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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sacrifice the Body (Romans 12.1-13)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; September 24, 2017 - Romans 12:1-13

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Oh, How Good it Is (Getty/Townend)
Lord, Whose Love through Humble Service (Bayly/White; arr. Austell)
CHOIR: Many Gifts, One Spirit (Pote)
Take My Life/Here Am I (Tomlin)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

We are continuing today in the “Body” series, looking at the New Testament description of the church as the “Body of Christ.” Today there is a focus on the varying gifts and functions found within the body, which all work together for God’s purposes. It is a fitting passage as we ordain and install elders and deacons, but also a reminder that EACH of you who trust in Christ are part of His body. Each of you has a place and a purpose and a spiritual gifting from God. If you are doubtful of that or fuzzy on where you fit in, I hope that you will leave here today with clarity and calling as fellow members of this Body.

Sacrifice the Body (how and why) (vv. 1-3)

This passage starts with the overarching theme for the chapter. It is also where I got the title for this sermon: “Sacrifice the Body.” And by that I don’t mean abuse or damage your physical bodies. Rather, the first verse uses ‘body’ to represent our whole selves (and the passage will expand into talking about mind, body, and spirit in service to God). But it’s the image I want to focus on. In verse one, Paul urges us “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” What is a “living and holy sacrifice that is acceptable to God? Psalm 51 says that the sacrifices God desires are “a broken and contrite heart and spirit” – that is, a heart yielded to God. What does it mean to say “spiritual service of worship?” It means that yielding oneself if in this way is not just a physical or mental act, but an act of our SPIRIT and an act of worship.

The rest of the passage is going to answer HOW and WHY to give ourselves to God’s service and worship, and all that will lead to specific examples and illustrations to help us flesh out this theme.

HOW – Verse 2 speaks of the MIND, urging us to not be “conformed to this world,” but “transformed by the renewing of the mind.” CONFORMED is to mold to the shape of something else, like when you pour batter into a pan, it conforms to the shape of the pan. And the warning here is to not conform to the world – that is, the way of thinking in this world apart from God. Now I often remind you that Jesus prayed that we would not remove ourselves from this world, but enter into it. But he also prayed this same thing, that we would not so over-identify with the world that we become “of the world.” Paul is saying the same thing here. Keep your distinctiveness in Christ; don’t become indistinguishable from the world around us. Don’t absorb it’s values and priorities over those of God. He also highlights the need to have our minds TRANSFORMED – that is, changed. We are born into this world and grow up in it, after all. So, the natural thing, the default thing, would be to be conformed or shaped by and into it. So, God must change our minds, turn us around, re-shape and make us.

WHY – And that’s just the conclusion Paul makes: when this happens, we prove (or demonstrate) what God wants for human beings. We become distinct (another word for ‘holy’), not out of, but still IN the world God loves. This is God’s “good and acceptable and perfect” will. (v. 2)

Next, in verse 3, Paul cautions us not to think too highly of ourselves, but to think in a different way. This is, perhaps an example of conformed thinking vs. transformed thinking. Don’t compare and rate yourselves against those around you, but think with “sound judgment” – the kind God grants when we look to Him in faith. And what we will find – and Jesus certainly taught this – is that this kind of “sound judgment” thinking thinks first of others, of neighbors, of how to serve and love. And illustrating that kind of thinking which leads to doing is where Paul heads next.

Gifts are for Gifting (vv. 4-8)

Starting in verse 4, Paul starts talking about the “Body of Christ” and turns to that theme we looked at last week: that we represent the wide variety, function, and relationships found among the many parts of a body, but we are also part of one Body, in Christ. That relates us not only to Christ, but to each other and to the world as Christ relates to the world.

What follows is a list of examples of the kinds of gifts and functions found in this Body of Christ. It is not exhaustive, but is illustrative. Besides listing and illustrating, Paul also makes the clear point that these gifts are not for hoarding or hiding, but for exercising and using. These gifts are for gifting!  And so, the list, with a few definitions where they might be needed:

  • Prophecy - declaring the Word of God for a given audience; it is preaching, rightly understood.
  • Service
  • Teaching
  • Exhortation - challenging or encouraging someone or a group to believe or do something
  • Giving
  • Leading
  • Showing mercy
Now you may have noticed that some of those gifts and functions also have other descriptors or qualifiers. Again, this list is not exhaustive, nor do I believe that the added descriptions are limited to a particular gift. So drawing from the various additional descriptions I’ll characterize the whole list in three ways.

