Summary: There is no escaping the presence and reality of God.
THERE’S JUST NO ESCAPING
TEXT: Psalm 139:1-18
Some of you know that I felt my call to the ministry when I was 14 years old. I was
giving the sermon--my first--for Youth Sunday in the North Scituate Baptist Church in Scituate,
Rhode Island. It really shouldn’t be called a sermon. It was more like a five-minute testimony
about one of the paintings of Jesus on our Sanctuary wall. It was a simple picture of Jesus...robe
and sandals and shepherd’s crook against a blue sky with clouds. I later learned it was bad art,
but it captured my attention as a child; and when I sat in church and couldn’t really understand the
sermon, I turned to the bad-art Jesus, and we went on fanciful journeys together.
I knew as I delivered those stumbling words, in a sermon as technically poor as the art I
spoke about, that God was calling me to keep telling people what it was like to travel with Jesus--
that I was to preach about it, teach about it, and do whatever I could to help others climb into that
picture and discover a loving God who would show them wonders and help them over the rough
As the rest of my high school and college years progressed, I came to many crossroads on
my journey. I struggled with whether a woman belonged in pastoral ministry. I was tired of
school and didn’t want to go right into three more years. I got married, had to work while he was
in school, moved frequently and had no opportunity to go to seminary. Life went on and I kept
selecting roads as the choices opened up before me. Pleasant enough roads, most of them, well-
traveled, good company.
Then one day I rounded a corner and got hit by a train. Intestinal parasite, pinched sciatic
nerve, panic attacks, and finally divorce. The train knocked me off all the paths and into a thicket
of thorns. Friends came and bloodied themselves to pick me up and carry me for a time. Taking
turns, they finally brought me to a clearing where they could set me down and return to their own
roads. They left me food and drink, and in time I could sit up and even stand. As my faculties
returned, I could see a worn, but still legible sign at the far end of the clearing, and I went to look.
In a child’s handwriting, painted on a sky-blue board, it said, "To seminary" with an arrow that
curved round at the end like a shepherd’s crook.
I looked over toward where the arrow was pointing, and there was a tiny, but definite
path. It was overgrown in places, but someone had left provisions along its way...someone who
knew that the way was hard for someone just gaining their strength. So I left the clearing and
followed the path...and I follow it still.
"Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?" Wherever
you are on your journey this morning...whether your way is broad and comfortable, narrow and
difficult, beautiful or frightening...even if you have, like me, been knocked off all the roads
entirely and have found yourself bleeding in a thicket of thorns...listen to the message of Psalm
139. You cannot go where God cannot come. In fact, you can’t go anywhere without God
beating you there. There’s just no escaping God.
To David, the writer of this Psalm, that is a complex feeling. Much of the language in the
Psalm is the language of pursuit and capture. Verse 5, "You hem me in, behind and before, and
lay your hand upon me." The word for "hem me in" has the sense of being besieged, beset, shut
in. It is forceful and you get the image of God running after David, surrounding him and blocking
his exit and then picking him up by his shirt collar with David’s legs still running in the air. He’s
been running from God and is finally caught... "Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I
flee from your presence?" The answer is nowhere. There’s just no escaping.
"If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take
the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead
me, and your right hand shall hold me fast." "Hold me fast." Same type of language. It means to
seize, to take possession." He still tries to hide. "If I say, æSurely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright
as the day, for darkness is as light to you."