Sermon Seeds: The Knowing

Sunday, January 14, 2024
Second Sunday after Epiphany | Year B
(Liturgical Color: Green)

Lectionary Citations
1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20) • Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 • 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 • John 1:43-51

Focus Scripture: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 in conversation with 1 Samuel 3:1-20
Focus Theme: The Knowing
Series: Arise! (Click here for the series overview.)

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

One of the final scenes in the movie, The First Wives Club, involves the three lead characters after they have thrown a large party. These women, who first met as friends in college, reunited decades later at the funeral of the fourth member of their friend group. Life has taken them on quite the journey, and each of them has been recently confronted with the dissolution of their marriage. Although one couple has hope of reconciliation, even that wife has been transformed by the impact of the separation and gained new confidence and independence.

They create a non-profit organization and crisis center for women named for their late friend. The party was the public launch of this initiative, and it was a demonstrable success. They seemed happy, fulfilled, and a little exhausted by it all. Rather than clean up the debris left after their guests have departed, they challenge one of their sisters to sing a song. To encourage her, the other two join her in the first few lines then drop out. After teasing, coaxing, and negotiating, they restart the song and they all belt out the words joyfully and exuberantly. The song is “You Don’t Know Me,” and they seem to be directing this performance to the world that has discarded, ignored, and underestimated them. It’s a valedictory moment, declaring their worth, agency, and power. “You don’t know me,” the refrain repeats over and over again. While their trials helped them to reunite with each other, the greater accomplishment has been rediscovering themselves.

Human beings long to be known. Psalm 139 begins with the declarative sentence, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.” The statements that follow support that conclusion. The psalmist knows that the Holy One knows them. It is an awesome realization. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,” they assert as if wondering how to respond to being known so well. They continue with their evidence of God’s knowing. The words of the psalm contain awe, praise, and assurance. The poetic form provides the only appropriate outlet to express this incredible revelation.

The Psalms are a dynamic collection which voice human exploration and response to God and the world. They strikingly demonstrate how revelation, relationship, and response can be written in and expressed through bodies; bodies which stand for the person in toto: “the persons in the Psalms do not so much have a body, they rather are a body.” Body language, including sensory language, characterizes the poetry of the Psalms; corporeal vocabulary, awareness of embodiment, and somatic metaphors abound. This rhetoric draws people in through reference to common experience and uses somatic language to express thoughts and emotions which often escape conceptualisation, such as confusion, fear, and protection. In Psalm 139, somatic language is used to emphasize that the Psalmist cannot escape God’s knowledge and power, and to state that understanding God’s knowledge is beyond humans. The Psalmist’s movement highlights God’s presence, and the Psalmist’s experience of pressure and touch highlights God’s protection. Sensory awareness establishes the relationship between creator and created, between the protector and protected. Creation and protection are imagined and communicated through the Psalmist’s senses, but imagination and experience do not lead to knowledge.
Kirsty Jones

The challenge of exploring the psalms is the scarcity of context. Even the identification as a psalm of David only provides a general framework for exploring the origins and intent of the passage. David enjoyed an intimate relationship with the Holy One that was ripe with triumphs and failings. He committed himself to God’s purposes and sought after the heart of God. At the same time, he abused his power and acted with violence toward Bathsheba and Uriah. In David’s life, the full human experience can be found, including trauma and pain companioning alongside love and mercy. None of that may be hidden from the knowing of God, and that reality overwhelms the psalmist.

The lectionary invites us to consider the psalm alongside the Gospel reading of the call of Philip, one of the disciples known for expressing his curiosity with Jesus, and the Old Testament reading describing the call of Samuel. The pairing of these passages attaches the call of God to the Knowing of God. The Holy One forms, shapes, and creates with purpose, affirmation, and flourishing at center. The invitation to serve flows from the uniqueness of crafting.