First, each of us is “to exercise [these gifts]” (v. 6a). These are all gifts for gifting. To keep with the body metaphor, if you are an eye, then open your eyes; if you are an ear, don’t wear ear plugs. If you have these gifts, God intends them to be used.

Secondly, notice the qualifier after prophecy: “according to the proportion of his faith.” Preaching or prophecy is not to be undertaken casually or without mature faith. That was, in fact, one of problems in several of the early churches that Paul kept having to address. But it is true of using gifts in general. They should be used in proportion to one’s faith and maturity. One does not put an immature or new believer in a high leadership position, but helps them have smaller leadership opportunities as that gift grows, with appropriate accountability and oversight until they are ready to lead.

Finally, there are some extra descriptions given toward the of the list. While these do pair particularly with their gift (e.g. giving with liberality, leading with diligence, showing mercy with cheerfulness), the larger application is that our gifts are not JUST human skills, but human skills shaped by godly qualities. We don’t just give grudgingly or sparingly, but are urged to give generously. We don’t just show mercy with anger or disdain, but are urged to do so with cheerfulness and joy. Similarly, anything on that list can and should take on a godly shape, perhaps teaching with kindness or with gentleness. Or exhorting with truthfulness and love.

Right? So especially with Paul’s style of writing (he likes to make lists), it is important to remember he isn’t saying these are the only gifts and the only way of leading is diligent leading. Rather, look for the broader point: exercise gifts, do so wisely in proportion to maturity and faith, and do so with godly character.

Four To Do’s (with many examples) (vv. 9-13)

Paul follows that list of more specific gifts with several more general ones that certainly are available to every person. So these are not gifts or skills, but back to tangible examples of what it looks like to offer ourselves fully and sacrificially to God. There are four – again, not exhaustive, but plenty to sink our mind, body, and spirits into:

“Let love be without hypocrisy”
(v. 9a) – Let love be true. Jesus affirmed the greatest commandment as “loving God and loving others” with all we’ve got. True love is other-focused; true love is not two-faced; true love is what God has shown us and invited in our own lives. In the context of this chapter, love recognizes the value and dignity of every part of the Body of Christ, which in turn is oriented face-outward toward the world God loves.

“Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good”
(v. 9b) – This seems like a no-brainer, but of course Paul would be the first to confess that sometimes we do the things we do not want to do. But that’s the beauty and the invitation of the Gospel: even when we’ve turned away, God invites us back again. So I read this as the ongoing invitation to repentance and grace. Today, again, turn from sin, evil, disobedience, indifference; turn to God. Cling to God; cherish God’s mercy and grace.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love”
(v. 10) – It probably is enough to say “love each other.” But devotion adds something. Devotion is a worship word and, remember, all this is framed in that first verse of offering ourselves as a sacrifice and offering to the Lord as an act of worship. That’s what devotion is. So the relationships within the Body (and really outward to the world) are brought into that original context of life as worship, or as Psalm 51 says, “a living offering” to God. Though it’s more, we often think of love as a feeling, but “devotion” reminds us that it is an action, a choice, and a commitment.

“Give preference to one another in honor” (v. 10) – And we end with what is perhaps the most relational command: “give preference to one another.” This is what Jesus modeled for “how to be great” and “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” One of the greatest gifts in community is to serve one another in love. That’s what God modeled for us in Christ. And as if Paul hadn’t already given us enough examples and specifics, he ends with eight examples of how we give preference to one another in honor. I’ll simply read this without further comment or explanation. They are self-explanatory:

1.    Not lagging behind in diligence
2.    Fervent in spirit
3.    Serving the Lord
4.    Rejoicing in hope
5.    Persevering in tribulation
6.    Devoted to prayer
7.    Contributing to the needs of the saints
8.    Practicing hospitality

One Body, Many Parts

When we hear teaching about being part of the Body of Christ, I think many struggle to identify gifts or roles or purpose. It’s easy enough to say some are teachers or evangelists or help others, but I’m not sure what I contribute.

