preached Sunday at Grace UCC and Mt. Tabor UCC (St. Louis, MO)
Snips and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails – that’s what little boys are made of.
Sugar and spice and everything nice – that’s what little girls are made of.
Ever heard that before? Those lines are part of one of the first rhymes I learned. It seems that even as children we are trying to answer the all-important question: What are we made of? Or perhaps more to the point — Who are we?
Kansas sang that all we are is dust in the wind.
In the book “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” humans are part of an experiment generated by a race of “hyper-intelligent,” “pan-dimensional” beings – mice. Earth was a super-computer designed to figure out the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. In Hitchhiker’s Guide, humans only exist as part of the experiment.
Movies, books and music talk about journeys to “find yourself,” remind us that even the worst among us have good places, or remind us that even the best among us have a dark side. Humanity is still asking the question “who are we?”
Much of the Bible seems to be addressing that same question. A few weeks ago we talked about the need for the Israelites to figure out who they were as a people forced away from their homes and into exile and later as a people back home, but under foreign leadership. They had to figure out who they were now that they were “losers.”
For those of us today who are seeking answers to who we are and what we are made of, our Psalm text provides an attempt at an answer. It isn’t a direct answer – the psalmnist admits that he doesn’t know himself, but that there is a being who does. “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.” And more than that – “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
That’s beautiful isn’t it? This psalm is often read to bring comfort. We like the idea that God knitted us together. Do any of you knit? I have yet to learn, but in watching friends who knit, I’ve learned that it is an act of love – and that it is, in fact, work. You have to get your stitches in the right place and make sure your rows are even. I’ve watched plenty of people realize that they made a mistake and tear out a lot of their stitches to begin again. God carefully and lovingly created us. We were intentional – isn’t that great news?
But if you are like me, you get a little nervous that God knows our words completely before they are even on our tongues. Now, I know all of you are perfect, but I must confess that I’m not. I think things and feel things and do things that I don’t particularly want anyone to know. This frustrates my husband at times – especially those times when I’m upset, but feel embarrassed about the reason why. I recognize that I’m upset for a ridiculous reason and don’t want to have to say it out loud – don’t want anyone else to know. But God is already there, discerning my thoughts.
I think the psalmist understands this fear, too, because he goes on to ask “where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” Where can I hide from you, God? And the answer – I can’t. If I go to heaven, God is there. If I go to Sheol – the dark place of the dead – God is there, too. And that’s significant, because if we look back to the 6th Psalm, we find “For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?” The understanding was that once you were dead – regardless of good actions, proper beliefs, number of toys, whatever – that you went to this dark place away from God’s presence. It wasn’t exactly hell, it was simply the place of the dead. But the psalmist is saying that image is wrong – even the dead aren’t outside of God’s grasp.
“If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea” – if I hang out at the very end of the world, even there you are present, holding on to me.
Have you ever felt far from God? Have you made choices that you thought left you far away, needing to work your way back to being “close to God?” I have news for you – God was already there.
My friend Bert Montgomery tells a story that a friend of his (we’ll call him Ben) was frustrated with God for a number of reasons. He was at the end of all he could take, so he decided to take a day off from God. So he did what seemed the farthest from God – he went to the store and bought some magazines, the sort of adult entertainment magazines that turn people into objects to be consumed. As the evening progressed, Ben actually took the time to read one of the articles that accompanied the magazine’s photos.
The article was a story on Hunter Thompson, known for inventing Gonzo journalism, where the reporter involves his/herself in the action, so that they become a central figure in the story. He is perhaps best known for his reporting of the Hells Angels motorcycle club – he spent a year or so living and riding with the group.
Thompson wasn’t exactly a good guy. He was known for his use of alcohol and drugs including LSD and cocaine. Even the Hells Angels threw him out and gave him a severe beating when they decided he was using them for personal gain. He, of course, refused to share any of his profits with the members of the motorcycle club.
But in the midst of this article on Thompson was a quote – “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool returns to his folly.” In an article about a scoundrel in an adult entertainment magazine was a verse from Proverbs. Ben immediately dropped the magazine. He hadn’t escaped – even in the midst of filth, God was there.
“Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.” God knows it, comprehends it, sees it all. Your deepest, darkest secret has already been revealed.
On Thursday night – or should I say Friday morning, my husband Allyn and I saw the final Harry Potter movie. Aside from the friends we came with, the theater was filled with college students who were getting frustrated when the movie didn’t start as quickly as they would have liked.
For those who might not know, the writer of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling is a Christian and has been interviewed about the Christian symbolism that runs throughout the 7-book Potter series. I sat in the theater, again awe-struck by the themes and messages that emerge in this final story. As we sat through the credits while most others ushered out, I turned to Allyn and said “do you feel like we have a huge secret? An entire theater of people just watched the Gospel message and didn’t realize it.”
God is with us and around us even when we don’t know how to pay attention to it. That’s the secret that the Psalmnist reveals.
Tradition states that the majority of the psalms were written by David. Many of your Bibles may even have a sub-heading under Psalm 139. Mine has three sentence fragments: “To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.” Do you remember the Bible stories of David? He was known as a killer of the Philistines. He tricked the King of the Philistines into trusting him, while David was raiding Philistine villages, killing all who were there and taking their belongings. After he become King, he lusted after another man’s wife and had her brought to the palace – when you are king, you get whatever you want. After taking the man’s wife, David arranges to have the man killed. Murderer, adulterer, thief. Not exactly the sort you’d want to bring home to Mom, right? But here he is, writing a beautiful poem about God’s continual presence. About how we are known intimately by our Creator. And he feels confident about that. So shouldn’t we?
And I can’t help but wonder what this psalm tells us about how we should treat others. After all, we aren’t the only ones knitted in the womb, are we? We aren’t the only ones that God has hemmed in, behind and before. Doesn’t God know and love all people?
What would happen if we began to recognize others as people who are the beloved artwork of God? Would that change how we treat them? What we say about them? The tone we use when speaking to them?
Would we be able to walk past the person who is quietly huddled under the interstate bridge? Would we be able to yell at the person who cut us off? Would we be able to ignore the “hidden people” who sweep the hallways, deliver our fast food, package our prescription medications?
Would we be able to judge those who don’t seem as holy as we are?
Or would begin treating people with the grace that has been offered to us? Wanting to get to know them, because we have been known?
God knows you and loves you. God is always, always, ALWAYS with you. What will you do with that knowledge? Who will you be?