Know Yourself

Randall Tremba
January 15, 2012
Ordinary Time
Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
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.

* *

This sermon is especially for our seven confirmands sitting among us this morning. (Of course, the others of you are welcome to listen.)

Last Sunday Joshua and I began with them an inner journey of self-discovery with his question: who are we, really? What did the time, place, and parentage of our birth contribute to our identity? How much is fixed and immutable? What must we simply accept and what can we possibly change? How free are we, really?

Last Sunday we began a quest to find out just how unique we are—not special (that puts us above others); but unique. One thing we know for sure, whether we are short or tall, skinny or fat, white or black, rich or poor, bi-sexual, heterosexual or homosexual, we are beloved children of God. It’s sad but true: some people never hear that said to them, not even once. Of course, it’s one thing to hear it; it’s something else to believe it.

Our confirmands have begun a quest to know themselves in all their glorious splendor. And this sermon is another step on that journey. That’s why they’re taking notes! (Or, should be!)

Sex, drugs and rock & roll were a big part of the world I entered 50 some years ago when I was the age of these confirmands. Parents back then—just as parents now—were wary and worried. Sex, drugs and rock & roll then as now had all the wondrous power of nitroglycerine. The wrong mixture could be deadly. Or so our stupid parents thought.

Oh, mom, it’s nothing; don’t worry.

My mother worried. A lot.

Alcohol had killed her older brother at a young age. Another brother died from smoking. Her niece had a child out of “wedlock” as it was called then.

My mother understood sex and drugs. Rock & roll, on the other hand, was new to her but on look at Elvis doing “I’m All Shook Up” was all it took to shake my mother up and worry her half to death. Se sensed rock & rolls hormonal ramifications right away.

Oh, mom.

When I was about 13 or so, my mother began preparing me for that world. She prepared me by quoting two Bible verses over and over. These two verses comprised her mantra. Both are in the today’s readings—one from the Psalm; the other from I Corinthians. See if you can figure out the line that came from this Psalm.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
O LORD, you have searched me and known me. 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. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

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. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
   I come to the end*—I am still with you.

Did you guess? Here it is: I am fearfully and wonderfully made. The other line in her mantra came from I Corinthians: your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Her mantra, as you can see, wasn’t a list of rules. It was an orientation to the world and myself.

You are fearfully (awesomely) and wonderfully made. Your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit.That became my mother’s voice in my head.

But it wasn’t the only voice I heard. I heard other voices, voices more agreeable to my urges. Those voices came from my exceedingly smart peers and from the clever, mesmerizing and insidious billion dollar advertising industry. All those voices said one thing in a thousand different ways: Indulge. Consume. Grab for all the gusto you can find. Be free. Don’t worry about a thing except this one thing. Be afraid, be very afraid of being uncool. And being uncool or too different was scary.

There were those voices and there was this: You are awesomely and wonderfully made. Your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Unwittingly, my mother had affirmed what many Christians miss. She affirmed my original blessing not original sin.

Some Christian traditions and many churches proclaim original sin as humanity’s primal condition. You are bad. You are very bad. From your birth you have been a sinner. You are sinful. God is angry with you. They say it in a hundred different ways.

But that’s not what our little Presbyterian tribe believes and we’re letting our young confirmands know it. Original sin is not our message. Original blessing is, which is why at every baptism we serenade the baby, child or adult with these words:

How could anyone ever tell you, you were anything less than beautiful? How could anyone ever tell you, you were less than whole? How could anyone fail to notice, that your loving is a miracle? How deeply you’re connected to my soul.

We sang it last Sunday to Christin, Riley, Naomi and Charlie and we sang it two years ago to Joel and Elizabeth. And we’ll keep on singing it. How could anyone ever tell you you were anything less than beautiful.

That’s original blessing. To be sure it takes a beating in the world as voices blare at us from within and without: you are ugly, you are too fat, you are too skinny, you are a freak, you are a deviate, you are junk, you are a failure, you are nothing but a consumer and a sex toy.

Sticks and stones may break our bones but words can nearly kill us.

So who and what will you believe?

How could anyone ever tell you, you were less than whole? How deeply you’re connected to my soul.

To know your true self is to know you are not an island; you are not alone. Your beautiful creation unfolds in community with others. We are connected, connected to our Maker as surely as we are connected like a vine to each other. As some one said, we are here on this earth simply to care for one another. That’s it: to care for one another. Or as Martin Luther King put it: Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” As it turns out, there are a million different ways to touch the world with love.

Those who know and love themselves are ready to know and love others. We can love others because we have first been loved deeply.

Once, in the midnight hour, sitting alone in his kitchen, when Martin Luther King was about to give up, he heard a voice. You are my child. I will never leave you nor forsake you. Take my hand. He did and never looked back.

You are a beloved child of God. It is not something for you to gloat over. It is for you to know, to know that you can love others because you have been known deeply and loved completely from the beginning. Please, believe it with your whole body, mind and soul and never let it go.