The audio quality was a little mushy on this one, so instead we're sharing the written text of the readings and reflection. The service also included the welcoming of a new member as we shared communion, and you'll find links to the hymns below.
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For the last month, we have been spending some time in the psalms, and this morning we are starting a mini series focusing on Psalm 139 in particular. This is based on a series of short films I made for the chaplaincy’s social media pages, as part of the university’s mental health week earlier in the year, looking at ideas of identity and wellbeing in Psalm 139. We will reflect on the psalm in five overlapping and repeating sections, asking what those verses tell us about ourselves, and discovering much about God in the process. This is where I must confess that I made a mistake in my write up for the Contact, and the theme for today is actually ‘we are known’, with ‘we are understood’ following in a couple of weeks.
The psalmist begins by declaring “you have searched me, Lord, and you know me”, and then goes on to speak of God seeing his coming and going, and knowing his every thought, and being in every place that he tries to flee. Sometimes there can be comfort in anonymity, sometimes we don’t want to be known, sometimes we try to hide ourselves away, and so I get that there can be a sense of unease that comes with this passage. I don’t want to ignore that completely, and I certainly don’t want to dismiss it if that’s how you’re feeling right now, but I do want to emphasise the sense of wonder and assurance in these verses. The psalmist talks about being hemmed in, but it is comforting not claustrophobic, like being cradled rather than being trapped. God does not chase him to the heavens or the depths, but is simply there, waiting to guide and embrace. And as the psalm will go on to tell us, God's knowledge is not oppressive because it does not condemn us, but is liberating because it shows us our true worth.
This psalm is about the faithfulness of God’s presence in our lives, a faithfulness that is hard to find anywhere else. I'm sure we will all know how lonely it is to be ignored or let down, how soul destroying it can be to feel invisible or abandoned. In those times God is our promise that we are known and held and seen and loved. Perhaps it might help for us to write our own verses. If I weep with exhaustion and frustration I cannot fully name, you sit beside me and don't mind the tears because you know why they come. If my friends forsake me and my colleagues don't seem to notice me, you are there to hear my anger and my sorrow. If I say that no one cares for me, you remind me of all the ways you treasure me, for your love for me is without end or condition.
I actually don’t want to say very much about this passage at all. Instead I want to make space for God to speak afresh through these ancient verses, using a practice called Lectio Divina. This is a traditional monastic practice which encourages us to sit with and meditate on scripture. I will read the text a number of times, suggesting different ways of reflecting on or engaging with it, then stepping back to let God do the rest.
As I read, listen for a word or a phrase that jumps out at you. After I have finished, meditate on that word or phrase. What meaning does it have for you this morning?
As I read again, take note of something that raises a question for you. After I have finished, ask that question in prayer. Does God have an answer for you or is this conversation to be continued?
As I read for a final time, simply let the words speak. After I have finished, sit quietly and allow your thoughts to settle. How does this psalm make you feel and how might you respond?
God, thank you that you know us better than we know ourselves and still you love us. Thank you that no matter where we go or what we do, you encircle us, gently leading and guiding and blessing. We praise you for your love and your faithful presence in our lives. Amen.
Tell Out My Soul | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLxetmkOz5Y
Hem Me In | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cy5_GFEORWc
Will You Let Me Be Your Servant | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIhhxhPOwfc
In Christ Alone | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kvFtXphmMU