As we conclude, consider all that Paul covered in this relatively short passage. 

Every one of us called to offer ourselves to God as an act of worship. 
Gifts and Talents are for: 1) using; 2) using wisely; 3) using in a godly way 
Together, we are all are called to love and serve God, each other, and the world 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes (1 Corinthians 12.12-27)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; September 17, 2017 - 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Come, Christians, Join to Sing (MADRID)
Every Praise (Hezekiah Walker)
You are Mine (arr. Hayes) - worship choir
Oh, How Good it Is (Getty/Townend)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today we are starting a new series for the fall. It’s simply called “The Body.” That is a reference to one of the metaphors used many times in scripture to describe the Church. Over the coming weeks we will be looking at a number of those passages and the way that the human body illustrates and helps us understand how we relate to Jesus and each other. Today we are looking at Corinthians, a letter by the Apostle Paul to the early church in Corinth. That group had its issues (but who doesn’t?!) In particular, different spiritual gifts in the church were being ranked above others, and in general there was a “look at me” kind of attitude that distracted from worship of God and damaged relationships within the church. And so Paul wrote to his beloved fellow-believers to call them to a unity of spirit – unity of THE Spirit, that God would be worshiped and people would care for each other. Now, I’m not saying we have that Corinthian problem, but any church – ours included – will be blessed by growing in the worship of God and the care of people. In fact, that sounds a lot like the Great Commandment, doesn’t it? Love God; love others. So, in today’s text, Paul talks a little theology, but mainly offers this extended analogy of the church being one body with Christ. And it’s something I encourage you to take to heart.

One in Christ (vv.12-13)

Paul sets out what he has to say in verse 12: “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” Now he’s going to break that down and explore the implications of that shortly, but there is what he’s trying to say in a nutshell. The church is ONE body with Christ.

Now that’s already an analogy, because he starts it out with “even as” – just like the body, so is our spiritual reality. But before he really dives into the metaphor, he offers the theology behind what he’s saying: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (v.13) The church is not supposed to be a ranked or caste system of insiders and outsiders, but one of equal and full participation in what God is doing. This particular verse conjures up the separate water fountains of the 60s; but God has a different plan, with different nationalities and socio-economic statuses in the same line for the same outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit.

And while the issue in Corinth was manifestly about gifting and role in church, no doubt there were ethnic and cultural divisions underlying and, perhaps, emphasizing the presenting issues around spiritual gifts as well.

But I will be the first to admit – even as a theologian – that hearing that you and I are “baptized into one body and made to drink of one Spirit” makes me think unity, but doesn’t really explain to me why that unity is good or how it works. So, with my appreciation, Paul turns to this analogy of the body.

Illustration #1: the body (vv. 14-24)

He really takes his time with this, in verses 14-24 (and beyond), and walks us through the theology by using the analogy. And I would divide the illustration into two parts. In the first, he illustrates the benefit of one body having many parts. In the second part he addresses the tendency to think some parts are more important or “honorable” than others.

So, for the first part, in verses 14-19, he sets the body parts to talking. You can almost connect the dots: maybe these were actual statements from members of the Corinthian church. So he imagines a foot saying, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body.” We know that’s ridiculous, right? Obviously, a foot is still a part of the body! And he repeats it with an ear also wondering if it doesn’t belong since it is not an eye. That’s the benefit of the analogy: we hear the ridiculousness that we otherwise miss. “Well, I’m not in the choir… [actually, let me be even more pointed]… I don’t really like to sing, I don’t really belong in this very musical church.” Or, “I’m new and don’t know a lot of people; I don’t really belong yet.” Paul’s claim is even stronger than “Yes, you do belong at Good Shepherd” it’s “You are part of the one Body of Jesus Christ and you are every much a part of that Body as the person singing at the microphone or as one of our elders, or anyone else here.”

