Reverend Richard Clewell
July 17, 2011
Psalm 139: 1-12, 23-24
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How often are most of us aware of how we relate to the God we claim to believe in and to follow? I suspect that it is “hit or miss” at best for many of us. When things are going well from our perspective we tend to forget the Lord and chalk up our success to our own wisdom and self-informed decisions. Too often when circumstances are not as we planned or we are in danger of failing at some endeavor, we tend to try to petition or cry out to the Lord in order to manipulate the Divine to come in line with our desires. Some people lose their faith because of a sharp sense of disappointment with God. They expect God to act in a certain way, and God “lets them down.” Others may not lose their faith, but they too experience a form of disappointment. They believe God will intervene, they pray for a miracle, and their prayers seem to be unanswered.

Questions inevitably arise in our minds. Is God unfair? Why doesn’t the Lord consistently punish evil people and reward the good ones? Why do awful things happen to people good and bad, with no discernable pattern? Is God silent? If we’re to do the divine will, why not reveal it more plainly? Is God hidden? Why doesn’t the Lord simply show up sometimes and dumbfound the skeptics once and for all? In short, what does God want from us and what can we expect from the One we seek to serve?

Our text from Psalm 139 today does not propose to answer such questions in any direct way. However, what the psalmist affirms is much more important. (Read Psalm 139:1-12,23,24) In the first portion (v. 1-6) the writer acknowledges the close relational presence of God with him (or her). There is a real sense of being known by God and of belonging inseparably to God; of God’s knowledge of psalmist’s thoughts and actions. For this person there is both certainty and awe that the divine “you” (Yahweh) knows “me.” That sense of presence can make the difference in a person’s faith experience – God knows one’s deeds, thoughts and words before they are even implemented. There certainly remains ambivalence for to be known so fully is to be completely vulnerable. John Calvin noted the risk “to dismiss the deceptive coverings under which most people take refuge.” But on the whole this writer certainly celebrates as good news, the marvelous and mysterious reality that his (or her) life is accessible to God in every way and at every moment. It’s a genuine sense of belonging which implies confidence rather than dread. It is relational in its care and love rather than a fear of “Big Brother” watching or judging.

For us, this experience and insight of this post –exilic author who had been through difficult years and hardship circumstances during and after return from captivity, makes us encouraged in our own faith journeys and to be assured of God’s love for us. We have the additional advantage in seeing this relationship in the person and work of God’s Son, Jesus Christ who demonstrated in human form such love and provided restoration of our relationship with God where we no longer need to fear but can declare “Abba, Father” (my father). Therefore, we too can have the confidence described here by this psalmist.

The next description by the writer in verses 7-12 further demonstrates God’s presence as on-going and inescapable. The Hebrew word “ruah” means wind or breath and is used as a way of indicating God’s presence. Again the pronouns “I” and “You” are prominent and are seen as good news because this person is convinced that God will “lead me, and hold me.” (v. 10) No place is beyond God’s reach, even the place of death. (v.8) This is reaffirmed in Christ’s resurrection from the dead in the Gospels. Here the light of God overcomes chaotic darkness. Light here and in John’s Gospel is associated with the face or presence of God. What insight this gives to the writer and to us as we deal with life’s exigencies and difficulties and know that God is present with us in every circumstance because divine love is unconditional.

Paul Tournier, Swiss doctor and counselor, in his book, Guilt and Grace, speaks to the way people often perceive God in contrast to this psalmist’s and Christ’s revelation of the all-inclusive unconditional love of the Father. Tournier states, “In every age, people have pictured that God is one who loves them only on condition that they are good, and who refuses them love when they become guilty. Fear of losing the love of God is the essence of our human problem. – This false idea of God, still so widespread among people, is just what Jesus came to remove. He shows us that God loves us unconditionally, loves us not for our goodness or our virtues but because of our misery and guilt.” Tournier points to the story of the Prodigal Son related by Jesus where the waiting father did not make the repentance of this son a condition for his love nor tell him that he had forgiven him because the young man had fulfilled the condition of forgiveness, nor that he had merited pardon by his repentance. Forgiveness leaped spontaneously from the father’s heart where it never had been absent.

Would that all of us could understand this truth about God’s gracious love – never earned nor never lost by who we are or what our actions may be. What a difference this can make in our lives and in our behaviors.

Finally, in the culmination of the psalm, (v. 23,24) the writer responds in loyalty and commitment to God’s presence with him (or her). After recognizing the way things are; (v. 13-18) that people who belong to God and who try to live as God calls them to do will always be opposed by those who oppose the Lord, the writer requests that God set things right in the world.  He (or she) recognizes the One to whom he (or she) belongs and asks that God’s will be done.  There is no ambivalence here.  The psalmist’s oath of loyalty is sealed.  Having been searched, he (she) wants to be continually searched; having been known, wants to be continually known; having been seen, wants to be continually seen; having experienced God’s leading, wants to be continually led.  The writer fully entrusts his (or her) life to God secure in the conviction that he has been, is being, and will be fully known in the relationship with the ever present God.

In Romans (8: 29, 39), the Apostle Paul makes this same affirmation that our lives derive from God, belong to God, and find their true fullness in God’s purposes. This assurance that God is Emmanuel (God with us) enables us to entrust our lives and future to God. It is an openness to God’s instruction and the Spirit’s leading coming from the under girding awareness that God knows the way of the righteous.

What does this mean for us today and into the future? Instructed by this psalmist and by Christ’s revelation of God’s love and grace, we can profess that we belong to God, entrusting our very lives and future to the Lord on the basis of the experience of God’s pervasive presence, and praying for God to set things right and empowering us in our calling to that kingdom way. In short, God actively pursues us and will not let us get away. The writer in the Book of Lamentations, in the midst of all the troubles for himself and his people, clearly expresses his experience of God: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him/” (Lamentations 3: 22-24)

The presence of such extreme, all-encompassing love invites both our unfaltering loyalty and responsive continuing commitment to following the way God’s Spirit leads. May we truly experience this presence of the holy in our lives and find fulfillment, hope, and peace in our reconciled relationship with the One who loves us without conditions or qualifications. Thanks be to God for this gift beyond our understanding which can impact our outlook in our life and service. May we live fully as ones who are so loved. Amen

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