The intimidating thought of being known for who you really and truly are as a person cuts like a double-edged sword of bane and blessing.
On the one hand, 94 percent of respondents to a recent poll agreed with the statement, “Nobody really knows me.” While some folks might take clandestine comfort in such anonymity, experience tells me that most of those feeling unknown to others are speaking from marginal places of deep loneliness and tearful isolation.
On the other hand, most of us are understandably uncomfortable with the prospect of total strangers having access to our personal and private information. With just a few clicks on a computer screen, any number of bad actors can hack their way into any number of ubiquitous, worldwide databases and discover plenty of confidential or sometimes even embarrassing things about each and every one of us. Such invasive possibility is downright creepy.
And “creepy” is one way of hearing this morning’s Scripture lesson, which lays out the deeply intimate information that God freely accesses and closely holds about each and every one of us.
Psalm 139 lays out verse after verse of potentially disturbing truth that God knows everything about us, and sees everything we do and leave undone, and hears everything we say or leave unsaid.
What’s even more alarming, neither you nor I can run away or get away from God. Go high, go low. Go wide, go deep. Juke left, juke right. Stand in daylight, cower in the shadows. None of it matters! God is here, and God is there, and God is everywhere. And God is watching, and God is listening.
We stand before God like crystal-clear glass with our brokenness splayed wide under the scrutiny of heaven. And yes, that’s a little bit eerie and creepy.
But, of course, the Bible doesn’t serve up the all-knowing God of Psalm 139 to creep us out. The psalm affirms an all-knowing God as a supreme good and incredible gift!
Its author finds comfort in the all-encompassing knowledge and always-everywhere presence of God.
Why? How come? What for?
The answers are as obvious as hidden microphones and stealthy cameras are as camouflaged:
Only God can be trusted with knowledge of our innermost thoughts and closely guarded secrets.
Only God is wise enough, compassionate enough, forgiving and gracious enough, to know all of our dirty little secrets and hidden faults, and yet still be able to be our loving and faithful God.
In that spirit and by the Spirit, experience, now, the tenderness of God in the Word of the Lord that most surely is Psalm 139.
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 the pit, 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. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 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.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them – they are more than the sand; I come to the end – I am still with you.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Selected verses of Psalm 139)
What a comfort to know that Somebody really knows me – just as I am.
And that Somebody really knows you – just as you are.
And that this Somebody is the Savior who in flesh and blood entered your space and time as well as mine to save me you and me from our sins and to redeem the world.
That reality makes Psalm 139 an ode to God’s grace, a celebration of the No. 1 divine trait for which all the psalms give the most consistent praise: God’s lovingkindness. Absent that, the sentiments expressed of Psalm 139 just go back to being creepy.
But given God’s innate lovingkindness toward us, the feelings of Psalm 139 end up providing comfort in the extreme and spurring the psalmist to pray for a kind of daily resurrection:
“Tell you what, Lord. You just search me, and know me, and find what’s wrong with me, and then help me become your better and more faithful follower, as we together walk down the path of life everlasting.”
In that discipleship spirit of divine searching, knowing, finding, helping and leading, a series of workshops called “What’s Your Word?” was held a few weeks ago here in town – two sessions over at the Wellness Center and one in our Fellowship Hall.
The goal of the workshops was pretty straight-forward: To make yourself more resilient by selecting one word that’ll guide and inspire your daily living and help you adapt and cope with those unexpected life events that derail your hopes, plans and dreams.
Whatever word you chose was engraved on a metal washer and fashioned into a bracelet, intended to be worn on the wrist or hung somewhere in your life space for daily inspiration and resiliency.
Whenever you need some reassurance or encouragement in those all-to-frequent moments when life throws you a curve ball, you glace at the word engraved on your bracelet and find the courage and strength you need to move forward in the face of what, at times, might feel like insurmountable odds in the midst of devastating circumstances.
Among those attending the workshops, the word selections were as varied as the participants were in age and background. Words like “grateful,” “inspired,” “family,” “love,” “faith,” and “hope” were among people’s thoughtful answers to the simple-yet-challenging question, “What’s your word?”