That point flows naturally into the second: we tend to have a false tendency to elevate some roles over others. So perhaps we think the people in front of microphones are more important than people sitting in the back row. Or those who are highly visible matter more than those who are not. And Paul addresses that in verses 22-24, saying that all the parts are necessary, and those which are deemed weaker or less honorable are worthy of appreciation. So this is not talking about function. There are only a handful of people that can run the sound board. It does not mean that putting little Millie on the sound board is what we need to do. It is talking about belonging to Christ. My standing at the pulpit or your sitting in your “regular spot” or running the sound board with skill or reaching out to the community in the garden do not give higher or lower standing with Jesus. Those are all different functions like an eye seeing or a hand squeezing or a liver purifying the system. But each of you – EACH OF YOU – belong to Christ simply because he loves you and you trust him.

In between those two points of the body having many parts and those parts belonging to the one body, Paul makes two other applications within the analogy. In verses 17-19, he asks, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?” His point? We would not be complete with a whole church of sound booth operators, or seminary-trained preachers (yikes!), or 30 year-old white men. A body is made of many parts/members; that’s how God has desired and designed it (v.18) and that’s what a body is (v.19). And so, application two: don’t dare say to a member of the body, “I have no need of you.” That’s hurtful, harmful, and it’s a lie.

Other Illustrations

Let me break out of the analogy altogether (so avoiding using ‘body’ language) and try to state the points Paul is trying to make:

1.    The church is made up of a diverse set of people
2.    That amazingly diverse group of people make up one people belonging to God
3.    With God’s people, there is no place of honor, except perhaps to raise up the least among us
4.    To the extent that we push out or restrict the full breadth of God’s people, we distort and reduce the image of God that we bear

I’d like to offer briefly two other analogies for God’s people to see if we can hear these points more clearly and freshly. I went to the Butler-Providence game this past Friday night, so these two analogies are fresh on my mind.

Pep Band

So both schools had their bands there. Bands play at key times throughout the game, to celebrate what is happening on the field or to encourage the team and fans audibly. They are a part of the whole school there, which included team, students, cheerleaders, fans, band, guard, and more. But let’s focus on them for a minute. Let’s run our four points with the band.

1.    A band is made up of a diverse set of instruments.
2.    That diverse set of instruments also made up one band – as opposed to sitting randomly in the stands with a trumpet and playing whenever you wanted.
3.    We may be inclined to have favorites – oh, I love the drumline (after all, my kid is there) or the brass. We may be inclined to discount the flutes; who can even hear them? But they all play a role, sometimes seen and heard, sometimes not. In fact, during one song on Friday, the band was dancing and the flutes were dancing the best, perhaps because they didn’t have to also hold 40 pounds of brass on their shoulder while dancing.
4.    What if we played to our favorites – let’s just get rid of flutes and clarinets and maybe a few other things. While there are such things as a brass band, at that game, it would have reduced what having a pep band is for. We needed them all!

Sports Team

And of course there was a game going on as well. Think about the football team. Who comes to mind? The quarterback? The linemen? The kicker? The head coach? Other coaches? The assistants or medical staff? They all play a vital role for the whole.

1.    A team is made up of a diverse set of people and roles (not all of which even step onto the field itself!)
2.    That diverse set of individuals make up one team, especially as they work together towards one purpose.
3.    We may be inclined to have favorites – either because you know someone in one of those roles (when our team played against Myers Park last year, we found ourselves cheering for their kicker, because “we know him!”) or because we tend to think of certain roles as more important. Certainly some roles are more visible than others, but ask any coach or player… the effectiveness of the whole depends on EVERY person doing their role well. This past Friday, the game was more determined by extra point kickers and by sportsmanship decisions than by the QBs. Every role important!
4.    And what if we just had a few positions playing? Just two kickers squaring off, or two linemen without a ball? or two coaches without a team? It might be curiously interesting for a moment, but it wouldn’t be football.

