SCRIPTURE: Psalm 139: 7-18; Matthew 28:16-20



In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!


          Today’s sermon is the second in the series “RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES.” The headline news and story is from the Sago Mine disaster and the Christian doctrine we will consider is Divinity, the nature of God.

          The Sago Mine disaster was a coal mine explosion on January 2, 2006, at the Sago Mine in Sago, West Virginia. The blast and collapse of the mine trapped 13 miners for nearly two days; only one survived. It was the worst mining disaster in the United States since an explosion at a mine in Alabama five years earlier.

          The disaster received extensive news coverage worldwide.         After the governor and mining officials released incorrect information, many media outlets initially reported, erroneously, that 12 survivors had been found alive. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reported prior to the explosion 208 violations at the mine.

          There were differing opinions on the cause of the explosion, to include: lightning strikes and seismic activity, use of foam rather than concrete seals, proximity with gas and oil wells, and, sparks from restarting machinery after the Christmas holiday.

          This was a story that tugged at the heartstrings of all Americans as the people of Sago, West Virginia began burying their fallen coal miners. Friends and families of the twelve miners who died in the Sago Mine disaster mourned their losses. But as the New York Times news service reported, “At the same time, those mourners celebrated the lives and legacies of men who prided themselves on making a living by harvesting coal from deep within the earth.”

          Amazing to some, but most of those mourners said their final good-byes in church settings, turning to God to begin the healing process. For those outside the faith it seemed incomprehensible that anyone would turn to God at such a time of pain and grief --- where was God as those miners took their last breaths? Where is God amid all the misery of life?

          This morning I would like for us to look at what the Bible has to say about the nature of God. Can we really know God? Where is God? What is God like? The scriptures indicate we are pretty limited in our abilities in this area. “We see through a glass darkly,” says one verse. “Our ways are not his ways,” says another. Perhaps it can be best summed up with this statement: “The one thing I know for certain is God is God, and I’m not.”

          If God’s ways are not our ways, then maybe God can be found in the steadfast faith of the dying coal miners who scrawled farewell notes to their loved ones. They knew they were about to die, but wanted to comfort others. The Associated Press published the scribbled note found with the body of fifty-one year old mine foreman, Martin Toler, Jr. He talked of a peaceful passing and the assurance of heaven, clearly a man for whom God and heaven were more than just a nice idea or a warm feeling. They were real and practical as he faced his final moments.

          Maybe it is in the midst of tragedy and pain that God is most real. Maybe it is in the pain that turns us to God, which is after all the ultimate goal. In the Gospel of John, Jesus clearly states, “In this world there will be tribulation.” Not there might be, there will be. But comfort comes from the words following that verse, “But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”

          We live in a fallen world of pain and sorrow, evil, violence, and natural disasters, but God promises this: He will always be with us. On any given day the news may be bad, but we can be certain that God is in charge.

          There is a great dialog in scripture about the nature of God.  Among these ideas is that God is a god of consequences. Stated another way we would say, “you reap what you sow.” People through the ages have had differing experiences of God, and the scriptural literature reflects those differences.

          For instance, Job doesn’t deserve anything that happens to him. Why those things came upon him was a mystery. It still is, and that mystery fuels the sale of such books as Rabbi Harold Kushner’s Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. We seek to understand the mystery but it is still a mystery. What Job finally learns is that he has a place in creation. He also learns that God is with him in his suffering. These two lessons satisfy Job. May we also learn that though life is at times difficult beyond our comprehension, we belong and God is with us in our belonging. However, saying God is with us does not mean God controls us or the world around us. There are no strings on us.

          It seems Psalm 139 ties in to the Job tradition. The psalmist asks, “Where can I flee from your presence?” The answer is no place. We can’t escape God. God is always with us. God is in every nook and cranny of creation. A first affirmation we can make about the nature of divinity is that God is aware of  and involved in every person, every part of creation.

          In the accounts of the ago Mine disaster in West Virginia, you can read and understand the raw emotions of the mining people. Two pastors of the region shared this understanding of God’s awareness of and involvement in our lives: Wease Day, pastor of the Sago Baptist Church said, “God would never forsake his people and was with them throughout the heartbreaking ordeal, even if they could not understand or answer the questions that remained.

          Mark Flynn, the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Buckhannon, said, “Their faith was not just a vague notion that somehow everything would turn out as they wished. These people believe that they and their loved ones were in the hands of God, no matter what happened in that mine.”

          A second affirmation about the nature of divinity is that in God, life is goodness under construction. The psalmist states, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

          This statement resonates with John Wesley’s idea of growing in grace and going on to perfection. As the old sharecropper’s prayer stated, “I am not what I want to be, and I am not what I ought to be, but Lord you know I’m not what I used to be.” If you were able to go back and watch the film of the Sago mine reports, you would see the ebb and flow of feelings and emotion. Yet the miners’ faith grew. God is the worker-foreman who comes along side us to help us build our lives as goodness under construction.

          But why is God with us? Why did God not stop after his initial burst of creation? Why did God come back in the redeemer Christ? Why is God still active in the Holy Spirit? Why does the risen Christ, at the end of Matthew’s gospel, send the disciples out to the whole world to baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit?

          A third affirmation of the nature of divinity is that there is an open-endedness about God and God’s involvement with us. God continues to engage in new ways with new people. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:19, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” Everything, including God and God’s involvement in the world is thrusting forward to the future.

          New dimensions of God’s nature become evident as new people come into a responsive relationship with God. One of the Sago miners, Martin Toler, Jr. wrote a note that stated, “Tell all I (will) see them on the other side.” Such a statement is supreme confidence in the open-mindedness, the eternal, and the abundant dimensions of life.

          Miner Toler writes with confidence that we will see each other on the other side, but perhaps the bigger question for us is are we open to truly seeing each other on this side, in this life?

          This is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Can we begin to imagine what the future might hold if we would come together across racial, ethnic, cultural, economic, and religious divisions? Can we imagine how the future might unfold if we truly build each other up as goodness under construction, as children of God? Can we try to imagine in what new ways God will be revealed tomorrow?

          What constitutes divinity?

§  God is aware of and involved in every nook and cranny of creation.

§  God sees life as goodness under construction.

§  God, along with all creation, eagerly longs for revelation within new

relationships as we all grow in grace.

          From mountain-tops to mine shafts, from the monumental to the minutia, from now to eternity, this is divinity, this is God.