Yesterday I preached on Psalm 139. As I said at the beginning, I couldn’t help it. It’s one of my all-time favorite psalms, and I had just seen our rector’s newborn son, and this Psalm felt like a celebration of it. That meant I didn’t preach on the other slightly scary text appointed for the day, the Gospel reading about the wheat and the weeds and the burning at the end of time. One staff member noted that my voice actually got quieter, nearly unintelligible, when it came time to proclaim those last few verses from the center aisle.
I hope this is what came across: God is what made us when there was nothing else, God is what is with us when there is nothing else.
I’m still new at the “preaching without notes” thing. So there are a few things I’ve still been thinking about after I said them out loud.
Like when I focused on Psalm 139 verse 14, “I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” I think its important to highlight the “you” there. This is what prevents this prayer in the mirror from being an act of over-indulgent narcissism. A certain amount of narcissism is healthy of course, but its not entirely the point of this prayer practice. The point is to look in the mirror and say, “thank you,” the “you” being directed beyond ourselves, as expressions of gratitude beyond the self-congratulatory often are. This is a practice that upsets our modern cultural assumptions about being self-made. The theological dimension we add to this practice as Christians comes in the belief that even when we say “thank you” in an empty room, there is a person on the receiving end of that statement present with us.
One more thing about saying this psalm in the mirror (or, fine, without a mirror, but at least alone, where you can listen to yourself breath a bit)… those nasty bits I mentioned about the end. I hate getting through an especially lovely and inspiring psalm to end up with cries for bloodshed at the end. What can we say? This psalm is, like many of its companions, a kind of battle-cry. In this psalm the love of the One Who Made Me is intimately tied to hatred of the Ones Trying to Destroy Me. In it’s original context it made sense as yet another petition to the deity for power to defeat one’s enemies (smoothly conflated here with God’s enemies). We can critique this in the light of the prophetic call to peace, such as Isaiah and Jesus evoked.
We can also critique the Gospel passage we read on Sunday in this light. I tried to speak about the parable of the wheat and weeds in light of Psalm 139’s outlook, turning verses 11-12 to say, from the farmer’s perspective, “Even if the field around me turns to weeds, weeds are not weeds to you, the weeds and wheat are both alike.” A bit much? For more theological reflection on “weeds” and agriculture you should check out Fr. Brent Was’ preaching. I’m only sad that in my enthusiasm for Psalm 139 I didn’t spend more time with this Gospel image, which is one I actually find very helpful. It doesn’t take much hermeneutic tweaking to recast an image of “the saved v. the damned” to one about the practice of intentionally promoting desirable aspects of our individual personas and discouraging harmful ones. This can be a clarifying work of God, bringing about the parts of ourselves that bear the fruit of compassion, weeding out the selfishness. Of course, the original authors of this passage were likely talking about weeding out actual other people who disagreed with them. The details of their outlook needn’t be ours.
In the end, I hope there’s something helpful for you here. I hope, at the very least, it is a reminder of the Christian faith in who continues to creates and sustains us. Feel free to contact me with questions.