Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
June 26, 2011

There is a shift in focus in our readings from now until the end of the church year and Advent Sunday, at the end of November. It has been said that the Kalendar is broken into two halves, with the first half from Advent through Whitsunday, and the second half being Trinitytide or Ordinary Time. The readings for the first half of the year speaks of the life of Christ in which our lessons speak most directly about Jesus’ life and redemptive work. The second half of the church year makes a bit of a transition and looks at the life of a disciple or our life in Christ.

One of the great benefits of the Internet and facebook in particular is the opportunity to meet people and share information. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know an Anglican priest from Canada who is currently re-publishing many great works of Anglican theology and producing some of his own works as well. I purchased two commentaries that he has written and I look forward to reading and using them in the future.

One book that he produced is an expositional commentary on the 119th Psalm. In the introduction he pointed out something that was previously unknown to me. The first Book of Common Prayer produced in 1549 had a proper Psalm appointed for each celebration of the Holy Eucharist. For this season of Trinitytide the Psalm appointed for the first 22 weeks after Trinity was an ordered reading of Psalm 119.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever studied this Psalm, but it is the longest chapter in the Bible – 176 verses. The Psalm itself is unique in its structure. There are twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and the Psalm contains twenty-two eight-verse divisions. Each division is an acrostic because the first word in each verse begins with same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. For example, in verses 1-8, the first division that we recited this morning, the first word in each verse begins with the Hebrew letter ‘Aleph.’ The second group of eight verses begins with the Hebrew letter ‘Beth.’ This pattern continues throughout the rest of the Psalm, and thus, presents the ABC’s, so to speak, of the godly life that is deeply rooted in the Word of God.

The eighteenth century theologian Jonathan Edwards once said of this chapter of the Bible:

I know of no part of the Holy Scriptures where the nature and evidences of true and sincere godliness are so fully and largely insisted on and delineated as in the 119th Psalm. The Psalmist declares his design in the first verse of the Psalm, keeps his eye on it all along, and pursues it to the end. The excellency of holiness is represented as the immediate object of a spiritual taste and delight. God’s law – that grand expression and emanation of the holiness of God’s nature, and prescription of holiness to the creature – is all along represented as the great object of love, the complacence, and the rejoicing of the gracious nature, which prizes God’s commandments ‘above gold, yea, the finest gold;’ and to which they are ‘sweeter than honey and the honey-comb.’

Martin Luther once said of this Psalm that it was the, “gospel in a nutshell,” and that he, “would not trade one page of it for the entire world.” I don’t believe that I am going to preach 22 sermons in a row exclusively on Psalm 119, but you can count on the fact that we will recite the Psalm in its entirety over the next 22 weeks, and there will be some exposition of the eight verses assigned for each Sunday.

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.

Just this past week I’ve been reading various news reports about a movement whose goal is the promotion of more religious tolerance amongst faith groups. According to the faith shared website they would like to offer an event, “as a way to engage faith leaders on the national and community levels in interfaith events intended to highlight respect among people of different faiths. Through photos, video clips and print coverage distributed around the world, we are looking to display visual images that reflect the mutual respect that is shared by so many Muslims, Christians, Jews and other Americans, standing together as a strong counterpoint to the negative images that have dominated the domestic and international news.”

June 26, today, is the date that a large number of churches are hosting this type of interfaith gathering that organizers hope, “will create opportunities across the United States for faith communities to strengthen ties with each other. We will counter the misperception, including in the Arab and Muslim worlds, that the United States is a nation defined by the widely covered images of the marginal few who would burn a Qur’an, rather than by a proud and longstanding tradition of religious freedom, tolerance and pluralism. In communities across the United States, this project will not only serve as a model for tolerance and cooperation and promote local faith leaders as champions of such, but it will also create a concrete opportunity to build and strengthen working ties between faith communities moving forward.”

Finally, “Faith Shared asks houses of worship across the country to organize events involving clergy reading from each other’s sacred texts. An example would be a Christian Minister, Jewish Rabbi and Muslim Imam participating in a worship service or other event. Suggested readings will be provided from the Torah, the Gospels, and the Qur’an, but communities are encouraged to choose readings that will resonate with their congregations. Involvement of members from the Muslim community is key. We will also provide suggestions on how to incorporate this program into your regular worship services.”

Why do I even bring this up? What difference does it make for us?

It makes all the difference in the world – and in the world to come. Dr. Carreker spoke so eloquently, clearly, and faithfully upon the Holy Trinity last Sunday, and asked us an important question – should we concern ourselves with a doctrine such as the Trinity? The answer should be a resounding yes, because the only way for us to wrestle with an issue such as faith shared and others like it.

The Christian life is lived in obedience to what God commands, in submission to His will, through the proclamation of His Word, and in making disciples of all nations. The only way that we can obey what God commands, submit to His will, proclaim His word, and make disciples in His name depends on one very important thing – do we know who God is? As we sang in the processional hymn last Sunday and Dr. Carreker proclaimed, we bind ourselves to the Name of the Trinity. That Name is the Trinity. The ancient Jews had a name for God that was so sacred and so holy that they would never write it or utter it out loud. Through Jesus Christ we are given the words to say and proclaim that name and we are commanded to make disciples in that name – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.

Our only source of blessedness comes through our walking in the law of the Lord. Our world presents us with all sorts of supposed blessings that knows not the law of the Lord and thus will leave us empty and longing for more. True blessing comes in one place and one place alone.

Groups like faith alive makes the fatal mistake that tolerance and pluralism is some recipe for blessing and peace. There will be those who cry peace, peace when there is no peace. If we know not the Prince of Peace, how will we ever know peace on earth and good will amongst men?

We’ve made a shift in our readings from those that speak of the life of Christ to how a life in Christ is lived in the world. May we daily bind unto ourselves the strong Name of the Trinity, proclaim that Name to a broken and hurting world, so that we might continue undefiled in the way, and walk in the law of the Lord.

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