SERMON: Psalm 139

Psalm 139

A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley

by Graham Low on 20 March 2019

It is not surprising that within the rich treasure of Christian tradition this Psalm has been among the most abundantly echoed in many poems of different kinds, as well as in a variety of hymns. It is about God’s omnipresence, God’s omnipotence and God’s omnificence – words that theologians down the centuries have used to describe something of the nature of God. Thesethree words point to the basis of the relationship between believers and God. The thoughts behind these words aredescribed in this Psalm within the widest possible setting; they are painted on the widest possible canvass. It is hardly surprising that the very breadth of thinking in this Psalm is revealed in similar ways in writing within Indian and Muslim spiritualtraditions, as well as in classical Greek writing. However, this Psalm differs from sources such as these in the fact that the poet does not shape his thoughts impersonally, in abstract theological or philosophical terms. Instead they are developed within the sphere of the author’s personal experience and his utter dependence on the reality of God. It is about where the core of his life is embedded.

The Psalm is written in the mixed form of a hymn and a prayer,in which God is addressed in an I-you relationship. It is not written in terms of making objective statements about God to other people. The author ponders over his theme, in lively and intimate ways. Above all else, he is writing in the light of his existence, and his experience, which he understands as being wholly determined by God.

In this psalm, which is essentially a prayer for God’s help, the poet is so aware of God’s enfolding presence that his words are not those of one who fears God, unlike quite a number of  theother Psalms. Instead they are the words of one who worships and adores God. Being aware of much that is wrong in his world, the psalmist is glad of God’s loving presence, God’s purpose, God’s care from the day of his birth, and indeed God’s presence long beforehand. Equally he is assured that in the future God will guide him on a path towards complete communion with him.

This psalm is also deep Lenten challenge to us. Are we comfortable with, or have we the courage to face up to God’s scrutiny of all hearts and lives? In this and every Eucharist we uncover and offer as much of ourselves as we choose to God. We may need to look at what we fear to present of ourselves to God, as well as what we choose to conceal, and why, even though the Psalmist reminds us that God already knows all about this. In this Eucharist we turn to Christ who offers us a way to repentance and forgiveness. Here we are offered new birth and life in the loving presence of God. Here we joyfully celebrate with the saints, angels and all the company of heaven, our mysterious and eternal life with God.

I end with the Collect written for this Psalm in Common Worship.

Creator God, may every breath we take be for your glory, may every footstep show you as our way, that, trusting in your presence in this world, we may, beyond this life still be with you where you are alive and reign for ever and ever.