Ever been chased by a dog?
As a kid, one time walking down the sidewalk, a pretty big dog - at least big in my memory - came at me from a yard, snarling, only to be caught up short by a chain.
Thank God for chains.
But I’ve not forgotten that moment, and it was a long time ago.
When I was in high school, we had a wonderful German Shepherd by the name of Bismarck - very appropriate name for a GERMAN Shepherd.
A wonderful dog, never leashed; everyone in the neighborhood loved him, as he patrolled the neighbor on a regular basis - people felt safe with Bismarck on duty.
One day, he was down a few houses checking out what dogs check out, when a saleswoman pulled up by our house, parked her car, and stepped up the driveway.
Bismarck, full speed ahead, came running at her … I said to her: “He’s okay!” … but the poor lady, frightened by this large German Shepherd pounding toward her, put her hands over face and screamed.
Bismarck ran right by her and continued down another two houses - I’m sure for him, it was a lot of fun.
I think the lady recovered.
Chased by a dog.
An appropriate image from one of my favorite poems, “The Hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson - wherein he uses the imagery of a large dog following him … the dog, no less than God … pursues him, unhurriedly, until the end, and there is no escape from the love of God … though Francis Thompson turned many a corner in the hopes of eluding God …
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 mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes, I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet -
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”
There is no escape from God.
It’s God, sooner or later.
God’s purpose for us cannot be thwarted.
There is no resistance we can mount that can defeat the love of God for us.
No where to go.
No place to hide.
Noting to do.
No means of escape.
Neither in this life, nor in death.
There God is … God the creator of life, the LORD of death … in the light of day, and when its dark, pitch dark, darkness is as light as day for God.
Morning, noon and night - God! The lover of our soul, the creator of our life, the One who gives us breath; the One to whom we shall return when the last breath is drawn.
A young seminarian listened to a professor speak about the glorious promises of God … especially when Jesus says at the end of Matthew: I am with you always.
The young seminarian raised her hand and asked the professor: “Is that a promise or a threat?”
No one in this room can shake God off our trail …
The Prodigal Son thought he could run from his father with some wild adventure in a faraway land … and it didn’t work.
When the prodigal son returns home, there the father stands … waiting … and in the largest sense of God’s grace, it’s God who bankrupted that young man in the faraway land … it’s God who dragged him into the pig stye, to eat the garbage thrown there … it’s God who stripped away that young man’s pride, until he came to himself and found his way back home.
The disciples hidden in the upper room, because of fear - yet God finds them; even when we’re paralyzed with fear, God finds us … tongues of flame appear over us, and when we couldn’t speak a word about God, suddenly we can, and the words tumble out of us.
Jonah running for his life to get away from God’s calling … as far away as Jonah could get … on a ship headed west, across the sea … and God found Jonah, in a storm and a giant fish.
Or you and me … struggling to find ourselves, our purpose in life, and turning away from God, as we often do, even as we go to church and play the religious role.
Religion becomes a hiding place - as the Prophet Jeremiah sees it - folks come to the Temple to hide from God, right under God’s nose, so to speak.
Some of the most religious folk I’ve ever known have spent a lifetime hiding from God.
And sometimes, just plain not wanting God … maybe even afraid of God - that God will punish us, hurt us, shame us … for what we’ve done … and we’ve all done plenty, haven’t we?
It would seem that human beings are afflicted with fearfulness - as Adam and Eve in the Garden - after they ate the proverbial apple - when God shows up in the cool of the day, the pleasant part of the day, to sip a little iced tea with them on their front porch, they hightail it outta there for the bushes, to hide from God.
It took some effort to call them out … and when they came out, there came out defensively - blaming everyone but the kitchen sink for their problems
Maybe Adam and Eve expected a good scolding, or worse … it wasn’t a pretty picture, that’s for sure … things were broken, and broken badly.
But in the end, what does God do?
God becomes a tailor for Adam and Eve.
God takes up needle and thread - in my mind’s eye, I can see God hunched over a table, threading a needle, and stitching together a sturdy garment for his children.
And not just any garment … a garment made from the skins of a beloved animal; one of God’s creatures gave its life for Adam and Eve …
The first sacrifice.
Only with the shedding of blood could sturdy clothing be made.
God made good clothing for Adam and Eve … clothing to endure the difficult journey ahead.
Maybe Adam and Eve said to themselves afterward, “Why were we so afraid of God? God didn’t punish us as our sins rightly deserved. Our sins messed things up pretty badly, but one of God’s beloved creatures paid the price to clothe us. And God did the sewing. And mighty fine clothes God made for us. Why were we afraid? What’s to fear in the great love of God?”
And should we run away, which we all do, from time-to-time, sort of like a child dashing ahead of mom and dad in a department store, only to look back over her shoulder to see if mom and dad are watching - should we run from God, God is there … sometimes we need the spiritual exercise, but run as we will, God will catch us up into God’s loving arms … from such a God, so great in love, there is no escape … no escape from the Hound of Heaven.
There is a great compassion in the heart of God for the likes of us …
Jesus never gives up on any of us.
The Spirit pursues us.
Like some kind of a giant dog, the Hound of Heaven … unhurried and insistent … keeping pace with us where’re we go.
The Psalmist rightly asks, Where can I go to flee your Spirit?
Nowhere can any of us go to flee the Spirit of God …
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me.
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope [Jeremiah 29.11].
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom [Luke 12.32].
God be praised … the Hound of Heaven catches us all, sooner or later … there is no escape from God’s great love.
Amen and Amen!