160904 – Wonder-Full

Yr A – Pentecost 16 – Psalm 139

I love the psalms. I love that they’re filled with amazing poetry that gushes about the love of God and how a life of faith in God, and letting God know you is the means to a meaningful, rich life. I also love that the psalms are filled with some really nasty stuff too.wonder-full

You know, the way we typically do it, it would seem that if you just go to church and put your money in the plate and listen to the nice preacher preach about how much God loves us then everything should be ok – but then we go out into the world and we see that everything isn’t ok. Church is often too soft and pretty and nice. Life is much more earthy and ambivalent and complicated.

The lectionary suggests for today Psalm 139 vv.1-6, then vv.13-18. Ever wonder what they left out and why? What goes on in those missing verses? Why would the lectionary pick and choose bits for you to hear? Why not present the entire passage and see what happens?
Sometimes it’s because those verses are particularly nasty, or complicated, or might take us on an unhelpful tangent, but what’s more likely the case is that most of us preacher-types are too chicken to take on the hard issues in the missing bits. I’d rather wrestle than skip, so let’s look at this beautiful, challenging Psalm – in its entirety.

Verse 1 – “O Lord you have searched me and known me” – how does that make you feel? It makes me feel Good – because there’s safety there, and there’s a warmth and a depth to the connection being described. God knows when we rise up and sit down, knows our thoughts, knows our path, and is acquainted with all our ways – heck, even before we put a word on our tongue God knows it completely.
How does God do that? How can God know all that about me, about you, about all of us at the same time? Well, it’s just too wonderful for us to understand.

But is it wonderful? What’s so wonderful about having someone know everything there is to know about us?
What’s so wonderful about someone knowing your every movement and action – isn’t that called “stalking”?
Maybe that can seem a little too close for comfort.

Think right now about the things you keep the most hidden – you know, the things that you don’t show anybody or tell anybody about – the things that even your partner doesn’t get to see because you guard it – maybe it’s too personal, maybe it’s too shameful, maybe it’s too embarrassing.
Are you feeling uneasy yet?
Anybody wanna share?

Now consider this – God can see it. God knows about it, and has known about it always. God loves you anyway! That’s how fully known we are – that’s how close our God is to our lives – imprinted in the centre of our being – absolute intimacy. It’s both wonderful and disquieting at the same time.

Wonderful. Wonder-full!
Wonder means astonishing, awesome, wide-eyed, amazing, mysterious, dazzling, incomprehensible, open-mouthed, breathtaking, head-shaking, pleasure-inducing, overwhelming, mind-boggling, astounding, remarkable – humbling!
This whole holy, mysterious, love-infused universe, world and life is wonder-FULL – filled with things that cannot be explained or understood – like how God knows us completely, like how God is ever-present, like how our relationship with God is the most important thing we have going.

When was the last time you saw something and found yourself awestruck in the silence of wonder?
When was the last time you really took some time to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation or work?
When was the last time you caught your breath at the sight of a rainbow or the scent of a rose?
When was the last time you prayed a prayer like that of Rabbi Abraham Heschel, asking God not for wisdom or power or fame, but for wonder?

Here’s that prayer from Rabbi Heschel:

“Dear Lord, grant me the grace of wonder. Surprise me, amaze me, awe me in every crevice of your universe. Each day enrapture me with your marvelous things without number. I do not ask to see the reason for it all, I ask only to share the wonder of it all.”

v.6 – such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Verses 7-12 are all about something we talk about a lot here – God’s constant or omni-Presence – that no matter where you go and no matter what you do in this life God is there. You cannot escape God’s Presence, cannot hide from God’s Presence – sure, you can try to ignore God (some people spend a lifetime trying that one) but God will not leave you alone.

 

Now, if you view God as angry, punishing, and judgmental, it’s understandable that having God around all the time would be unwelcome. But that’s not what God is like.
God is love. God can only love.
It is love that surrounds you, not judgment.
Where it gets us it that such pure holy love and pure holy light lay bare for us where we’ve sometimes fallen short and so we stand in judgment of ourselves.

 

Ok, it’s wrestling time! In vv.13-18 the psalmist is desperately trying to wrap their head around God and comes up with only the word wonder.

 

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! I try to count them – they are more than the sand; I (awake) – I am still with you.

 

We all know enough about biology to know how babies are made, but have you ever really pondered it? I mean how do we get from being one microscopic little sperm and one itty bitty egg to being this? I know scientists can explain it in minute detail, but it’s still absolutely amazing!
It’s a miracle! It’s wondrous – wonder-full!
We praise God for we are fearfully and wonderfully made. It’s beyond us – even with science explaining it.

