Sunday, January 30, 2011

Holy Lists, Batman!

Psalm 15

Sermon Preached on January 30 in the Center Moreland Charge.

This past week, my son and I went grocery shopping. Over the years, Donna and I discovered a couple of truths about grocery shopping that I am trying to pass down, now—First of all, never go when you are hungry! You end up always buying more than you need, and you’ll also have more foods of the kind you really don’t want around the house. Kettle Cooked barbeque potato chips, you know, stuff like that.

The second lesson that Donna and I learned together is that it’s a better idea to shop with a list, and that you don’t deviate from it. It helps the budget, and keeps the pantry properly filled with the stuff you actually use.

It was a lesson lost this week, however, when I cleaned the car out of a number of scraps of paper, carried them into the grocery store to toss into the big trash can outside the front door. The grocery list was probably one of those scraps, because we did not have the list.

I tell you all this stuff about domestic practice and doctrine because it was a grocery list that I thought of when I read Psalm 15 this week. Interestingly, two other lectionary scriptures this week, the Hebrew Bible passage from the prophet Micah, and the Gospel passage, the first 12 verses of the Gospel of Matthew, are also lists!

In reading commentaries, there were other lists, mentioned as well, such as one in Jeremiah, verses 5-7 in the seventh chapter.

Many many lists. All of them are ways given by the authors to those whom hear them for the guidance of the people of God. Now, some would say that no lists are needed, that a declaration of faith in Christ is totally sufficient for salvation.

Perhaps. But if one has genuinely consciously declared a faith in Christ, and you have responded to the leading Grace that I spoke of last week, then one genuinely begins to want to live a more righteous life—not self-righteous, as if you know more than others; but a life of genuine righteousness, humility and grace. And it’s hard to find examples of a genuinely righteous, humble and graceful life, especially when it naturally doesn’t call attention to itself.

Thus the value of lists of righteous behavior in Scripture. Good thing God thought of this, eh?

Psalm 15 speaks of who may abide in God’s tent. The ones who get to “live a blameless life, do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart.” Thankfully, they get a little more specific, when they say that the ones who live on the Lord’s holy hill “do not slander with their tongue, do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach to their neighbors.” Now, that little bit makes more sense if you read it in the New International Version, where it says “who does his neighbor no wrong, and casts no slur on his fellowman”.

There are a couple of other things about lending money and standing by your word even when it’s going to hurt, as well.

The list Micah gives is much shorter, and is preceded by God reminding God’s people about all he’s given them, and asking for so little in return; not worship, not burnt offerings, not even “ten thousand rivers of oil.” But simply to do justice, love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God”. The commentary from the Jewish Study Bible goes even a step further and says that that last line should probably read “walk ‘wisely’ with your God.”

Humble, modest, wise, are all equated as similar, and positive in this passage.

Jeremiah, one of the lists that I was led to by commentators, is a more specific list, but still helpful. It is Jeremiah the prophet speaking to Israel at the time of the return of the Jews to Israel after having been released by the King of Persia. “if you mend your ways and your actions, if you execute between one man and another, if you do not oppress the stranger, the orphan, and the widow; if you do not shed the blood of the innocent, and if you do not follow other Gods, even to your own hurt. . . I will let you dwell in the land I gave to your fathers.”

Are you starting to get the gist of how the various authors of the Bible, spread out over about 2000 years, have a similar idea of how we can be led to respond to the righteous impulse?

In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of certain values as more advantageous. Tell me if you have heard these positive attitudes named before-that the blessed are humble, meek, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, are willing to be persecuted in order to live this kind of life, (which sounds a lot like being steadfast “to your own hurt”, a phrase that both Jeremiah and Psalm 15 use).

Now, as Christians, it is absolutely true that we do not believe we need to do such things in order to become justified by faith. When I say “justified”, Christian doctrine means that our sins have been lifted from us. But lists like these help us to respond in gratitude to the grace of God lifting away from us the mistakes we’ve made, and interestingly enough, they also end up helping us avoid them in the future.

So, to live a life of gratitude in response to the grace of God given to us freely throughout our life, we learn from Scripture that . . .
• humility,
• mercy,
• kindness to the stranger and the widow and the orphan (or really anyone whom society has placed at a disadvantage because of their race, religion, immigration status, weight, mental health, learning disability, or anything else),
• speaking kindly and without any malice or gossip about your friends and neighbors,
• seeking justice,
• peacemaking,
• the courage to live this kind of life “to your own hurt”

. . . is a pretty good list to start with.

At one time, I was never a big list guy. Donna was, and I used to mock her (gently) for reaching out for order. But as I have matured, I have realized that they have their uses, especially in the day to day chaos of a modern life. They are useful, and lists like these, guidance for how to live a graceful life in gratitude and response to the gifts God has given us in Jesus, become something more than useful.

They become Holy. They become the voice and guiding hand and heart of God.

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