Scripture: Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18
Title: Still with God
Poetry, music and literature have a way carrying a message that is larger than the sum of their parts. I marvel at good poetry. It has the capacity to uncover thoughts, reveal feelings and expose truths. Like good music, it can touch us in places that nothing else can. Maybe I did not want to be touched, but I resisted the poetry Miss Hegel, my 11th grade English teacher, worked so diligently to share with me. On more than one occasion, I was the recipient of her “I am not happy with you” face.
An apology may be to little, to late, but I wonder what she would think if she knew that I remember e. e. cummings, and more importantly, that I have lived long enough to appreciate him. “Now the ears of my ears awake andnow the eyes of my eyes are opened.” I doubt she would believe it if somehow word got back to her that I just quoted him in a sermon. Then, I just wanted the facts. Give me reasonable and rational prose. Since then, I come to understand that there is some truth that is too large for prose to contain, some truth that escapes the convenience of mathematical formulas. So, thank God for poets and psalmists.
Our psalm this morning speaks a simple truth, God knows the psalmist and the psalmist knows that God knows him. The details of God’s knowing are comprehensive. Sitting, standing, thinking, walking, sleeping, speaking, God knows it all. Which makes sense, because God is the one who has fearfully and wonderfully made the writer of this song.
We read it and we think if God can know all of that about the writer of this psalm, then God probably knows my most embarrassing moment or moments in my case. God knows the thing that scares me the most, that thing that keeps me up at night. If God knows the thing I dread most, then God knows the thing that gives me the greatest joy. I bet God even knows why my eyes get all moist at the end of the movie even if I do not.
God knows us. That’s a simple claim, but it has radical implications. God is no distant watchmaker who set the world in motion and then decided to take a nap. God knows us. We are known. The poetry of the psalmist makes me think we are known with intimacy and a passion.
You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you, When I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body.
God knows us. God knows us before even our parents know us, and before we know ourselves.
The story of the calling of Samuel tells us that God knows us before we even start to think about knowing God. Three times young Samuel hears someone calling him. He does not know what God sounds like. He thinks it is his teacher, Eli, calling him. It is God calling. God calls us over and over, but because we do “not yet know the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:7), we mistakenly think the call is coming from someone else. Initially, it was Eli, not Samuel, who realized the Lord was calling the boy. In this story, we see that God knows us and calls out to us long before we know God.We also see that in knowing one another and sharing wisdom with one another we are better able to recognizethe meaning and significance of God’s movement in our lives.
In John’s Gospel, in the story of Jesus calling Nathaniel and Philip we that in knowing us, God enables us to know God. Philip tells Nathaniel that he has “found the one Moses wrote of in the law, the one preached by the prophets” (John 1:45)—Jesus, from Nazareth. Nathaniel doubts the Messiah could come from a town like Nazareth, but he agrees to go with Philip and check this Jesus out.
Jesus at once recognizes Nathaniel as a “true Israelite,” and Nathaniel insists that Jesus doesn’t know him. But, of course, Jesus—the same Jesus who knew the hemorrhaging woman from a slight tug of his garment, who knew the woman at the well from a glance, and who reminds his believers that God can number every hair on their heads—knows Nathaniel: “before Philip called you, I saw you under a fig tree.” With that, Nathaniel understands he’s in the presence of the king of Israel. God first knows Nathaniel, and, because of God’s deep knowledge of him—the type of deep knowledge hinted at in Psalm 139—Nathaniel is able to know Jesus for who he is.
God knows us. God knows all about us. Evidently, God has always known all about us. Yet, God still comes to us so that we can know that God loves us. Incarnation happens, Christmas happens. Knowing us from afar is not enough. Maybe, God with us will convince us that God does not simply know of us or about us, but that God knows us.
It is a wonderful and good thing God knows us and wants to be know by us. But there is a point that needs clarification. For the last few minutes I have been speaking about God knowing us. I have not been speaking about God knowing me. Biblical religion is plural, not singular. Moses said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” Jesus said to Peter, “On this rock, I will build my church.” The song the psalmist sings this morning can never just be my song or his song or your song. It is our song or it is a distortion.
Do you remember record players? There were speed settings on the record player, 33 for albums and 45 for singles. However, put a single on the record player and play at the speed meant for albums and it would sound like someone singing underwater in glass jar. Did you ever do that? I did. It distorted the sound. It was not the way the record was meant to be played. Being a Christian is not a solo act.
