Epiphany 3C - Psalm 19

Sermon adapted for local use from LCA Worship Resources for Lay Reading

 

Psalm 19 (NIV)

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of His hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;

no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.

5    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,

like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

It rises at one end of the heavens

and makes its circuit to the other;

nothing is deprived of its warmth.

The law of the Lord is perfect,

refreshing the soul.

The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,

making wise the simple.

The precepts of the Lord are right,

giving joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are radiant,

giving light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is pure,

enduring forever.

The decrees of the Lord are firm,

and all of them are righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,

than much pure gold;

they are sweeter than honey,

than honey from the honeycomb.

11 By them Your servant is warned;

in keeping them there is great reward.

12 But who can discern their own errors?

Forgive my hidden faults.

13 Keep Your servant also from willful sins;

may they not rule over me.

Then I will be blameless,

innocent of great transgression.

14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart

be pleasing in Your sight,

Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

 

You may find this sermon a little simplistic.  But faith is simple.  My mum always used to say when she witnessed – I have the faith of a child and I don’t have all the answers.  I’m aware that if we seek growth for the mind…we add things, we reason, we try to explain.  If we seek growth for the spirit, we actually subtract things, we strip it back, we look at the basic message.

Let’s begin with Scripture.  When we read the traditional Psalms (incidentally – this was my Mum’s favourite book in the Bible) – we need to do so in the cultural context of a little band of people who struggled to exist.  The harsh elements of the Jewish Bible reflect the harshness of the nation’s existence.  Time and time again, the Israelites were threatened with extinction and because they believed that all misfortune was punishment for sin, an overwhelming theme in the Psalms was the need to appease God’s anger.  If we sit down and read the book of Psalms, 150 songs, we are left with an image of a people both faith filled and fear filled, who want God to see them as virtuous so that He will cut down their enemies.  It’s survival stuff.  And yet, here and there in the book of Psalms, there is transcendence, words that rise above the struggle – like fireworks in an explosion of light.  Some of that light finds its home in us.  Psalm 23 (my favourite) The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.  Psalm 139, O Lord, You have searched me and You know me.  Psalm 51, Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.  We all have our favourites.  What we see in the book of Psalms, is the total human condition, strength and weakness, courage and despair, shouts of praise, cries for help. And if we read these writings with eyes of the heart, God will speak to us through them.  That’s why we call Scripture ‘The Word of God’.  God will speak to us through it.

Psalm 19 which we shared this morning is the basis for today’s sermon. In fact, we can each look up at the sky this week for a sermon from God!

There are billions of stars up there, yet each has its own place. Everything out there in space follows the laws of God – we sometimes call them the laws of physics, or the laws of nature. Everything out there is ordered. So, for example, we can send craft out into space – millions of kilometres away, to circle the planet Mars, and then land on it. It is possible for us to do this because Mars follows the exact laws it was designed to follow by God, the Creator. The craft can even operate on Mars, directed from our own planet earth to travel and explore and send back photos, via computers. If the correct laws aren’t followed, the mission will fail and it could be an expensive disaster.

Think about computers… how precise and exact our computers need to be to operate successfully. Leave out a dot and nothing happens. Put in a dot where there shouldn’t be one and the program won’t work at all. God’s laws also operate down to the tiniest detail.

The sun is another example. The Psalmist describes the sun in verses 4b-6:

“The sun lives in the heavens where God placed it.

It bursts forth like a radiant bridegroom after his wedding.

It rejoices like a great athlete eager to run the race.

The sun rises at one end of the heavens

and follows its course to the other end.

Nothing can hide from its heat.”

The sun is proud of its important role – like the key role of the bridegroom. The sun enjoys its role – eager like a champion athlete is to run at the Olympics – only the sun gets to do it every day. The sun is also a great example because we all benefit from it. The light from the sun means life and healing and good health – if we respect it! When we don’t respect the sun it can mean sunburn, skin cancers, and, in some situations - death. The bleached bones in the desert sands remind us of the Sun’s negative powers.

