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Sermon based on Psalm 139
Everywhere today one hears of those who are passing through an identity crisis. Perhaps this identity crisis is a result of turning a certain age, or questioning whether we are in the right living situation or needing to downsize our accommodation or whether we are in the right vocation. Whatever the reason, an identity crisis is a fancy way of saying what people have been asking for a long time, “Who am I?” Our 139th Psalm describes a psalmist who is thinking about himself and his relationship with God. This Psalm is divided into four paragraphs of six verses each. It is easy to follow the outline for it is already structured for the most part in our pew bibles. This morning we will be taking a look at a couple of these attributes of God, God’s knowledge of all things (1-6) and God’s power in the formation of humanity (13-17).
In each of these paragraphs the psalmist faces a question about himself in relationship to God. In the first paragraph we hear the following, “How well does God know me?” The first verse gives us his answer:
O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me! (Psalm 139:1)
The Hebrew word for “searched” is the word, “to dig.” Among the definitions listed in Webster’s Dictionary for “dig” is the following, to pay attention, understand and appreciate. What the psalmist is saying is the following, “Lord, you pay attention to, understand and appreciate me.” What a wonderful feeling that is for us to know that God pays attention to us, that God understands and appreciates us. God’s all knowing power allows God to examine our heart and mind and discover everything about us, our personalities, our ambitions, and dreams for the future. Once an elementary Sunday school class was asked the question, “What does God look like?” One of the children responded with this following answer: God is very, very, very, tall so he can look over everybody’s head and see what even little kids are up to.
God indeed stands over us and understands us.
Verse two of our passage from Psalm 139 provides us one way that God understands us:
Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up thou discernest my thoughts from afar. (Psalm 139:2)
What the psalmist is trying to say is, “Lord, you understand and know me and my life. You know when I sit down and when I rise up. When I am resting or when I am acting, you know me. God also understands our thoughts sometimes before we are ready to act upon them. God knows how we think and what we think about. God even understands the thoughts that come in a constant flow to our minds. God even knows what we like to do, for following in verse three is the statement of the awareness of God’s knowledge of habits and choices.
Thou searchest out my path and my lying down.and art acquainted with all my ways. (Psalm 139:3)
God knows the way we choose to go, and God knows the habits of our life. God knows us inside and out. Then in verses 4 and 5 he studies the fact that God is concerned about him.
Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. (Psalm 139:4)
While in Seminary I had the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua. Upon reaching the Miami, FL airport and boarding our international flight, I began to realize the cultural barriers that were going to be in place for many of us who did not know Spanish. Any of you who have traveled to a foreign country and were not fluent in the language of that country understand that difficulty in communication. God knows the language we are speaking. God knows more than English or Spanish; God also knows, Miskito, Afrikaans, Hebrew, and all other languages of earth. That is what impressed the psalmist: “Even before I utter a word, Lord, you know it. You understand my language, you communicate with me.”
God is also active, the psalmist discovers, in our past, future, and present.
Thou dost beset me behind [the past] and before [the future], and layest thy hand upon me [now, the present]. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it. (Psalm 139:5-6)
The psalmist is simply overwhelmed by the fact that God knows all. Indeed God knows us better than anyone else. Part of God’s awesome power is that God understands every human being.
As we have studied God’s knowledge of all things (1-6) in these first few verses, we now turn our attention to God’s power in the formation of humanity (13-18). In the third paragraph, beginning with verse 13, the psalmist is telling us how God knows all this. Someone might say, “Well, this is certainly beautiful poetry, all this about God knowing us and being with us, but how do we know that it is true?” The answer is because God has created us.
For thou didst form my inward parts,thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139-13-14)
Here the psalmist is beginning an examination, and is amazed at the strength and uniqueness of their self. The Psalmist realizes there are so many things within a body that are essential to life, but over which they obviously have no control. Have we ever stopped to think how much of our life is dependent upon forces at work in us? If any one of them stopped we could perhaps perish. We are dependent on something that we have no control over. For example, our hearts are beating right now. How challenging would it be if we had to control the beating of our hearts on our own? How would we like to have to have remind ourselves that our hearts must continue beating. Fortunately, we do not have to worry about this as the psalmist has written: “Thou didst knit me together in a most amazing way in my mother’s womb. I praise thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Then the psalmist is struck by the progress God made in forming the human body.
Thou knowest me right well; my frame was not hidden from thee, (Psalm 139:14b-15a)
The frame is the foundation of the body, the bone and muscle system. That is where the body begins to be put together, with the frame.
My frame was not hidden from thee, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. (Psalm 139:15)
The phrase, “intricately wrought” is one word in Hebrew. It is really the word for “embroidered.” Many are familiar with embroidery. They are those little fancy stitches that are added to cloth. The delicate embroidery of the body is being described, the things that tie us together so that one organ supports another. The lungs need the heart, and the heart needs the lungs; the liver needs the kidneys and the stomach needs both; all the parts are amazingly embroidered together and this was done when God created humanity!
In Verse 16 the psalmist goes on to say:
Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance. in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. (Psalm 139:16)
Perhaps the psalmist had an experience similar to many of us. Sometimes there are days in life during which so many unrelated factors suddenly fall together to produce a circumstance or an experience that one cannot help but be aware that something or someone was causing it to happen. We have all had something happen suddenly, which we did not plan or expect and it provides such a comforting experience an unexpected “God moment” or “Divine coincidence.”
In thinking of God’s All Knowing Power, we may bring more questions to these verses than they were meant to answer. Psalm 139 provides a good foundation for us in life. These verses assure us that God is deeply and personally concerned for each human life. As we think of God’s all-knowing power we should remember that we are always in God’s presence according to the psalmist. While we may be able to hide our hearts, our past and even our future plans from those around us, we can never hide anything from God. God knows who we are.
There is no identity crisis with God. Remembering these verses:
How precious to me are thy thoughts, O God!How vast is the sum of them! (Psalm 139:17)
Living becomes an awesome business when we realize that we spend every moment of our life in the sight and company of our Creator. Perhaps the words from our closing hymn express these sentiments best.
He Leadeth Me, O blessed thought! O words with heavenly comfort fraught! What ever I do, wherever I be, still Tis God’s hand that leadeth me.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr
August 26, 2018