God’s Purpose: Unity and Care (vv. 24b-27)

So, back to the church. Hopefully you’ve heard Paul well by this time. Because of and through Jesus, you are all part of this people of God. And God both desires and designed the many different ways we go together. Paul ends our text today by talking about the purpose behind God’s design. Listen: “But God has so composed the body… so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” (vv. 24b-25) God’s purpose is two-fold: unity and care. It’s the two “so that’s” you just heard. It is so that there may be no division… that’s UNITY. And it is so that you may CARE for one another. He elaborates on the care. Because we are one, “if one member suffers, all the members suffer… if one is honored, all rejoice.” (v. 26)

So whether or not our issues line up with those of Corinth, what God desires and has designed for us is the same: that we would know unity in Christ and that we would suffer and rejoice with each other. That’s a healthy body; that’s an exciting pep band; that’s an effective team!

In the coming weeks we are going to look at several other significant texts which also deal with the Body of Christ. I invite you to come back and go deep, for you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. Amen.

Monday, September 11, 2017

==PSALM+1 (2017)==

Psalm+1 (Summer 2017)
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church
June 4 - September 10, 2017

A look at some of the songs of God’s people and their connections with the Gospel of Jesus.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Living Word of God (Psalm 119, Matthew 5.17-19)

 Sermon by: Robert Austell; September 10, 2017 - Psalm 119; Matthew 5:17-19

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Wonderful Words of Life (arr. Austell)
Good, Good Father (Tomlin)
Everlasting God (Brown)
Come, Thou Fount (NETTLETON)
Show Us Christ (arr. Grassi) - worship choir, benediction
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today we are going to look at Psalm 119, which is a very special Psalm focused on the Law or Word of God. Why do I say it’s special? There are several reasons. With 176 verses, it is the longest chapter in the Bible. And almost every one of those 176 verses refers to one of eight words (synonyms) for God’s Word: including Law, statues, testimonies, word, judgments, precepts, ordinances, and commandments.

On top of that, it is an ACROSTIC poem, which means that it is tied to the Hebrew alphabet. This was often done to aid with memorization. So, there are 22 stanzas of eight verses and each one is tied to a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And when I say ‘tied’ I mean it is really tied. Every one of the eight lines of a given stanza starts with the same letter of the alphabet. So, the first stanza is the ‘aleph’ or ‘A’ stanza, and each line starts with the Hebrew letter aleph. So imagine, eight lines start with the letter ‘A’ and each line has a reference to God’s Word. Then eight lines starting with ‘B’ and so on.

Primarily we are going to listen to God’s Word, but I will briefly reflect on each stanza before or after we hear it. Now that acrostic feature is lost in translation to English. Not only do the words not necessarily start with the same letter, but Hebrew word order is different, so the A-word isn’t necessarily the first English word you see in your translation. So, I have prepared slides and a handout with the acrostic word in bold. You’ll see that it sometimes is the first word in English, but sometimes gets moved later in the sentence after translation. I have also put the reference to God’s Law or Word in bold all-caps.

Finally, to try to give you a sense of what you are missing from the Hebrew, I have chosen an English word that starts with the acrostic letter of each stanza to summarize that stanza. So, for example, I have chosen “ABIDING” to summarize the main idea of the ‘A’ stanza. As we go through I’ll say a bit about each stanza, then give you the one or two word summary word in English that starts with the letter corresponding to that stanza.

We ABIDE with God when we ‘walk’ according to his Word. In this stanza you will hear language of ‘observing’ and ‘learning’ and ‘keeping’ and ‘walking.’ It is a description of life lived in obedience to God. And the way we know what that looks like is by intimate knowledge of, love for, and obedience to God’s written Word. This stanza sets up the whole Psalm/song by inviting us to “make our home” in God’s Word as we live life.

The next stanza features the word ‘blessed’ and the pronoun for mine and yours, which is a ‘b’ tacked on words like heart, lips, and several of the variations for God’s Word. Overall, the focus is on the blessing of belonging to God and holding God’s Word in our hearts and lives, so I doubled up on the B’s and call this section BLESSED BELONGING.

The ‘G’ stanza names a number of difficult situations – being a stranger, being crushed, dealing with the anger and contempt of others; God’s Word in its various forms offers encouragement, strength and serves as a ‘counselor.’ I chose the word GRACE because of the way God cares for us through His Word in these difficult situations.

