Wonderfully Made


When I was growing up, back in my school days, there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on memory work. I know that in generations that preceded mine, memorization was a big deal. Children were expected to memorize long sections of poetry, or of scripture. Nowadays, I suppose that we can find anything we want on Google pretty quickly, so maybe the idea of memorizing things seems a bit quaint or even old-fashioned.


But there are certain words that we should memorize, words that we want to have in our toolkit, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice should we need them. One example of words that many of us have memorized is Psalm 23:


The Lord is my shepherd,

I shall not be in want

He makes me lie down in green pastures

and leads me beside still waters.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I shall fear no evil,

For you are with me,

your rod and your staff they comfort me.


These are words that I want to have in my memory bank, so that when I find myself in a difficult situation, I can pull them out at a moment’s notice.


The psalm that we just read together, psalm 139, also has a few verses that I want to have memorized and in my toolkit, ready to pull out when I need them. I’m thinking mostly of verses 13 and 14:


“For 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.”


These are words that can raise us up. These are words that remind me of who I am and how marvellous I am. We need words like these because there are a lot of voices in our world that like to bring us down, that would tell us that we’re not wonderfully made. We do it to each other. We do it to ourselves. We’ve got scripts running on a loop in our heads, we’ve got magazines with their air-brushed photos, we’ve got social media with its curated images, all telling us that we’re not good enough.


And yet, each one of us is created in the image of God. It was God who formed our inward parts, who knit us together in the wombs of our mothers. Wonderful are God’s works. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Each one of us. That’s something we need to know.


Which is why I would encourage you to memorize this verse. And then to use it. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much if every morning when you drag yourself out of bed and look in the bathroom mirror, you were to say to yourself:


“For 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.”


You were created in the image of God. Soon, in our affirmation of faith we will say together that the Lord our God, the Lord is one. That means that there are no children of a lesser God. We are all children of the one God, the one God who made us in God’s image, the one who formed my inward parts and knit me together in my mother’s womb.


Which makes each one of us pretty awesome when you think about it. And just as an aside, when we use the word “fearfully” in psalm 139, we are using it in the sense of awesome.


C.S. Lewis in his book “The Weight of Glory”, wrote that it is hardly possible to think too often or too deeply about the glory of your neighbour. Your neighbour, your fellow human being, is the holiest object that has ever been presented to your senses. Writes Lewis, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked with a mere mortal.” We are fearfully and wonderfully made.


The poem, psalm 139 begins by saying,


“Lord you have searched me out and known me.

You know my sitting down and my rising up,

you discern my thoughts from afar.

You trace my journeys and my resting places

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Indeed, there is not a word on my lips

but you, O Lord know it altogether.”


What is it like to be known?


These words speak of an intimate knowing, of being known by one who doesn’t just know you by accident, but one who actively searches you out in order to know you as fully as possible.


Do you want to be known like that?


I think there’s a bit of a paradox here for us. On the one hand, I think that as human beings we want nothing more than to be known, to be sought after, to experience intimacy. And yet, the thought of being known like that, as we are, warts and all as the saying goes, is a bit scary. Ok, more than that, it can be terrifying. It makes us feel vulnerable. To be known is to be open to criticism and judgement, to expose ourselves to being hurt. Which I think is why even though we want nothing more than to be known, we spend most of our lives keeping ourselves hidden.


I think the poet recognizes our dilemma, recognizes this paradox. To be known in this way, well,


“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.”


It’s wonderful, yes, but it’s too wonderful. Overwhelming even. Which is why the poet thinks about fleeing, of finding somewhere to hide.


“Where then can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”


The answer, continues the poet, is nowhere. “If I climb to heaven you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.” Which is great if you want to be known, but not so good when you’re trying to hide. Even when we flee, even when we try to hide from God, even in our darkest moments when being known might be the last thing we want, God sees us, and is with us, and knows us, and holds us fast.


Is this a good thing? Yes says the poet, because we can trust God. How do we know we can trust this God who seeks us out, who knows us, who goes with us even when we flee, who follows us into our darkest places?


Because God has been with us all along and created us out of love.


“For 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 body was not hidden from you

while I was being made in secret

and woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;

all of them were written in your book;”


Yes, I can trust you and be known by you. For I am fearfully and wonderfully made, and it is you who made me.


I am fearfully and wonderfully made.


That has a few implications, let me briefly mention three:


First, if I am fearfully and wonderfully made, and there is one God, creator of all, then you also are fearfully and wonderfully made. There are no children of a lesser God. And that has huge implications for how I am to respect and honour you, and how I am to act towards you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. To repeat the words of C.S. Lewis, “it is hardly possible to think too often or too deeply about the glory of your neighbour.” And that includes the neighbour who looks different from you. Or who acts differently from you. Or who has disabilities. Or mental illness. Or votes for the wrong party. You get the idea. Act toward your neighbour as if they are the most awesome, glorious being you have ever encountered. Because they are.


Secondly, if I am fearfully and wonderfully made, it must be for a reason. For a purpose. And if God has searched me out and known me, has traced my journeys and my resting-places and is acquainted with all my ways, then God is going to call me to that purpose. Just as God knew the boy Samuel and called him in our Old Testament reading. Just as Jesus knew Nathanael and called him in our Gospel reading. We could say a lot about what it means for God to call us, but for today, let’s just remember Eli’s advice to Samuel: “If God calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”


But finally, and most importantly for today, especially at this time when many of us are experiencing unprecedented isolation and stress, sorrow and worry in the midst of this pandemic, remember that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. May these words be for you like a vaccine that protects you from all the voices in our world that would drag us down. If ever your worth is questioned, if ever your body or mind is belittled, if ever you fail to meet your own or someone else’s standards or expectations, if ever you feel tired or depressed or anxious, remember and trust these words:


“For it was God who formed my inward parts. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”


Amen.


Homily: Yr B P2, Jan 17 2021, St. Albans

Readings: 1 Sam 3.1-10; Ps 139.1-18; 1 Cor 6.12-20; Jn 1.43-51

Image by dawolf, Creative Commons

ReImagine: Preaching in the Present Tense now available from Wood Lake Publishing

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