Proper 11 / Year A
“Lord, you have searched me out and known me.”
Thus begins the fabulous 139th psalm; which declares faith in God’s unfailing and unflagging presence in our lives. Adam, who after his initial transgression attempts to hide from God, serves as the psalm’s opposite. From the psalmist’s perspective, there is nowhere one can escape from God. He or she perceives God is present wherever we are and sees right through us. And unlike Adam, the psalmist senses there is no need to hide. He or she thinks of this as good news, as a blessing.
I wonder how we receive it. Don’t we prefer a God who stays away until called upon? When we need God we want God to be there to do our bidding. When we don’t need God, we’d rather be left to our own devices and desires. And the last thing we want is to allow God into the totality of our being, where lurks more than we are comfortable sharing with others, let alone even acknowledging to ourselves.
I identify with the parable Jesus tells in today’s gospel reading. I am like a fine field in which God has sown good seed. I have been so very blessed in life. I was born into a stable family during a time of American prosperity. I have been educated, relatively healthy, and never once lacked for the basic necessities of life. All in all, I’d say my life has given me many, many advantages to be a pretty good field. There is no reason I should not be producing bountiful goodness and blessings. And I am.
But there is something else happening in the field that is me. Things grow and prosper that should not be there; things that are harmful, hateful, destructive, selfish. Weeds thrive in the field that is me and I certainly don’t want you to see it and I don’t want God to see it either.
Have you ever done group work with the Jahari Window? Developed by two psychologists, it is a tool designed to help people understand who they based on self-perceptions and the perceptions of others. (There is an image of the Jahari Window on page 6 of today’s bulletin). It uses two criteria: What others know and don’t know about us and what we know and don’t know about ourselves.
Participants in the exercise write down a series of adjectives describing themselves and then make a list of adjectives describing each of the other participants. So, if you describe yourself as tall and others do the same, this word gets put into the box called the arena. This box contains those things open and public about you. Next, there are the adjectives you write about yourself, but others do not. For example, if you don’t know we well you may not know I am an introvert. It is something I have to tell you about myself in order for you to know. The things I know about me but you don’t, are grouped in a box labeled façade. Next, there are adjectives others use to describe you, but you don’t’ use to describe yourself. For example, others may say you are funny or kind, but you don’t see yourself in this way. These things go into a box labeled blind spot. The only way for you to know these things about yourself is for someone to share it with you. And finally, there are things you don’t know about yourself and neither does anyone else. This is the unknown, but it is still a part of who we are and influences how we operate.
When we say the Lord knows us, we are affirming God knows everything about us – the arena stuff, the façade stuff, the blind spot stuff, and even the unknown stuff. And this truth would be absolutely terrifying if not for one thing… the God who sees us loves us through and through without hesitation; without reservation.
How do I know this? Well, look no further than this morning’s reading from the Book of Genesis. Jacob has stolen his older brother Esau’s birthright and tricked his father into giving him the blessing belonging to his brother. Esau understandably vows revenge and when their father dies Jacob realizes he must flee or be killed. He moves fast and far, covering over 40 miles of the wilderness in one day. One might think he would use this time to reflect on his life and amend his ways, but not Jacob. He remains ever the schemer.
Up until this point in his life, Jacob has demonstrated no perceivable act of faith. He has not prayed, not sacrificed, not fasted, not tithed. Neither has he engaged in a single recorded moral act of kindness or integrity. Still, on this night, using a stone as a pillow, he falls asleep and dreams of a ladder or stairway extending up to the heavens. A voice addresses him: “I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac” – Jacob’s grandfather and father. Notice the Lord does not say “I am the God of Jacob” because Jacob has yet to bind himself to God. And yet the God Jacob does not claim promises him protection, prosperity, offspring, and future ownership of the land on which he sleeps.
When Jacob wakes he sets up a stone pillar and calls the place Bethel, which means “House of God”. He then makes a vow: “If God will be with me and watch over me on this journey I am taking and if God will give me food to eat and clothes to wear, and if I return safely to me father’s household, then the Lord will be my God.” This is not a confession of faith. It is a negotiation; more ultimatum than obedience, more trial and testing than interest in relationship. Jacob’s response to God amounts to little more than “What is in it for me?”
How could God be even remotely interested in such a person? Jacob is a whole lot of weeds and not a lot of wheat. He hides much and is blind to a great deal about himself. God sees it all and yet still loves him. God loves Jacob unconditionally and will work to make him to be a fruitful and productive field.
Faith in this is why the psalmist can pray to God saying…
Search me out, O God, and know my heart;
try me and know my restless thoughts.
Look well whether there be any wickedness in me;
and lead me in the way that is everlasting.
The psalmist is not bragging arrogantly in his or her own goodness, innocence, and purity. Rather, the psalmist is confessing a faith in God’s unconditional love:
No matter what I do – be it ever so it vile –
No matter where I go – be it ever so foolish –
You will remain with me.
There is nothing – nothing – I can do
to make you forsake me.
Yes, I can do much damage in life –
intentionally and unintentionally,
in thought, word, and deed –
but you, O God, never abandon me.
In essence, he or she is saying if God can love Jacob than God can love me. I don’t have to hide a single thing about myself from God. I have a harvest and I have weeds and God knows it altogether. How can God love me? Welcome me? Embrace me? Grace truly is amazing and I will claim its reality every day of my life!