by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
First Central Congregational UCC
2 August 2015
This summer we have been exploring the Psalms. Today we are going to look at Psalm 119, which is the longest Psalm and the longest chapter in the Bible. Don't worry, I'm not reading the entire thing.
Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem. Each eight verse section is devoted to a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which each line of that section beginning with that letter. This literary affect cannot be translated into English.
Basically, Psalm 119 is a primer into the way of life God desires for God's people. It is the Hebrew ABC's of God's law, used to teach children. The great Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann writes that this psalm "affirms that the biblical tradition is an adequate, reliable guide to the pilgrimage of human life." Elsewhere he wrote "The commandments [of God] liberate and give people space in which to be human. . . . [they are] a starting point, a launching pad from which to mount an ongoing conversation with God through daily experience."
[Psalms 119 excerpt]
The ABC's of the good life? Sounds like a good idea for a baptismal Sunday. So, for Sebastian and all our children and really for every one of us, since we are all children of God still learning, here are your ABC's.
Adventure awaits the one who enters upon the way of God. For the Christian life is a life of action.
We are born by a mothering God and born again into new life when we enter upon the way of Jesus. This journey is a process of becoming, not of being—for who we are is not established already in some essence. We are responsible for creating ourselves by the choices we make, the lives we lead, the actions we perform.
We are all beautiful, sharing in the goodness and the glory and the love of God. And beauty is what we aspire to—a more beautiful world where everyone and everything lives in harmony and abundance. A world of blessing.
God calls us out of our complacency and self-centeredness into a life of communion—communion with creation, with other people, and with God. Communion requires commitment and courage.
Speaking of creation, behold the wonders of nature—the stars and the planets, the intricacies of living molecules, the complexities of the atom. Creation declares the glory of God. And, we are created with minds able to grasp and understand the cosmos. We share with God the power of co-creators using our own imaginations and abilities to fashion a new and better world.
Remember that change and novelty are the way of the universe, for God has declared, "Behold, I am making all things new."
Which should inspire your delight and your desire. Make it your discipline each and every day to delight in the world and the people around you, in the food you eat, the songs you hear, the beauty you behold.
God invites us to desire, wish, and dream as well. What will make you fully alive? What will the glory of God radiating in you and through you look like?
What God desires for all creation is an ecstatic fellowship, participating in the ecstatic fellowship that is God. As our Reformed tradition teaches, the chief end of humanity is to glorify God, and to enjoy God forever. Enjoyment is creation's end; its purpose and goal. Enjoyment is the meaning of your life.
Which should free you. Free you from all the burdens and sins that would constrain you. Free you to form genuine relationships, to create the family of your own choosing, the family who supports and encourages you. The family who will remain faithful to you as you remain faithful to them. And don't forget that friendship is the greatest good.
To be a good friend, to maintain the fellowship and fidelity of family, will require faith and forgiveness. The world makes it easy to become a cynic, a skeptic, a pessimist. Faith trusts that everything will turn out well, that your relationships can be healed when broken, that the world can and will become a better place. Faith in action includes forgiveness. Forgiveness is essential to the good life—forgiving yourself and letting go of shame and guilt, accepting forgiveness when offered to you, and being the first to offer forgiveness to other people.
"The glory of God is a humanity fully alive," as St. Irenaeus taught. Your life is a gift that God has already declared to be very good. In order to retain that goodness and gain the glory, then learn to be grateful, generous, and gracious.
And be humble, for you aren't the center of the universe and you don't know everything.
Human life is impossible without hope. Remember that every moment in life has an infinite number of possible futures. You are never permanently trapped by the way things currently are. Learn the lesson that Christians are the eternal beginners.
Use your imagination to gain insight and inspiration as to what the future might become.
And remember that God's love is always an inclusive love. If you hear anyone teaching that God excludes people for this or that reason, you'll know immediately that that person does not speak for God.
Our God is a just God. Your work, therefore, is the work of justice—helping the oppressed, the poor, the disenfranchised. For where you find those people is where you will find God at work in our world.
The work of justice can be difficult to sustain, for the work takes time and effort and there are many setbacks and defeats. Therefore, you'll need some joy in your life. One of my personal favourite names for God is contained within the hymn "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee." That name is "Wellspring of the Joy of Being." God is Joy, so if you follow your joy, there you will discover God as well.
Kindness is almost always the answer to every difficult situation. Kindness is the smallest and gentlest form of love, and love is the greatest power in the universe for God is love.
Stand in awe of the mysteries. Theologian Mary Grey, in her book Introducing Feminist Images of God, writes, "the very inexhaustibility of [the divine] mystery admits the possibility of new imagery, new naming, fresh and startling experiences of the divine." For, according to Grey, God is always the "God of Surprises."
Which resonates with one of the core teachings of our faith tradition in the United Church of Christ, a teaching passed along by John Robinson, pastor to our Pilgrim ancestors, "there is yet more light and truth to break forth out of [God's] holy word."
Love your neighbor as yourself, especially when that neighbor is very different from yourself.
Be open. "Open doors to conversation. Invite people in. Invite light in. Open doors within yourself. Think about the big picture. Be open to possibilities. Welcome new ideas. Push the envelope. Grow. And keep growing." For we are a pilgrim and pioneer people.
And keep your priorities straight, particularly Peace.
Don't get lost on some quixotic quest for wealth or success or personal ambition.
As you can see, the Christian life isn't about rules. This adventurous life is about being a radical follower of Jesus.
Repent if you wander off of the way of God. Turn around and head again in the right direction.
Sing songs and tell stories. For songs will lift your spirits and stories will tell you who you are and what to do.
Don't be selfishness. Instead, live a life of service, in solidarity with those who need your help.
Learn to trust and be trustworthy.
And spend as much time as you can watching trees.
God loves you unconditionally, which means you'll always be welcomed back home, no matter what you do or how often you stray from these teachings.
Be bold with your visions and consistent with the virtues.
Acquiring wisdom takes a lifetime of effort and failure but wisdom begins quite simply in our childlike wonder at the world around us.
So, if you've listened to what I've said, I've described the way of excellence. We will do our best to train you in this way, but it is ultimately your choice. Remember, we love you, God loves you.
With zest I invite you: the adventure begins.