Living Threads in the Tapestry of Creation
A sermon based on: Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18
given at Mount Vernon, OH March 6, 2016 *
by Rev. Scott Elliott
The reading that we just heard from Psalm 139 can be divided in to two parts. The first part verses 1-6 is about God knowing us.
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.
God knows us through and through. That could be threatening, and it is often portrayed that way as if Big Brother– Big Father– is watching over us to see if we are being naughty or nice. The powers in Church as a whole have sometimes played this scary notion up. You know the “God knows what you are doing and will hold you accountable in hell unless you do what we say” sorta thing. And that scary notion is passed on to folks in the pews and so sit in the minds of lots of people who come to church–probably a number of our minds have this idea, this notion, sitting in our heads.
When my younger sister, Sam, was about eight my younger brother was babysitting her. He was probably eleven or twelve and he got bored so he told Sam that Jesus was coming that he, her brother, was going to be taken away, but that she was not good enough so he had to hide her behind the bread drawer in the kitchen cabinets. Sure enough they hurriedly took out the drawer and Sam scrunched in and she hid from Jesus in our kitchen cabinets. I guess the upside was my brother got Sam out of the way for an hour or so that he was supposed to watch her. But it is sad he picked up fear tactics from Christians.
Jesus, of course, is the last being in existence anyone needs to hide from. Jesus was, and is still, all about love. The God of Jesus is Love. And as a Jewish Rabbi Jesus got his notions about love and God from the Sacred texts and practices and interpretations of Judaism in His day, and of course Jesus’ own intimate relationship with God. Jesus was not afraid that God is intimate.
The Psalmist is not afraid that God is intimate, that God knows him or her inside and out, because verse six indicates the Psalmist felt “such knowledge is too wonderful for me.”
Some of us were shocked as kids to find out that the word “know” in the Hebrew texts is often used as euphemism for intimate relationships. Some of you may be shocked to learn that now. But that is one of the implied meanings of “know” and “known” in the Hebrew texts. Some scholars think it is no accident that the word “know” is used seven times in Psalm 139. The prevalence of that term suggests it was intended as a love song to God.
A professor of mine at Seminary, Dr. Clint McCann, notes in his book Great Psalms of the Bible that this “sevenfold repetition communicates the psalmist’s conviction that he or she is fully and intimately known by God.” 1. Professor McCann writes:
the psalmist unambiguously affirms that God knows me in every possible way. The various life-settings the psalmist mentions are meant to be comprehensive: sitting down and rising up, thinking, lifestyle and speaking. The repetition of “all” reinforces the sense of complete intimacy– God knows everything about the psalmist and his or her life. 2
Professor McCann also points out that verse five’s reference to being hemmed in
hint[s] such intimate knowledge on God’s part could be perceived as threatening . . . But verse 6 indicates that the psalmist perceives God’s constant presence and intimate knowledge as liberation, rather than limiting. The adjective translated “wonderful” represents a Hebrew root that is used elsewhere to describe the exodus and other acts of divine deliverance. This Hebrew root can also suggest incomprehensibility, as verse 6 seems to suggest. Even so it affirms that the incredible knowledge God possesses is liberating and life-serving, not threatening or harmful. 3.
We discuss a lot at this church how God’s love is steadfast and forever. Psalm 139 begins with a claim that this love that God has for us is not just steady and sure but very, very deep– so deep it goes to and through our entire being all our life long. To put it simply, God’s love is unconditional, forever, and intimate. How wonderful is that?
No matter who we are, no matter what we have done God knows it and regardless loves us to the very depths of our being and always will. The good news is we are passionately loved by God, and it is a love we cannot lose and never ever have a reason to hide behind a bread drawer or anywhere else from.
The latter part of the lesson selections from Psalm 139 begins by noting that we are not just loved by God but that our very being was personally woven by God. On the biological loom of life God (in a female image!) weaves us together in our mother’s womb. As the psalmist sings out in joy “it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
Professor McCann explains that:
human life is not simply the result of familiar biological processes. Rather, each human life is a divine gift, for which God is to be praised or thanked. In short human life is to be received with gratitude as a gift from God. 4.
We are not just deeply loved, but made purposefully by the Great Weaver God. And we ought to be WOWED by that – and grateful! As the Psalm puts it “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” “Fearful” in this context means “full of awe. We are “awesome and wonderfully made” is the point. All of us are, so much so that God deeply loves and values every single one of us. 5.
The Psalm also lifts up this phrase to God “In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.” Over the years people have read this to mean that God has predestined all that we do. Professor McCann suggests that we need not read the verse that way. He points out:
Verse 16b, in which the future is in view, is not about God’s predetermined plan for people’s lives. Rather, the image of God’s “book,” in which “were written all the days that were formed for me” affirms poetically that the psalmist belongs to God in every way. If we take seriously that every human life originates from and belongs to God, there will be profound implications. 6
What I gather from Prof. McCann’s observation is that when we take serious that humans come from and belong to God we will then choose to follow God’s call to be the best we can be as a people and as individuals– and we are to treat all others as God’s creation soaked with God.
