(Isaiah 6:1-9; Psalm 139)
Will you pray with me? God of abundant grace, your presence is with us wherever we go, and yet, we pray that you would surround us, be with us, make your presence apparent to us so that through our recognition of your presence, we might grow stronger in our faith and live our lives with hopefulness. Open our ears, eyes, and hearts that we may hear your word to us this morning and see your actions speaking to us throughout our week. Lord, be with each of us. In your name we pray, Amen.
In 2012 I started knitting a blanket for the child in my sister’s womb. I did not yet know the child, but I knew already that I loved the child, I knew I wanted the baby to be wrapped up in a warm blanket made with love by its Auntie Grace. I knew I wanted to know the child, that I wanted the child to know I loved them. I started knitting a basic checkerboard pattern blanket, my specialty, row by row. Many many mistakes were made, dropped stitches, miscounted rows, twisted patterns. With each of these, I un-weaved the knitting, reworking it. Finally, I finished the blanket, on a trip to see my sister I delivered to my nephew, Shepard, an intricately woven together blanket, a blanket about half the height of this now 6 year old boy I had come to know and come to love. A true labor of love, knitting that blanket was.
One commentator talks about watching his Norwegian mother-in-law knit together 4 Norwegian sweaters for their Christmas presents one year. He said he watched how carefully and intricately she knit each sweater together, how much time it took, how much attention to detail, and all the care she put into it. How difficult it must be to knit a Norwegian sweater he thought, and then, how much more difficult it must be to knit together a Norwegian, or an African, or American, or Korean, or El Salvadorian. How much care and intricacies go into the creation of you and me, of all of God’s children, who are knit together in our mother’s womb.
How wonderful it is to be knit together by God, to know that God has created us, to realize that each stitch of our being was intricately woven together by God with God’s divine knitting needles, that every fiber of our being is created and known by God, carefully designed and painstakingly attended to.
But as I hear this Psalm, I must wonder, as others have, do I want to be known by God, by anyone, like that? Is this good news? Or is this overwhelming and maybe a bit intimidating?
We live lives that are built around being known as who we want to be known as, not our true selves. We have social media feeds that give a highlight reel of our lives – filtered pictures, our best actions, our purest thoughts. We build relationships around our best selves – telling friends and acquaintances only about the good in our lives, seldom the vulnerable. Our society prides the unbroken and perfect as symbols of the best. So why would I want someone going in to the intimate details of my life, where I hide all my baggage, where I keep the secret thoughts I am ashamed to even voice in my head, where I store the memories I long to forget?
One translator translates the phrase “you have searched me and known me” by saying “you excavate me Lord.” You dig into me. This may seem a bit overwhelming – God excavates me, I imagine God with God’s own little tool kit, a divine excavating brush and excavating pick, looking through our very beings. This unsettles me a bit.
Clarence Jordan said once that as long as God was an idea, an abstraction, a feeling, we were fine with God. Then Jesus showed up, in the flesh, looking at us with those excavating eyes. God was suddenly as real and tangible on earth as in heaven — and we decided it wasn’t a good place for God to be. Jordan says that it felt like there was a preacher at the barbershop. It felt like there was a nun at the bar, or a monk at the bachelor party. So we said, “Jesus, we have to watch ourselves too much around you. We feel hemmed in around you. Now you go back home where you belong and be a good God, and maybe we’ll see you on a Sunday morning.”
Or the phrase in verse 5 that is translated as “hem in,” which uses the Hebrew word for a city under siege, so perhaps more accurately would be translated “you besiege me Lord.” You entrap me, you annoy me, you build up protection around me.
The overwhelming everywhere-ness of God. The almost unsettling presence of God in our lives. Do we want to be this known, do we want even God to search us as the Psalmist describes? For we are often afraid, embarrassed of what God will most certainly find, what we know we have pushed aside to the cob-webbed attics of our memories, thoughts and feelings that we bury within our souls.
And yet the Psalmist proclaims this as good news, as balm for our wearied souls, hope for our bewildered beings. That perhaps Good looking deeply within you, knowing your very being to its detail, would be a good thing, that God’s persistence presence would be comforting, not terrifying.
The spiritual writer and Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello writes,“I had a fairly good relationship with the Lord. But I always had this uncomfortable sense that he was looking at me and wanted me to look at him. But I would not, because I was afraid that I should find an accusation there of some unrepented sin or a demand for something he wanted from me. Then one day I looked. There was no accusation or demand. His eyes just said, “I love you.”
