Beautiful LawPosted: March 8, 2015
SLIDE 3: GOD’S GLORY IN THE SKY
This third Sunday of Lent our lectionary lesson comes from Psalm 19, a song of David:
19 1-2 God’s glory is on display in the skies,
God’s creations are on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning,
Professor Night lectures each evening.
3-4 Their words aren’t heard,
their voices aren’t recorded,
But their silence fills the earth:
unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.
SLIDE 4: THE VALUE OF THE STARS
Barbara Brown Taylor in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark suggests we are losing the wisdom “Madame Day” and “Professor Night” can teach us, because of light pollution. When we can no longer see the stars we lose an important perspective on our place in the universe.
“Anyone in need of a tutorial on the cost of too much light does not have far to look. Every time a new gas station goes up on an old country road, the lights designed to attract sleepy motorists kill another layer of stars. Why does it matter? . . . because the Milky way. . . is now invisible to two-thirds of those living in the United States. . . . (When you really get lost in the Milky Way) you risk wondering things that will make you dizzy for days. Where does that path of stars lead? Where does the cosmos end? What lies beyond it, and who are you to wonder about such things? If you are ever in doubt about your place in the universe, this is a good way to remember.
SLIDE 5: LIVING CLOSE TO NATURE
The people who wrote and sang the Psalms lived much closer to the earth and the sky than we modern humans, who spend so much of our time in our climate controlled buildings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to give up central heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, but because we no longer experience ourselves as part of the natural world, we miss out on important connections to the experience of the divine.
SLIDE 6: DIVINE TRUTH NOT FOUND IN BOOKS
“Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening. Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded, but their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.” The divine truth is not to be found in books, or on the internet, or on our iphones, or in a text message, but in the silence of standing beneath a starry sky, sensing the changes of the seasons and the phases of the moon. Occasionally we experience a snow fall that brings our normal activities to a grinding halt. The snow apocalypse of 2015. A hurricane or a tornado causes us to pause before its awesome power. As a matter of fact the last time I saw the Milky Way in Huntsville was after the great outbreak of tornadoes in 2011 almost four years ago, when we lost power and there was a crystal clear night with no light pollution.
SLIDE 7: JESUS SPENT TIME IN NATURE
We can all benefit by spending time in nature, feeling ourselves as part of our natural world. As I have pointed out several times in the last two months, Jesus spent a lot of time alone in deserted places with trees, mountains and wilderness. He experienced himself as part of God’s creation, and so connected with the divine.
SLIDE 8: SPIRITUAL AGGRESSION
I want to take special care in approaching verses 7 through 11 of our Psalm for many people who like to use scripture as a weapon will fall back on these verses to justify their spiritual aggression:
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever; the ordinances of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
SLIDE 8 A: SELMA BILL BOARD
Just this weekend we had another example of Spiritual Aggression in Selma. As people were gathering to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge that became “Bloody Sunday,” they were greeted by a bill board erected by a local Klu Klux Klan activist.
It was a picture of the Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who became the founder of the Klu Klux Klan with the caption “Keep the Skeer in ‘em.” Racism is still with us and represents abusive spiritual aggression.
SLIDE 9: DISARMING SCRIPTURE
Malcolm Clark gave me a book with the intriguing title, Disarming Scripture. Those who claim that a literal reading of scripture is the absolute truth use phrases like, “the law of the Lord is perfect . . . the commandment of the Lord is pure,” as weapons against anyone who does not agree with their reading of the scripture. Therefore they maintain that all of the commandments in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, must be kept, except of course those “laws” they don’t happen to like such as the prohibitions against eating bacon, pork ribs, lobster, shrimp, and catfish.
SLIDE 10: STILL SPEAKING CAMPAIGN
One of the best disarmament plans for scripture ever devised was the United Church of Christ “Still Speaking Campaign.” If God is still speaking then the law of the Lord changes and evolves like the rest of creation. We are not stuck with a literal reading of scripture as our spiritual authority.
SLIDE 11: LAWS OF NATURE APPLY EQUALLY
Another way of approaching phrases like “the law of the Lord,” and “the precepts of the Lord,” is to note that the Psalm is not so much referring to scripture as the laws of nature we learn by studying science. So far as we know the Law of Gravity applies to everyone in every circumstance equally. So far as we know the Laws of Thermodynamics apply throughout the universe regardless of your race, color, gender, socio-economic class or ethnic or sexual identity. As Jesus pointed out God makes the sun to shine on the evil and the good. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. We all die, no exceptions.
SLIDE 12: GOD’S REVELATION IS WHOLE
Maybe a different translation of these verses can help put them into perspective:
“The revelation of GOD is whole and pulls our lives together. The signposts of GOD are clear and point out the right road. The life-maps of GOD are wise, showing the way to joy. The directions of GOD are plain and easy to see once we open our eyes. GOD’s way is sure.”
God is not interested in a whole long list of do’s and don’ts. God wants us to wake up, open our lives and learn from life around us and from our mistakes. God wants us to connect with nature and so form a relationship with God’s creation. God invites us into a life of prayer, that we might wake up and connect with the divine.
SLIDE 13: WARNS OF DANGER DIRECTS US TO HIDDEN TREASURE
I think an alternative translation of verses 11 – 14 can also help us to appreciate the great wisdom of this Psalm and its appropriateness for Lent.
There’s more: God’s Word revealed all around us warns us of danger and directs us to hidden treasure. Otherwise how will we find our way? Or know when we play the fool?
Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh! Keep me from stupid sins, from thinking I can take over your work; then I can start this day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.
These are the words of my mouth; and the meditations of my heart. I pray they be acceptable to you O God.
SLIDE 14: DISCERNING GOD IN THE EVENTS OF THE WORLD
The revelations of God warn us of danger and direct us to hidden treasure. If we are fully awake and in the present moment the Psalmist says, that we will be able to read and understand the movements of God through the events of the world. There is a Jesus story that addresses this issue of being able to discern what God is up to in the world.
Some Jesus’ rivals were after him again, pressing him to prove himself by giving them a sign from heaven. He told them, “You have a saying that goes, ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.’ You find it easy enough to forecast the weather—why can’t you read the signs of the times?”
SLIDE 15: PLAYING THE FOOL
The Psalmist also warns that when we fail to wake up to what is going on around us, we will miss what is right in front of our noses, and we are liable to play the fool. So the Psalmist asks God to clean the slate. Every day is a new day to start over, if we are willing to confess what we have done wrong and turn away from our stupid sins. The Psalmist suggests that our greatest foolishness is to think we can take over God’s work, and replace God with self. Confession is a step toward humility — learning to be content with who we are ourselves, so we do not have to play God. Lent is a time, when we are encouraged to make confession and turn away from sin. Repent and turn to walk with God.
SLIDE 16: EACH DAY IS A NEW DAY TO START OVER
Each day is a new day, a gift, to start over again scrubbed and clean, so that this day need not be like the other past. Today, we can start over by thanking God the moment we wake up and then turning to walk with God. And if we seek the Lord, while she may be found, God will walk with us and guide our steps in the way of Jesus. May the words of our mouths; and the meditations of my hearts be acceptable to you O God.