The Great Passage: Hope

Session Date: 
Sunday, September 8, 2019
Bible Text: 
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18


“How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!


Howard Thurman was a preacher, teacher, poet and mystic. In the 1930’s he travelled to India and learned non-violent civil disobedience from Gandhi. He lived to be 81 and he prayed Psalm 139 every day of his life. Could you do that? Could you pray any scripture every day for the rest of your life?


We may pray scripture every day, but the same one? Modern culture tells me many will say “that’s boring.”


Thurman called this Psalm, the Great Passage. He said that if the entire Bible were destroyed and if he could only have one chapter, it would be Psalm 139.  He found within the boundaries of the text the very presence of God illuminating revelation on a daily basis. Which, he said, gave him access to a limitless ocean of hope. That is, the very voice of God, speaking the thoughts of God, feeding Thurman the word of life.


Thurman could pray this psalm every day because he saw it as the fulfillment of what Jesus, quoting scripture, says: “We do not live by bread alone, but every word of God.” And, as we will say in a few moments, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” It is God giving spiritual food every day, for here is Gods’ wisdom, care and thought. Psalm 139 presents God as the all-knowing God. The Lord knows us completely.


The Hebrew “to know,” appears seven times in the text. That is the beauty of this text, God knows us. God knows us and loves us in relationship and not exclusively in judgment. If there is judgment, then there is a moment to return- to restore right relationship – shalom – with God. Because God knows us to bestow favor and revelation not judgment. God’s thoughts are revelation, revealing God’s truth and wisdom.


Have you ever stopped and said what the Psalmist says: “How weighty are your thoughts, O God. How vast the sum of them to me.” Do we have the humility to appreciate the thoughts of God?


What I mean is, no matter our expertise in any matter, work, vocation, parenting, avocation, being a spouse, whatever, no matter how successful, how accomplished, how educated, how experienced- each moment of our lives, we are only handling one grain of sand in the endless number in the thoughts of God. Like the grains of sand in the sea, no matter how profound, perfect or present we are, it is but a single grain of a limitless ocean of God’s thought.


When we realize that, we confess as the psalmist: “How weighty are your thoughts, O God.” For no matter how insightful for life we are, we are handling only one grain of all God has to offer.


And even though it is only one grain, we could spend a lifetime on that one grain of sand- because one grain is a microcosmos- a whole world constituted by billions of atoms, neutrons,  and protons-  a universe of infinity in and of itself.


Think of it this way, take one grain of salt, about the size of a grain of sand. Now, suppose you want to count all the atoms in that grain of salt. Assume we are able to count one billion atoms per second. Despite such speed, it would take over 500 years to count the atoms in a grain of sand. Despite its size, there is a flawless, unique and complex system inside the atom comparable in sophistication to the system of the universe.


Which is to say, one verse of scripture, as a grain of God’s thought, is so complex that you could spend 500 years, at a billion insights per second to count the insights and revelation from God.


All that time, and still not exhaust the revelation from God in one scripture passage.


That begins to explain how Thurman could pray the same psalm every day for over 60 years. For all of our studies, all of our lessons, all of our prayers, all of our devotions,  and all of our pontifications of “knowing what it says” are but one atom in one grain of and in the limitless seashore of the thoughts of God.


If that is so, then just one grain, just one verse, can save the world!


One grain can save a life, it can save a soul, it can save a home, it can save a marriage, it can save a community, it can save the world.


With one grain we offer hope to the hopeless, we offer a friend to the friendless, one grain can stop a war, one grain can overcome a hurt, one grain can conceal the sting of death, one grain can rescue the lost, one grain can give sight to the blind, one grain can make the lame leap for joy, one grain can feed the world. And one grain can remove the deterioration of what the Pope calls “our common home.”


One verse can finally shine light on the long shadow of racism in human relationships. And one verse can bring every kind of justice that you can possibly have. One verse: “…Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”


One verse: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”


One verse: “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”


One verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…”


One verse: “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 sand. When I come to the end, O God, I am still with you.”


Thurman noticed that the people who work for justice and improving the social fabric of the community suffer a kind of despair. He said that activists recognize that what they do is good, kind and significant, but they work against the way things are in human life and that causes despair.


His point was, that humans, if we are not careful, are fundamentally selfish. To improve life, people are asked through moral persuasion to be unselfish. We are asked to concern ourselves with someone outside our group, folks we ordinarily do not consider our brothers and sisters.


No matter the appeal, whether in politics, or marches, or economic strength, we are usually reinforcing the idea that we are mostly concerned with our own group, the folks like us. So people who work to help, to make lives better, to make the community better, to make the nation better, experience running up against a level of selfishness in the human spirit. How do we overcome that?


Thurman says that the original meaning of the word ‘hope’ was an inlet that connects a lagoon to the ocean. That there was a lagoon on one side of an isthmus, and on the other, a limitless ocean. Whenever the lagoon became parched, dry, through the inlet the ocean could give the powerful resource of itself to the lagoon, to make it strong and fresh again. Hope, the inlet, was a great passage to renewal.


For Thurman, scripture, even one verse of scripture is ‘hope,’ an inlet to our hearts that may be dry and parched and God is an overflowing ocean of strength and resources, hope and healing and joy!


One verse of scripture, that single inlet, gives our empty hearts access to the limitless ocean of the wisdom of God. It is good to know the whole Bible, but all you need is one verse to fill the parched place of your life and heart.


So what is that one verse for you? What is the one verse that calls to you and fills you at your most despondent? You can use that as your inlet to allow the power and limitless resources of God’s ocean into your life.


For me, one grain is “So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”


One verse: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not destroyed;”


One verse: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angles, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


Howard Thurman’s one verse, his great passage to hope, was Psalm 139. What’s your one verse?