When we stand in the presence of our Stillspeaking God, we experience awe and wonder. When I see a hydrangea blossom perfectly shaped and the color of the blue sky or the rose colors of the sunset, I give thanks for the beauty of creation. I am in awe and wonder of God’s works. When I behold the miracle of a newborn baby, I experience awe and wonder at how fearfully and wonderfully human beings are created. Freshly fallen snow clinging to the bare brown branches of stately trees, or dressing the tips of trees that are evergreen or blanketing the dormant grass; the world seems cleaner, fresher, more beautiful, and less violent.
Isn’t that what our psalmist is trying to express? Wonder and awe about whom or what? It isn’t just about human beings. It isn’t just about creation. It is about God. It is about God being engaged with creation at its deepest level. “If I ascend to heaven you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” (v. 8). God is not some distant watchmaker who creates and then departs from what has been created. It is God, the weaver, who is a part of the very fabric of each and every person.
Since we are focused on a psalm this morning, We might ask, what are psalms exactly? The title Psalms also means “hymns” in Hebrew. We sometimes refer to the Book of Psalms as the Psalter, which referenced a musical instrument. It then was used to designate a group of prayers that were set to music. In actuality psalms are neither exclusively hymns nor prayers. Psalm 139 is titled In praise of God’s omniscience by the Jerusalem Bible, The Inescapable God by the New Interpreter’s Study Bible and The Harper Collins Study Bible. Most bibles do not give it a title other than a song of David.
The content of psalms gave rise to some of their titles. Those titles may not be a welcome message to some. “ You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away” (v.2). God is acquainted with the psalmist’s ways, boxes in the psalmist causing him/her to ask: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence” (v. 7)? Some might feel this is a terrifying intimidating God.
However, when read carefully there are no words of condemnation or judgment from God. In fact, the psalmist has no desire to be separated from God. “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” (vv. 9-10).
The psalmist is trying to describe the special relationship God has with human beings. Here is the awe and wonder of it; the author of the psalm is not speaking of just any relationship with just any human being. No the author says its about God and me! Psalm 139 is one of my most favorite psalms. One reason it holds such power for me is the psalmist’s use of the first person. It not only turns the psalm from one that pertains to a specific time into a psalm for the ages.
It also lets each of us insert ourselves into the psalm. Let me read the psalm again in its entirety. I invite you to place yourselves in the psalm as you hear it. Listen for how God enfolds, touches, and holds the poet. How does it make you feel to know that God does the same for you? Can you experience the wonder and awe?
God is the giver of life. God knows the heart, mind, and soul of every person. Despite our failings and weaknesses and no matter what circumstances or challenges life throws our way God is with us always. We are precious in God’s sight. We are works in progress. Be patient, God is not finished with us!
I should comment on the verses the lectionary omitted, verses 19-24. The words are uncomfortable and jarring to our ears and hearts. I will dwell on those another day, As I was reading this psalm during the week, the names of those we have lost recently; Warren, Selma, Connie, Tyler, and Carol Ballard played over and over again in my heart. And all your faces before me this morning have had losses and/or major illnesses. I held all of your names in my heart as well. The newest addition to those held close in my heart is Nancy. I know that God is with her, Bruce, and the family through this difficult time.
I know your deep and abiding faith means that God’s hand has always led you throughout your life’s journey. And I, like the poet, hold the belief that God’s right hand held fast to Warren, Selma, Connie, Tyler, and Carol as they were born into the next life.
Awe! Wonder! I praise God.
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me.”“You hem me in (enfold me), behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” “Where can I go from your spirit?”
“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. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works: that I know very well.”