The next section is ‘D’ (I know this doesn’t match our ABCs) and uses the word for ‘way’ four times to describe how God’s Word leads us through life. So, I chose the word DIRECTION to summarize this stanza.

The next section is ‘H.’ This letter shows up a little differently. Instead of showing up as different words, it is a prefix put on the front of verbs to make them an imperative (or appeal). So we have eight appeals to God: teach me, give me understanding, make me walk, etc… So I chose the word HELP to illustrate calling out to God for help through His Word and teaching.

The next letter is ‘V/W’ and it is also unusual like the ‘H’ was… it is the word ‘and’ or ‘also’ and can be tacked onto any word to say “and ___.” In this stanza it has the effect of piling up the eight verses to say “God’s Word does this” AND “God’s Word does this” so I chose WHAT’S MORE to illustrate the abundance that we find in God’s Word.

There’s a certain word that repeats several times. It’s ‘remember’ which starts with the Hebrew ‘Z.’ This stanza demonstrates the value in remembering God’s Word when we are in difficult places. I couldn’t think of a Z word, so I chose MEMORIZE (hear the Z in the middle?) as one way we can remember God’s promises.

The next letter is one Hebrew has that we do not. It is ‘Heth’ and the closest we have is a ‘CH’ sound. You may have heard me speak of Hesed before; it shows up in the last of the eight verses as ‘lovingkindness’ – it is God’s compassion and faithful, enduring love. While the CH words vary widely, the stanza as a whole is about this love of God, so I chose the word CHERISHED.

There was one predominant word in several English forms in this stanza – did you hear it? Good, better, well – they all point to who God is and what God is like: a good Father. I chose the word TRUE for this stanza.

The next stanza features ‘Y’ – two Y-words are ‘hands’ and ‘know’ and then it shows up as another prefix on verbs that you see in English five times as “May you….” So I chose the word YOU since all of these focus in a personal way towards God as our help and hope.

In an interesting pairing with the preceding YOU stanza, this K (or hard C) stanza catalogues a series of low points in life: a languishing soul, eyes failing, a wineskin in the smoke, pits, and near destruction. So I chose COLLAPSED, realizing that more than ever we need God’s help.

The ‘L’ stanza speaks of God’s Word and faithful character as continuing, being exceedingly broad, and lasting forever. So I chose the word LASTING to describe this stanza. Listen to where this theme shows up.

The ‘M’ stanza mostly uses the Hebrew letter ‘mem’ to show that the resources of God’s Word (particularly wisdom) is greater than any other resources or power. So I chose the word MORE to highlight this “more than” feature of God’s Word. 

That may look like an I, but it is an ‘N’ – and the sense of the whole stanza is that we are to be INCLINED toward God and His Word. We look to it as a lamp, we incline our will in allegiance, we make offerings, and so forth. The last line summarizes this as we “incline our hearts” in obedience.

With God as hiding place and shield, and words like sustain and uphold, I could not come up with one ‘S’ word, so chose several: we are SUPPORTED, SAFEGUARDED, and SUSTAINED by God. Where do we learn more about this? In God’s Word and as we obey that Word!

The next stanza is for the Hebrew letter ‘ayin’ which is not really an ‘A’ but that’s the closest thing we have. I chose ATTUNED because it starts with ‘I have done justice and righteousness’ – in other words, “God, I’m tuned in, be with me!” And there is language of serving God as well as the overarching theme of reading, heeding, and trusting God’s Word.

For ‘P’ there was no one word to make me think of a PRESENT, but the overall idea of this stanza suggested that to me… from the delight in the word ‘wonderful’ to the plea for God to “be gracious to me” to the picture of God’s “face shining upon us” – I thought, God’s Word and God’s presence really are a PRESENT to us!

One of the more unusual Hebrew letters is “tsadhe” which corresponds to a TS sound in English. While there are several TS words used in this stanza, the word for ‘righteous’ and ‘righteousness’ are so central to Biblical theology overall, and it happened to have a T and S if you kind of get creative. RIGHTEOUSNESS is so important in the Bible as a whole because it is the nature of God’s holiness and lack of it is what keeps us from God. It is Jesus’ obedient act of compassion (hesed) on the cross that ultimately covers us with righteousness. So this stanza is an appropriate lead in to our time of confession and the assurance of God’s grace.

