Order of Worship | Psalm 139

When Berkley was small, one of his favorite games to play was Hide and Seek.  When he asked me to play, it was always assumed that he would be the first one to hide.  So, I would turn my head as he ran off (loudly) to find a great hiding spot.  As with most small children, his hiding spot was fairly predictable, and he would not be very hidden at all.  But I played the game anyway.  I would look all over the room, saying, “Where’s Berkley?  I just wonder where he could be!”  I would walk all around, asking the same question, while knowing full well exactly where he was hiding.

After some allotted time of his own determining, Berkley would shout from his hiding place, “Here I am!”  He would jump out from his hiding spot, we would run together for a big hug and then the game would start all over again.

When Berkley would hide behind the curtains or in his closet, or even under his bed sheets, I would always know where he was hidden.  But he loved the act of being found.  The whole premise of the game presumes that he wanted to be found.  He wanted to be seen.

And isn’t that what we all want?  We all want to be seen.  We all want to be known.  And we all want to be loved for who we are.  The Psalmist reminds us in today’s passage that we have exactly that.  We have a loving God who knows us intimately and loves us unconditionally.  God really sees us.

The Psalmist knows and reminds us that nothing about us is new or hidden from God.  Therefore, it’s important for us to remember God’s place as both our creator and our sustainer.

The psalmist uses the picture of a weaver, knitting together the fabric that makes us each uniquely ourselves.  God is an artist who knows the many layers it has taken to make you who you are today.  And God has had a hand in creating those layers. You, my friend, are a piece of art.  God has been creating you and God is not finished with you.

It stands to reason that if God knew us in our mothers’ wombs, then God knows us still in every breath we take in life. If God knew us then, God knows us now, and God will know us and have intentions for us going forward.  God wants to continue seeing us and using us.

Psalm 139 is most often used to talk about babies or even as a reminder to small children- to remind them that God’s hand has been with them in their creation; but I think it’s imperative that we fully embrace that Psalm 139 is written as a reminder for us.  Because as long as humans have walked this earth, they have longed to be known and to be reminded that God loves them.  And we live in a culture in which it’s easy to be critical of ourselves.  It’s easy to think we are lacking some key component to life.  It’s easy to believe that we are less than or inadequate or unlovable.

The scripture says, “It was YOU who formed me.” We act as if there are things God doesn’t know about us, or things that we should be ashamed of, but God formed us.  God knows the best parts of us, and God knows the things that are hard for us.  So who are we to believe that God can’t love all the parts of us.

One of my favorite author’s, theologian, Henri Nouwen, had a lot to say about believing that we were made in image of God, that we are loveable, and that we are beloved of God.  And he spoke particularly about how we are called to believe that God created us as invaluable works of art in this world.  He said, “When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions.  The real trap, however, is self-rejection.  As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, ‘Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.’… Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.”  Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

The Psalmist knew what Nouwen knew.  Being seen and known by God is the core truth of our existence. God has been privy to every part of what has created you and God has been present for each nuanced change and shift that is still making you who you are intended to be.  What trap do you find yourself in?  Out of your own self-rejection, do you find yourself drawn toward being successful?  Do you need to be well-thought of among your peers?  Is it important to you to feel powerful?  Or is there some other trap that compels you to find solace in something other than simply resting in knowing you are beloved of God?

The Psalmist reminds us that there is nowhere we can go that will take us away from God’s presence, but also, we shouldn’t want to be away from the presence of God.  We have nothing to fear knowing that God is perpetually and intimately close by.

The Psalmist gives us an example what it is to freely submit to God’s searching. “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.”  We too can long for God to see us- not because we think we are blameless, not because we have everything fixed up and figured out, but exactly because we know we love a God who will love us unconditionally.

Being seen by God is not a get out of jail free card.  It’s not an excuse for bad behavior.  It’s not a reason to continue in sin.  But it is a relief.  It’s a relief that we do not have to prove ourselves to anyone.  It’s a relief that we need not worry about pleasing the world.  Instead, the knowledge that God knows and loves us should inspire us to more fully live out who God created us to be.

In order to know what God sees in us, it’s important for us to be honest about what we see in ourselves.  What makes you uniquely you?  What makes you a special child of God?  What does God know about you that might be hard to admit- even to yourself?

Perhaps you remember the television show from about a decade ago- a show called Glee. Built around a high school glee club, the show was a classic look at the interactions between the students who were misfits and the students who were popular and seemingly had it all together.  I loved one particular episode when the Glee teacher, Mr. Schuster, made everyone in the club name their biggest perceived flaw- the thing that they think everyone notices about them that makes them different- the thing that they may be most self-conscious about, or even embarrassed by.  Over the course of the episode, each character comes to grips with that part of themselves, and they share it freely with the group by wearing a t-shirt with words that described their physical appearance, their sexuality, skills they were lacking, aspects of their given race, or particular mental struggles.