Christian writer and novelist Anne Lamott talks in her book Traveling Mercies about her coming to faith. She describes her life in seeming shambles – she had been drinking far too heavily and far too often, had experienced broken relationships, in the midst of drunken spells and painful moments in her life she says she “became aware that someone was with me, hunkered down in the corner.” After a while she said she knew without a doubt it was Jesus there with her, not wanting to become a Christian she cried out “I would rather die.” Throughout her continuously painful journey of heavy drinking, cigarette smoking, and difficult relationships and decisions she ended up going to church to listen to the music, leaving before any of the sermons started. She stayed one time through the service in response to this constant presence of Jesus, this annoyingly there Jesus, and prodding sense of God’s presence. She says in more colorful language, she finally threw her hands up and said “forget it, I quit. All right, you can come in.”
The overwhelming presence of God. The intense prodding of God’s divine excavating tools, the constant following of Jesus.
Perhaps God’s everywhere-ness, relentlessness, inescapability, are indeed exactly the balm we need for our souls. So that when we hear these words of the Psalmist we hear them as declarations of hope and comfort for our innermost beings. Indeed, we need to hear these words.
So if you’re like the many eons of Christians who have fled the presence of God, kept God at arm’s length, turned your face from what God may have in store for you, find comfort in these words:
“Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?”
Or if you are one of the millions of people suffering from loneliness, despair, or confusion. Wondering in the midst of this busy world if you really have any relevance. Wondering if in this hectic life what your role is, hear these words of comfort:
“You know when I sit down and when I rise up,
You discern my thoughts from afar.”
Or if in the midst of your life of fullness, unprecedented joy finds you in relationships, in success, in all of life’s happiness, hear these words:
“If I ascend to heaven, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall hold me fast.”
And perhaps when you have a moment to contemplate, to reflect, to consider life’s blessings and God’s majesty, be compelled by these words:
“You search out my path and my lying down.”
And if life has handed you a whole handful of crap lately, the recent death of a loved one, or the long wait for test results, or the long wait for justice, or the pangs of confusion and fear are persisting in your thoughts and very lives, hear the cry of the Psalmist:
“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me
and the light around me become night,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.’”
Or if life has just been plain cruel to you, the words again:
“If I make my bed in Sheol,” (which is another word for hell,)“You are there.”
God’s presence as balm for our souls.
The Psalm continues though, it continues beyond the beautiful poetry of creation, the conflicting good news of God’s presence and knowledge and in verse 19 takes a surprising turn. A three verse divergence from the beautiful Psalm that most lectionary readings leave out. Some people have tried to explain these verses away, say that they must have been added after the fact, by another author, they just don’t fit the theme of the Psalm.
O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
20 those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil![b]
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
But I would have to disagree, they fit the psalm perfectly. The truth of any of our human conversations with God, is that they are all over the place. I wish I could say that all of my conversations with God were praise, or all of my conversations with God were even asking for help, but sometimes its down right anger, and sometimes its total human emotion, that the Psalmist shows here. It makes perfect sense to me that the Psalmist’s thoughts would go from praise worthy to vindictive, the Psalmist after all is a human.
Most scholars who read this passage and agree that these verses indeed do belong where they are cite the tie between the two seemingly fragmented sections. Firstly, what the psalmist confesses at the beginning of the Psalm, namely that God knows every intricate fiber of his being, what the Psalmist says there then becomes his plea at the end of the Psalm, search me, know me, know even these thoughts that I am having, search me, know me completely so that you can lead me. Secondly, the Psalmist describes this intimate connection with God throughout the first 19 verses. From this deeply intimate connection comes the hatred not of the Psalmist’s own enemies but who he deems to be the enemies of God. The Psalmist is so connected to God that he considers God’s enemies his enemies.
Now that’s raw human emotion so I won’t fault it too much, but that disagrees with the good news of the first 19 verses. Yes, the Psalmist and God are deeply connected but the writer of the Psalm writes these words that are true of each of us. God knit you together in your mothers womb, God will not leave you, God knows your thoughts, God searches you. God is not an enemy to these other humans, God loves them because God knows them.
Which makes me wonder, if the psalmist or we can call God’s enemies our enemies, can we take a slight side step and recognize God’s beloved as our own beloved? Can our love of God be so great, our deep connection to God be so unbounded that rather than hating who we presume are God’s enemies, can we love whom God loves, can we love those whom God has created? Perhaps it must come from the deep connection to God, but if we can see ourselves as God’s children, can we stop seeing our enemy as God’s enemy but rather see God’s children as just that, God’s children?
God is unrelenting, persistent, God is all knowing, and most importantly God is all loving – with great care for us all knitting together every stitch of imperfection in a perfectly well intentioned divine masterpiece. Carry with you this week this ever true knowledge:
God knows you
God knows every detail of your life, even the secrets you keep hidden
God learns about you
God leads you
God will not let you go
God knit each. One. Of us. Together in perfect harmony
God loves. God loves you, and you, and you, and even them over there.
In the name of God who created us, God who redeems us and God who sustains us throughout all of life’s frailties. Amen.