The next stanza is ‘Q’ (or close enough to it). In this stanza the Psalmist does a lot of crying out, looking in hope, and calling out to God. So I chose the word QUESTION, which is a very appropriate way to approach God and His Word.

The calling out and pleading for God’s intervention continues in the ‘R’ stanza, as the Psalmist says: Look on my affliction, plead my cause, Revive me, and more. So I chose REVIEW, asking that God REVIEW my situation and help.

The next stanza is a letter that makes a ‘SH’ sound. Again, I could not settle on one word or image, so I chose SHIELD and SHEPHERD, pointing to two ways in which God protects and cares for us.

The next stanza is the last of Psalm 119 and is a (different) letter ‘T’ from one we had earlier (tet). In most cases in this stanza, this is another prefix which is translated ‘let’ in English. So, I chose ENTREATY, though in this stanza it is a double ENTREATY, first to self (e.g. to “utter praise”), but then to God to hear and respond to our ENTREATIES.

And finally, the choir will sing a benediction over us. In it they sing “Show Us Christ.” And this is the net effect of Psalm 119 and all of God’s Word. Think of some of those one-word summaries: BLESSED, GRACE, HELP, TRUE, PRESENT, RIGHTEOUS. We could trace each one to a teaching of Jesus to see how he embodies each one… but I won’t today. I would read this one summary passage from the Gospel of Matthew (5:17-19)

17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

All of this, all of God’s Words, all of God’s will, is to show us Christ, who in turn has shown us God and made a way for us TO God. Listen now and receive the choir’s benediction. Amen!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Light in the Dark (Psalm 27, John 1, Romans 8)

 Sermon by: Robert Austell; September 3, 2017 - Psalm27; John 1:1-5; Romans 8:15-17

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: No Longer Slaves (Helser)
Singing Together: Our Confidence is in the Lord (Richards; arr. Austell)
Hymn of Sending: The Solid Rock (SOLID ROCK)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today in our summer “Psalm+1” series, we look at Psalm 27, which deals with God’s help when we are afraid. We will also look at John 1 and Romans 8 as New Testament passages that remind us of just what Psalm 27:1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” Along the way we will discover some tools God gives us for strengthening our trust and hope in Him.

What Do You Fear?

What do you fear? What makes you afraid?

If phobias first jumped to mind (spiders, snakes, etc…), let me press in a little different direction. What makes you worry?

Listen to the list of dangers, evils, and trouble in Psalm 27. Some are real and already experienced; others are potential, something perhaps to worry about:

- evildoers who came to devour my flesh, my adversaries and enemies (v. 2)
- a host (army) encamped against me… war raised against me (v. 3)
- a “day of trouble” (v. 5)
- enemies around me (v. 6)
- God hiding His face, turning away in anger, abandoning/forsaking me (v. 9)
- adversaries, false witnesses, violent people (v. 12)
- I would have despaired…. (v. 13)

If you listened to the whole of Psalm 27 as it was read, you know that these fears were mixed in the middle of faithful prayer, seeking, and trusting God. But they still amounted to two real fears: 1) that these many dangerous and violent adversaries would overcome me; and 2) that God would not show up, not help.

What Shall We Do With Our Fears?

What shall we do with our fears? All alone, of course, fear is not an unhealthy thing. It is the appropriate reaction – often instinctually – to danger. In some contexts it can save our lives. The real problem comes when fear turns to worry and anxiety. Our fears themselves can become the adversary and enemy, taking on a life of their own. They can become our gods, that which directs our path, our choices and behavior. Our fears can enslave us, stealing our freedom, joy, and purpose.

What shall we do with our fears? I do not have quick or easy answers, but I would point you to several themes in Psalm 27. None of these are the kind of antidote you can purchase off the shelf, but are patterns of belief and behavior, habits that can only be ingrained over time and practice. Let me describe them, then return to the question of what to do with our fears.