It takes each member of the glee club a different level of courage and amount of time to admit their struggle to the group.  But ultimately they all do, and they are all better for it.  They have done the work individually to admit what they are normally afraid to show the world.  They realize that the things they are most frightened by aren’t nearly as shameful as they once believed.  They see the humanity in one another knowing they are not alone.

It’s the opposite of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.  In that book, you’ll remember that Hester Pryne must wear an A emblazoned on her dress for others to know the sin she has committed.  She must wear that A as a warning to everyone else.  She wears it SO that others can mock her.  She must wear it so that others might feel morally superior.  She doesn’t wear it as a badge of vulnerability and honesty, but of punishment and judgment.  She doesn’t get to claim her life for herself.  She is not seen for who she truly is.  That is all decided for her.  But that’s not how God is.  God invites us to vulnerability and honesty about who we are, not so that we can live in shame or disgrace, but so that we might live boldly and confidently as children of God.

You know me.  Naturally, I was awfully tempted to invite you to write down your own word or phrase that you would put on a t-shirt like the Glee Club did.  Maybe put it on a nametag and wear it after worship today- not as a mark of sin or shame, but as a way that we can see you and that you can feel seen.  I’m obviously not going to make you do that.  But I am going to invite you to think about it.  What word would you use to describe something you feel particularly insecure about?  What phrase would tell others about you in a way that is vulnerable and honest.  What do you wish people could see and know about you?

Even if you’re not planning on wearing a nametag with a word on it anytime soon, I want you to remember that God knows.  Nothing is hidden from God.  Nothing is too much for God.  Nothing turns God’s face away from you.

It’s difficult to share the hard parts of ourselves.  Vulnerability is scary.  We fear rejection, judgment or even abandonment.  But God promises to never leave us or forsake us.  And so we must also make those promises to one another.

IT may be tempting to go through a struggle in your life alone.  You may not want to tell the whole church that you have cancer.  Or that you suffer from addiction.  Or that you are hurting from a broken relationship.

But I can tell you this.  You do not have to walk this life alone.  You may not want to tell the whole church, but you may want to tell one trusted friend.  Or you may want to tell your Sunday School class. Or maybe you DO want to tell the whole church.

Because as the scriptures say, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  While our struggles may have different names, the roots of them have been the same since humanity began.  People have been in pain.  People have suffered.  People have felt lost and alone.  And yet, when we confess our specific types of struggles, it only helps others to know us better.  It helps others to feel more confident sharing in their stories.  It gives us a way to know how to more diligently pray and actively care for those who are hurting.

But maybe you’re not struggling or suffering.  Maybe the word you would write on your nametag is simply something you don’t love about yourself.  An aspect of your outward appearance, an unpopular opinion, or a personality trait that doesn’t seem to fit in.  God sees and knows that part of you as well.

It’s hard to push aside the voices of this world that tell us we are not good enough, or beautiful enough, or accomplished enough.  It’s an easy trap to fall into and believe that we must strive to be some ideal version of ourselves instead of an authentic version of ourselves.  But friends, God only calls us to be who God made us to be.  God invites us to be fully human while seeking the divine.

It is not God’s voice telling you that you are not enough.

It is not God’s voice telling you that you need to be thinner or less gray.

It is not God’s voice telling you that you don’t matter or have nothing to contribute.

It is not God’s voice telling you that you are nothing more than the trauma you’ve experienced.

God’s voice is saying, “I know who you are and you are beloved.  I see what you look like and you are beautiful.  I hear what you say and you are valuable.  I feel what makes you ache and you are whole. I see you.”

And if we are to strive to be more like God, then we must also receive the confessions and vulnerability of others with that same level of compassion and mercy that God offers us.

Theologian Thomas Merton said, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image.  Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”  We are called to love others as they are- fully and authentically themselves.  We must not bring them into our folds and our hearts only with the hopes of changing them to be more like us.

There are people in our lives longing for us to find them and invite them in.  They want to be seen. They want to know that they are loved.  They want to feel embraced.  They want to have a home.  And usually, those folks are hidden in plain sight.  It could be someone sitting beside you today.  It could be you.

And so, what if we didn’t hide from God or from each other, but we said, “Here I am!”?

Here I am to be seen!

Here I am to see you!

Here we are to receive the love of God and to share that with each other!”

Are you playing hide and seek with God?  Are you hiding out of shame or fear or indifference, but with a part of your heart tugging at you knowing that you want to be found- you want to be seen and known?

Dare to see others.

Dare to see yourself.

Dare to be seen.

And dare to be loved by a God who has searched you, known you, and who will lead you to the way everlasting because God sees you.

And may it be so.