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Friday, January 16, 2009

SERMON THOUGHTS FOR THIS SUNDAY
SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY
Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18
1LORD, you have searched me out;
O LORD, you have known me.
2You know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3You trace my journeys and my resting-places
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,
but you, O LORD, know it altogether.
5You encompass me, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
13For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
14I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
15My body was not hidden from you,
while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth.
16Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book;
my days were fashioned before they came to be.
17How deep I find your thoughts, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
18If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
++++++++++++++++++++
I was reading the lessons for this Sunday and the Psalm immediately grabbed me.
That is unusual.
I have to preach on the psalm, I said to myself.
I had to, but I wasn’t sure why.
Or initially, how.
Psalms can be tricky things.
People’s souls crying out to God in praise or pain, clarity or confusion.
People feeling forsaken or fearful or delighted and overflowing with joy – the Psalms run the spectrum of human experience , of human emotion, of the width, the breadth, the height, the depth of our faith journey with God.

The Gospel tells one of the stories of the calling of the disciples – lots of possibilities there. We all share in that experience – in our Baptism, in our gifts, in our relationships, in our encounters, in our work and in our play, God in Christ Jesus does call each of us as disciples to follow him. Invites us. Takes the first step of us. This year’s call story in our reading cycle is from the Gospel of John and notice that it is all about seeing. Over and over again – we attune our ears to this important word. See.

45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." 46Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."

47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" 48Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you."

49Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" 50Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." 51And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

To see is to know, an invitation to have faith, to believe.

45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." 46Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."

Come and See.
Come and know.
And in seeing and in knowing, above all, be believing.

So much for a quick look at seeing in the Gospel. We note with some interest that the Psalm is all about seeing as well, but not about our seeing, not about what we see, but rather about what God sees, what God knows, perhaps even what God believes.

Now that is pretty cool.

And right off the bat we learn that God sees us. You and me. God sees us.
We read:
1LORD, you have searched me out;
O LORD, you have known me.
2You know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3You trace my journeys and my resting-places
and are acquainted with all my ways.

Perhaps your initial reaction would be different from mine.
I’m thinking: Uh-oh! This is worse than Santa Claus.
Not only does God know if I have been bad or good, God knows everything about me.
When I go to sleep and when I wake up (and what I have been doing in between)
God knows my thoughts, my deepest most private thoughts. If I had a diary God would not only know what I put there, but what I didn’t dare put there. The thoughts too personal to write down, to put at risk for discovery. God knows such thoughts.

God sees us in the womb. Knows things about you and I that we, ourselves, cannot remember.
God watches us. Surrounds us with his presence. Knows every word the moment it reaches our lips and every thought that comes to us. God’s limitless knowledge of us, an intimacy that we can barely begin to comprehend, can be flat out frightening, don’t you think?

Think about it – God knows when we use caller ID to screen our calls and pretend that we are not home. God knows! God knows when we were 8 years old and pretended to be sick so we could watch cartoons all day (speaking theoretically, of course). The cars that we bumped into, the windows that we accidentally smashed playing baseball out in the street, when our friends used fake ID’s to buy beer for us, again theoretically speaking) God knows. Knows our jealousies and pettiness and fears and loves and dreams and hopes and pleasures. God knows them all.

Now, when I was a kid, the day came when I stumbled across passages like those in Psalm 139. 1LORD, you have searched me out;
O LORD, you have known me.
2You know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3You trace my journeys and my resting-places
and are acquainted with all my ways.


Now that was a day of reckoning. To realize that God knew me this well - I figured that God was keeping track of every unkind word, every selfish thought, everything disappointment. Scary. It seemed much more preferable to be a stranger to God than on such intimate terms. Better a God that was far off on vacation having a good time, distracted, than a God with figurative arms around me, looking over my shoulder, knowing everything, every thought, every word, and every deed.

But here’s the thing. That’s not the picture that this Psalm paints. It doesn’t paint a picture of the eavesdropping God with good ears, a long memory and a very sharp pencil and plenty of paper. No.

I want to tell you about a woman, let’s call her Linda. Linda is sweet and lovely and kind and compassionate (you get the picture). Well, as a young woman Linda spent years in a relationship with a young man who would constantly tell Linda how ugly she was. How awkward. How no one would love her except him and how lucky she was to have him. And she believed every word of it. He was obsessive and controlling and abusive and still she stuck with him because she believed that she was nothing without him. Would be less than nothing without him. She had bought into his lies hook, line and sinker. And so she suffered in silence as the years rolled by. Know anyone like that? Someone who has learned to hate themselves and clings to someone else to give their life meaning because they believe that they themselves are nothing? Do you know anyone like that? I have and I do and it breaks my heart. Their picture of God must be far off. Distant. Uncaring. Cold.

Here again what the Psalmist has to tell us – remind us – as he calls out to God in awe and wonder and reverence:

13For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
14I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
15My body was not hidden from you,
while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth.
16Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb

Now there is a big difference between a sermon and a self-help seminar, but know this:
We learn in this Psalm of God’s desire to see and know us as we are. We cannot fake out God, deceived God or fool God. God knows us stripped away of every façade, every mask, every act.
We stand naked before God, so to speak, exactly as God has made us. Wonderfully made us in God’s own image.

And God is not satisfied with observing us from afar, but through his Spirit draws us unto himself, enfolds us, embraces us. That’s what the Psalmist declares. God surrounds us and lays his hand upon us in warmth and friendship and love. And we are transformed. Such love, if we allow it, breaks through the lies that people tell us about who we are.

Nearly eight years ago there were some folks here with whom I was having a difficult relationship. They didn’t like some of the changes that I had made and I felt very distant from them and part of me thought, the more distant the better. One had threatened to leave and I thought that might be a good thing, at least for me. When I looked at her all I saw was an angry person who I believed greatly dislike me for what I was doing. When she looked at me, I have no idea what she saw. Then one Sunday she came through the line at the end of worship to shake my hand (we were a congregation of hand shakers then) and instead she grabs me and says I want a hug. And the lady behind her, she wanted a hug, too. And the next one and so on and so forth until hugs abounded and handshakes just seemed too darn formal anymore. I looked at her differently after that and I imagine she, me. And she began to take more and more time as she stopped to give me a hug, telling me about her adventures that week, and for a woman who had seen something like eight decades of life, her stories were always intriguing. I began to see the person behind my own judgments and clouded thoughts and my heart was opened to love her. She has since moved away, but I will always remember her fondly (for the most part, anyway) as someone who got me to see more like God sees each of us. All it took was an embrace to break through. Arms enfolding in a hug, much like God enfolds us all. To see ourselves and others as God sees, will always be a struggle, yet the rewards of such struggle are no less than the transformation of our life by drawing us closer to God and one another. May we always be asking God to open our eyes see! Amen.

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