Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Psalm 139
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
January 18, 2015


            Did you know you can fall in love with someone by asking and answering the same 36 questions and then looking into each other’s eyes for 4 minutes?  Twenty years ago psychologist Arthur Aron invited two strangers to do exactly that in a laboratory setting and succeeded.  The questions start off harmless enough but then become increasingly intimate, the answers creating a sense of vulnerability and closeness.  The key is that the intimacy is reciprocal and equal between the two people.  Each one knows the other’s inward thoughts through answering the same questions.  Of course there has to be a similar level of trust.  If one is completely honest and the other is somewhat reticent, there is an imbalance of vulnerability and power, and intimacy is broken. 

            In Psalm 139 it is God who knows us not only intimately but completely, and yet that is all the psalmist can truly claim to know about God.  In fact, there is no proof for God’s existence or non-existence.  That’s why it’s called faith and not certainty.  Often our culture approaches an experience of the divine with skepticism or what we called in seminary ‘the hermeneutic of suspicion’.  And perhaps it is because it seems there is this imbalance of vulnerability and power.  God, or whatever divine power there is, searches out our path and our lying down, knows our words before we speak them, hems us in behind and before, but we can never truly know God in the same way.

            But if God is love, and God’s love is perfect, that is, complete, is that how we can know God?  When we not just feel or experience God’s love but know it deep down in our bones.  How often do we allow ourselves to know that love and its power to heal, to forgive, to uplift?  How often do we allow ourselves to be comforted and to know ourselves as unconditionally accepted and render that same gift to others?  God’s love is as powerful as we allow it to be, as real as a transformed life.

            One of my favorite authors, Octavia Butler, looked at the not-too-distant future and imagined God, not as love, but as change.  Rather than love being the most powerful force on earth, change became the immutable power, the only lasting truth that transformed human lives.  But change can be positive or negative.  Change doesn’t care about who we are; it doesn’t love us or hate us.   Change just is.  I don’t think I would like having a God whose effects on human lives is scientifically observable, but also doesn’t care one way or the other about what happens to me or you or the rest of creation.  I don’t want to live in a future where God as love has failed.

          In truth, God as love has been failing for centuries.  Instead, God and religion are used as an excuse for hatred, exclusion, torture, and violence.  Once again, the lectionary conveniently cuts out the uglier verses of this psalm: a desire for God to kill the wicked and aligning God with one’s own personal hatred.  Indeed, some of these verses sound as though they were coming from the men who gunned down those who were killed in the offices of Charlie Hebdo:  “O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me— those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil! Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?  I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.”   

#JeSuisCharlie, indeed.  If God knows us, really knows us, then God knows all our peccadilloes, our petty desires, and our capacity for violence and hatred.  But we don’t see anyone using a hashtag with the words “Je Suis La Haine” (I Am Hatred), “Je Suis La Terroriste” or “Je Suis Le Tyran” (I Am a Bully).  We cannot disown these verses, ignore them, cut them from our worship, and say “They are not me.  I do not hate.”  But they are me and you when we want our way.  These words and emotions are us; they are human.  When we choose sides, we declare that one group of human beings matter more than another.


      The hard truth is, God searches and knows and loves those who would earnestly pray those violent verses and carry them out.  God that is love, loves who we would call enemy as deeply and intimately and completely as God loves us.  And so the psalmist saves the hardest part for last, the final two verses, which are really the most difficult of all:  “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.  See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  If God knowing us completely leads to anything, it’s that we might know ourselves, and not only know but love ourselves so much that we’re willing to be led away from our own way of viewing the world so that we might understand the world and others the way God does.

            How do we here at the New Ark not only allow but desire God to search us and know our hearts?  How do we convey that everyone who comes through our doors really does matter?  God’s love is as powerful as we allow it to be, as real as a transformed life.  How do we live differently as a result of having been a part of this church? 

            Black lives matter, police lives matter, journalists and satirists matter, free speech matters, but so do Muslims of all stripes, and all nations of this earth; poor people and rich people; gay, straight, bisexual, transgendered, intersexed and queer people; men, women, and those who don’t identify with a particular gender; the spiritual and the religious and those of no faith; those in prison and those on the streets; young, old, all colors, and everyone in between.  You matter.  We all matter. God knows us inside and out.  There is nowhere we can go where God, the sacred, the holy power of love is not already there waiting for us.

            And there's nothing we can do to change that.  

            The world will change when we start living that way.  Amen.

No comments: