I am a big fan of the Psalms. No matter what the situation, there is a psalm for that. Psalms are prayers, prayers that Jesus used. Psalms have been used as part of worship well since worship began. When the founders of this Congregation first settled here, the psalms were used as the Church’s hymns. Long before there were drum sets, flashing lights, and ministers in skinny jeans, the psalms were used and chanted during worship. The psalms are filled with rich spiritual and theological imagery that has helped formed generations and, if you give them a chance, they can form you as well.
I feel like I have been trying to sell you a used car. What do I have to do to get you into this Psalm today?
Scholars believe that the bulk of the Psalms were written by David the King, if not all of them. Some of them have a dedication to them; this one today is dedicated to the Music Directors. The Psalms are a mixture of prayer and praise and some time spent wandering in the spiritual desert. David works out much of his spiritual life writing the Psalms and has left this collection to us as an example.
Psalm 139, the subject of the lesson this morning, is a Psalm that is asking us to embark on an interior journey of sorts, but the focus is on God’s comprehensive knowledge of the human self. David addresses this prayer to the God who knows our every thought, word, and deed before they are even uttered or performed. There is an insistence that before we know or name God, God knows and names us.
In this Psalm, David is addressing and inviting us to trust the God whose sovereign grace encompasses us in ways that we can never fully understand. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.” (v.6)
What this Psalm points out is the supreme valuing of every human life. We are invited to meditate on the sanctity of life but not just as a political slogan but as an expression of the worth that God gives to the work of God’s hands. We are being invited to consider what a consistent “ethic of life” would entail.
Back in the Book of Genesis, we read the story of how God created all that we see around us. At the end of each day’s creation, God took a step back and, admiring the work that was performed, make the statement that it is good. Everything that God created was spoken into creation apart from humanity.
Genesis tells us that God fashioned humanity with God’s own hands from the very dust of the ground. The very elements of nature were used to fashion humanity. Last week, during the renewal of our baptismal promises, we spoke of water as a necessary element of life. Water gives life, but water also sustains life. Water is one of the essential elements of creation.
But God used God’s own hands to create humanity. This was unlike the creation of everything that came before it. The creation of all that surrounds us was accomplished in a rather impersonal way if you will, God spoke, and it was. It is sort of like shopping for something rather than creating it yourself.
Those of you who garden understand the pleasure you derive from getting the soil reading in the spring—planting the seed or the tender plant in the earth’s warm soil. Caring for that new life and watching it mature. It requires water, fertilizer, sun, pruning, and all the rest. Then one day, the harvest and we get to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Of course, we could short circuit the entire process and simply go to the store, or better yet, have it delivered. The result of enjoyment might be the same, but enjoying your creation requires personal involvement.
God loves all his creation, but there is a special relationship with humanity. “Let us create them in our image and our likeness,” God says in Genesis. After God stoops and fashions humankind from the very dust of the earth, God breaths his breath, his ruah, the very breath of God into the nostrils of Humanity. God does not do this with any other creature that he has created, only humanity. Humanity is filled with the very breath of God.
I often speak of the “Divine Spark” that is part of all humanity, and this is it, the very breath of God. Long before God sent Jesus to become human to show us a better way, he breathed life into each of us. For some nine months, we do not require air. Our bodies are being formed, “knit together,” if you will on the inside. But then that moment of anticipation, that first breath, and the corresponding scream. That first breath is the breath of God!
Even after all of that, God stepped back, looked at what was just created, and says, it is Good. All life, all of creation is good—all of it, not just some of it.
Last week, I spoke of the political situation here in the United States and reminded us that we all have a part to play not only in how we got here but also how we will get out of it. In my opinion, one of the biggest problems we have is that we do not value human life. This is not going to be another pro-life rant but rather an “ethic of life” and one that needs to be consistent.
Humans need to justify their actions for themselves. I am not sure many of you have seen the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie “True Lies.” He stars opposite Jamie Lee Curtis, and Arnold is a secret agent, although Curtis does not know this. Hence the secret. Anyway, Curtis finds out about Arnold’s day job, and through a series of events, they end up on an island in the Florida Keys. While they are hiding from the bad guys, Curtis asks if he has ever killed anyone. He responds by saying, “yes, but they were all bad.”
Of course, the line was designed to get you to laugh, and maybe you did when I said, it’s much funnier with Arnold’s accent, of course, but what Arnold was doing was justifying why it was okay to take another life. “They were all bad,” and therefore, it is okay.
Making the other “less human” is how humanity justifies the way it treats other humans. White people justified slavery because, well, they were equal to only 3/5th of a white man and therefore not entirely human. We justify wars because the enemy is inferior to us. If you don’t believe me read some of the literature.
We demonize poor people and call them lazy. Politicians make us afraid of the immigrant calling them rapists and saying they are coming for our jobs. The right demonizes the left by calling them socialists, and the left demonizing the right with terms like right-wing extremists. When we fail to see the divine spark in another human being, we have reduced them to less than they truly are, and that is how we justify the treatment of others.
Psalm 139 invites us to look at others not in the things we say about ourselves or the labels we put on others, but in the One who knows us more profoundly and more lovingly than we could ever know ourselves.
I have said this before, and I will continue to say that God loves each of us more than we can imagine. Human life’s value does not come from what is achieved or possessed or what others might think of us. The value of human life comes from the God who knows and names us, from whose steadfast love noting in all of creation can ever separate us from.
Each life has value, and each human needs to be treated with the dignity that life has had since creation because that life is God.