Creekside Church
Sermon of October 25, 2020

"The Know-It-All"
Psalm 139:1-18

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! I feel like I should begin this sermon with an explanation. First of all that I am not David Bibbee, and those of you who know him, know that he is a fine preacher. Because this service was already planned when I heard from David, and Gary Arnold already had plenty to do in the Media Center, I am using David’s scripture, music request, and sermon title. I am assuming that David’s title “The Know It All” was referring to God -- or maybe David was referring to himself. I hope we get to find out someday. In any case, I borrowed only the title and scripture -- none of David’s notes or ideas.

I am happy for the opportunity to re-read and study Psalm 139: it is one of my favorites, and there is more than enough material for many sermons. It has themes which are both cosmic and intimate -- shockingly intimate. It is a prayer written to God -- not simply about God -- it is a prayer directed to God. It is a psalm about how God knows us: the verb “to know” occurs seven times in this psalm. Psalm 139, like all of the psalms, was written in Hebrew and the verb to know, or “yada,” has some interesting shades of meaning. It is the only Hebrew verb I remember from my seminary studies. Two of the meanings are to see and to understand. This should feel familiar to us, because it is similar to English: we can interchange ‘see’ and ‘know’ in an expression such as “I see what you’re talking about!” If seeing were an exclusively visual thing, neither of that statement would not make sense. But seeing means enlightenment, understanding, or some kind of knowing. See what I mean? (see what I did there?) But the Hebrew verb yada has an additional meaning: a certain kind of knowing. Yada means to see, to know or to have sexual intercourse with. Yes, you heard that right. For a man to know (yada) a woman in the language of the Old Testament, implies they were sexual partners. Good heavens: what is that word doing in a prayer to God? Seven times?

Psalm 139 is divided into 4 stanzas, or strophes. I read the first three of them for you -- we’ll get to the fourth in a bit. Each is a block of six verses and describes a way in which God has knowledge of us. Verse 1 says “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.” God has taken the initiative in this relationship and knows my actions, my thoughts, what I’m going to say before I even say it -- everything. If this seems a little creepy, especially given the context of that verb yada, I agree. In fact, it reminds me of the lyrics of the song Every Move You Make by the Police. Anybody remember these stanzas?

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you
Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I'll be watching you

The opening verses of Psalm 139 have some of that same intensity of scrutiny and knowledge.

Verses 7 through 12 shift from knowledge to presence: where can I flee from your presence? And the short answer is -- no where. Through a series of contrasts, the height of heaven, the depth of Sheol, on the wings of the morning in the East or the farthest reaches of the sea to the West, God will find us wherever we are. There is a gentler tone to this stanza though -- God’s hand will lead us and protect us. Rather than the pursuit and being hemmed in before and behind that we heard in verse 5, we have a God whose presence is light in the darkness: a God will comfort and guide us.

And here’s why: because we are God’s creation -- each one of us. Along with all the miraculous acts of creation, that Spirit of God which moved over the waters and the unformed substance of the earth, that’s the same stuff and the same Spirit of which we each one of us is made. And not simply smushed together, but intricately woven, knit together: God is an artist, a master weaver and knitter who carefully constructed us, down to the tiniest detail. And this microscopic focus suddenly zooms out in verse 16 to all the days of our lives, and even further to all the days of eternity -- to infinity and beyond. (mind blown) It’s too much to even comprehend: God’s thoughts are like grains of sand, too many to count, infinite. Even if you could go through every last one it wouldn’t change God -- God would still be there.

And that takes us through verse 18, which would be a very fine place to stop. In fact, that’s where the lectionary reading does stop. And if you happen to look ahead in your Bible, you’ll see why. I bet none of you knows Psalm 139:19-22 by heart, so I’ll give you a sample: Verse 19 says “O that you would kill the wicked, O God . . . do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with a perfect hatred.” Whoa. That is an abrupt change of tone, right there. What is the psalmist up to? Here’s what I think is going on. The psalmist has spent the first three stanzas of the psalm building up an intense and lyrical case for God’s knowledge, presence, and power. If you like fancy words with Greek roots, God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. We cannot outsmart, outmaneuver or outrun a God like that. So the psalmist commits to hate God’s enemies; to hate those who hate God, and to cleanse his own heart and mind from evil. Verses 23 says, “Search me and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts”; we have come full circle from verse 1 “Lord, you have searched me and known me.” Now the psalmist is inviting God to do what he knows God has already done: “see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me into life everlasting.”

This is a satisfying psalm from a purely literary perspective, beautifully constructed and composed. But it is even more inspiring as a statement of faith in a God who knows us intimately, is present wherever we are or imagine ourselves to be, and incorporated each one of us into the structure of creation and eternity. Such a Know-It-All deserves our awe and loyalty. Amen

 

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