Proper 11A

July 14, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Genesis 28: 10-19a

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 139: 1-12, 23-24

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    Few people would argue that Psalm 139 is deeply beloved.  It’s a beautiful prayer that describes God’s incomparability.  The Holy Spirit uses it to provide genuine comfort to people who struggle with various issues. Yet even biblical scholars suggest Psalm 139 is also notoriously difficult to categorize.  Is it a prayer of praise?  Of confession?  Is Psalm 139 a prayer of confession?  Of lament?  Is it even a kind of wisdom psalm?

    In the case of what’s appointed by the Lectionary for this Sunday, categorizing Psalm 139 is even more difficult because it’s just one portion of the psalm.  That’s complicated by the argument some scholars advance that the psalm’s heart is verse 19’s prayer that God would “slay the wicked.”  That prayer, however, is omitted from this Sunday’s Lectionary.

    Thankfully, the portion assigned does include the verses that bracket Psalm 139.  “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me,” the psalmist begins by praying in verse 1.  Near the end of the psalm, the poet prays something very similar: “Search me, O God, and know my heart.”  So our text highlights God’s searching and knowing that’s critical to this prayer.

    In emphasizing that, the poet shows he knows that God knows human beings perfectly.  The Lord doesn’t just know when people get up and when they sit down.  God even knows our most secret thoughts.  The Lord doesn’t just know when you and I leave and when we come home, when we get up in the morning and when we go to bed at night.  God is also “familiar” with all our “ways.”  God knows absolutely everything about you and me.

    God, the psalmist insists, doesn’t just hear the words we say when we say them.  God also knows what we’re going to say before we even say it.  The Lord knows what we’re thinking.  So while people can generally hide from other people what they think of them, no one can hide that from God.  God knows exactly what people think of each of each other and the Lord.  The Lord perceives even thoughts.  God is the divine mind reader.

    So people may be able to hide things like lust and envy from others.  But they can’t hide them from God.  God knows our ways.  The Lord completely knows human thoughts.  People may be able to choke back the words of anger or gossip that creep up to but never actually cross their lips.  People may never know what others are tempted to say.  But God knows.  Before words even move from minds to tongues, God knows them.  Human beings may be able to hide feelings of pride or contempt for others from each other.  They can’t, however, hide them from God.  God knows peoples’ feelings completely.

    Yet God doesn’t just know our ways.  God also, the psalmist recognizes, knows our way, as it were.  God has access to every part of what God creates.  “Where can I go from your Spirit?” the psalmist rhetorically prays in verse 7.  “Where can I flee from your presence?”  Her questions assume a “Nowhere!” answer.

    Nothing is inaccessible to God.  While 21st century sophisticated travelers can soar far into space and sink deep into the oceans, there are limits to our reach.  People are able to break off contact with people by travelling far away from each other.  Yet those limits don’t bind God.  God has access to both the farthest reaches of space and the lowest depths of the oceans.  Even “Sheol,” the “depths” to which verse 8 alludes, is accessible to God.  While the psalmist’s contemporaries worried that shadowy realm of the dead seemed immune to God’s blessing, the psalmist insists even it isn’t immune to God’s sovereign rule.  Even the darkness, the poet adds in verses 11-12, is not darkness to God.  It does not offer a hiding place from God’s sovereign presence.

    It’s natural to think of such unlimited divine access as intimidating.  We sometimes act as though God can’t read our thoughts, as though God can’t follow us into the secret and dark places.  So when we realize nothing is inaccessible to God’s sovereign presence, we may feel stricken with guilt.  This psalm may turn out, then, not to be a source of comfort, but of anxiety.  We may even beg God not to examine our inner thoughts or pursue us to creation’s darkest corners.

    Yet the psalmist has no such compunctions.  She, in fact, welcomes God’s intense scrutiny.  It’s as if she’s feels she has nothing to hide from the Lord.  “Search me, O God, and know my heart,” the poet prays in verse 23.  “Test me, and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me.”

    Those who preach and teach Psalm 139 will want to explore why the poet is able to pray these things so boldly.  Some possible answers?  The psalmist is a kind of moral relativist who believes her life is holier than her contemporaries’, especially her enemies.  That seems highly unlikely for someone like the psalmist who seems to have such an intimate relationship with the Lord.

    Is the psalmist misguided in his assessment of his life?  Is, in fact, his heart darkened by evil thought?  Are there actually offensive ways in him?  Does his life need correction, even if he doesn’t realize it?  If so, we can assume God the judge will evaluate that and point the poet to his ways’ errors.

    Or does the poet somehow recognize God’s grace, even though she doesn’t explicitly refer to it?  When, after all, God looks on those whom God has saved by grace, God no longer holds their offenses against them.  God graciously treats God’s adopted children as though they have no anxious thoughts or offensive ways.

    Illustration Idea

    To illustrate the “long arm” of God’s loving reach, preachers and teachers might talk about the immensity of the observable universe that’s accessible to the Lord.  Of course, no one knows exactly how large the universe is.  Yet we suspect to cross the observable universe alone, one would need almost 100 billion light years.  Even with our increasingly sophisticated instruments, “sight” into outer space extends only about 31.5 billion light years.  Yet it’s all accessible to our loving God.

    Or consider the depth of the ocean.  Its average depth is 14,000 feet.  However, the deepest part of the ocean, the Challenger Deep, is about 36,200 feet deep.  So it’s much deeper than the combined heights of Mount Everest, New York’s Empire State Building, Paris’ Eiffel Tower and the Shanghai Tower.  In part because of the ocean’s immensity, oceanographers have managed to explore only about 5% of it.  All of it, however, is accessible to the Lord.

    Or preachers and teachers might invite worshipers to remember or imagine being in a cave when the lights were briefly extinguished.  Such an absence of light is deeply eerie in part because one can’t even see the hand in front of one’s face.  Yet, insists the psalmist, even such potentially terrifying darkness is like light to God.

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Romans 8:12-25

    Author: Stan Mast