On Being Known

Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | June 26, 2022

Based on Psalm 139

Most of us in the journey we call “growing up” come to a place in the road where we think to ourselves or even say to our loved ones, usually a parent, “You don’t know me! You don’t know anything about me!” And then we go to our room and slam the door. As we cry into our pillow we realize, “I am so misunderstood!”

A wise parent would take to heart the parenting wisdom of the poet Kahlil Gibran. He said that children have their own thoughts. Their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow. He said that parenting is like archery. Children are the arrows and parents are the bows. God is the archer. God loves the arrow that flies; God loves the bow that is stable.

Who really knows you?

Maybe a way to understand the questions is to ask it in a different way – who really loves you? Who loves you just the way you are? Dare we say, unconditionally? Which doesn’t mean that your quirks are not recognized – your weaknesses and shortcomings not known; it means who knows these and loves you anyway? Chances are the person who loves you in that way knows you. Think of the people you love. The people you love the most are likely to be the people you know best.

We all have those memories, events, scenes and private thoughts that we keep to ourselves – not because they are sordid or shameful, but perhaps more because they are sacred; to us at least and to share them would be to dilute their significance. What has deep or sacred meaning to us may not seem so to another person. Another person might recognize the sanctity we give to such inner thoughts, but it doesn’t mean the same to them. We learn to be careful how and with whom we share this part of our selves.  

Call it the odd truth, because it is both the reality that is the essence of our existence and a mystery that we cannot fully grasp, is that God knows us entirely. God knows the thought before we can think of what to say. The psalmist admitted that the very idea of this is beyond reach, as if to say, “I can’t get my head around it.”

One time I did the proverbial good deed for the day by helping an old lady cross the street. It was in Glasgow, a cold Friday afternoon at 4:00 PM and it was dark and there were snow flurries. I was on my way to karate practice, waiting to cross the street at a busy intersection.  There was this elderly woman standing at the crosswalk and because the pavement was slippery, she had to walk slowly and carefully and could not get across before the light changed.

When the walk light came on, I offered her my arm and we set out. It was slow going. When the light changed before we made it across. A car starting edging into the cross walk in front of us. I pointed at the driver and yelled, “You’re not gonnae do that!”

We made it across, and she began shuffling her way along the sidewalk.

This image of one person being led by holding onto to another reminded me of how it is perhaps that God has a hand upon us. Not to say, “This is where you’re going to go!” But as if to say, “Take my hand; We’ll take it at your pace.”

It’s a position of vulnerability on God’s part because it would be so natural for us to think that God the Almighty would be the power that drives us. Rather, it is God the Almighty who is the gentle presence by our side. God saying, “I will go where you go – I will see through you.”

God’s hand upon us is the light touch, and the touch of light.

There’s a part of Psalm 139 that is always left out of the lectionary readings. If I read the Psalm at a funeral, I omit verses 19-22. On the surface they seem somehow inappropriate and out of place with the sentiment of the rest of the Psalm. This is how they read –

19 O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
   and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
20 those who speak of you maliciously,
   and lift themselves up against you for evil!
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
   And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
   I count them my enemies.

Violence and hatred and the prayer that God would kill the wicked – the admission that, “Don’t I hate so very well for you, God?” If we think about what the poet is saying about being known by God, and being always in God’s presence, then this bit about violence and hatred is a way of saying, “You know that in my heart of hearts I am a very human being.”

It’s only human to look around and identify the “evil doers.” The people who “deserve to die.” The ones who are so easy to hate. The media loves nothing more than to show some worthless thug who did some terrible deed walking out of court freed on some senseless technicality and every smile and laugh and stupid gesture is highlighted to fan the flames of our hatred and our desire for revenge. “God,” we say, “I wish they would get what’s coming to them.”

And sometimes they do get what’s coming to them. But when people start identifying God’s enemies and singling them out for violence, we don’t necessarily appreciate the outcome. Because then we have all manner of war and violence and killing. And when we justify it by saying, “God is on our side and thus ours is the righteous cause,” it seems all the more abhorrent.

I may very well hate them with perfect hatred because I am an imperfect person. I may very well count them as my enemies because I think that’s what God thinks. But I need to remember that God’s thoughts are beyond my ability to measure. And if I count someone as my enemy, then it is to be sure that someone else is counting me as their enemy, because we share the opinion that God has enemies.

The poetry of Psalm 139 is a prayer that implies a conversation. I wondered how it might read if the conversation were turned around God were speaking to us. Imagine in your own mind’s eye as if God’s Spirit were saying these words just to you –

Psalm 139

“I have looked into you’re your heart; I have searched your mind; I have beheld your soul. I know you.  I know when you are sitting down or when you are getting up; Whatever thoughts you are thinking – I’m thinking about what you’re thinking. I watch ahead on the pathway that you are traveling. I know where you are going to sleep tonight. I am familiar with your habits.

I know what you are going to say before you say it, but I still want to hear it said. Whichever way you turn, I’m there. My hand is upon you. There is really no way that you can know everything there is to know about me. No matter how far flung your thoughts take you I will always be beyond you.

My spirit is everywhere so there is nowhere you can go that I am not there. If you flee my presence, you are only running into me. If you rise to heaven, you will find me there; If you sink to the depths of hell, you will find me there. Jump on ship and sail to the farthest limits of the sea or get into a spaceship and fly to the furthest galaxy – suspend the laws of physics and find yourself in a parallel universe; I’m still holding your hand and I will never let you fall.

If you find yourself in the darkest middle of nowhere, it’s like the light of day to me. It’s all the same to me – night or day – for I am light itself.

I saw you in that fraction of a nano second when you became a fertilized egg; I am the life-force that divided one cell into two and four into eight and so on until you became my knitting project. I wove you like a fine cloth. I built your frame. I saw you before you were you.

Imagine if you will that I have a book called “The Story of Your Life.” Each day is another page turned. I know how your story ends because I have written it. Like any good book I’ve read your story many times.

If you tried to weigh my thoughts, they would be too heavy for any human scale.

If you tried to count them, you might as well try to count all the grains of sand on all the beaches in the world – for a start.

Whenever you reach your end – I will still be with you.

Like so many of my children you wish that I would get rid of the evil-doers – kill them all.

You wish that all the people out for blood would just go away somewhere and not be a part of the world where you live.

Like so many of my children you want to defend me against people who at least from your view seem to be against me. Again, the evildoers.

You hate those who hate me? You loathe those who work against me? I see that your hatred is a perfect hatred. You may not be able to count my thoughts, but you can easily  number your enemies.

So Yes, I do search you and I do know your heart.

I test you and I know your every thought.

I see if there is any wicked way in you,
even so, I lead you in the way that will last forever.”


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