Readings: Genesis 2:1-3, Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24, Divine Providence #333 (see below)
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Photo by Kei Scampa: https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-string-light-2370726/
Psalm 139 is such a wonderful psalm, just an amazing piece of poetry, no wonder it is a favorite of many people. And it is particularly appropriate for the Sabbath, the day on which we are gathered, because it invites us to shift our focus from our own preoccupations to God’s wide and timeless perspective. As we approach the transition of spring into summer, a lovely but sometimes busy time, hopefully that shift in focus from our perspective to God’s, can lead us some much needed rest.
The 12th century German mystic Meister Eckhart wrote: God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by subtracting. Our lives are often about adding more, doing more, creating more, and that is definitely not a bad thing….the curious and innovative human spirit is amazing, and when we come together we can create wonderful things. In the Swedenborgian tradition, it is so important that our theological ideas become embodied in our life, for it is our actions over time make us who we are, we create ourselves in partnership with God, patterned on God’s creation of the world in Genesis. However, in the Sabbath, the day God rested, we are also reminded of a necessary balance to all our doing, which is a subtracting, a stripping away of our earthly preoccupations. When we take a moment here and there to subtract away our striving, our controlling, our meriting, then we come to understand, as in the psalm, that God has known us before all that existed. We find that God created us, God created our inmost being, God was present to us in the primordial intimacy of our creation…and so it is God who truly knows us, more fully than anyone else possibly could. And more than anything, I think it is this sense of being known that speaks to us most powerfully in Psalm 139.
We put a lot of energy into being known on a daily basis. We communicate to people with words, both spoken and written, trying to make known our expectations and our desires. We communicate through our actions, physical intimacy, body language, what we buy and what we do with what we buy, what causes we support, how we spend our free time; we communicate through what we create, who we associate with. We make known our opinions, our experiences, our disappointments, our celebrations, and in doing so, we create community with each other.
Sometimes though, we may find ourselves managing our image for other people, and only broadcasting the parts of us that we think are acceptable to know. We may do this because it feels safer; vulnerability and authenticity can be uncomfortable sometimes and so we avoid them. But then we may find ourselves surprised to feel empty, misunderstood, lonely, not satisfied by being known so superficially. Even with the multitude of ways we signal our worthiness to the outside world, many times we still yearn for something.
Psalm 139 speaks to that yearning, to the amazing quality of the very deep knowing that God has with us. Being known, being truly seen as we are, and not as we imagine is acceptable to others, is such an incredible gift. This kind of being known weaves us into the fabric of relationship. We experience our own worthiness through God’s eyes, we feel profoundly validated, we experience relief and freedom because we know unequivocally that we belong.
And this is where the Sabbath comes in. When we are truly known, then we can also truly rest. When God knows all of our going out and our coming in, knows the words we are going to say, knows where we are and where we are going, knows all of the ways we have failed and will fail and still loves us, well, there is nothing more to be said or done. We can lay down our efforts to be known for a moment because God has become our constant. There is nowhere we can go, nothing we can do to escape the profound intimacy that is promised by a God who has been present with us from the very beginning. Present with us before we even knew about it, present with us when we we turn away, present with us in who we are now, and who we are to become. What an amazing promise. This is a promise that we can truly rest in. This promise is holy.
In one of his books, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel asks an interesting question: What was the first holy thing in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar?” Nope, neither. According to the book of Genesis the first holy thing to be created was a day - the Sabbath. All the other things made during the first six days of the creation story, they were called “good.” But the Sabbath was called “holy.” Heschel points out that after all that creating, the world and everything in it, we might reasonably expect that God would create a holy place. But no…God created a holiness in time. The Sabbath day. Something that all people can have access to—for space and things, even sacred space and sacred objects, can be owned, withheld, and dominated…but time….that flows unimpeded to all equally.
Swedenborg writes that the holy day of the Sabbath (however we may decide to enact it in our lives) represents the whole of God’s redemptive work for us(TCR 301). It is holy because it contains God’s vision for us, a sacred vision mediated by the fact of God’s presence with us throughout time, no matter where we might go…“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.” This sacred vision of constant leading is God’s; we cannot earn it, we can only co-operate with it. We can let go of our owning, conquering, and accomplishing, and we can find that God’s steadfast, active presence remains. And where there is God’s presence, there we find also God’s searching gaze, there we find we are known by God, an intimate and loving knowledge of who we are and who are to become.
This knowing stems directly from God’s Divine Love, a Love big enough to create the whole world, but then also big enough to give us something beyond it, to give us a holiness in time, born out of the holy vision for our future. This holiness in time, the Sabbath, and any Sabbath-like moments we create, is a divine portal, in it we are reminded that our be-ing, our existence, belongs to God, is cherished by God. And in this knowledge of our cherished existence, the fact of being beloved, we are able enter fully, with courage, into the final words of the psalm…”search me God and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts…see if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” We don’t have to be afraid of what God will find in us because God’s leading will happen anyway, in and through all our selfishness and our challenges. We can be searched, we can be completely known, because God has promised to be present throughout. As we celebrate a baptism today, let us remember that God’s unequivocal bestowal of love and worthiness is the very ground of our being, it is holy, and in it we may truly rest. Amen.
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Psalm 139:1-18, 23-34
1 You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts. 24 And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Divine Providence 333
…for our salvation, divine providence begins at our birth and continues to the end of our life. To understand this, we need to realize that the Lord knows the kind of person we are and the kind of person we want to be and therefore the kind of person we will be. Further, the Lord cannot deprive us of the freedom of our volition if we are to be human and therefore immortal…so the Lord foresees what our state will be after death and provides for it from our birth all the way to the end of our life…So divine providence is constantly at work for our salvation; but it cannot save more of us than want to be saved…The Lord sees all this and still leads us, doing so under the laws of divine providence, laws the Lord cannot violate because that would be to violate God’s own divine love and divine wisdom, and therefore God’s self.