Psalm 119 (portions) & 2 Tim. 3:14-17 Gratitude Season
Elizabeth M. Deibert 16 October 2016
We are in the season of gratitude at Peace. Last week we gave thanks for the healing power of Christ’s presence with the 10% or the one leper who went back. Today we give thanks for the gift of Holy Scripture, and we seek to understand what kind of authority scripture is for us, and how it inspires us.
There is no more comprehensive example of the right kind of reverence for God’s glory mediated through Holy Scripture than the 119th Psalm. In this psalm, the writer expresses utter dependence on a right relationship with God, mediated by the word of God.
You might be glad to hear we are not reading the entire 176 verses, where the writer takes all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and starts every line of eachsection with that particular letter in acrostic poem-style.
Before we read selected verses, I want to point out that the words used to name scripture are statutes, law, commandments, decrees, ways, promise, judgments, word, precepts, ordinances. These words feel like harsh, legal terms to us. But they are not to the psalmist, who delights in them.
Hear all the warm and loving words the psalmist uses to describe feelings about God’s commands and ponder with me how we might recover such an attitude of gratitude for God’s word.
Psalm 119 (selected verses)
33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. 35 Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. 36 Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain. 37 Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.
47 I find my delight in your commandments, because I love them. 48 I revere your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes. 49 Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope. 50 This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life.
71 It is good for me that I was humbled, so that I might learn your statutes. 72 The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. 73 Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. 74 Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word. 75 I know, O LORD, that your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness you have humbled me. 76 Let your steadfast love become my comfort according to your promise to your servant. 77 Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.
89 The LORD exists forever; your word is firmly fixed in heaven. 90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast. 91 By your appointment they stand today, for all things are your servants. 92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my misery. 93 I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.
97 Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long. 98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me. 99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your decrees are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. 101 I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. 102 I do not turn away from your ordinances, for you have taught me. 103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 104 Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. 105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (NRS)
Word, law, commandment, even judgement – these are gifts of God for which we can be grateful. These are gifts in which we can delight! A preschooler does not understand boundaries to be a gift. That child flails around and screams when not allowed to run out into the street, when not allowed to throw a ball in the house, when not allowed to bite a sibling in frustration. Teens do not always appreciate the rules, like bedtimes and curfew, and limits on screen time, which are set for their own protection.
And it is easy to see how children and youth who get their way, whose parents cannot follow through on limitations become miserable adults, never satisfied. Oh, there’s that word, “Satisfied” reminding us of the book and DVD study to which the Gratitude Team invites you.
We have been given a gift in the scriptures -- the gift of guidance and boundaries, boundaries that if we cross them, we will regret it. We have not been given a brick wall, but a rope fence. We can climb through to the other side, quite easily, but the grass will not be greener on the other side. The law, the commandments, the Word, the precepts, they are to help us to know God and live according to God’s way, which is always the better way to live. Does that limit our freedom – yes – and in a very good way. Unlimited freedom is bad – remember the spoiled toddler image?
So let’s recount all the gifts of God’s commands using the zeal of the psalmist: teach me, I will observe, give me understanding, that I may keep and observe with my whole heart, lead me, I delight in it, turn my heart, turn my eyes, give me life, my delight, I love them, I revere, I love, I will meditate, this is my comfort, gives me life, humbling, better than lots of silver and gold, hope, faithfulness, right, my comfort, your steadfast love, your mercy, my delight, firmly fixed, enduring, stands fast, my delight, given me life, I love your law, my meditation all day long, makes me wiser than enemies, always with me, I keep your precepts, your word, how sweet to my taste, giving understanding, a light for my path and a lamp for my feet.
Oh, how I want all of us to be renewed or to appreciate for the first time ever the wonderful words of life. Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life. Remember that old hymn, anybody? Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life.
Let’s hear now the epistle reading, a letter of Paul to the young pastor, Timothy, to encourage him to hold fast to the sacred writings. At this time, the Hebrew Scriptures were on various scrolls and the New Testament was only beginning to be written. The first reference we have to there being 27 books of the New Testament is about 400 after Christ.
2 Timothy 3:14-17
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (NRS)
What is your position on the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation? This doctrine of the authority of scripture has long divided the church, especially the Protestant Church, which because of the invention of the printing press took off and put Bibles in more people’s hands. Then it became a contest of sorts as to who was interpreting the sacred writings more faithfully. That’s largely the reason for the fracturing of the Protestants.
But now in this 21st century, there is a helpful mixing of Roman Catholic and Protestant congregants. So some of us grew up with a strong notion of Apostolic tradition that “if the Pope said it, I should believe it, and that settles it. Or maybe not, but if I’m not settled about it, I’ll just keep that to myself.” Others grew up with pastors and teachers who asserted the inerrancy of scripture and a literal translation saying, “The Bible said, I believe it, and that settles it.” And if we had questions and did not feel settled, we were to keep that ourselves. Still others of us were challenged to study the Word, we were invited to ask questions, but sometimes in such congregations a sense of the sacred was lost in the total deconstruction of the text by the plethora of questions.
So what can we learn from these three approaches – well, we learn that the voice of tradition, the communal voice matters. We do not read the scriptures alone but in the company of the saints. Scripture is not an owners’ manual as much as it is a love letter. It is not a history book as much as it is the story of God’s family, told from their point of view. It is not a science book but a book of literature, of poetry. It is not a rule book but a guide, a journal for life. Not every verse or book carries the same weight.
It is authoritative but not infallible. It must be interpreted in light of the cultural context of its day and listening to all the voices of those who value it. But you already know that! You would not be part of a church with a female minister, if you still believed that “Women should keep silent in church.” like it says in 1 Corinthians 14:34.
Liberals need to remember to keep a humble posture toward scripture, treasuring it while they wrestle with it. Conservatives need to listen to all the voices who are interpreting it – not just people who agree with them. The Jews understood the challenge of interpretation when they joked that any time two Rabbis discuss a holy scripture, there will be three opinions. God is not threatened by different opinions on the same scripture. After 500 years of division in the church, over Sacraments and Scripture, not to mention lately over styles of worship, we are now beginning to converge as Christians people together, unified not divided.
Many Protestants are becoming more sacramental and Roman Catholics and Orthodox are attending more deeply to the Scriptures. Pope Benedict in his encouragement to the church about lectio divina, the practice of listening to scripture with a delight and with attention to the Holy Spirit, said, “There is nothing more powerful than the Word of God to transform the heart at the deepest level.”
This reflects St. Augustine of the 4th century who said, “O Lord, You struck my heart with your word, and I loved you.” He seems to be making reference to chapter 4 of the book of Hebrews, which Richard and others are studying, where it says,
(slide) 12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Let the scriptures pierce your heart. Don’t just read them. Let them read YOU.
John Calvin founder of the Reformed tradition in Geneva, Switzerland, which spread to Scotland and became Presbyterianism, said this:
Because God’s presence is so beyond us, when God speaks to us, God is mercifully condescending to us. God accepts limitation of God’s immense glory and sovereignty, by communicating with us.
The scriptures are wonderful words of life which point us to the Living Word, Jesus Christ. They inform our faith and tell us who we are. So, we pray that the Spirit Divine will open our eyes, our ears, and our heart to glimpse truth and to illumine us, giving light to our journey with Christ.