Plymouth United Church of Christ

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Sermon, Year B, Epiphany 2, January 15, 2012
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber, 2011
Focus Scripture: Psalm 139

I don’t often preach on the Psalms, but this Psalm, number 139, is probably my favorite of all the Psalms. I find in it a comfort and a sense of maybe belonging. A sense that it is okay for me to be. That I am part of the universe. Gives me a sense of God’s love and concern, a sense that I am cherished, that I am made beautifully and wondrously by a God who cares deeply about me and about you and about everyone. All people that God has made. All who are in God’s image. In many ways, it’s kind of a love song to God. The Psalms were likely sung in ancient Hebrew worship. So it is really a kind of love song. Not in the sense of a pop or modern love song that uses the word “baby” a lot, or that talks about love in a superficial level. This is a really poetic love song. A love song to a God who knows me and who knows you and us intimately and thoroughly. And it doesn’t just talk about God to us. A number of Psalms talk about things God has done, but this Psalm doesn’t talk about God to us, but talks to God about God! Much use of the word “you” in this one: “You, O God”. It’s a litany of praise and devotion in beautiful poetic form, especially about knowing. The two sections we read are all about how God knows us. Knowing is so important in a relationship, whether it’s with a friend or a spouse, or a co-worker or co-congregant. To know another, and to be known changes the dynamic. Once you know someone’s name or their interests and some of their past, it’s hard to think of them as just an unrelated detached entity. When you get to know someone, they become part of who you are. To understand another person’s humanity makes them more ... well, human. More a real person.

The Psalmist here speaks to God as one who knows us. One who knows who we are. A God who even knows our capacity for sin, failure, and for deceit, and disobedience, and yet loves us anyway. I came across a definition of “friend” many years ago that said a friend is a person who knows you and who loves you anyway. I’m sure those of you who are in or have been in long-term relationships have learned things about your significant other that do not make your top ten list of things you enjoy about them. Probably even the top 100 or top 1000. But you stick with them because you know they are so much more than that and they know that you are so much more than who you sometimes are.

To know and to be known. So important. That relationship that we have with God. That just might be why this Psalm has been so important to me, anyway. To know that someone, God, knows me better than anyone else. better than anyone else could possibly know. And not just better—but actually knows who I am fully. Knows entirety of my being in a way that no one else ever possibly could. Better even than we know ourselves. And God still loves us because God made us out of love. Listen to these words from the Psalm again that begins, “O Lord you have searched me and known me.” God searches for us; not a one-shot, one-time searching, but a continuous process. God pays attention to who we are. “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 laying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.” This is a God who seeks us out, who knows us, who pays attention. And who also knows what we are about to say. God knows what is on our hearts. I would hope that knowing that would give you more courage to pray. Not to be afraid to pray, because God knows what is on our hearts even if we don’t say it beautifully, eloquently, or with the “right” words. God doesn’t worry about that. God knows what is on our hearts already. God knows your intent. So don’t be afraid.

Going on: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high I cannot attain it.” Humans cannot know in the way God knows.

Then there is a section about God’s presence that we didn’t read: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” That is a lesson that Jonah learned. The answer being: nowhere. There is nowhere you can flee from God’s presence. “If I ascend to heaven, your are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.” Whether on earth, heaven, or in sheol, God is there. This is interesting because in early Hebrew thought, Sheol was a place the dead went to and was a place where God was not. It was thought to be the one place that God was not a part of. And thought to be eternal separation from God. But that thought changed somewhere along the line, so the Psalmist can say here that “even in Sheol, you are there, you are present.”

And back to what we read: “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.” God knows us so well because God made us! God knit us together in our mothers’ wombs! This Psalm feels like a warm snuggly blanket on a cold, windy, miserable day. Or the antidote to the time of trial that we pray about in the Lord’s Prayer, “Bring me not to the time of trial, but if I do end up in the time of trial take comfort in knowing that God is with us." “Remember,” God is saying, “I know who you are, I made you. And I will not leave you alone. I am with you.”

And then it finishes: “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! 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.” This is love poetry! This is a beautiful love poem to God. A gorgeous statement of belief as well. It would make a wonderful statement of faith, or statement of belief, precisely because it is in poetic form. There is metaphor in here, and it’s relational: it has “You, O God”. It is not an academic treatise with proofs and footnotes. It’s not a bullet list of specific doctrinal points. It’s poetry.

Think of your own relationships. Do you want to receive a letter from your lover saying “I love you because your pheromones are genetically linked to mine and thus my brain reacts chemically in a way that I interpret as the “love” emotion” ... or do you want to receive a note from them saying, “I love you because you do things for me and that makes my life much more convenient. Thank you.” Or do you want your lover to write like this Psalmist: “I love you because you know who I am and love me in spite of it. You know my thoughts—you finish my sentences, you complete me, you make me want to be a better person. You are with me even when we are apart. You are the light in the dark places in my life that I didn’t even know existed.” Then you can toss in some of the erotic stuff from Song of Solomon. It’s in the Bible; go ahead. Something like that. It’s relational. It’s personal. A love song of poetry.

I wish all churches’ Statements of Faith read like this Psalm, and not like the bullet point lists of specific doctrinal beliefs I see so often. Our denomination, the United Church of Christ, Statement of Faith that is in the back of your hymnals is relational and personal. It addresses God directly. It says, “YOU, God, set the worlds in motion. YOU, God, came to save us. YOU, God, were incarnate on earth.”

The Psalm then has a section right before the end of it that we didn’t read, asking God to smite the wicked and those who malign God’s name and those who are bloodthirsty. And then it ends with these words that I am going to end with: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Amen.

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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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