Holy Vessels: Treasure, Psalm 139:1-14
First United Methodist Church, March 10, 2019
Pastor Toni Carmer
Psalm 51 is one of the traditional texts lifted up on Ash Wednesday, as King David admits and laments his sinfulness and asks God for cleansing and pardon, following his pursuit of Bathsheba, and ultimately killing her husband to cover up what he’s done.
David begins by pleading, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.” Eventually he says, “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.”
In hearing that, when the service was over, a friend came to me and said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t agree. I believe that an infant is born pure.”
Whenever that conversation comes up, I remember my grandma responding to my own lament that our first born was spending a fair amount of his nights awake and crying, though he was pretty good at sleeping during the day. My sweet and gentle grandma replied, “It’s because he’s a heathen. Babies are self-centered and care only about themselves.” I kind of gasped, because the thought of my precious little one already being a sinner was a little more than I was willing to consider.
I think what David is saying is that we’re born into a world where sin exists. Our susceptibility to sin isn’t something we inherit; it’s not an innate part of our chemistry. But there’s an individual and corporate dimension to sin that effects all of us, despite our best intentions and decisions. We’re human, and our humanness makes us vulnerable.
With that being said, let’s go back to the story of creation in Genesis 1. In verse 27, we read, “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” We were each created in the image of our maker: beautiful, beloved, treasures, gems. David, in today’s Psalm agrees: “It was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.”
And then somewhere along the line, something happens and we begin to doubt that fact.
A woman remembers her mother taking her to their family doctor when she was in junior high school. She walked out of the doctor’s office on a diet. She hadn’t known she needed to go on a diet, but she was a good girl, and she did what her mom and the doctor told her to do. She ate less, she exercised more, she ate differently. She learned a lot about diets, and though it was never her mother’s or her doctor’s intention, she also learned that there was something wrong with her. She inhabited a body she could no longer trust or love. She says it’s something she sometimes still struggles with today.
And yet she was created in God’s image. She is beautiful and beloved. A treasure. A gem.
The little boy’s parents separated and divorced. Of course, it had nothing to do with him. Nothing. But he didn’t understand that. When you can’t understand something you fill in the blanks. It must have been his fault. Maybe if he were “good enough” his dad would come back home. As an adult he realizes there was no truth to that premise, but there’s still this ache deep inside that sometimes comes to the surface: “maybe if I were good enough, this might have happened.” “I wouldn’t have lost out.” “I wouldn’t be alone.” “I’m still not good enough.”
And yet he was created in God’s image. He is beautiful and beloved. A treasure. A gem.
I read Psalm 139, and I’m reminded how beloved I am. How beloved you are, we all are. How God knows us: our thoughts, our words, our movements. God is with us in the good moments, and God is with us in the terrible ones. No matter what, God does not step aside, but stands beside us, or behind us, holding us, placing his holy hand on our shoulder giving us the courage and strength we need to do what we need to do, to do what we’re called to do.
There are a few ways we can respond to this knowledge. Perhaps God’s persistent presence, knowing all about us and that can’t-take-it-away kind of love makes us feel a little claustrophobic. We’re not sure we can deal with all that attention. I’ve noticed that God allows distance…can be quiet. God is patient. That’s okay.
We might decide to run away from God’s presence. To run away from what we hear God calling us to do. But that makes me think of Jonah. He tried to run away from God and ended up being swallowed up and then spewed out of a big ole’ fish. That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.
A third way to respond is to relish God’s knowledge of us. To be amazed and glory at the wonder of it! We can give thanks that God loves us, and that the faults we might be able to quickly list off that we see in ourselves, that disappoint us, that cause us to feel less than beautiful, less than beloved, are nothing to God. Our perceived flaws are inconsequential. Our human bodies, no matter our age, our shape, our size, whether our parts all function or not, or whatever other detail you might want to add to list—our bodies are the means by which we relate to God and to one another. Our bodies are the place in which our souls reside. This is where we live. This flesh and blood part of who we are is good. A gift. Blessed.
I think that’s how Jesus was able to respond to the temptations of the devil in the wilderness before he began his ministry. He knew and trusted and celebrated God in him so completely, that he was able to faithfully respond each time to the Evil One’s invitations:
“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” One does not live by bread alone.
“I give you all power and authority over all the kingdoms of the world; if you will worship me, it will all be yours.” Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.
“Jump down from this high place, and God’s angels will protect you.” Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
Jesus knew God was with him. Jesus knew, and every decision he made reflected that knowledge.
God is with us. We are created in God’s image. All of us. We are beautiful and beloved. All of us. We are treasures. Gems. Even when we’ve been tempted. Even though we’ve been broken. Even when we’ve been hurt. Even when life hasn’t always been easy and we’ve had to deal with things that are hard, that we can’t understand and no one can explain.
Knowing that we are beloved by God, perhaps we can better love ourselves. Knowing that God loves us, delights in us, stands alongside us, yearns for us…brings blessings.
You see on the table this morning an assortment of bottles that represent us. They’re beautiful, they’re each different—different shapes and sizes and colors. But they can easily be broken, shattered even. Different experiences we encounter in life can hurt us, break us, cause us to feel less than whole, less than beautiful.
At the base of the bottles and on the communion rail, there are pieces of sea glass. They’re not “genuine” sea glass, but they’re man-made, though still beautiful. Sea glass is formed when glass has been broken and tossed into the ocean. It’s becoming rare because we use less glass than we do plastic these days, and because we’re not so bad at using the ocean as a place to dump our garbage anymore, thankfully. But genuine sea glass is created by the rolling of the water and the sand of the ocean that eventually rounds out the edges. It takes about 7 to 10 years to form, and they’re all sizes and colors, of course, depending on the original color of the bottle and the size of the fragment. They have a frosted appearance, and the pieces can be strikingly beautiful, sometimes even being fashioned into jewelry.
Sea glass is just a small example of what God can do with the brokenness of our lives. With those parts of ourselves that we perceive as less than beautiful, those sharp and jagged parts that have hurt and harmed us. God can bring healing. God can create something beautiful out of the brokenness.
On Ash Wednesday, members of the congregation were invited to pick up a piece of the sea glass and to take it with them to remind them during this season how God works in us, still creating beauty, surprising us… As we end our service today, please feel free to come and pick up a piece of your own, as a reminder that you are beloved…you are a treasure…you are beautiful.