Saturday, 7 September 2013

'Knowing me, knowing you': a sermon for Sunday, proper 18yr C

This week, I decided to take a slightly more expository preaching tack, and went with a sermon on Psalm 139, with one very brief nod towards the end to the other passage to be read during the service, Philemon.
And while the references to ABBA are probably entirely gratuitous, hey, why not... *grin*
It's a rather workmanlike effort, but as it was finished at 2am, let's be frank, that hour is not my most shining hour...!
The congregation I'm with use the GNB, which is okay, but I was quite shocked at how verse 14 of the Psalm read in this translation - the sense of the verse is really rather lost.

Knowing me, knowing you' 

Let’s pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer,  Amen.

I have two confessions this morning:
One: I’m about to age myself terribly
And Two: I’m about to display my probably quite dubious taste in music.

About a thousand years ago, when I was little...
well, okay, a teenager,
I was absolutely obsessed by a particular pop group who were all the rage in Australia. 
And apparently they didn’t do too badly over here, either. 
I refer to Benny, Bjorn, Frida, and Agneta, otherwise known as...  
Me and my mate Deb thought they were fab, and, as you do when you’re a particular age and get a little obsessive about a band,
we collected everything related to them;
learned all their songs – and, another confession:
we sang our wee hearts out with them –
well, alongside the portable record player in my room.
We read everything we could find about them in the news and in the fan mags:
no bit of information, however teeny or seemingly trivial, escaped our notice. 
Simply, we wanted to know everything about them. 
In many ways, they were a huge part of our formative years, and they were familiar friends.  
Except, of course,they were not friends at all, and really,
when it came down to it, although we thought we knew them, 
we didn’t know them at all.

The writer of our psalm this morning is faced with a similar scenario:
wanting to know God yet, realising that the task is seemingly impossible, he - or she - confesses as much in verses 17 and 18:
‘O God, how difficult I find your thoughts – how many of them there are! 

If I counted them, they would be more than the grains of sand.’ 

Unlike me and my mate Deb, however, who would never truly be able to call ABBA our friends in any real sense,
the psalmist paints a picture of a relationship at a most deep and intimate level,
and, within that relationship, we begin to learn about – to know God – a little more. 
And what we learn about God here, can be placed under three different umbrellas:
God ... knows everything
God ever-present all-powerful.

God knows everything – we see this particularly in verses 1-6.  
And here’s a thing:
in many of the psalms, God is way out there, the awesome, yet distant creator of stars and planets and solar systems.
Yet, while the awesomeness of God is not in dispute in this psalm, note the focus...
rather than look at the vastness of the universe, it’s as if a zoom lens is put on and suddenly, the attention of the Great Architect of the Cosmos is completely upon
Verse one: you have examined me, you know me  
Verse two: from far away, you understand all my thoughts.
Here we get a glimpse of the God who is concerned with,
what might seem in the broader scheme of things,
the teeny, the seemingly trivial. 
The psalmist tell us that in God’s eyes,
we matter –
we are not incidental, but rather,
like the stars and the planets and the swirling galaxies we, too, have our place in the great scheme of things,
and that God watches over us, knows us –
knows us better than we know ourselves, 
there’s a slight edginess to this knowledge:
God knows us completely,
for nothing –
is hidden.  
The good, the bad, and the downright ugly...
all seen,
all known.

That knowledge could be almost discomforting, and you can see this from the way the psalmist moves the meditation on in verses 7-12
Suddenly, we find at verse seven, a certain twitchiness about being so completely exposed, a twitchiness that produces a desire to escape –
to try to run away from God. 
Except, as the psalmist oberves:
God is ever-present.
Whether the escape route takes us to the highest heights, or to the deeps,
to the extreme points of the compass at east or west,
or finds us attempting to hide in either blinding light or darkest night...
God is with us.
And in the midst of feeling crowded in by God on all sides, there’s this:
‘you would be there...

to lead help me.’ 
And so the sense of – well, I’ll use the term –
the sense of feeling stalked by God is suddenly diluted...
God is ever-present because God knows us,
wants to lead us,
wants to help us. 
The constant presence of God is not menacing, the psalmist decides, but one of comfort.

And this sense of comfort continues as the psalmist begins to reflect upon God, who is all-powerful.
And again, rather than meditating upon the power of God within the context of the vastness of creation,
here we see the power of God in the small,
the almost unseen –
God who knows us so intimately that he knew us even as we were being knit together in the womb
God as a knitter – it’s a nice image...
God present even there in that small hidden place:
God powerful creator not only of the universe – the big – but also, of us – of the small.
And every aspect of God focused in upon, and concerned with, our well-being.
And here is where I have a wee problem with this particular translation of the verse 14, a more accurate sense of the text here would be:
‘I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works’.

‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ – that’s us:
We have been created by God with the capacity to do acts of appalling 
horror –
fearful acts...
and simultaneously, we have the capacity to do amazing things –
acts of wonderful kindness, bravery, generosity.
And the all-powerful, ever-present, and all-knowledgeable God gives us the ultimate gift:
rather than creating us and possessing us,
God sets us free to choose,
knowing that at times we will get it horrifically wrong
and that at other times, we will get it gloriously right.

It’s an awesome responsibility we’ve been given...
Which is perhaps why, when the psalm ends – and we didn’t read this bit out – but when the psalm ends, we find our psalmist,
having meditated upon the constant faithfulness of God,pausing...
and asking ‘examine me, test me, know my thoughts...and guide me in the everlasting way’.

The psalmist, while acknowledging how difficult a task it is to know God, nevertheless, in this meditation, can only respond by trying to articulate what is known from their own personal, lived experience of God:
that in every way imaginable,
God knows us utterly
and even so, accepts us totally;
that God is our constant guide and faithful companion on the way;
and, unlike that unrequited relationship with ABBA, that this is a relationship that is both requited, and eternal –                                              
that we are known by name,
and are more than useful:
we have been created in love,
are loved,
and are called to love.

As we ponder the One who knows us,
and who we in turn, are learning to know more deeply,
let’s take a moment of quiet to reflect, as we watch a short meditation on the psalm.

Let us pray:
God all-knowing
And all-powerful
We praise you.
We thank you that your faithfulness reaches beyond the heavens
That you are God of the big picture
And the minute detail;
That you are our comfort and our guide all the days of our lives
Help us to know you more deeply
And lead us on the everlasting way,
In Jesus’ name we pray... amen.


Mrs Gerbil said...

Thanks for the ear worm. I also have Alan Partridge in my head too, which is even more unfortunate!

Even your 'not best efforts' are pretty good.

Chrys Muirhead said...

Thanks Nik. Glad I dropped by again.

Listening again to the piano on the Psalm 139 video meditation. Great is God's faithfulness.

In 1966, aged 14, it was the Monkees that my friends and I were into. Knitted the woolly hat (Mike Nesmith), watched the TV show, joined the fan club, bought the LPs, learnt the songs:

Now 60 years young I look back with many happy memories of what was an innocent time for us yet the 'swinging sixties' for some. Then I had an old head on young shoulders and now I have a young head on old shoulders.