A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr B ~ Epiphany 2 ~ Psalm 139
Last week I preached a sermon called The Sacrament of the Present Moment. I am captivated by this beautiful theological idea – that every single moment, and by extension every single place, is sacred and bursting with the Presence of God yearning for us to notice it, and embrace it, and become immersed in it, and yearning that we respond to that gift of fullness, and grace, and love by in turn loving others. Well, if every single moment is sacred, and every single place is sacred, what about every single person? (And I do mean EVERY single person – even the ones who give you…pause.) Is every single person sacred – filled with Godstuff at the centre of their being? I vote a resounding Yes! And as we dive into Psalm 139 I hope you’ll feel it too.
It begins…“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? That all depends on your theology of God. (Did you even know you had a theology of God?) You do!
If you imagine God as all-loving and supportive then you’ll love this psalm.
If you imagine God as judgmental and accusing then the idea of God searching and knowing you inside and out might be…upsetting!
I mean, 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? [j/k] 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 type their secrets into the chat box? (Didn’t think so!)
So, if your theology of God sees a finger-pointing accuser trying to ‘get you’ when you trip up, then this psalm will have you squirming.
Guess what my theology of God says? Yup – all-loving, all the time!
God is love, and the only thing God can do is love.
Finger pointing, judging, accusing, and score-keeping are all human things – not God things.
My theology of God says that God is an all-encompassing, loving Presence.
And my theology of scripture says that when you’re reading a psalm – which is poetry, or more precisely they’re hymns, so they’re music lyrics – you need to remember that metaphors are powerful and suggestive but NOT literal or factual. How boring would our hymns be if they were only facts and not insights, and inspirations of wonder? So when scripture personifies God – making God seem like a humanoid individual – just like us, except way holier – we must remember that it’s just a metaphor – a way of describing in relatable terms something beyond our ability to grasp.
Now consider this about all those embarrassing things in your life that you’d rather no one ever knew about. God can see it. God knows about it, and has known about it always. And 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.
There’s no getting around that Psalm 139 speaks of an intimacy and vulnerability that can make us feel exposed and naked before God.
I think that’s a good thing! I hope I can describe that in helpful ways.
Psalm 139:1-6 says how God is all-knowing, always aware. The theological word for that is omniscient.
And then verses 7-10 say the same phrase we say all the time: Surely God is in this place! That’s God’s omnipresence.
7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol (means the depths, as in far from where we think God may be), you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
The poetry is breathtaking. God is everywhere! North, south, east, west, up, down, near, far – everywhere.
Did you hear how v.10 ended though? God’s omnipresence isn’t oppressive, it’s comforting! Wherever I may go even there (God’s) hand shall lead me, and (God’s) right hand shall hold me fast. That warms my heart!
When I feel like my world’s been turned upside down and inside out, and everything is going wrong, and everyone’s out to get me – can you relate? – what’s God’s gift in such moments?
Verse 12 Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
The one who is leading us, and holding us fast, is one who is light in our darkness. Thank God!
Our thoughts are naked before God.
Our actions are naked before God.
Our moments and feelings are naked before God.
It’s utterly overwhelming – and now it goes deeper still. Verses 13-16:
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 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.
This psalm makes a compelling claim that from the first moment you were you that you were blessed, and sacred, and immersed in God’s love. I think that’s absolutely true. God knits and weaves us. We are awesomely and uniquely made. Do you know who that applies to?
We are all awesomely and uniquely made. But again – It’s a mistake to read poetry literally. It does not mean that God manipulated your DNA for some unknown purpose. That’s that puppet-master theology of God again. I reject it.
Remember, God’s only agenda is love.
Love and sacredness is what was knit and woven into you as you were formed.
Love and sacredness is who we are at our deepest, innermost core.
That some people choose to deny (or just can’t recognize) that love and sacredness in themselves is sad.
That some have been told they’re not lovely and sacred is tragic, perhaps evil.
And that some actively reject the fact of the inherent love and sacredness of other people, is called sin.
The poet/psalmist speaks of all the days of our lives being written in God’s book. Again, it’s not literal, and it’s not predestination. For me it just means that in the story of your life God is on every page – journeying with you – leading and holding you – present in every sacred moment – no matter what.
In verse 18 the psalmist collapses in exhaustion from trying to figure this stuff all out. They just throw their arms up in the air and give themselves over to God and say, “God, it’s all too big for me to understand. I don’t know why you love me, and why you’re always with me, and why I’m sacred, and why everything that is is blessed. But I’m grateful. And I’m yours.”
And if we stopped there, like our suggested lectionary reading wants us to, this would be a beautiful Hallmark card – all sweet and syrupy and light.
But that’s not what psalms are.
One of the greatest things about psalms is that they’re real. Oh so real!
This psalm is about nakedness before God. That means the beautiful stuff, and the not so beautiful stuff – laid bare.
So in verses 19-22 the psalm takes a turn and lays bare the nakedness of our humanity.
“Kill the wicked for me, God! Turn the bad people away. Make people who don’t follow your way suffer. I hate the people who hate you. I loathe the people who rise up against you. Completely! They’re my enemies.”
Yikes! What’s stuff like that doing in the bible?
It’s laying bare our humanity – that’s what!
If you’ve never had thoughts like that, well, I think you’re kidding yourself. Hate language is pretty naked!
The psalmist is being blatantly honest and talking from their gut.
There’s no waffling here. No “I gotta clean up my thoughts and words so God won’t be offended by the reality of my experience and what I’m feeling.”
Nope – Friends, God can take it.
And if we don’t acknowledge that we’re feeling that stuff we aren’t being real, and open.
What makes you think God doesn’t know it already? Of course God does. We’re naked, remember?!!!
This is real spirituality.
This is a frustrated, disillusioned human talking – one who’s looking at the world around them and can’t fathom how so much wickedness and hatred seems to be spilling over and hurting people.
It’s a cry for justice! Surely, we can relate to this!
Unfortunately, the world gets the best of us sometimes. No, not that we’d act that way (I pray). But that we feel that kind of frustration and, well, ‘hate’ at people who are so hurtful, and unloving, and unjust.
You see, that’s the thing.
When you are immersed in such love, and such sacredness, and you are so utterly vulnerable and naked before God, filled with God’s fullness, and grace, and joy – witnessing hatred, and violence, and evil shakes you to your core and offends you as it stands in absolute opposition to what you know is deepest and truest about yourself and everyone – that love and sacredness are what’s really real – and anything else is an upsetting counterfeit.
We can’t leave those verses out.
Having acknowledged such things in the world the psalmist – we – cry out to God in desperation, praying that such things are not stirring in us too. Verses 23-24:
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Here I am God.
I’m not perfect.
I try hard to be loving, but I know I fall short.
But I am yours.
I know you are present, here in this sacred moment, in every sacred moment.
I know you’re always with me because wherever I go and whatever I do, there you are.
And I’m loved, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Your presence enfolds.
Your light shines.
Your love warms.
Your hand guides.
I’ll keep trying – and I’ll keep stumbling – and you’ll keep loving, and leading me in the way everlasting.
Surely God, you are in this place.
Help me notice, and revel in the nakedness of this present moment.