Psalm 139

A sermon for the second Sunday after Pentecost, June 2, 2018

Imagine the first time you felt really limited; you felt out of control; you felt like the world was crashing in around you.  Sit in that space for a moment as you listen to the words of today’s Psalm:

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
   you discern my thoughts from far away.
3 You search out my path and my lying down,
   and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
   O Lord, you know it completely.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
   and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
   it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7 Where can I go from your spirit?
   Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
   and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
   and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
   the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
   Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
   when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
   In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
   How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
   I come to the end—I am still with you.

No matter when I read this Psalm I am reminded of my own limitedness, especially my senior year of college when I had my first run in with depression.  And it hit like a ton of bricks.  After years of attempting to maintain an annoyingly perfectionistic path, breaking up with a significant other, and not knowing what the future held for me financially (like how in the world a Religion major would find a job before the jump to grad school); after years of unrealistic expectations, I had succumbed to the depths of despair.  I felt like no friend could speak into such a space.  I felt alone and isolated like never before.  I felt like I should be happy; should pull myself up by my bootstraps; should just suck it up; but those thoughts just caused more shame and a further dive into depression.  Those months trapped inside my door room at Mount Holyoke College, were some of the most difficult, darkest moments of my life.  But somehow, in the middle of the depths of despair, I saw a glimmer of hope.

That glimmer of hope was the moment when I was sobbing uncontrollably on my bed, with mascara stained tears running down my face.  Yet as I blinked away the black specks from my eyes and looked up above my bed, I found the words of today’s Psalm—Psalm 139—written in my own handwriting in multi-colored neon sharpie: “O Lord you have searched me out and known me.”  And in that moment—as I re-read these ancient yet appropriate words—I felt like this Psalm was written just for me.  In that moment—no matter what had come before or what was to come after—I knew I would be ok, for God was with me.  In that moment—in the deepest and darkest thoughts of depression—I felt God’s all consuming, totally loving embrace.

For the words of Psalm 139 are beyond comforting.  For it encompasses the entirety of our human existence.  It is a psalm often read at both baptisms and funerals.  It was the psalm read at my wedding in Scotland and my installation here at St. Patrick’s.  No matter where I am in life, this Scripture in particular always speaks to my soul.  This Psalm is beyond inspirational.  It is life saving.  Because its a juxtaposition of a transcendent God—a God who is all knowing, and always present, and all powerful—, yet a God who has an intimate relationship with each and every one of us, with me and with you.

Our God is an all-knowing, an omniscient God.  According to the psalm, God knows us entirely.  God knows when we sit down and when we rise up.  God knows each and every one of our thoughts—the good, the bad, and the ugly; thoughts full of joy and immersed in sadness; every beautiful smile and every broken heart.  Even before we utter a word from our lips, God knows our truest of intentions.  God knew every dark corner of my mind in the midst of my depression.  God knows the inner turmoil of our souls upon the death of a loved one, or the dissolution of a marriage, or the decision to change your entire career trajectory.  God has searched us out and knows us.

And our God is an always present, an omnipresent God.  Unfortunately our Psalm omits several lines from today’s lectionary.  But if we are to include vv. 7-10, it would read:

7 Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.

No matter where we run—to heaven or to hell, or back again—God is there.  From birth—as we are knit together in our mothers’ wombs—to death—as we make our bed in Sheol, the afterlife—God is there.  Even if we fly halfway around the globe, or do a lap around the moon, God is there.  Even if we swim to the bottom of the deepest ocean, God is there.  Even if we “lose our madness over the mountains,” God is there.  Even if we are huddled up, hiding out in our dorm room, God is there.  No matter how much we try to separate ourselves from the Divine, God is always there.

And as this Psalm also reminds us, our God is an all-powerful, omnipotent God.  For our God has the ability to turn death into life, and darkness into light.  For if we also include v. 11-12 of the Psalm, it would poetically read:

 

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

God can take the most difficult moments in our life—those moments of depression, moments in the depths of despair, moments of sheer suffering—and turn them into moments of truth, hen we come to terms with our demons and innate limitations.  Moments of epiphany, when we realize the burdens weighing us down and finally can see the way forward in freedom.  Moments of true connection, when our fellow children of God meet us in the middle of all of our vulnerability.  For God death becomes life, and darkness becomes light.

This is our God, the God of Psalm 139.  A God who is all knowing, and always present, and all powerful, yet is a God who knows all of each of us; a God who is always present with each of us; a God who is powerful enough to transform our darkest moments into the light that illumines our lives.  Praise God, the Holy One searches us out and knows us and will never, ever leave us.

2 thoughts on “Psalm 139

Add yours

  1. So vitally nice, Sarah. Part of this Psalm is in my Compline prayer and I love what it does to my soul after a day of vast imperfections and superficial living. Wishing you all possible joys,

    And love,

    dave

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