 

The image in this psalm is startling. God is in there knitting us together – weaving us out of nothingness. In v.16 there’s a Hebrew word that’s only used once in the entire Hebrew Scriptures – golmi – my unformed substance. Some bibles translate it as “my body” but that’s too precise, it assumes too much. This unformed substance is filled with mysterious undertones – it is wonderful.

 

Lots of people point to this section of Psalm 139 as being an argument in favour of Predestination – which is the idea that God has already decided what your life is about and no matter what you do your eternal fate has already been predetermined. I don’t buy it.
God knowing all our days is just beautiful poetry describing how God/Jesus/Holy Spirit is, and will be, Present in all our days in ways too wondrous for us to understand. The only thing I know we’re predestined to is a relationship with God that can never be severed no matter what. For nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. [Romans 8:39]

 

Ok, now we get the part the lectionary left out. Verses 19-22 – this is the really nasty part. The language the psalmist (the poet) uses is extremely provocative. It’s not very pleasant at all, in fact, it almost seems downright un-holy:

O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me – those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil! Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.

 

Ok, that’s pretty nasty.
I need to say something important about the bible here. The bible is divinely inspired. Inspiration means that an experience impacts you and energizes you to live or create in response.
It’s inspiration not dictation.
God did not “write the bible.”
God did not push the pen.
People’s experiences of God inspired them and changed their lives and in response they wrote.

This passage isn’t about the love of God, and it’s definitely not written “by God.” It’s about a poet crying out in frustration and despair because they’ve caught a glimpse of God’s wonder-full light and love and they are having trouble squaring that with the troubled world they find themselves in. (Sound familiar?)

 

It sounds like the psalmist is out for revenge. But what the psalmist is really crying out for is justice! They’ve spent 18 verses gushing about how God knows everything and sees everything and is everywhere at once, so why can’t God see the wickedness of some people, and why doesn’t God do something about it?
Why doesn’t God just make things right in the world?
Isn’t that what “thy will be done” means?

 

Maybe the psalmist has a faulty theology of God which imagines God on a throne ready to chuck lightning bolts at bad people. But I doubt it.
I think this is just a really human example of someone so hurt and disillusioned by pain or injustice that they’re flailing about wildly saying all sorts of things that they wouldn’t dream of saying on a more grounded day.
Don’t you have days like that?

 

So the psalmist rails against injustice, and then just to be sure that God really knows how the psalmist feels they say, v.22, “I hate those who rise against you with a perfect hatred (perfect meaning complete or utmost).” In other words, “I’m on your side God”. “I oppose those who oppose you.”

 

You can hear the franticness in it: “I’m on your side – search me and know my heart – test me and know my thoughts. Search me, Lord – I don’t want to practice injustice – I don’t want to be like that – so see if there’s any wicked or hurtful thing in me – because I’ve just vowed that I hate wickedness, so search me, know my heart – and lead me in the way everlasting.”

 

At the first the psalmist praised God’s omniscience and omnipresence – then they were awestruck by the enormity of God’s knowing and searching – but now, they’re begging for it.

“Search me! Know me! – I’ve been known – know me always – I’ve been seen – see me always – I’ve experienced your leading – lead me always in your everlasting Way!”

 

To NOT read the whole psalm is to cheat ourselves out of the struggle, cheat ourselves out of the real life ambiguity of living, cheat ourselves out of wrestling with God and coming out changed.

The psalms are not sweetness and light – they’re down and dirty.
They’re honest.
They’re brutal.
They’re human.
They’re truth.

Life is not easy.
Life is not all soft and pretty and nice.
God knows that, the psalmist lived it – and the church needs to learn it.

 

The Psalms give voice to our inner faith struggles. They put our own uncomfortable questions on the table and wrestle with them – and sometimes it gets ugly. But in the end the psalmist ends up saying the words we also long to say:

 

“I love you God. Life is amazing and wonder-full, but life also doesn’t make much sense sometimes. I just don’t understand you. It’s all too much for me. So when I’m weary of wrestling I choose to trust in you – to allow the mystery of your ways to go unsolved – and accept that my part in it is to try my best to live in the Way of Jesus – to allow your light to shine through me and through all I do – and to rest in the only knowledge I truly have – that you ARE – that you care – that you know me – that you love me – and that life truly is wonder-full.

 

Rabbi Heschel nailed it!
Lord, each day enrapture me with your marvelous things without number. I do not ask to see the reason for it all, I ask only to share the wonder of it all.

Amen.