Monday, August 05, 2013

I Am Still with You

Below is my homily for Betty Norwood's funeral.

The last time I was with Betty in the hospital, I read to her Psalm 139. It is a comforting psalm for anyone facing a dark trial.


1      O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2      You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
          you discern my thoughts from afar.
3      You search out my path and my lying down
          and are acquainted with all my ways.
4      Even before a word is on my tongue,
          behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5      You hem me in, behind and before,
          and lay your hand upon me.
6      Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
          it is high; I cannot attain it.

We speak of searching God, of knowing God. The psalmist David speaks of God searching and knowing us. It is this kind of knowledge – that God does the pursuing – that is so wondrous for David.

To make the thought more wondrous, he considers how he could not escape God, even if he wanted to.

7      Where shall I go from your Spirit?
          Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8      If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
          If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9      If I take the wings of the morning
          and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10      even there your hand shall lead me,
          and your right hand shall hold me.
11      If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
          and the light about me be night,”
12      even the darkness is not dark to you;
          the night is bright as the day,
          for darkness is as light with you.

There is no place where he can go – whether up to heaven or down into Sheol; whether the depths of the sea or shrouded in darkness – God is there. But he is not a threatening God. He does not pursue in order to oppress; rather, he pursues so that he might lead and hold; that he might guide and protect. He knows David intimately so that David might know he is never alone, never left to face the trials of life alone.

Indeed, David has never been alone, from the moment of his conception.

13      For you formed my inward parts;
          you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14      I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
     Wonderful are your works;
          my soul knows it very well.
15      My frame was not hidden from you,
     when I was being made in secret,
          intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16      Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
     in your book were written, every one of them,
          the days that were formed for me,
          when as yet there were none of them.

You see here the direction of David’s meditation regarding God. He is sayin, “God, you know me; you have always known me from the very beginning to the deepest level. You are not merely an observer of my life. You have planned my life, every day. There is not a moment that I am outside your sight, outside your protection, outside your plan for me. And you have made me well, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

This meditation then leads to three responses, actually four. Verse 14 is the response of praise: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.The next two verses are an expression of how much God’s attentiveness means to him.

17      How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
          How vast is the sum of them!
18      If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
          I awake, and I am still with you.

It is precious to David to think of how much God thinks about him. It is precious to awake each day and know that God is still there for him. He is never alone.

The next response seems out of place both in tone and subject.

19      Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
          O men of blood, depart from me!
20      They speak against you with malicious intent;
          your enemies take your name in vain!
21      Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
          And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22      I hate them with complete hatred;
          I count them my enemies.

When I read this psalm to Betty, I omitted these verses. And yet, they probably set for us the context in which David is having his meditation. David is not sitting in the Garden of Eden idly reflecting on how good everything is going for him. He is surrounded by wicked men. Perhaps he is living in Philistia among the Philistines, having to hide from Saul. Perhaps he is king and dealing with numerous evil intrigues against him. He feels as we feel at times when confronted with so much barbarism and brazen disregard for God. He wants them and all their ways to be abolished.

But then, speaking of the wicked, he realizes that he needs to pause and consider his heart.

23      Search me, O God, and know my heart!
          Try me and know my thoughts!
24      And see if there be any grievous way in me,
          and lead me in the way everlasting!

And so, David returns to the beginning of his meditation. See how the beginning and ending are juxtaposed.

1      O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
23      Search me, O God, and know my heart!

2      You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
          you discern my thoughts from afar.
23          Try me and know my thoughts!

3      You search out my path and my lying down
          and are acquainted with all my ways.
24      And see if there be any grievous way in me,
          and lead me in the way everlasting!

He takes the same ideas when he was meditating on the attentive ways of God and now asks for that same attentiveness to be used to purify his heart and lead him along the way of life everlasting.

And so the psalm moves along the following path: meditating on God’s attentiveness to the psalmist, taking comfort and delight in God’s presence and knowledge of him; acknowledging the sinful conditions in which he lives and asking God to use his presence and knowledge to lead him out of his own sin and into the righteous path of lift everlasting.


We would do well, as I think Betty did, to meditate on God, especially his attentiveness to his people. Wherever we are, he is there. Wherever we go, he does not follow but rather holds our hand and leads us; he protects us. Our heavenly Father knitted us in our mother’s wombs, and every one of our days is planned so that we are never outside of his will and provision.

We would do well to open our hearts before the Lord for him to search and to know. He knows us already, and what we will find, if we bid him to search, is a Father who will turn our hearts toward him and lead us to the way everlasting.

And I hope you caught in this psalm the verses that give us comfort regarding our sister Betty. In the second line of verse 8: “If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! David is not speaking of hell, but rather the shadowy place that death represents for us. It is the unknown, the dark place. As he says soon afterwards, the darkness is as light to our God. There is no dark place; there is no empty space that is not filled with the presence of our Lord.

Since the victory of Jesus Christ over death; since his own resurrection, we can read a verse such as 18 and know that it applies to more than waking up in the morning. Death is but a brief moment of sleep for those who are in Christ. Then, “I awake, and I am still with you.

Our sister Betty is more awake than we are, more in the presence of God than we. She has been led by the hand into the way everlasting, into the glorious presence of her Savior and Lord.


Anonymous Rick Phillips said...

I rejoice to know that dear Betty has entered into the presence of the glory of the Lord, but it grieves me to hear that her gracious spirit has departed from this earth. She was a very special Christian woman. My heart is in Philadelphia this week.

2:44 PM  
Blogger M Clark said...

Betty came to Tenth through a conversation with Rick Phillips on a Septa bus.

4:35 PM  

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