Our Whole Truth

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho

Aug 26, 2018

Psalm 139 (read it all)

If you’ve been here a while, you may already know that this is one of my very favoritest passages of scripture. Maybe it’s because I’m adopted, and it is such a powerful idea to have always been known by God, even as I was being knit together in my mother’s womb, during a pregnancy that was not wanted by my mother. God was, even then, in the midst of that pain, knitting together a future for me, one with hope.

In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.’

This psalm somehow transcends the messy reality of our earthly life, claiming that every single one of us, every single one of “them (whoever that is to you) is fearfully and wonderfully made. And no category of human division can change that. Chosen babies, unplanned “surprise” babies, rich babies, poor babies, refugee babies, babies of all nationalities, babies of all religions, babies of all races—knit together by God in their mother’s wombs with love, showing no regard for the ways we categorize and divide, the ways we limit and judge.

I also love it so much because of the beautiful, sweeping poetry, and the imagery of the truth that there is no single place we could go in the universe and not find God.

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,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.

Sometimes in life we feel alone, we worry that either we have strayed beyond where God would follow, or we feel life has taken us past the limits of where God’s love would extend. It is a lie we tell ourselves—that we are beyond God’s love. It is a lie we tell about other people too, as if the person they voted for, or the people they love, could take them beyond God’s love.

The apostle Paul, I’m convinced, was deeply shaped by the imagery of Psalm 139. Listen to this verse from the end of the 8th chapter of his letter to the Romans.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

If you hear nothing else I ever preach about again, please hear this:

You are God’s beloved child, fearfully and wonderfully made, and nothing can ever separate you from God’s love.

I’m still preaching though, so you have to keep listening.

We used this Psalm at All Church Camp a few weeks back. Julie Anderson will share some reflections about that when she preaches next month. And I think there will be an adult education class later this fall where we hope to continue some of what began at camp, because it was a really powerful weekend. The stories we shared reminded me of the importance of sharing stories with each other, because you can’t tell by looking at someone what their journey has been.

And more than sharing our stories, it matters that we share our whole stories. If I told you only the stories of my life where I got all the right answers, and did all the right things—it would be a part of my truth—a small part—but a part of my truth. It wouldn’t be the whole truth. And more than that, it wouldn’t be the part of my story that would allow us to connect with each other.

I’ve certainly learned more about myself through my trials than I have through my successes. I’m sure that I’ve learned more about my friends through trials than through the easy places, too. And there is something comforting in being able to be fully honest about our lives too.

The psalmist says,

Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.

Which means God knows when we speak truth. And when we don’t. All of what I said earlier about being God’s beloved children, fearfully and wonderfully made still applies even when we are at our worst. . We can’t ever flee from God’s love, no matter what words are on our tongues.

But we can, and do, lie. Sometimes the words that form on our tongues are lovely and true. And sometime they aren’t.

In the Brothers Karamozov, Dostoevsky writes:

“Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lies comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to passions and coarse pleasures, in order to occupy and amuse himself, and in his vices reaches complete bestiality, and it all comes from lying continually to others and to himself.”

There has been lots of lying in the news lately. Some of it leading to criminal charges and pleas. And it is a reminder of the need to speak truth, the whole truth, and to take responsibility for our words, our actions, our mistakes, our lies.

Lying is another way of not bringing our whole story with us. We pretend truth isn’t truth. And we pretend we fool God and neighbor. The psalmist asks God,

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.

God isn’t afraid of our true selves. God doesn’t need to be told some made up story. God is with us, even in Sheol.

Are we brave enough to be honest with each other, and with God? Are we brave enough to share our whole stories? Are we kind enough to trust that others may have stories we haven’t yet heard?

I saw a video on facebook this week, about a woman who was in line at a drive through. She was doing something to try to console her upset toddler in the back seat and was slow to move forward when the line moved.

Watch this:

 

Are we willing to acknowledge we don’t know enough about each other’s stories to offer anything but kindness?

In A Farewell to Arms, Idaho’s favorite son, Ernest Hemingway, wrote:

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

Our transformation and growth happens at the broken places. Which doesn’t mean we go looking to break ourselves, or break others. It means we don’t pretend we have somehow made it through life without pain, and brokenness and hurt. It means we respond to others’ broken places with kindness.

I’ve shared this idea before, of the Japanese pottery technique that fixes broken pieces of pottery by rebuilding it with gold. It highlights and emphasizes the cracks and brokenness, making it beautiful.

Are we willing to see beauty in each other’s broken places? Will we help pour gold over them to give them new strength and renewed purpose?

Our church has a long history of hosting 12 step, recovery groups. We are glad to invite into our space people who are doing the work of 12 step recovery from addiction programs, which calls people to be fully honest about our stories. Working through the steps requires people to honestly assess their behavior, their responsibility, the harms they have inflicted on others and themselves, the things they need to do to make amends, and the on going work to remain honest in their assessment of their own stuff.

In the Big Book of AA, they describe it this way:

We pocket our pride and go to it, illuminating every twist of character, every dark cranny of the past. Once we have taken this step, withholding nothing, we are delighted. We can look the world in the eye. We can be alone at perfect peace and ease. Our fears fall from us. p. 75

There is power in bringing your whole story to the light. When we can do it at church, it’s even better.
Religion has not always been the best place to acknowledge our brokenness. And as the recent news of more clergy sexual abuse in Pennsylvania reminds us, sometimes the church refuses to confess it’s own sins and brokenness. The stories of people who were victimized by their church are horribly painful. The continued denials and deflection by church leadership are shameful, deepening and worsening the wounds. We must do better.

Putting on our Sunday “best” is fine, as long as we allow our Monday “worst” to also be seen, and acknowledged.

We even see this “Sunday best” tendency in how the church has read scripture. We want to read the pretty parts, and pretend the other verses aren’t there, or aren’t relevant.

When this psalm is usually read in worship, we normally only hear parts of it. But the part we always leave out, and which I intentionally left in today, are the not pretty parts.

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
those who speak of you maliciously,
and lift themselves up against you for evil!
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.

Is it hopeful or depressing that the poet who wrote those verses, dripping with venom, also wrote the rest of the psalm?
Probably both. The truth is that we are people who make beautiful poetry that points others to God AND we sometimes want our enemies to be smited (smote? smitten? not sure on the past tense for smite) by God.

The psalmist doesn’t end with dreams of killing his enemies, though.

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 say a prayer of confession each week in worship, to model a practice of confession in our daily lives.

Search me, O God, and know my heart.

In a world where people claim there is no truth, and that lies don’t matter, and where stories are not safely or wholly told, I pray we can be a community where God’s truth gives us courage to tell our whole truth, and to let other people live their honest truth too. May we continue to turn to God to lead us in the way everlasting.

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