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Beautiful Law

Sermon delivered by Keith Herron, pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, M.O., on Mar. 15 2009.

Psalm 19

In the spirituality soup Jesus brought to nourish his followers there’s a secret ingredient that would seem essential we discover. Jesus began with the stock of his own Jewish faith but realized it still needed flavoring. Understand it had all the basics of a good soup but something essential was missing. In fact, so vital was this missing ingredient, Jesus implied the soup itself was deficient without it. If we’re successful in discovering this secret ingredient, it has the potential to make us very wise, very peaceful, and very rich in the kingdom of God. Want to know what it is?
 
Jesus gave us a clue in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:5, NRSV). Jesus wasn’t one to simply preach to us about things as they ought to be. He was unflinching in modeling this kind of life. He told us later, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” Then he added the promise: “And you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29, NRSV). Jesus’ ministry of teaching and living the kingdom of God was built on a foundation of personal humility allowing the power of God to challenge all the ways in which we cling to our need to be in the center of all things.
 
Humility is not only a posture of being, but also a way of seeing. It’s a posture of being that is willing to not elevate the self over those around us. It’s a posture of being that refuses to think only in singular, selfish terms. It’s a way of seeing that recognizes that everyone sees their own world from their own point of view. It’s a way of seeing whenever we let go of our need to be at the core of every perception and learn there are other ways of seeing.
 
            Let me illustrate it this way: An artist had just finished a major work and invited a famous critic to a private viewing in her studio. On the appointed day, the critic was met at the door of the studio and ushered into a darkened room where he was asked to wait. A half-hour passed before the artist came. The artist apologized and explained the reason for his delay. “I was afraid that in coming in directly from the bright sunlight, it might be impossible for you to see the subtle interworkings between the colors.” God invites us into the darkness of Lent so we might be free to see more clearly that which is true but unnoticed by us.
 
 
I
 
            How is it you see the world? How is it the whole creation is the focus of your admiring heart? For many of us, we seldom give the creation much thought. We don’t see it as a whole and we seldom see it in its parts. We don’t acknowledge its grandeur nor do we let it speak to us of the magnificent Creator who brought it all into being.
 
There is a form of the Spirit in the creation itself says the Psalmist. There are voices in God’s creation whispering, clamoring to proclaim the glory of God if we will pay attention. The psalmist heard them and so will we if we still ourselves long enough to hear them. In Psalm 19, the psalmist describes two ways in which he heard the glory of God proclaimed, and in the end he asked God to bless him as he reflected upon their meaning:
 
“The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world”
Psalm 19:1-4, NRSV
 
But in order to hear the voices, we must slow our busyness and frenetic activities and adopt a spiritual practice taught by Jesus so the voices of the creation are discernible.
 
The psalmist looked up into the vast reaches of the stars and heard God lifted up as Creator. He was startled to faith by what he saw. He was moved like the poet to speak in the language of beauty and verse to say what had filled his heart to overflowing.
 
Father Richard Rohr wrote, “I think the contemplative mind is the most absolute assault on the secular world view that one can have because it is a different mind from what we’ve been taught. The calculative mind or the egocentric mind reads everything in terms of personal advantage. As long as we read reality from that small self and read everything with a calculative mind, I don’t think we’re going to see things in any really new way. All the great religions have talked about a different way of seeing that is actually a different perspective, a different vantage point, and a different starting point. To quote Albert Einstein, “‘No problem can be solved with the same consciousness that caused it.’”
 
 
II
 
            But the psalmist has a two-chambered heart and there’s more.
 
The psalmist goes on to explore a sense of wonder over the law of God. In order to appreciate what’s being said here, we must leave behind our American concepts of the law as simply a judicial code. There were aspects of that in the Hebrew Scriptures to be sure because there were laws that codified how one would act and what would happen when one strayed from that teaching.
 
            But the law takes on a more elevated sense of knowing God in that they symbolized the special relationship Israel felt through the covenant. The law of God was a reminder of God’s divine grace and mercy.
 
            The use of the term “law” is not meant to limit the full range of expression the psalmist utilizes here. Other terms are used to capture the depth of meaning. Such terms as decrees, precepts, commandment, the phrase, ‘the fear of the LORD,’ and, ordinances are all used to speak of how the psalmist succumbs in wonder to the deep love of God he feels. It’s understood that the cherishing of the law is connected to the Israelite’s sense of life and blessing.
 
            Why the sense of wonder at the law? How does the law draw us to God?
 
            On that September morning when terrorists took control of four domestic airliners and aimed them at strategic American targets, one of them crashed into the Pentagon. A federal police officer named Isaac Hoopii, a native Hawaiian, ran into the building to see if he could possibly help any survivors he might find.
 
            Dozens of people were fleeing the heat and smoke for safety and when they saw Officer Hoopii they told him to turn around to save himself. But he kept going until the smoke was so thick he could no longer see anything himself.
 
            Then he called out into the darkness, “Is anybody there? Is there anybody in there?”
 
            At that same time, Wayne Sinclair and five of his co-workers were crawling through the rubble trying to find the way out. The smoke was so thick and suffocating they were disoriented and couldn’t find the way to safety. When they heard Hoopii’s voice, they cried out, “Over here! We’re over here!”
 
            “Head toward my voice!” he cried back to them. Hoopii kept hollering and they kept following his voice until they found each other and were led to safety. For his bravery, Hoopii was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
 
            That’s how many of us have come to faith. We were lost and heard the word of God and God’s law came to us as a guide leading us to God. The poet-psalmist is aware of the power of God’s law and has a deep reverence for it. Upon reflection, the psalmist takes it all in and feels as if the law of God is such a deep symbol of God’s love and mercy, it’s as if it’s sweeter than honey. It’s more desired than gold to be loved by God so richly.
 
Two witnesses are before us speaking to us of God in the darkness, the voice of the creation and the voice of the Word of God. But it takes humility for us to sense it.