March 15, 2015 Psalm 139: 1-6,13-18
A couple weeks ago I mentioned in my sermon that my niece, when she was young, asked me how to pray. I remember telling her that there were many ways to pray, but that I often thought of it as a conversation with God, both talking, and listening for God’s response. You don’t need fancy words.
Jesus spoke of having a personal relationship with God, referring to God as Abba, translated as Father or Papa - an affectionate term. How we perceive and relate to God is personal. No wonder there are over 900 names and titles of God in the Bible, many of them referring to Jesus. Each describes a different aspect of God, as understood by the individual writers. Let’s face it, no one can describe the indescribable. But we keep trying, none the less.
The Psalms were ancient Israel’s prayer book. Some were written for worship. Others were intimate, personal conversations with God. But unlike the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures, containing history, fiction, mythology, poetry, biographies, proverbs, the Psalms were addressed directly to God, expressing the writers deepest feelings of fear, joy, anger, confusion, praise, thanksgiving and wonder, at times speaking for all of Israel.
We don’t know who wrote Psalm 139, what his circumstances were (It was probably a him. We can’t be sure.), but through its’ beautiful poetry, we hear the voice of an individual who has experienced a deep and personal relationship with a loving God, aware of God’s presence in his life at all times, celebrating the wonder and mystery of his own creation and praising God for it all.
The lectionary gives us only part of the Psalm to work with and I’ve decided to stay within their boundaries. So try imagining the Psalmist, out in the desert, sitting under a scrubby bush for a little shade, writing down his innermost thoughts to share with God.
Psalm 139: 1-6,13-18
O God, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O God, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. 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, before they existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them-- they are more than the sand; I come to the end-- I am still with you.
Please join me in singing “Surely the presence of our God”
(printed in bulletin)
Surely the presence of our God is in this place,
I can feel God’s mighty power and God’s grace.
I can hear the brush of angel’s wings,
I see glory on each face.
Surely the presence of our God is in this place.
This psalm brings up memories of my childhood. Remember this song?
You better watch out, you better not cry,
you better not shout, I’m telling you why.
Santa Claus is coming to town (sing with me)
He’s making a list, He’s checking it twice,
He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.
He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.
Were Coots and Gillespie, the composers of this song way back in 1934 channeling Psalm 139? When I was very little, waiting for Santa, I was led to believe that Santa had a whole legion of helpers - elfs - that would secretly come around and check on us to see if we were behaving ourselves - sort of like angels - they were illusive and we couldn’t see them.
As I grew older and started my religious studies, it was God, I was taught, who knew my every word and deed. My teachers must have read Psalm 139. Back then it was a very judgmental and punishing God who was watching to see if I would slip up. It made for a rather uncomfortable relationship with God. One was always looking over ones shoulder.
It wasn’t until much later that I was introduced to Psalm 139 - a psalm that reaffirms that God knows us through and through - our every thought, word and action. This could still make one a little apprehensive. How many people would you want to know your every thought, word and deed? But God is not just anybody, and our relationship with God is not like our human relationships. How we respond to this psalm hinges on how we feel about God, how we understand God, and that will differ with each one of us.
So this morning let’s take Psalm 139 on a little drive out to the Cape, out to a cliff, to a little piece of land jutting out into the sea; set up our beach chair and have a little conversation with God. Or - you could sit by your favorite pond, whatever pleases your fancy. Imagine that it’s summer, warm and sunny.
S: God, are you there?
G: I’m here.
S: Just checking.
G: Does it make you nervous, having me follow you around?
S: No, no, no - well - yes - sometimes. It brings back all those childhood
memories of fear, you know - fearful God - if I don’t do it right, how many
Hail Mary’s will I have to say after confession? And then there’s the guilt
G: Fear and guilt, hum, not very helpful emotions to be carrying around. I’m
sorry you got that distorted image of me early on. I’m not listening in and
following you around to spy on you and give you a guilt trip. That isn’t
my intent at all.
S: I know that. It was just those lingering worries.
G: I’m really here to help you. I can point you in the right direction when you
get lost. It’s difficult to improve yourself if you’re not aware and ready to
face where you’re coming up short. I’m here, by your side, to keep you
on the right track.
S: You’re making me think of my younger sister. When she was real little,
she got mad at our mom, so she packed her suitcase and decided to
run away. You may remember this. Mom followed close behind, hiding
behind trees, keeping a watch, until finally my sister found herself totally
lost and scared. That’s when mom made her presence known. They
made up on the spot - lots of hugs and kisses, and mom led her back to
the safely of home. No wonder Jesus referred to you as his father.
You’re a lot like my mom. You won’t let us get out of your sight, will ya?
G: I’m here to love you - completely - like a parents love. Humans all do
things, that in hindsight they wish they hadn’t. Life is a learning
curve. You mess up one day. You repent. You make a fresh start.
Hopefully you grow from your mistakes. But most parents - unfortunately
I can’t say all - but most - never stop loving their children, even during
the difficult times, when they feel more like throttling them. Sometimes
it takes tough love to get through to them and show them the way.
S: You sound just like a parent.
G: I created you - in my image - remember? You grew in your mothers’
womb. You have your parents’ DNA, but you have my DNA too, planted
deep within you is the image of goodness itself; self-worth, self-esteem,
S: Not always easy to access that in todays’ culture. A friend, about my
age, and I were commiserating over the aging process recently. It
seems to be a frequent topic of conversation among my peers as of late.
We’re single. That puts added pressure on us. What’s happening to our
bodies? They just aren’t the same!
I saw a commercial last week for a product that will make your eye
lashes grow! - really - as though anyone would notice. This attractive
30 something was complaining that as she aged her eye lashes weren’t
as long as they used to be. I hate to tell her, but just give it a little more
time. My glaucoma eye drops made my lashes grow, and it’s probably
a lot cheaper than what she’s advertising.
G: Those held hostage to your culture seem to have forgotten that you can,
and will, lose your youth and all that it has to offer. During your life time
people may take things away from you, deprive you of things you value,
but they cannot take away from you the fact that you are my child and
bear my impression on your very soul. That makes you very precious to
me. Keep close to me and more of me will rub off on you. Another bit of
advice: ‘When the soul is smiling inside, it’ll do wonders for the body
S: You’re right, you know. Of course you know. When I quiet myself, like
sitting out here today, watching the birds fly overhead, listening to the
waves crashing over those rocks - listening to you, I feel content,
relaxed, at peace - with myself and the world. When I do that and then
look in the mirror, it shows. But more important, I feel you inside of me. I
know I’ve opened myself up and let you in.
G: Isn’t that what’s really important? - not your extra fat, wrinkles, sagging
skin and flabby muscles. I’m not looking at the shell. I’m looking into
your heart. That’s what counts.
S: I can’t hide from you, can I?
S: Why would I want to? Knowing you is too wonderful to comprehend.
Which leaves me in another quandary. How do I comprehend you?
G: That will come later. Remember what Paul told the Corinthians: “Now I
know only in part, then I will know fully, even as I have been fully
known.” I’ll be waiting for you at that time.
S: Not anytime soon - ok?
G: Not anytime soon. I’m not following you around just to sit on the beach,
although these conversations are important. I gave you unique gifts and
talents when you were being custom made in your mothers’ womb. Now
that you’re out, I have work for you to do. So listen up....
Susan: Would you be with me in prayer. I will pause between each line. Just let yourself be with each image.
The light of God surrounds me.
The love of God enfolds me.
The peace of God flows through me.
Wherever I am, God is, and all is well.