Psalm 139: 1 – 12_The Inescapable God_September 8, 2019

The Inescapable God

Psalm 139: 1 – 12


(preached on September 8, 2019)


There’s a lot of concern these days about privacy.  If you have a bank account, or an insurance policy, you probably get a notice from time to time, telling you the company’s privacy policy.  If you go to the doctor, you often get a document that explains what they can and cannot do with your personal information.  If you’re in the hospital, the hospital can’t tell anyone that you’re there without your permission.


For pastors like me, this poses a problem sometimes.  In the old days, before the privacy laws, we could simply go to the hospital information desk and ask for a list of the patients there.  It was easy to find someone from our church, to make a visit and offer spiritual support.  Now we rely on family and fellow church members to let us know if a loved one is in the hospital.


I can understand the need to protect people’s privacy.  It’s important to protect personal information.  The sad reality is that, in the wrong hands, personal information could be used in a way that could cause problems.  It could cause problems in our job, or our ability to get insurance, and other important things in our lives.  I can understand the need to keep personal information confidential.


But one of the strange things about our time in history is that, while we’re very concerned about maintaining our privacy, we see and hear intimate details of people’s lives all over the place.  Have you ever stood in line behind someone talking on a cell phone?  Have you heard them sharing news of their latest argument with their boyfriend, or the gory details of their root canal procedure?


Our technology makes it possible for us to go public with just about anything.  Cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a host of other social media sites make it easy to post every detail of our lives.  We tend to believe that all of this is new and began with us and our technology, but when I did a little research about privacy, I found that concern about privacy is nothing new.  In the year 1900, when Kodak invented the Brownie camera, it caused a great hue and cry about the loss of privacy.  Before 1900, only professional photographers took photographs.  They used big cumbersome machines that most people didn’t have access to.  The Brownie was a small, inexpensive camera that anyone could use to take snapshots of anything, anywhere.  They could share those snapshots in any way they chose.  That raised concerns about privacy.


Now of course we can take pictures and post them instantly on line.  This raises all sorts of possibilities.  Your moment of indiscretion at the party seemed funny at the time, but when it becomes a sensation on Youtube, your career may be at risk.  So it’s no surprise that we’re concerned these days about privacy.

In my Bible, the headline above our passage for today from the Hebrew Scriptures is, “the inescapable God.”  Psalm 139 is one of the most beloved psalms in the Bible.  The psalm doesn’t raise the issue of privacy directly, but at times the psalmist seems concerned about God’s constant presence.  He writes, “Where can I go from your spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence?” It’s almost as it he’s saying, “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”  God is everywhere, from the farthest reaches of the ocean to the innermost places in the heart.


What can this psalm say to you and me about a relationship with God?  How can we hear the psalmist’s words, addressed to the inescapable God?  Is he saying, “Gee, God, you’re too close for comfort.  Can you give me a little space here?”  Or is he taking comfort in God’s constant presence?  How might this psalm speak to us about our own relationship with God?


Each of us has a relationship with God.  People look at God differently.  For a lot of people, God is like a cosmic judge: God watches everything we do, and approves or disapproves.  If God is a cosmic judge, you tremble before God when you do something wrong.  Sometimes you don’t understand how God can put up with the wrongs other people do.  You may remember the television show Maude, with Bea Arthur, that was popular years ago.  Maybe you remember that when Maude was outraged about something someone did, she would say, “God’ll get you for that!”  For Maude, God is a cosmic judge.  And the Bible does portray God as a Judge at times.  But the cosmic judge is just one of many images of God in the Bible.


The way you and I look at God, our relationship with God, can change over time.  Here’s one woman’s description of a change in her relationship with God:


“At first I saw God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I [deserved] heaven or hell when I die.  He was out there, sort of like the president.


“But later on when I recognized this Higher Power, it seemed as though life was rather like a bike ride, but it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that God was in the back helping me pedal. I don’t know just when it was that he suggested we change places, but life has not been the same since…God makes life exciting!


“…When he took the lead, it was all I could do to hang on!  He knew delightful paths, up mountains and through rocky places – and at breakneck speeds!  Even though it looked like madness, he said, ‘Pedal!’


“I worried and was anxious and asked, ‘Where are you taking me?’  He laughed and didn’t answer, and I started to learn trust.  … When I said, ‘I’m scared!’  He’d lean back and touch my hand… At first I didn’t trust him to take control of my life.  I thought he’d wreck it.  But he knows bike secrets – how to make it lean to take sharp corners, dodge large rocks, and speed through scary passages.  And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places.  I’m beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful, constant Companion” (Illustrations, p. 247 & 8).


In Psalm 139, the psalmist writes of God as a constant Companion:  “Where can I go from your Spirit?  … If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand will lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.”


If we understand God as our judge, this psalm about the constant presence of God could be a kind of lament – how can I get away from you, God?  There’s no escape for me.  But how would it change things if we heard in this psalm a growing trust in God’s loving presence?  How would it change our relationship with God if we heard in this psalm a celebration of growing trust in a God who is constantly with us – not to condemn us, but to dwell with us, filling the deepest parts of ourselves with peace?


A lot of truth about God can be found in books written for children.  One of the best is The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown.  It’s a story of a little bunny who wants to run away, and his mother, who loves him more than anything and wants to be with him.


The runaway bunny says, “I will be a fish in a trout stream, and I will swim away from you.” His mother replies, “If you become a fish, I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”


The little bunny goes on, “[Then] I will be a crocus in a hidden garden.” And his mother replies, “If you become a crocus in a hidden garden, I will be a gardener, and I will find you.”


The little bunny has another idea.  “I will be a bird and fly away from you,” he says, but the mother bunny replies, “I will be a tree that you come home to.”


Something similar can happen in our relationship with God.  Wherever we go, whatever we do, whoever we become, God will be with us. Or, to quote the apostle Paul, “Nothing in all creation [can] separate us from the love of God”  (Romans 8: 39).  God is with us always: not to condemn us, but to fill us with peace.  God is always present.


The child psychologist David Elkind writes about the importance of parents’ presence.  He says that we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of parents’ presence as a support of their children’s achievements.  It’s extremely important for parents just to be there.  He writes, “It’s a clear sign that the parents care when they take the time to come to see their children perform, particularly when the children know that the parents are not there for their [own] enjoyment.”  Elkind tells of a visit he made to his young son’s classroom:


“I remember visiting my middle son’s nursery school class, at the request of his teacher, so that I could observe [what she called] a ‘problem child’ in the class.  It so happened that I was sitting and observing a group of boys, including my son, who sat in a circle nearby.


“Their conversation went like this.  Child A:  ‘My daddy is a doctor and he makes a lot of money and we have a swimming pool.’  Child B:  ‘My daddy is a lawyer and he flies to Washington and talks to the president.’  Child C:  ‘My daddy owns a company and we have our own airplane.’


“Then [with a proud look in my direction] my son [spoke up].  He said, ‘My daddy is here!’


Elkind concludes, “Children regard the public presence of their parents as a visible symbol of caring and connectedness; [it’s] far more significant than any material support could ever be.”


Each of us has a relationship with God.  This psalm of the inescapable God reminds us that God is always with us; always present. we find a God who knows and treasures our deepest secrets.  God wants to be with us, deep within us: not to condemn us, but to fill us with peace.







Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost 13