But we are susceptible to practicing it just that way birthed and nurtured as we are in a culture that celebrates rugged individualism as a birthright. When we do we treat God’s knowledge of us as just another commodity. We treat our religious experience has one more thing we can own. Worse, we think of it as something we have accomplished or finished, so now we are freed up to move on to other things. We have checked that box, now what is next? The very thing that God intended to set us free, to give us life, abundant life becomes just one more component in a self-centered life lived in a world that we expect to revolve around us.
Can you see the distortion? First, God knowing us and us knowing God is never finished, accomplished or done. There is no end to it. It is born out each day in the lives we live and share together. It begins and ends, not with us, but with God whose knowledge is too wonderful for us. Second, the relationship is not defined by what we bring to it or even what we seek from it. It is defined by what God brings to it, most notably, a child. It is defined by what God wants out of it, an intimate love relationship with all of God’s creation.
So, then, As I read this psalm and note the ways it comforts and challenges me, the ways it endears me to God and deepens my love God, the ways it teaches and forms me, then I look up and see that you are here. Psalm 139 times 1, times 2, times 3. Psalm 139 times everyone in this room. Not just you in this room, but in every sanctuary this morning the God who knows, knows all who gather in them. Not just in sanctuaries, but in hospitals and homeless shelters, in prisons and refugee camps, in back alleys and distant hollers, in children’s homes and high-rise apartments, Army barracks and corporate boardrooms, at kitchen tables and in soup kitchens, In America, Norway, Haiti and all of Africa, the God who knows—knows all of us.
God knows us. We are getting to know God. Then, as we get to know more of the people that God knows, the kingdom of Heaven comes near. Our presence, our attention to one another reflects both God’s knowing us and God’s presence among us.
When I see the God who knows me in you and you see the God who know you in me, Jesus would say, “The kingdom of Heaven is near.” When we open the door and leave this place and recognize the God who knows us in all the faces that inhabit this planet, then God is really starting to get what God wants. Our knowing is incomplete until we make an effort to get to know some people that we never would have thought twice about until we read Psalm 139 and realized we share a world filled with fearfully and wonderfully made people.
One day, some of Jesus disciples ask him to teach them to pray. Of course, he did. Every Sunday, we pray the prayer he taught them. It begins with the word, “our.” We may pray “Our Father” or “Our Creator” or “Our Mother,”but however we address God, we start with the first person plural pronoun, “our.” Who is included when we say “our?” Who is in and who is out? Who is acceptable and who is not? When you read the history of Christianity and see pain, suffering and death caused by the church, it is clear that the church has decided, consciously or unconsciously, that the recipients of the brutality are definitely not included in the ”our.”
Interestingly, the question of who is in and who is out arises at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It is raised not by Jesus, but by a prospective follower. In the story about the calling of Nathaniel and Phillip, before he is introduced to Jesus, Nathaniel asks Phillip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”It is a loaded question. One that I suspect Nathaniel had already answered in his own mind with and emphatic no. How did he arrive at this answer? Had he been there or was he just going on what he heard about it from others? It was a small village, around 150 residents. Maybe he thought small was bad. It was in Galilee and Galilee was thought to be something of a cultural and religious backwater by the more refined and devout inhabitants of Jerusalem. We really don’t know if Nathaniel’s assessment of Nazareth was the result of his thoughtless acceptance of what he had heard others say about it or if had some experience there that caused him to harbor ill will toward Nazarenes. We don’t know if Nathaniel was too lazy to do his own research or too hateful to allow for the possibility that something good could come from Nazareth.
What we do know is that Nathaniel changed his mind after he encountered Jesus. More specifically, he changed his mind after he realized that Jesus knew him. Over time, I suspect that he began to see that Jesus new everything about him, much like the Psalmist who had been searched and known by God.
Who is so different that he is beyond being known by God? Who is so deficient that she is beyond being known by God? Who is so other from all the rest of us that we cannot conceive of that person being known by God? At the end of the day, who should be denied the wonder and peace of being with God?
In what country is the village where there are people who are not known by God? Loved by God? Fearfully and wonderfully made by God?
It does not exist! That is the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Amen.