Rev. Paula Norbert

In the beautiful version of Psalm 139 today, we hear the Psalmist singing “ADONAI, you’ve searched me and known me.” We may be very used to the language of a personal God, especially for those of us who were raised Christian, but for those of the Hebrew Scriptures, the thought that Yaweh would know us, would be close to us, would care about the movements of our lives, that was something new and profound. We know that the Hebrew poets made sure to highlight that their God was not one so detached or distant that the people could not “know” God or themselves be known fully and wonderfully. This direct and intimate relationship is demonstrated in this Psalm that uses the Hebrew root “yada” over and over again–pointing to a kind of “knowing” that has a level of certainty, of not only familiarity, but of confidence in the relationship. What does it mean to truly know someone and to have someone truly know us? It’s a very sacred, intimate thing to allow someone to know us in the deepest ways, to know our thoughts and hopes and yes, our vulnerabilities, but if we count even a few within our lives who know us and accept us, that is an amazing gift. Let us pray,
Loving God, we trust that you desire to know each of us so that we may better know you. We ask your presence here this morning to guide us, inspire us, and enable us to continue on our path of wisdom and compassion. Amen.

Over these past months, many of us have connected with long lost friends and neighbors, perhaps extended family with whom we may have lost touch. I know that I have been so grateful to connect via Zoom or by phone with friends whom I met over many years, dating as far back as high school and college or at other times in my life. Certainly, some of these people knew me at a certain time in my journey and we’ve been able to share some memories now long forgotten and to share some laughs. Most of all, we’ve shared some of our stories beginning where we left off all those years ago. It’s really been a gift to reconnect with some folks that I lost touch with.

And then there are those special friends, those dear, dear members of our family or circle of closest confidantes who truly know us. If we have one or two of those people in our lives, now that’s a true blessing, isn’t it? To have even a few people who care to know the inner workings of our hearts and minds, who know our best qualities as well as our limitations, our vulnerabilities and broken places, that is a very sacred relationship. I think that quality of relationship is what the Psalmist is highlighting here. The Psalmist is celebrating a relationship with our Creator that is sacred and profound and connects us in the deepest possible ways. We know Yaweh and Yaweh knows us deeply, intimately, in the ways reserved for only the very few in our lives. And those with whom we form the closest attachments, those individuals who are in that small circle of beloved friends, they provide a window through which we may glimpse the ways in which we are known by them and yes, by our God.

The Hebrew word Yada means to know and this word is repeated throughout the Hebrew text of this Psalm to emphasize the many ways of knowing another, the many ways in which God knows us. Some form of this word occurs sixty times in the Psalter, emphasizing that the concept of “knowledge” is a critical element of any meaningful relationship. We are to know God, just as God knows us. As the psalmist says, “It was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (13).

One commentary speaks about the dynamic relationship that is possible between us and our creator, between the Psalmist and Yaweh. From the beginning, the psalmist addresses God directly, using the personal name of Israel’s God, Yahweh (1, 4). Second person pronouns occur ten times in the first six verses: “you have searched,” “you know,” “you discern,” etc. In addition, the psalmist refers to self thirteen times: “you have searched me and known me,” “when I sit down and when I rise up,” “my thoughts,” “my path,” etc. By using these pronouns, the Psalm reflects the profound relationship of the “I” and “You” (or, “I” and “Thou”) in ancient Israel. Scholar Walter Brueggemann describes this relationship by saying, “The Psalms are prayers addressed to a known, named, identifiable You. This is the most stunning and decisive factor in the prayers of the Psalter.”1

In a book titled Tales of the Hasadim, Martin Buber, an early twentieth-century Jewish philosopher, offered these words concerning the relationship between God and humankind:

Where I wander – You!
Where I ponder – You!
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!
When I am gladdened – You!
When I am saddened – You!
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!
Sky is You, Earth is You!
You above! You below!
In every trend, at every end,
Only You, You again, always You!
You! You! You!2

The Psalmist writes,

“You created my inmost being
and stitched me together in my mother’s womb.
For all these mysteries I thank you—
for the wonder of myself,
for the wonder of your works—
my soul knows it well. “

Our Scriptures invite us to believe that each one of us was formed and framed by God, that each of us was reverently, wondrously, strikingly, remarkably, differently made – in ways that are beyond our ability to express or even fully explain. The Psalm is both a Psalm of Thanksgiving and a song of faith; it expresses the belief that at any time and in any place, we may be assured of God’s ongoing creation and God’s tender care for each of us and indeed for all of creation. And if we can embrace the belief that our Creator has made us wonderfully and knows us deeply and loves us beyond measure, may we then develop a belief in ourselves that helps to quiet the voices of self-doubt that may limit who we are and who we might be. That is a great invitation, isn’t it, to imagine ourselves through the eyes of those who love us most, to see ourselves in the eyes of God. And, if we are acceptable and lovable, how might we then extend compassion to those who are hardest to love?

Relationships take time and must be nurtured, whether between friends or in our relationship with the Divine, and the good news is that relationships can ebb and flow and that we can find our way back to one another, to the best parts of ourselves, and yes, we can always find our way back to our beloved Creator who is waiting to know us more deeply. “For all these mysteries I thank you—for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works—my soul knows it well. “ Amen.

1Walter Brueggemann, “The Psalms as Prayer,” in The Psalms and the Life of Faith, ed. Patrick D. Miller (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 19095),34, italics original.
2Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasadim: The Early Masters (New York: Schocken Books, 1947), 212.

Closing prayer (adapted from St. Augustine)
God of life, on the days when burdens weigh heavy on the heart and difficulties bring weariness, be the strength that is needed. When the road seems tedious and endless, and life has no music in it, be a spark of joy and light. Amen.