The Inescapable GodPsalms 139:1-14 (NRSV)
To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
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 lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, 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 lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
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.
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.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
Friends, I must begin by telling you that I struggled a little bit this week. Because to me, today’s scripture screams, “You are amazing! You are loved! And no matter what, God is always with you.” But I learned this week that not everyone hears it that way. Some hear these words and are filled with fear because maybe they have done something wrong, and they hear scripture saying that there is no escaping God, that like a fugitive they can run and run but no matter where they go, God will find them and judge them. Yikes!
Friends, I am sure that many of you have experienced in the past that sometimes scripture is used to intimidate, sometimes it’s used as a weapon, and sometimes it’s used to break people and communities down instead of building them up. But I am a strong believer that we always need to look at scripture through the lens of love, hearing a message of God’s unconditional love and grace, not a message of fear, judgment, and wrath.
I know that I can get a little Pollyanna-ish sometimes. I have even had people ask why I don’t talk about sin a little more, and why I always must see the good in things and talk about joy and hope and peace so much. But friends, the way I see it, the world is scary enough. We are judged by others enough. We doubt ourselves enough. We feel ostracized enough. In the world around us, there is too much injustice and too much hate. Everyone complains and no one listens, And God knows it. That is why God creates us, each one of us, to be one of a kind and God fills each one of us with light. So I’ve got light within me and you’ve got light within you. And every person you meet, at home, at church, in the grocery store, and at the bank, they all have that light within them too. But to bring that light to the darkness around us, we need to find the light within ourselves first. And that is hard to do sometimes when you are surrounded by negativity and fighting. It is hard to do when you turn on your tv and you are inundated with stories of pain and violence and unrest. It is hard to do when you doubt yourself and wonder if you are good enough, or if you belong, or if what you do really matters.
Friends, that is why we all need to know that God loves us and will never leave us. Even though we might not look the way people in magazines and on tv do, we look beautiful in the eyes of God. God loves us so much that God created each one of us individually with amazing gifts and passions to share. Can you imagine?
But it is not enough to simply know that you are amazing. It is not enough to know that God filled you with awesomeness. Because once you figure that out, it is your job to go out and share that good news with others. But let me clarify–not the good news that you are amazing and you are filled with awesomeness, but the good news that they too are amazing and filled with awesomeness, building them up, encouraging them, and filling them with reassurance and love so that they might find their light and share it with others, as well.
Folks, I wonder, if I asked you to think of one word to describe yourself, what would it be? Now, you might describe yourself by your appearance and say I am tall or short, blonde or brunette, curly-haired, blue-eyed, or freckled. Or maybe you would describe yourself by your marital status, saying I am married or single or divorced or widowed. Perhaps you immediately thought of your personality, I am shy or outgoing, positive, optimistic, stubborn, moody, approachable, kind, caring, opinionated, sensitive, forgetful, or creative. Or you describe yourself by the work that you do, saying, I’m a doctor or a lawyer, a salesperson, a teacher, a graphic designer, a coach, a financial planner, a construction worker, a waitress, a student, or a mom. The truth is, my friends, there are lots of different ways to describe each of us because we are ALL unique, and we are wonderfully made by a Creator who loves us unconditionally.
If you have a sibling, I wonder, are you the same as your brother or sister? The truth is, you might have similarities, but you have differences too. Maybe you have got brown hair and your sister is blonde, or you may like spaghetti while your brother does not. You might love playing sports, and your sibling might be more of a music or theater person. You see, even if you come from the same biological family, you can be quite different, and that is a good thing. Because friends, we all make up the Body of Christ, and our unique personalities, appearances, opinions, beliefs, and gifts all make for a stronger, broader, wider, not divided but diverse family of God!
Our scripture lesson from the book of Psalms today talked about the fact that God never leaves us, that no matter where we go and what we do, God is always there. And that is good news! Because God’s grace and God’s love for us are not rewards for our actions. Did you hear that? God’s grace and God’s unconditional love for us are given not because of who we are and what we do but, on the contrary, it’s all about who God is. And folks, that is so important for us to understand, because our job is not to please God by our perfect behavior, or by trying to be something and someone that we are not, but instead, our job is to live our lives to the best of our ability as the person God has created us to be.
You see, there is a reason why we were not all created exactly the same. There is a reason why we do not all look the same and act the same. Because God has given us different gifts to care for creation, and for one another. Through our differences, we are all able to complement each other, and it is the same way in the church, whether we are gathered in person or scattered virtually, and whether we are part of Trinitarian Congregational Church in Norton or the Oldtown Church in North Attleboro or some other church in some other town.
One person cannot do it all. It takes all of us working together not trying to be something we are not, and not trying to control those around us, but on the contrary, being open to allow everyone to come as they are and to use the different gifts and passions that they have to make the church and the world a better place.
Psalm 139 is one of those scripture readings that I often turn to when I need a little encouragement or when I am feeling unsure about myself and my abilities. Of course, I love to hear the assurance that God is always with me and that there is nowhere that I can go and nothing that I will ever face without God by my side. But verses 13 and 14 are the ones that assure me that God has created me on purpose, just the way I am. “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. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.”
Friends, society and the world that we live in are always quick to tell us our shortcomings, to point out our weaknesses and the things that we lack. We are told that we should be thinner, taller, smarter, richer, and faster. But imagine what the world would be like if, instead of harping on our shortcoming and weaknesses, we constantly reminded our kids and our neighbors, our bosses, our co-workers, and all of the people we safely interact with each day, and even ourselves that we are all wonderfully made and that we are loved unconditionally.
So many times, we walk through our days thinking that we do not really matter, or that we are not good enough, or that we cannot make a difference on our own. But the truth is my friends, you are fearfully and wonderfully made! You are amazing just the way you are!! And you have just the gifts and passions that this world needs!
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your week ahead, figure out what it is that makes you you, and share it with the world. Let your light shine, and then pass it on. Because when you do, you will encourage others to do the same.
My friends, may it be so! Thanks be to God, Amen.