As for me, my word is “flexibility,” which is an odd choice, because, as my long-suffering wife will attest, I generally like to be spontaneous as long as I can plan ahead for it.
Nevertheless, the word “flexibility” now guides and inspires my days, fueling the fires of resilience that warm my heart and kindling a sense of hope and new possibility when all seems lost and the world feels like it’s coming apart at the seams and heading to hell in a handbasket.
Several realities led me to choose “flexibility.”
First, in the insufferable two years of the pandemic, COVID frequently upset plans and routines, and flexibility in both my personal and pastoral lives was the trait and tool that helped see me through distressing days of lockdowns, closures, quarantines, and virtual learning.
Second, I had total hip-replacement surgery last October. The procedure was a success, and I’m recovering nicely. I’m now able to walk, exercise, and just generally move about with greater ease and newfound flexibility. Frankly, I didn’t realize how physically inflexible I’d become until the surgery team at Veterans Memorial Hospital lopped off the deteriorated top of my left femur and replaced it with a brand-spanking new titanium implant that’ll probably set off the TSA metal detectors next time I pass through the airport’s security checkpoint.
And I’ve slowly and somewhat reluctantly found a place where flexibility really starts to shine with the glory of heaven.
I rise each morning, as I have for most of my adult life, with an agenda of things to do, places to go, and people to see. And honestly, I’ve never been too thrilled when someone or something steps into the picture to upset my daily agenda and hinder me from crossing items off my to-do list.
Slowly but surely, though, I’ve learned to be flexible and to treasure those unexpected moments of interruption as opportunities to “let go and let God” – occasions to trust that whatever it is that I find myself doing in any given moment – particularly when it’s not something on my to-do list – is precisely the task, activity, or conversation in which the Lord wants me engaged at that particular moment.
And those things that the Lord would have me do – or the places to which the Lord calls me to go – are just that: Divinely inspired marching orders from God through the Holy Spirit of Christ Jesus.
Thus, my personal prayer each morning is a request for flexibility – a humble request for the Lord to use me, my time, and my energy as he, not me, best sees fit.
And I’m OK with that.
No, I’m quite happy and comfortable with that, to the point of seeing flexibility for the blessing that it truly is – an answer to the same prayer that the psalmist lifts up:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” – a life in which the needs of God and others trump mine.
Yes, we surely can and do fret until the cows come home about the sin and brokenness of others.
But when all is said and done, God has enough work to do on and within each of us, re-casting every blessed one of us more closely into the divine image that God intended us to bear at Creation’s get-go.
And since God knows each of us better than we know ourselves, God knows just what to do – God knows just what God would have us do. So, go ahead and trust that God’s got this – and that God’s got you, and me, and us.
In the end, as we once again peer into an empty tomb, perhaps the better question isn’t “What’s your word?” but rather “Were you there?” As we sung in the days leading up to Easter:
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
An absolute, unequivocal, and faith-filled “yes” is the answer to all those lyric questions. In the bottom-line calculus of God’s grace that at first glance just doesn’t seem to add up, you and I were there – not simply among the rubber-necking crowd gawking at the bloody spectacle of crucifixion but right up there nailed to the cross with Jesus, and right there laid in the rock-hewn tomb with Jesus.
And, most blessedly important, right there alongside Jesus as together we passed through the opening created when angels rolled away the stone of sin, brokenness, and death – raised to new life with the words “forgiven,” “loved,” and “freed” etched upon our hearts and minds by the God who knows everything about us – warts and all – but who nonetheless cherishes us in spite of ourselves and who ever and always directs every movement of our lips, hands, and feet and lavishly nourishes every corner of our bodies and minds, souls and spirits.
Obedience cost Jesus his earthly life, but for you and me, the cost is an act of will – no more. Yet, how hard it is for you and me to bend. How difficult it is for you and me to be flexible. So, may the Holy Spirit remove the blinders from our eyes that we may see it is our risen Lord and Savior whom we obey first and foremost among all who govern us.
Ancient words, ever true. Amen, and amen!
Pastor Grant M. VanderVelden shared this message on Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022. It is part of his current sermon series, “Becoming Disciples: The Story of God with Us.” Scholarship, commentary, and reflection by Clarence Enzler and Scott Hoezee inform the message.