Thursday, September 01, 2016

Someone is Watching!!! - Psalm 139

Psalm 139

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light around me become night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is as bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15     My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
    all the days that were formed for me,
    when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
    I come to the end[a]—I am still with you.

Sermon                                  Someone is Watching!                 Maynard Pittendreigh

          Most of us like a sense of privacy.  We put curtains on our windows.  We build fences in our yards.  We safeguard our medical information.  We vote with secret ballots.  We take great care about what we put on Facebook. 

          The constitution of our nation does not address privacy per se, but there is that great line in the Fourth Amendment that refers to “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

          Privacy is nice, but we live in an age in which it is threatened.

          We don’t like the idea that we might lose our privacy.
And - this is the theme of Psalm 139.  Only, in this case it is not Big Brother or the NSA or an internet industry trying to track our spending so they can sell us more stuff – it is God.

It is God who invades our privacy.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.

Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?

          It can be an unsettling experience – this lack of privacy.  It is one thing to know that the government might be snooping on our email, but to know that God Almighty, the one who will judge the living and the dead, snoops into our email and even into our unspoken thoughts.

          So – what can we do?


          Theologian Paul Tillich observed that when people sense they have no privacy from God, they want to kill God.  They want to force God out of their lives.  In fact, it was theologian Friedrich Nietzsche who found this divine invasion of privacy so unbearable that he is given credit with coining the phrase, “God is Dead,” which eventually became the famous cover of an issue of Time magazine many years ago.

          In his classic work Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche said that God “had to die: God saw with eyes that saw everything; God saw man’s depths and ultimate grounds, all his concealed disgrace and ugliness. God crawled into my dirtiest nooks. This most curious, overobtrusive, overpitying God had to die.”

          Now of course, one cannot kill God – so we can do the next best thing – flee from God!
Throughout the Bible whenever anyone encounters God in a real and dynamic way, there is no joy, no excitement, no gladness – but fear and a desire to be left alone.
Moses hid his face from God when he met the Lord in the burning bush on Mount Sinai – because he did not want God to see the real Moses.
In the New Testament, when Peter first realizes that Jesus is the Messiah, he says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
Jonah in fact went to the extreme of getting in a boat and trying to put as much distance as he could between him and God – a plan that did not work out well for Jonah.
God knows every secret, and that can be so unsettling.
What you do in the privacy of your home – God knows.
What you said about your boss to a coworker whom you trusted – God knows.
          Every lie you ever spoke, every drug you ever took, everything you ever did while under the influence of alcohol, everything you did when you were 13 years old but got away with and no one ever found out –
          God knows.
          Imagine being stopped by a police officer who asks, “Do you know how fast you were going?”  Now imagine being judged by God who doesn’t ask, but tells you every thing you ever did, or thought.
          It can be unsettling to be so intently known by God.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.

          Think about the fact that this was written by King David.  That saint of God was far from perfect.  He fell in love with Bathsheba, they had an affair and she became pregnant.  Her husband returned from the battle to report to the king and in order to hide the scandal, David arranged for Bathsheba’s husband to be killed on the battlefield, a victim of friendly fire.
          David did everything humanly possible to hide his scandal, and yet in this Psalm he acknowledges that before God there is no privacy.
          So – Option 1, Fleeing from God does not help. 
          Option 2?  Straighten up and fly right.

          I mean if God is going to see everything you do, it is probably in everyone’s best interest to be sure we live a pretty good life.
          No more cussin’ fussin’ or feuding.  No more getting angry.  No more getting wasted.  No more cheating on income tax.  No more cheating on your spouse.

          When I was in the first grade my teacher called us down for misbehaving in class.  At some point she warned us not to try anything because she had eyes in the back of her head.
          Now as a first grader, I believed that – why would my beloved teacher lie to me?  And it freaked me out – just the thought of that third eye back there, behind her grey hair. 
          But you’d better believe we started behaving.

          And now comes God and the Lord sees EVERYTHING.  He knows our inmost thoughts!
          So we had better fly right. 
          Now this sounds much better than Option 1 – fleeing from God.
          I John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…”
          And St. Paul in Romans says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God.”

          So what to do?
          Here is God almighty, who judges the quick and the dead, keeping us under constant surveillance. 
          What to do?

          The only other option is – relax.
          Take comfort.
          Be assured.
          Maybe – just maybe this Psalm was not written to disturb, but to comfort.
          Psalm 139 was not meant to instill fear to those sinners in the hands of an angry God, but assurance and peace.
          The atheist Nietzsche was terrified of a God who knew him so well, but when Paul Tillich reviews the work of Nietzshe, Tillich concludes that Nietzsche doesn’t really know what he wants.  Tillich sees correctly, I think, that the ultimate terror Nietzsche fears is not to be totally known, but to be totally unknown. The price of the anonymity that our society offers is to be quite alone in the universe. When I die, will anyone know, or more important, will anyone care?

          Psalm 139 is not an invasion of privacy to be feared.  It is a word of comfort to give relief to a society in which people desperately want to be known and understood – and more than that – to be loved.

          I mentioned the Heidelberg Catechsim in my sermon last week. 

I think I’ll mention it again in this week’s sermon.
As I pointed out last week, this is a question and answer format of a statement of faith written centuries ago.  The very first question asks, “What is your ONLY comfort in life and death?”  The answer, “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ…”

          I am not my own.

          I belong to God – to a loving God.

          I belong to a God who has invaded my most private thoughts and knows all my secrets, but my secrets are safe only with God.

          You see, in this day and age when we are concerned about privacy, we know that when our dark and bad secrets get out, people will respond with gossip. 
They will use our secrets against us. 

God will use our bad secrets to nurture us – God will forgive us, correct us and set us on the right path because God knows our inmost thoughts.

          No American in this age wants his or her privacy taken away.  We don’t want to be under surveillance. 

          Psalm 139 tells us that we are not so much under surveillance, as we are under care – and we want that.

We want be under the care and scrutiny of the God who knew us and loved us when we were no longer than a speck of invisible cell growing in our mother’s womb.

We want be under the care and scrutiny of the God who knows our every actions, along with the motivations, but who loves us anyway. 

We want be under the care and scrutiny of the God who knows our thoughts that we would never dare speak, but who has mercy and compassion.

It could be terrifying to be watched – or it could be comforting.  It all depends on who is watching.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2016. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.