Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cosmos, Commands and Cleansing

Psalm 19 is all about the great and wonderful gifts of God; many of us take them for granted.  Israel’s poet, King David pulls out the shopping list of these gifts and holds them up as a prayer of praise and adoration to Yahweh.  It’s a wonderfully appropriate prayer for us; today we can bring this prayer to the table to offer our thanks.  It’s first, a prayer of thanks for
His Cosmos; a sermon without words
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.    2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.  3 There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; 4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.  In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, 5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy.  6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and nothing is hid from its heat.   Psalm 19:1-6  (NRSV)
God’s world is awesome.  If asked, there wouldn’t be many of us who couldn’t tell of some time when raw nature gave us a powerful and lasting memory.  I am always moved by mountain scenes.  I’ve stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon and Victoria Falls in Africa.  This magnificent world is, in the words of Eugene Peterson, God’s glory…on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.  (TMSG)
This world is a sermon of God’s majesty, this cosmos.  Without speaking a word that we can hear, God broadcasts to every living thing, that every living thing outside of God is not God!  We do well to remember frequently that only God is God!
We humans tend to congratulate ourselves for our phenomenal wisdom and sophistication every time a new version of Windows, or a more powerful Mac tablet hits the market.  But we’re confused at best, because it’s God who is the Creator – we are the creatures.  We mess around with, and rearrange HIS creation – often badly – but it is God who established everything we see.  King David also wrote these words – from everlasting to everlasting THOU art God! (Psalm 90:2).  I would have added….and not me!
Our prayer of thanksgiving begins with the cosmos – God’s universe, a sermon without words.  And then we also give thanks for…
His Commands; words with life
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
the decrees of the LORD are sure, making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.  
10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.  11 Moreover by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.      Psalm 19:7-11  (NRSV)
Often people want to debate that God’s Word is just a bunch of “rules” that oppress certain groups.  But that is the blind side of human beings.  By nature we all have a rebellious side; nobody enjoys having to follow rules.  To be sure, even a lot of Christian believers want to know just how little they can believe and behave, yet still qualify for the train to heaven.
But, if you view God’s Word rightly, you can see that it is really a lamp for your pathway through God’s world – a light that shows us how to find real joy.  His commands are words that lead to life!
Jesus said that his words were truth, life and the way to the Father; anyone who would come near to Jesus and trust him as the guide through this life, would not only find heaven, but know deep down inside that they really belong with God.
So we come to the table giving thanks for God’s cosmos – a sermon without words, God’s commands – words that lead to life, and…
Our Cleansing; God’s forgiveness for what truly ails us
12 But who can detect their errors?  Clear me from hidden faults.  13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me.  Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.  14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.   Psalm 19:12-14  (NRSV)
“Clear me from hidden faults” is what God’s supper table is all about.  At this table is cleansing – not just the outward washing that may be necessary when you roll around in the mud; it’s the inward cleansing of your heart, your life…that part of you we call the soul.
Now, the bread and cup are not like some automated “scrubbing bubbles” that cleans your heart like a porcelain bathtub.  We don’t pour it in and feel it effervescing inside as the sins melt away.
Rather it is like the mortar that binds us to Christ in faith.  And Christ is the brick mason; he is the only one who can do this job.  When you come to faith in what Christ has done for you on the cross, Jesus takes your life and builds your relationship with the Father.
The prophet Isaiah wrote that all of our righteousness – all our attempts at taking over this business of cleansing our sins – is like claiming you’re wearing a new outfit, when, in fact, you’re wearing torn and filthy rags.   (Isaiah 64:6)
King David’s life fell apart.  He was the most powerful man in the world and was loved by both God and humans.  But he had this secret; he’d gone against God’s design for his life and his sin was really bad – first degree!  He tried to cover it up by plotting an innocent man’s death; he even had other people carry it out.  The thing was somewhat hidden from humans, but God saw it like an HD movie on a 75-inch plasma screen TV.  David had it together on the outside.  But the outside was like makeup on dark circles, or a band-aid on cancer; on the inside David was coming unglued.  And he knew it – just like you and I know it when we’ve sinned against God.
What did David do?  He ran to God with confession on his lips.  Listen to how David recorded it in his diary.  He wrote it down, and later we labeled it Psalm 51.  Hear how it sounds in today’s language when a king repents; listen to David getting honest with God:
1Generous in love—God, give grace!  Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.  2Scrub away my guilt, soak out my sins in your laundry.  3I know how bad I’ve been; my sins are staring me down.  4You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen it all, seen the full extent of my evil.  You have all the facts before you; whatever you decide about me is fair.  5I’ve been out of step with you for a long time, in the wrong since before I was born.  6What you’re after is truth from the inside out.  Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.
7Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.  8Tune me in to foot-tapping songs, set these once-broken bones to dancing.  9Don’t look too close for blemishes, give me a clean bill of health.  10God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
11Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me.  12Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails! (1)
When David got honest with God, God came – and then, there was cleansing.  That’s what God is like – and you don’t have to be a king.  You don’t have to speak a special language – you do have to pour out your heart to Him!
So do that; and then come to the table.  Let God do what God does; he’ll cement your life and His together.  In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

(1) Eugene Peterson, The Message

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