Monday Matters (June 3, 2024)


Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17

1 Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.

2 You trace my journeys and my resting-places
and are acquainted with all my ways.

3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.

4 You press upon me behind
and before and lay your hand upon me.

5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

12 For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

13 I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

14 My body was not hidden from you,
while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth.

15 Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book;
they were fashioned day by day, when as yet there was none of them.

16 How deep I find your thoughts,
O God! how great is the sum of them!

17 If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

This year, Monday Matters will focus on wisdom conveyed in the treasures of the book of Psalms. We’ll look at the psalms read in church before Monday Matters comes to your screen.

Memorize Psalm 139. It will change your life.

That’s what the Rev. James Forbes said to incoming students as part of our seminary’s orientation process, lo these several years ago. A good chunk of that psalm was read yesterday in church (see above). Every time it pops up in the lectionary, I think of that counsel from Dr. Forbes, who taught at the seminary and went on to be Senior Pastor at the Riverside Church in New York. I did my best to memorize it then, figuring he knew what he was talking about. I’ve often pondered why he picked this of all the psalms, indeed all the passages in scripture that might have chosen for our fledgling group.

The psalm says a lot about who we are, as it celebrates the mystery of the transcendent nature of God, broader than the measure of the mind, and as it celebrates our relationship to the Holy One.

For starters, the psalm reminds us (as if we needed it) that we are limited. It is just possible that we have grander visions of ourselves than are due. Dwight Zscheile, one of my teachers, says that a job of the church is to see what God is up to in the neighborhood. Too often in Christian history, Christians have behaved as if they are bringing God to places God couldn’t go without some help. We might even imagine that God is lucky to have us on the team. Where would God be without us?

Psalm 139 helps us see that God is in all things, present with us, surrounding us, preceding us, guiding us into a new future. That leads to an appropriate sense of humility. At the same time, it provides a comforting notion that there is a guiding hand in our increasingly chaotic world. Howard Thurman said that if God is the creator of all things, then all things are in candidacy for God’s high and holy end. Thurman may well have been channeling the psalmist.

In my own devotions in the morning, I often have to start by remembering that the coming day unfolds in the presence of God. It’s why the prayer from Psalm 19 is so important: “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight.” I too often fancy myself a bit of a free agent. A friend recently gave me a postcard which reads: “Dear God, I’ve penciled you in for Sunday morning.” Ever felt like that? Psalm 139 calls us to recognize that in the limits of our humanity, humility before the God of all creation is the proper and holy response.

Second, the psalm reminds us that we are known. That can be a frightening thought, actually. I would not want my inner most thoughts projected on a screen. It would not be edifying, and it might be a career ender. The psalm tells us that God knows all about us, our sitting and rising, our innermost thoughts, all the words we utter.

Third, and perhaps most critical, the psalm says that while we are limited, and while we are known by God, we are also loved. It may be hard to see God’s love as unconditional, since so many of our human relationships proceed in a transactional way. Have you ever felt that if the people who love you knew some of your darker thoughts, or if they knew some things about the past, that your relationship would be off? The psalm says that we are known by the Holy One in ways that surpass even our own self-awareness. We are loved nonetheless. If that’s not amazing grace, I don’t know what is.

We are limited, for sure, and a recognition of that is key. It leads to holy humility in the presence of a power greater than ourselves.

We are known. There are no secrets to be kept from the Holy One.

And in it all we are loved, with a love from which we can never be separated.

Dr. Forbes was on to something. The embrace of those facts about ourselves can change our lives.

-Jay Sidebotham

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