Confidence in the Lord (vv. 1-3)

Confidence seems like a strange place to start, and it is. Confidence is the fruit of belief and behavior made habit; it’s not the starting place. But this is poetry and the Psalmist isn’t teaching a lesson, but describing life. Consider it an up-front description of the hope and courage this Psalmist has found in the face of serious challenges. I’ll come back and say more in a bit, but will simply note know that the confidence isn’t in the writer’s own strength or cleverness or resources, but in God. Too often we plug something or someone other than God into the lines: ______ is my light and salvation; _____ is the defense of my life. And if we put lesser things or people as our light, salvation, and defense, is there any wonder our confidence is shaky? But, I also understand that one does not just decide to be confident in the Lord. It is the result of something else.

Seeking God’s Presence (vv. 4-10)

In vv. 4-10, the writer describes “one thing I shall ask and seek” – in a word, it is to know God. This is a person who is choosing to cultivate faith and behaviors that LOOKS for God. You can read in these words the patterns of worship, of offering, of singing, of praying:

- v. 4 – prayer (asked), seek, dwell, behold, meditate
- v. 6 – offer sacrifices, shouts of joy, I will sing praises

We often want to focus on WHY we struggle, but it is more important (and helpful!) to focus on WHO God is. You see that in this writer’s words. You can never go wrong praying for God to show Himself to you!

Learning While We Wait (vv. 11-14)

I appreciate the reality of this Psalm: God isn’t waiting at the drive-thru window to immediately dispense whatever we have ordered up in prayer. Rather, seeing and experiencing God is relational, not unlike cultivating relationships with people. Those take time as well. Those relationships often involve some waiting and seeking. Meanwhile, the writer cultivates more habits of faith and behavior. “Teach me your way” (v. 11) recognizes the need to learn about God and God’s will. “Wait for the Lord” (v. 11) recognizes the discipline of cultivating relationship, even if it’s with a holy God.

A Picture of Confidence

I said I would come back to confidence, which I said was the fruit of belief and behavior made habit. I’d like to try to illustrate the importance of cultivating habits of faith and behavior as relates to confidence in the Lord.

It’s high school marching band season. Heather and I went to parent preview night a few weeks ago and got to see our high school band going through the paces and previewing some of their show. The director shared some of the process of the rigorous “band camp” leading up to the start of school. They learn the notes, learn the marching patterns and start and stop points on the field. And then they drill them – over and over and over and over… three hours, four hours, ten hours, even twelve hours a day. Day after day, week after week. They drill to create muscle memory. And they drill to create confidence, because if there is confusion, if there is hesitation, you will get your band on the #failarmy video of the week… tubas colliding, color guard being run over… and embarrassment in front of friends and family and the competition.

Have you ever practiced anything like that – over and over to create muscle memory and confidence? That’s a picture of what the Psalmist is describing in these verses. Worship, offering, prayer, serving, learning; it creates spiritual muscle memory that leads to confidence when things are shaken.

Pictures of Help and Hope

I also want to offer two other pictures of God’s help and hope, found in the other scriptures we read today. Both are in the New Testament.

John 1 opens with a description of the Word who was in the beginning with God and who was and is God. John goes on to name Jesus as the Life and Light of humanity. And verse five offers the first picture of help and hope that I want to mention to we who might be afraid. That Light, which is Christ, shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend (or overcome) it. What fear is more foundational to humanity than darkness? We can’t see, we feel alone, and it is related to what we fear about death. But John announces the Good News as this: the Light shines in the darkness. Because of Jesus, we can see and we are not alone. Light is hope; light is help.

Romans 8 offers moving pictures, framing a story in just a few verses. Beginning with “you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again,” (v. 15) it explains that in Chirst we are now FREE because we have been adopted by “Abba Father” as children of God (v. 16). So the story is that we are no longer slaves, but adopted children, so fully counted as family that we are named as ‘heirs’ – written into the metaphorical will as inheritors of God’s spiritual riches. What a journey of salvation-rescue that is, from fear-slaves to inheriting children.

Both John 1 and Romans 8 offer vivid pictures of exactly what Psalm 27 holds up in the very first verse: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”

Hear that Good News; use the tools and steps God gives to develop that spiritual muscle memory so that when things become shaky, your confidence will be in the Lord. Amen.