Everything in the universe follows precise laws. We human beings are no exception. God has healthy plans or laws for people to follow. They are summed up in ten key laws:

  1. ‘Be connected to God’s love’ is number one. We are designed to be connected to God as the spiritual centre of our lives, the way the sun is the physical centre of our universe. For healthy spiritual living - God is there, keen for us to bathe in His love; keen to guide a person on the safe paths as we travel through this life.
  2. God gives His name to us so we can remain connected to Him every moment of the day and night. We can talk to Him on the journey. We weren’t designed to travel alone through life, but like the stars we have millions of people for company, and we each have our own place and purpose. We can call on God’s name for a personal talk with Him, and to give Him unselfish praise and thanks for all His wonderful blessings. It can be healthy to look away from ourselves and to praise God, and other people. Otherwise we can become off centre, and we lose our role and purpose in the world.                               
  3. We have the privilege of being tuned into God the way a space craft is tuned in to the space station to receive messages and directions. So the ‘living God’ sends messages and reports in His Word. We need to set aside time to regularly and frequently tune in to listen to God.
  4. The most exciting news is about the visit of Jesus to our planet. It is spiritually healthy to tune in to Jesus Christ and read about Him. We can each stand under His cross, like standing in the sun for warmth and spiritual energy, to hear the life giving words of forgiveness.
  5. There are other people in God’s plans for us. There are those who are near us, in the special relationship between parents and children. We are designed to grow up in families: in both the spiritual family of God, and in our physical, earthly family with parents, children, grandparents, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews and so on.
  6. There are healthy ways to enjoy life with millions of fellow humans, especially the people God puts close to us. If we break the directions of God for living with our neighbours, we can hurt them, physically and mentally. It can mean hurt and trouble for many people involved. But to show caring love and concern is a healthy way of living and can build other people up and enrich their lives.
  7. There is a special relationship between couples. There is the unique relationship we call marriage. It calls for an unselfish love for the other partner. If God’s laws of loving concern for one’s partner aren’t followed in a marriage it can be destructive to the other person, cruel, and even evil. It isn’t always easy to live in the same orbit with another person!
  8. The healthy laws for living with others includes the way we share what we like to call our property. The property really belongs to God and we have it on trust to share with others for a time.
  9. The eighth law deals with the evils of destroying the reputations of other people near us through malicious gossip, ‘put downs’ or slander. Rather, we are called on to build them up in a loving and forgiving way. In a church where we come from so many different backgrounds, have so many different lifestyles and so many different expectations surely this call to build up, love and forgive is paramount!

…& 10.:The last two laws describe the healthy way to handle the important roles and possessions of other people – to rejoice with them, and to help them fulfill their key roles in life by giving them lots of encouragement. The danger is that greed and envy will lead us off our path or orbit, and cause serious damage to us, as well as to the people God puts around us.

In verses 8 to 11 the Scripture says:

“The commandments of the Lord are right,

bringing joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight to life.

Reverence for the Lord is pure, lasting forever.

The laws of the Lord are true; each one is fair.

They are more desirable than gold.

They are sweeter than honey,

even honey dripping from the comb.

They are a warning to those who hear them;

there is great reward for those who obey them.”

There is no problem with the laws of God for my life, even right down to the smallest detail. But there is no end of problems in me to live continually in the orbit of unselfish love. In verse 12 the Psalmist admits openly:

“How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart?

Cleanse me from these hidden faults.

Keep me from deliberate sins!

Don’t let them control me.

Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin.”

If it were up to us, the evils deep inside us like jealousy, greed, gossip, and selfishness would knock us out of orbit and we’d cause lots of damage and end in disaster. But God is aware of it all!  In His unselfish love, and out of concern for us and the danger we are to one another, He sends Jesus: the sun  (S, U, N) from God. Just as we look up to the sun to warm us, so we look to Jesus for the warmth of God’s love. Jesus is God’s saving love. His love draws people close to Him, to travel safely in orbit with Him. It is the forgiving love of Jesus that reaches us and touches us. It is the forgiving love of Jesus that keeps us going. Jesus even swaps places with us. He keeps all the ten laws of living for us. He came to earth with a special mission, to take our sins on His own shoulders. He IS God’s love reaching out to its deepest and furthest point. Like sunshine, it is an essential, healing and healthy love. Enjoy the forgiving love from God every day. Look up at the sky each day, feel the warmth of God’s forgiving love. He wants you to live in it and enjoy it.

I want to share a Psalm written by Joy Cowley in her book, ‘Psalms Down-Under’:  Jesus said ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Let us make Him the centre of our universe, acknowledging to those around us His truth - through living the life He would have us live. 

Amen.

          And the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.