(A sermon based on Psalm 139:13-18 for Sunday, October 25, 2009; this is the first of three sermons on "Gratitude.")
Several years ago, as part of the process of applying for a promotion, I had to put together a file on myself. I asked my dean, “What am I supposed to say?” He replied, “Just tell us how great you are.” When I set about trying to do that, I found the task to be very difficult. It was hard for me to say flattering things about myself. Perhaps my reluctance sprang in part at least from an appropriate sense of humility. But perhaps it also sprang in part from a life-long sense that I really didn’t have all that much of which to be proud.
Maybe you have such doubts about yourself, too. Whether you were born with it or whether you had it beaten into you by people or by circumstances, maybe you have always harbored a deep sense of worthlessness and insecurity. Outward appearances don’t tell the tale, either. Sometimes those with the most chutzpah and bravado are often the most insecure; they’ll put up any front or put on any mask to keep you from seeing who they really are or who they are afraid they really are.
Into our lives breaks the wonderful good news of this psalm: “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (v. 14). I am fearfully and wonderfully made. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. All God’s children are fearfully and wonderfully made. We need to get hold of the fact that our very existence is a miracle; that is a wonder that we are. It should give us chills just to think about it.
A friend of mine was once very ill, at the very point of death, but he recovered enough to go home. A mutual acquaintance said of him, “He’s a walking miracle.” I got to thinking about that phrase “a walking miracle.” Doesn’t the phrase accurately describe us all, particularly if we substitute the word “living” for “walking”? If we have life we’re a miracle of God because were it not for God we would not exist. Acknowledging our creation by God is the first step in living a life defined by gratitude. It is a miracle that we are, that we exist. So praise God that we are!
G. K. Chesterton famously said that “the worst moment for an atheist is when he/she feels grateful and there is no one to thank.” We know who to thank! And how it changes things when we acknowledge that God made us and when we incorporate the wonders of that miracle into our thinking.
We are a part of what God has always been doing through God’s creative activity. “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (v. 15). God made me and that connects me with all of those whom God has ever made.
That verse also reminds us that we are fashioned by God in minute and wondrous detail. What a miracle it is that this body works, and that is true even when some of it stops working as well as it used to work. We are made by God in intricate detail.
The psalm further reminds us that we are made by God for a purpose. “In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed” (v. 16b). God has purposes that God is working out and we are created to be a part of that purpose. It’s all a miracle! Our lives should be a celebration!
So we’re special because we’ve been created by God. But it is a personal relationship with God that makes us aware of just how special we are. Over and over the psalmist declares in wonder that God knows him and sees him. Now in some ways this is the case whether or not we acknowledge God and whether or not we love God and whether or not we have a personal relationship with God. But there are wonderfully positive possibilities for those whom God has also adopted into his family. We are the ones who understand God’s knowledge of us and presence with us not as a threat but as a blessing. We understand that the facts that God sees us and is with us make it possible that we may in fact become what God intends for us to be.
When I was a teenager a couple joined our church who had a small adopted son. His mother decided to use the process of potty training as an opportunity to teach him something important. So every time that he was involved in the process of potty training his mother had him say, “I’m special because I’m adopted.” The timing is not as strange as you might think. Perhaps it registered with the boy that his being adopted was absolutely natural and significant and necessary and indispensable to him. He was special because he was adopted.
So are we. Because we have been adopted into God’s family through the saving work of God’s only Son Jesus Christ we celebrate God’s presence rather than dread it; we welcome it rather than try to escape it. God’s presence is basic and essential and indispensable to our lives. How wonderful it is to know that God knows our thoughts before we think them and our words before we say them and our paths before we take them. How magnificent it is to ponder the fact that no matter where we go and not matter what we go through God is there.
It is because we are in a personal relationship with him through his adoption of us in Jesus Christ that we can pray with confidence rather than fear the closing words of this psalm: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (vv. 23-24). That really can happen if you belong to God! You see, I’m grateful for me because it’s finally not about me; it’s finally about God. In Christ, I really can be who God has made me to be. How can we not live our lives in gratitude if God is so working in our lives? As Paul put it,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us…. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:3-8a, 11-12).