A common thread in biblical call narratives is the inherent insufficiency of the called. Some are reluctant due to the costs associated with the work. Others question that God is actually seeking them. Nearly all considered themselves ill-equipped for the assignment that God invites them to fulfill. The call narratives illuminate the contrast between the Holy One’s perspective and evaluation of the gifts, talents, and capabilities of diverse individuals over human assessment and critique. While human hierarchies often divide and discard, Creator engenders belonging and inclusion. The psalm reflects the beauty and wonder of the later.

Poetry…sews up the wounds of exclusion. It opens doors. Poetry works as a mirror. It creates a mirror, which is the poem. They recognize themselves, they look at themselves in the poem….” Psalm 139 functions in much the same way: it has the potential to sew up wounds, to open doors, to create mirrors, and to help our listeners to recognize themselves in ancient, alien words. As I read it then, Psalm 139 has three broad themes that can be the foundation of a poetic preaching event: it is a poem about God’s unfailing presence, it is a poem about God’s perfect knowledge of the reader, and it is a poem about the confounding presence of injustice in the life of the poet.
Elizabeth Grasham

Psalm 139 proclaims that the psalmist is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Perfection is never claimed. Even in the creation narratives, the Holy One is satisfied that the results are good. Psalm 139 apparently goes further as the psalmist acknowledges that God knows what they would rather keep hidden. The intimacy and vulnerability attached to the knowing is remarkable and inescapable. Creator knowingly chooses to shape and form human creatures with imperfection. God does not intend for human beings to be without flaw. Perfection is a human construct. Perhaps the concept of being flawed is as well. After all, God’s abiding presence is sufficient.

Psalm 139 has particular ramifications for our understanding of ability and disability:

Shifting the common or silent narrative theology of disability emerges as a liberation theology, correcting the notion that disabled is synonymous with brokenness in need of fixing or pitied as a disadvantage to fully participating in the life of the church. Imagine a Psalm 139:13-14 narrative that casts disability as but another reflection of the imago Dei and disabled persons are no less blessed while lacking the espoused sensory normalcy—eyes that see, ears that hear, tongues that speak, hands to feel, feet to walk, intellectual aptitude, cognitive behavior, and emotional appropriateness. To do so would liberate the disabled from not so uncommon shame and eviscerate abled superiority as preferred by God. To do so would get the church in pace with legal, cultural, and academic advances in accommodating, not just tolerating, disabled persons.
Raedorah C. Stewart

May it be so.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
“No need to hear you voice when I can talk about you better than you can speak for yourself. No need to hear your voice. Only tell me about your pain. I want to know your story. And then I will tell it back to you in a new way. Tell it back to you in such a way that it has become mine, my own. Rewriting you, I rewrite myself anew. I am still anchor, authority. I am still the colonizer, the speaking object, and you are now the centre of my talk.”
― bell hooks

For Further Reflection
“Sometimes it takes a good fall to really know where you stand” ― Hayley Williams
“What does reason know? Reason only knows what it has succeeded in learning…” ― Fyodor Dostoevsky
“So many believe that it is love that grows, but it is the knowing that grows and love simply expands to contain it.” ― Wm. Paul Young

Works Cited
Jones, Kirsty. “Sensing the Unknowable: Sensing Revelation, Relationship, and Response in Psalm 139.” Journal for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies 4, no. 1 (Sum 2022): 83–97.
Grasham, Elizabeth. “Between Text and Sermon: Psalm 139.” Interpretation 74, no. 3 (July 2020): 292–94.
Stewart, Raedorah C. “Loop, Hook, Pull: Disabled by Design–Creating a Narrative Theology of Disability.” Theology Today 77, no. 2 (July 2020): 179–85.

Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection
During the season after Epiphany, invite the congregation to respond with public witness of faith. As Psalm 139 challenges negative perspectives on disabilities, the faith community might consider tangible ways to facilitate accessibility for participation and leadership.

Worship Ways Liturgical Resources

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (, also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page:

A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.