Our two readings seem very different, but they have a unifying feature; they are about being known by God. In John's gospel, Jesus somehow knew Nathanael before ever meeting him. This so impressed Nathanael that he immediately replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!”
Psalm 139 speaks even more strongly of our being known by God. Now I haven't taken Hebrew but references are available for anyone to look up word sources. The word translated “know” is the Hebrew word “yada”. Now I don't know about you, but I read that and my mind went...where? Seinfeld and their use of “yada, yada, yada”. But I'd need a whole different sermon to discuss Seinfeld. By the way, what would that sermon be about? Nothing, of course?
The root word Yada, occurs 5 times in our reading. It is most often translated as “know”, but in verse two it is “discern”. I don't want to get too deep in translations, but the idea that God is intimately involved in our lives goes back thousands of years in our scriptures. God knowing us is the basis for the relationship between us humans and the divine.
Julie and I have been binge watching the TV series “The Good Place.” It is ostensibly about heaven and hell; it deals with where people go after death and how their fate is determined. Again, a sermon for another day would be about how they show how judgment occurs. But today I want to look at what the characters shared about “determinism.” The “architect” explained that this is the theory that we have no control over our actions, that everything we do happens because of forces that exist outside of our control. And there is a grain of truth there. A lot of what goes on in our lives is out of our immediate control. Our genetics. Our upbringing. Our birthplace. Verse four in our psalm again, all the days were written in the book before we were born. So where is there room for freely made choice? The character in our show defended her actions saying she had no control, everything was predetermined. Is that what the psalmist is saying?
In my thoughts and discussion about where God's will and our free will start and end, I always come back to something Pastor Truman told me years ago. I commented that I thought God was giving us a little too much free will, we'd be better off with more of God's will imposed upon us. He said, “Having a little free will is like being a little pregnant. It's all or nothing.” The fact that God knows everything about us does not eliminate the truth of free will.
So the point of today's message is not that God has our future planned out but that God knows us completely, knows us inside and out, knows our past and our future...the point is that God loves you with full knowledge of who you are. We could say, God loves you despite all that He knows about you. You are God's creation. Verse 14 tells us that we were “fearfully and wonderfully made.” 'Fearfully made' had a much richer meaning in the Hebrew than in our English translations. “Yara” is the Hebrew and it means awe, or reverence and honor. In fact, yara is used as a synonym for love in other verses. So we were made in God's love, wonderfully made, unique; knit together in our mother's womb. God's knowledge of us is complete, knowing all the good and all the bad and yet God loves us completely.
You have been called as children of God. You responded and have chosen to be a member of the family of God by professing your faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. And if we look at it analytically, there were a lot of outside influences that led to that profession of faith. For most of us, we were born into a Christian family and grew up with at least a familiarity with the call of Christ. For some of us it may have been a cursory acceptance at the time of our confirmation. For me, that is true. I acknowledged Jesus but did not make him Lord of my life. J.I. Packer writes in Knowing God: “What matters supremely, therefore, is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that (God) knows me. I am graven on the palms of His hands. I am never out of His mind. All my knowledge of (God) depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me. I know Him because He first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is no moment when His eye is off me, or His attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.”
On Friday morning in my devotional, Harry James Cargas wrote in Encountering Myself about God's love being so great that Jesus died for him, for me, for you. We are to take that personally. And a personal God is what our psalm tells us too. But Cargas goes on to ask if we are living in ways that acknowledge this truth. He lists some ways we deny this truth; gossip, chronic complaining, passing blame onto others, cheating in little things, encouraging others to hedge on certain rules, making snap judgments. He writes, “Do I reflect enough on what it means that Jesus made me the great gift of himself? It is possible that most who call themselves followers of Christ fail to fully deal with this concept?” What does it mean in your life that God knows you and loves you; that God loves you so much he sent Jesus to live and die on our behalf?
We gather on Sunday's morning to reinforce our commitment to Jesus and to each other as the family of faith. Our choice to be here has been influenced by many factors. But ultimately, it is an act of free will to get in your car and drive here or to click the link and join online. You use your free will to worship the God of creation. You use your free will to give your offering the the church. You will use your free will every time you are faced with decision in how you will live your life. I want to share a quote from “The Good Place.” This quote is completely wrong in the context it was used in that secular TV show. But I think we can claim it as we claim the promises of eternal life in Christ. “We're the only truly free being in the universe because we actually know what's up in the afterlife.” It's true that we don't know the details of the afterlife, but we know in whose care we will be. We have been called to spend eternity in the presence of our Lord and God. The one who has known us from our formation in the womb; the one who knows you right now, the one who will be with you in death and in eternity. As we understand this great love, we can ultimately trust God in all things.
Our next hymn is sung in the first person. Here are the words of the chorus, "I was there to hear your borning cry, I'll be there when you are old. I rejoiced the day you were baptized, to see your life unfold." The 'I' here certainly fits in with what we've been saying about God. The psalm says, “You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.” God is with you from birth to death. But it can also be a hymn about our fellowship in the church. We join together as the body of Christ to hold up one another in times of trial, to celebrate with one another in times of joy. So as we sing, remember God's presence in these stages of life. But also remember the choice we have made; to follow Jesus and to be a loving brother and sister to our neighbors, known and unknown. Amen.
Hymn: I was there to hear your borning cry