a wonderful line in one form of our Prayers of the People. Our litanist says, “I ask your prayers for all who seek God, or a deeper knowledge of him. Pray that they may find and be found by him.” (BCP pg 386) That is my prayer for all of us as we continue to seek God and a deeper knowledge of God’s ways; that we would both find and be found by God. That we would not be so intent on remaining hidden in the piles of leaves in our lives, but that we’d have the sense to either come out when the game is ended or leave some part of ourselves slightly visible for God to find us.
We are created, formed and loved by God. Let us enter fully into God’s loving arms, knowing that God will always care for and walk with us no matter where life takes us. And may we know that regardless of how long the game goes on, God never tires of searching for us and will never give up until we are found. Get found, kid; get found.