Monday, July 2, 2012

The Jesus Song-Book: A Faith-Based Nation

Preached Sunday, July 1, 2017

Scripture Readings: Psalm 33; James 5:7-11

The Book of the Psalms is basically the prayer book, or the worship book, of the people of Israel, who are the root and the beginning of all the people of God, the beginning of us. There are words and thoughts in the Book of Psalms for anything in the human condition; anything you might feel, or be concerned about; anything you might be angry about, or afraid of; anything you might be happy about, and wanted to express in the presence of God.

A Kildeer on Patrol
This Book of Psalms, this book of prayer and worship, gives us a surprising freedom in how we pray. It allows us to be very bold. Think of the words that begin another Psalm; words of worship at the start of Psalm twenty-two: “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”

These are God’s words. They became the words of Jesus on the cross. They are God’s permission for you to say the very same words in your own prayer and worship.

So, the Book of Psalms runs the spectrum of pretty much everything that you could ever need in order to live as an authentic worshiper of God, in this world. To be true worshipers of God, with our roots deep in the prayers of the Book of Psalms, is to be very bold and daring people indeed.

Have you ever thought how bold and daring a thing it is to say words like those that we read in the Psalm this morning: “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love?” (Psalm 33:5) These are bold and daring words.

My first thought was that this way of seeing things came from a special kind of faith; a high level of faith, an especially mature faith. But it doesn’t come from a special faith at all. It comes from basic, simple faith. This was our faith when we first became people of faith. The ability to say that the earth is full of the unfailing love of the Lord is simply what faith is. It is how we live as God’s people, when we are living in fellowship with a God we really know.

My copy of the Jewish Study Bible tells me that Psalm 33 is a traditional and standard part of the opening prayers of worship in Jewish synagogues. It is how they begin their regular Sabbath morning service.

So these words define what worship is. They tell us what it means to live, in this world, as worshipers of God. We say: “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of this unfailing love.”

These are the thoughts of a simple faith. But they are not necessarily the words of a simplistic faith. They are not the point of view of someone who hasn’t lived or paid attention to the way the world works.

When did the people of Israel ever live through a time when it was possible to think that the world was not a complicated and dangerous place? No, it was always, for them, a bold and daring thing to say: “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.”

When they lived in their own land, when they lived by their own laws (God’s own laws), in the days when these words were written, they were bold and daring words, because, often enough, God’s own people ignored the righteousness of the Lord. They ignored his justice, because they didn’t show that justice themselves. You would not have looked at the people of God and been impressed with how their lives reflected the Lord’s unfailing love.

Killdeer Using Decoy Tactics
They were often not very nice people. And yet they prayed these words. What are we, when we pray these words, ourselves, or read them in worship? Are we worthy to say these words?

Jesus grew up singing these words in the synagogue, in Nazareth. The boy Jesus and the man Jesus sang, “The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.” So he died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead to recreate the kingdom of God where this song could be sung from the heart.

Through the change of human hearts, which comes through faith in him, Jesus began a new world. He planted the seeds of a new heaven and earth full of the unfailing love of the God who became Jesus. He plants the seeds of a new heaven and earth in our hearts through faith.

Our calling is to be part of that new kingdom, now. And our calling is also to call other people to that kingdom that is planted in our hearts by faith.

It is natural for such people to want to reproduce that kingdom all around them.  This is what the church is for. This is what our way of life is supposed to be within our families, among our neighbors, in our communities, in our nation, and in the world. Jesus has made it part of our new nature because Jesus lives in us by faith.

There is so much to think about here, but (since we celebrate our Independence Day this week) one point is that this bold and daring faith is one of the sources of the courage behind the American Revolution and the American Experiment. You would think that those who believed that the earth was already full of the Lord’s unfailing love would never have the drive or the gumption to do anything bold and daring. But enough of the citizens of the first colonies had this faith, and it led them to defend themselves against the taking away, and the restriction, of the rights and freedoms they had enjoyed for more than a century, since the original founding of those colonies. Faith made them bold and daring and active.

Because the representatives of the colonies, at the Second Continental Congress, in 1776, believed that the Lord loves righteousness and justice, they approved the Declaration of Independence where it said that they were: “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions.” They could make that appeal to God because they believed that God loves righteousness and justice.  Righteousness and justice were what their intentions were all about.

Killdeer Saying, "Look at Me! Look at Me!"
And their declaration said that they were supporting their struggle for independence: “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” They relied on God’s protection and power because they believed that the earth was full of his unfailing love.

They didn’t know what would happen to them on account of their boldness and daring. They didn’t know if they would live to see their cause succeed. They did believe that they loved righteousness and justice, and that they could do what they believed was right and just in a world that was full of the unfailing love of the Lord. They would do what was right and just, even though they might die for it in a world full of the unfailing love of the Lord.

Another bold and daring thing to believe as worshiping people in this world is the faith that says: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” (Psalm 33:12)

One of the major forms of entertainment in the colonies up to the time of the Revolution, and afterward, was the Sunday Sermon. Preachers of that time often compared their community or their colony to the stories about people of Israel in the Old Testament.

