A single verse is all that’s needed to contemplate God’s thoughts for your whole life


The Rev. Frank A. Thomas, director of the Ph.D. Program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric at the Christian Theological Seminary, delivers his sermon “Did Heaven Make A Mistake” Sunday, July 25, 2021 in the Amphitheater. DAVE MUNCH/PHOTO EDITOR

“Theologian Howard Thurman lived to be 81 years old. Every day of his adult life he prayed Psalm 139. Could you pray one prayer or read one Scripture every day for the rest of your life?” the Rev. Frank A. Thomas asked the congregation at the Friday morning worship service. He preached on the topic “A Grain of Sand,” The Scripture reading was Psalm 139: 13-18.

According to Thomas, Thurman called Psalm 139 the great passage, and wrote a poem for every line in the psalm. “If all the Bibles burned, and I could only have one chapter, Psalm 139 would be the one,” Thomas said. 

“How did Thurman pray this psalm every day? He found the presence of God’s revelation on a daily basis,” Thomas said. “The psalm gave him access to a limitless ocean of hope feeding the world’s life. As Jesus said, ‘We don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”

Psalm 139 allows people to contemplate the thoughts of God. The psalmist wrote how precious are your thoughts, how vast the sum of them; they outnumber the sands of the oceans.

“God is all-knowing in this psalm,” Thomas said. “God knows us completely. The psalmist says ‘you know me’ seven times. God knows us. God knows us. God knows us. We are in a relationship with God. When God judges us, it is not a singular judgment, but we will return to God and God’s truth will be revealed in us. How precious those revelations are; they outnumber the number of grains of sand by the oceans.”

Thomas read through the entire psalm, to show how Thurman might have read it. “I wonder if we would take the time to let the words of the psalm sink in. It requires humility to accept the thoughts of God. No matter how weighty my sermons or how deep my books are, I hate to break it to myself, but I am only handling one grain of sand on the whole seashore of God’s thoughts.”

Even Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, “the most beautiful piece of music in the world, is just one grain of sand on the whole of God’s seashore of thoughts,” Thomas said.

He continued, ”That is my first point: That we only handle one grain of sand of the thoughts of God. My second point is that we can spend a lifetime on that one grain of sand because it is a universe in itself.”

Thomas said that there are so many atoms in a grain of salt, if humans could count them at a rate of 1 billion atoms per second, it would take 500 years to count all the atoms in that grain of salt. 

“It is a unique system,” he said. “That atom is comparable to the stars in the night sky; the atom shares the same complexity. One verse of Scripture is so complex it would take 500 years at 1 billion insights per second to count all the insights from God. This is how Thurman could pray the same prayer every day. The prayers were all reflections on the one grain of sand of the seashore of God’s thoughts.”

Thomas’ third point was that one verse could save a life, a community; one verse could heal the blind or lame, find the lost or feed the world. “One verse could resolve racism and bring justice.” He quoted several verses of Scripture, including “they shall mount up on wings like eagles, great is your faithfulness, and God was in Christ reconciling the world.”

He said, “If you have one verse, it will take 500 years at 1 billion insights per second to get all the thoughts of God and it would only be a grain of sand on God’s seashore of thought.”

For Thurman, Psalm 139 represented hope. He believed that human destiny was wholeness, that there was a “congenital unity” into which everything would be resolved. 

“Thurman found that unity in Psalm 139 and it gave him courage,” Thomas said. “He taught that hope in its original meaning is an inlet. There is a stagnant lagoon on one side without fresh water. There is a large ocean of fresh water and the inlet will allow the water of freshness into the lagoon.”

Thomas continued, “Our dry souls are the lagoon. Just having one verse from God gives us access to the limitless ocean of hope. And the good news is you don’t need the whole Bible, you just need one verse. What is your verse that is your ground of hope, that allows you access to fresh water? You just need one verse.”

Psalm 46, verse 1 is Thomas’ verse. “‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear …’ What is your one verse?” he asked and then repeated Psalm 139.

Before he began his Friday sermon, Thomas referred to Thursday’s sermon, “What is Truth.”

Trying to clarify his thinking about truth, he said, “I don’t care for persons whose preferred faith is Judaism, Buddhism or Christianity. I am concerned about how you behave, not what you believe. We spout universal truth but we live preferred truth. If preferred truth is racist and bigoted, then I have a problem. I am going to keep working on ‘What is truth?’, both preferred and universal.”

The Rev. Paul Womack presided. Deborah First, a year-round Chautauqua resident who revels in the summer program, read the Scripture. Joshua Stafford, who holds the Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist and director of sacred music, played “”Prelude on St. Anne, by Norman Coke-Jephcott for the prelude. Members of the Motet Choir sang “God is Here,” words and music by Glenn Wonacott. Stafford played “Toccata,” from the Symphony for Organ No. 5, by Charles-Marie Widor. The Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree Jr. Chaplaincy Fund and the John William Tyrrell Endowment for Religion provided support for this week’s services and chaplain.

Tags : a grain of sandFrank A. Thomasmorning worshipPsalm 139: 13-18thurmanverseWeek Five

The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.