The profound implication of understanding all humans are from God, and soaked by God and are beloved by God, is that we must love ourselves and each other and treat ourselves and one each other with the respect and honor that humans as Sacred images of God, and the beloved of God, deserve.
Psalm 139 tells us God knows us. But it is not a two way street. We will never be able to comprehend God or even God’s thoughts. They are beyond what we can imagine. As the Psalm puts it in the last part of the lesson today: “ 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 . . .”
But you know what? It does not matter. Once we figure out that God is beyond our reasoning all we need to do is love God and creation. What matters is that our choices stay with what God calls us to, which is just that: to love God and creation! Creation that is soaked through and through with God.
This is how the reading today ends: “I come to the end – I am still with you.” 7
God’s knowledge of us is complete – and our knowledge of God is not complete. We cannot match that part of knowing. However, the part of God’s knowing us that is intimate that is deep and full of love, IS something we can reciprocate. In other words, God loves us inside and out and we in return can love God inside and out.
To sort of expand on the Psalm’s weaving metaphor, God has woven us into the dynamic tapestry of creation as a living thread in the pattern of the universe. The Weaver has spun and knit each thread and so She knows and cares about not just the pattern, but all living threads of life. And as our life looms we may not know the pattern of the tapestry as a whole, but we can love the Weaver, appreciate that all the threads of life –including ours– are vastly important in the pattern of creation woven by the Great Weaver that pulls all that is to its very best.
Theologian John Cobb puts it like this. “God acts with the world as it is, leading it to what it can be.” That is true for each of us. God acts with us as we are, leading us to what we can be. Or as I like to put it: “God calls us to be the best we can be in each moment.” But the trick is we have to respond to the call. The weaving metaphor breaks down at this point because threads are not usually living. This is the choice part. As living threads we get to decide how we will affect the tapestry of life. This means we influence God’s work.
Jesus used a living vine metaphor. In the Gospel of John Christ says “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.(Joh 15:4-5 NRS). I hear in those verses how a vine and its branches are living threads.
Abide means dwell. God – Christ– you see dwells in us, which is very much what Psalm 139 can be heard to say. Our choice is to consciously abide or not in Christ. If we abide in Christ, that is consciously accept and act upon the Christ-ness . . . we will bear Christ’s fruit in the world. When we do choose to abide in Christ transformation occurs. We are not just a vine, we bear fruit.
Humans who know Christ – God on earth– bear the fruit of love. All of us “threads” serve, if you will let me mix metaphors– as “branches” off the vine that is Christ, which is another name for God, which is Love itself.
There’s a wonderful true, but unearthly, communion story in which the quote I just read from John features prominently. Most people don’t know this, but the very first morsel eaten and the very first liquid poured by humans on another celestial body were communion elements, not unlike those we will share in a little bit.
After Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon they had a few hours before they were to step out onto the surface. Within minutes after landing Buzz Aldrin reached into his personal bag and pulled out elements of communion that his pastor at home had consecrated. Here is a part of his account of what happened during humankind’s first few minutes on the moon:
I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given to me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit. . . Apart from me you can do nothing.” . . .
I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there were communion elements.
And of course it is interesting to think that some of the first words spoken on the moon were the words of Jesus Christ, who made the Earth and the moon– and who, in the immortal words of Dante, is Himself the “Love that moves the Sun and other stars.” 8.
(Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin).
I am with Buzz Aldrin; I love knowing that within minutes of the first landing of humans on another celestial body, there was a mindful turning of heart to God and that the words of Scripture that were read were about our relating as branches to the vine that is Christ and abiding in the incarnation of God who, as Aldrin noted, is the “Love that moves the Sun and other stars.”
That humans made it to the moon and there chose to remember God through communion and Christ’s words that we are connected to God, is for me, an awesome and wonderful and a very moving thing. Indeed to quote Psalm 139: “Wonderful are the works of God.” And Dante got it right God is the Love that moves creation.
And when I think on God’s making the universe and knowing me and you and everyone and all of creation through and through and so intimately, I am dumbfounded at the breadth of what that means. Our thousands of years old lesson from Psalm 139 captures this feeling perfectly:
“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.”
* This sermon is based on a sermon I wrote in 2010.
1. McCann, J. Clinton, Great Psalms of the Bible, Westminster John Knox Press (2009), 123. I have left off parenthetical references in the quotes from Prof. McCann.
2. Ibid. at 124-125
3. Ibid. at 125.
4. Ibid., 126.
5. Ibid., 127.
6. Ibid., at 128.
8. This is from an e-mail that credited the article I quote from to Eric Metaxas who quotes Buzz Aldrin. The validity of this story was confirmed the fact checker site “Snopes.com.”
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