Preachers would compare the issues and temptations of their day with the wanderings of Israel in the wilderness; or the temptations of Israel to worship false gods, or to mingle with the pagans once they had settled in the Promised Land. And so, the people of the thirteen colonies often thought of themselves as Israel. They often thought of their successes and failures as the results their faithfulness or their unfaithfulness to a covenant with the Lord.

A covenant is like an alliance or a partnership. It is like a contract, but much more than a contract.

A covenant is more like a promise. There are some promises that are so crucial, and so central, to the core of what you are, that, even when you do betray that promise, the relationship based on that promise does not come to an end.

Probably the best way to think of a covenant with God is the covenant of adoption. There is a legal process for breaking an adoption and even for minors seeking emancipation from their parents, and parents legally disowning their children/ But doesn’t that sound awful? Wouldn’t that be an extreme move to make?

The adoption (at least of a baby) is a very one sided promise, like any parenthood. In our heart and mind, parenthood is a relationship that is designed to never come to an end. But it does have its successes and failures, its joys and sufferings.

“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” is a covenant like that. Abraham and his descendants were adopted by a God who never let them go. They could un-choose their faithfulness to God, but they could not un-choose the ties that bound them to the heart of God. They could not un-choose God’s faithfulness to them because faithfulness is God’s nature.

What the Kildeer Is Trying to Keep Me from Finding
God’s people, in the Old Testament, experienced God’s standards of grace that set the bar for what God did in Christ. The people of Israel could choose to be happy with God. They could choose to be unhappy with God. But they couldn’t choose to be happy without God. And they couldn’t choose to be unhappy without God, one way or the other. Whatever your feelings may be about God, God doesn’t go away or stop being himself.

The faithfulness of God is as inescapable as God himself. Paul tells us in Romans: “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29)

Was this a good thing for them? Yes it was good! Difficult but good!

The colonists did not agree on many matters of faith, but many of them, and their forbearers, came to America to be free in following and living their faith. They came, and they lived, with an ambition to be the People of God in their own way. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”

They believed that this would be good for them. They also believed that it could be difficult. They might make many mistakes and failures. And they might suffer for these. But that would be good, too, in the end, because: “the earth is full of his unfailing love.” Where, after all, in the Bible, is it ever smooth sailing when your God is the Lord? Ask Moses or David. Ask Peter or Paul.

Our nation was founded to be an experiment of faith in the Lord who loves righteousness and justice. Thomas Jefferson was not a Christian, although he did like Jesus. Jefferson had a strong awareness of the righteousness and justice of God, and it frightened him because he was a slave owner and he was afraid of trying to live without slavery. He knew that slavery was wrong and that it was bad for his country.

He didn’t think he had it in him to give up the way of life that gave him wealth and made him like a member of some kind of nobility, through the owning and working of slaves. He knew his fellow American slave owners seldom even saw anything wrong with their way of life. They were determined to justify their way of life to others.

Jefferson knew that a considerable of the wealth of the southern part of America, in his time, came from a slave based economy. He wrote this about slavery and the Lord who loved righteousness and justice. He wrote: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever….”

We Christians in America seem to forget what it was like for the people of Israel, and for the early Church, to be the people whose God is the Lord. We forget the long story of the ups and downs of living in covenant with God.

When we forget this, we get impatient, and anxious, and fearful, and angry; and we go a little weird and wacky. That is why James counsels patience.

He uses farmers as an example. You seed, and you wait, and you harvest. Then you seed again, and you wait, and then you harvest. Then you seed again, and you wait again, and then you harvest again.

You keep on trusting that the earth is full of the Lord’s unfailing love. And the special discipline that comes from this is usually an antidote for weirdness and wackiness. It is a discipline of faith. It is a transformation of human nature that comes from the practice of faith combined with patience.

The faith expressed in the Psalm, and the patience in James, are tied together. They are a cure for the weirdness and wackiness that get a hold on us when we get upset with the ups and downs of living with God by faith.

We live in a world and a culture of crisis, and fear, and anger, and pride, and hatred. And yet we believe bold and daring things, like the earth being “full of the unfailing love of the Lord.”

There is a great sanity and a health in this. We forget that the American Revolution was a long, and bleak, and (often) almost hopeless war. There were more defeats than there were victories.

The state of war lasted from 1775 till the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783 (and what about the War of 1812?). In those long years our nation was held together most of all by those who held onto faith and patience.
The Mamma Kildeer when She Thinks I Am Not There

The best thing that could happen in our country today would be for more people to become worshiping people who know the health and sanity of living by faith and patience. But how can they do this, until they meet the God who became one of us in Jesus Christ and lived, himself, by faith and patience? How can they live with the sanity and health of people who can live by faith and patience until they meet the God who showed his unfailing love by dying for the sins and evils of the world on the cross? 

And, until Christians themselves show that they know this God themselves and know what it means to fill this world with the same unfailing love that God has for it; how can anyone else know what it means?

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful sermon, wonderful.
    "A firm reliance", I like that.
    Fantastic shots of the kildeer!
    I have seen all of this behavior and find these birds fascinating.
    We have seen them with their eggs right on top of Arabia Mountain!