Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
July 17, 2011

We’ve all had down times. I don’t believe that anyone here can say that life has been nothing but peaches and cream. Now, if I’ve mischaracterized someone, please be sure to meet me after church. We go through ups and downs in life; there are good days and there are bad days; there are blessings and there are curses; we have intense spiritual highs and at times deep spiritual lows. These are the cold, hard facts. Life doesn’t always serve up exactly what we need, exactly when we need it or desire it.

Now that I’ve begun on such an upbeat, positive manner, I want us to take a closer look at the Psalm that we’ve just recited a few moments ago and see what the Psalmist wishes for us to hear. If you remember back a few weeks ago, I said that throughout Trinitytide we would be reciting the 119th Psalm in its entirety over the twenty-two weeks of this season. We read the fourth octet this morning and we began with a most stark assertion, “My soul cleaveth to the dust.”

I have sat with that phrase all week long.

“My soul cleaveth to the dust.”

The overarching message of this sermon deals with those six words. There is a tremendous depth in the brevity of that phrase and I pray that we might understand the significance of what is being conveyed to us this morning.

To begin with, this verse makes a stark shift from the preceding verse. Last Sunday when we ended on verse twenty-four, we ended on a high note when we declared, “For thy testimonies are my delight, and my counselor.” The Psalmist declares that because he is a keeper of God’s law, he has become, as it were, a “stranger upon earth,” and that, “Princes also did sit and speak against me.”

We are going to find that out as we grow deeper and deeper into the full stature of Christ that things are going to be different and appear so more often. We might as well get used to the fact that one of three things is most likely going to happen: we will be ignored by those who are apathetic to what we say or do; we will be mocked and perhaps persecuted by those who hate what we have to say and are doing; or we will bring along with us those whose hearts, and minds, and souls are touched by what we have to say and what they’ve seen us doing. As I see it, those are the only three choices.

In returning to our Psalm it seems clear that he is not going to concern himself with the effects of the first two groups – the apathetic who make him feel like a stranger or the Princes who speak against him, but rather, that he is going to occupy himself with God’s statutes and delight in God’s testimonies for they are his counselors.

So far, so good; life beings to kick in, temptations fall his way – our way, a false sense of longing and security from the things of this world creep into his thoughts and we begin to hear an honest plea of the Psalmist’s spiritual condition, “My soul cleaveth to the dust.”

What are we to make of that phrase? I would hope that we might understand it as a cry of the heart as an acknowledgement of our true nature. When we pray in the General Confession of Morning or Evening Prayer that, “there is no health in us,” we are in essence repeating the first half of the 25th verse of the 119th Psalm.

Since we were formed from the dust of the earth, and since we are reminded each year on Ash Wednesday, “Remember, O Man, that thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return,” that a part of our very essence is wrongly trying to get back to our point of origin – the trying to return to our false home. The problem is this earth is not our true and ultimate home. We aren’t destined to live here for eternity, but rather in the fully realized presence of Almighty God.

It’s important to make not here the incredible parallels to the creation narrative as found in Genesis chapter two. We recall the familiar passage where Scripture says, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” At the end of that chapter God institutes the sacrament of Holy Matrimony when He says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh.” The three central words in our Psalm are found right here in Genesis 2 – soul, cleave, and dust. The issue at hand for us is the fact that the words from Genesis 2 speak of a rightly oriented use of those words, and the passage from Psalm 119 speaks of a soul incorrectly oriented.

What we have in these first six words of this portion of the Psalm is the admission of a low point in the Psalmist’s life. It seems to indicate that he is honest enough to admit that even though his heart’s longing is for the Law he is facing an uphill battle with his soul’s corrupted bend toward its improper origin – it is cleaving to the wrong thing.

Let us remember that our souls rightful slant should be toward its true source – God Himself. However, when Man headed the words of the serpent our longing shifted away from God and toward that from which we came prior to God’s Spirit being breathed into us. Adam and Eve sought protection and cover from the garden to hide their nakedness rather than protection and cover from their Maker. They tried to seek solace in the creation rather than from the Creator.

When Adam and Eve fell Mankind received a curse for its disobedience but so did the serpent. “Thou art cursed above all cattle…upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.”

This earth and the dust of its surface will one day pass away, and ever since the Fall the serpent, Satan, has been feeding upon the dust of the earth. The dilemma that the Psalmist declares and that we too must admit is that in our times of being downtrodden and weak there is the ever present temptation to cleave to the one thing that is merely an illusion of stability, comfort, and peace – the dust and the things of the earth. Thankfully the Psalmist does not remain in this position forever for we hear him declare that the only true source of life is not in the cleaving to the dust from which we were formed but in the cleaving to the Spirit that was breathed into us at creation and is expressed in God’s Logos – his Word. Certainly here we are referring to God’s Word written, but implicit in that statement is God’s Word who became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ.

The question for us is whether or not our soul will cleave to the dust or will it cleave to the one who created the dust and gives us his Word. Will we be like Judas whose soul never ceased cleaving to the dust of the earth and ended in despair and death? Or will we be like St. Peter whose soul was cleaving to the dust of the earth as he declared with fervent conviction that he never knew Jesus, and upon hearing the cock crow went out weeping, feel upon his face, and cried out for mercy?

Many times throughout our lives, probably before this day is over, we will with complete certainty come to the realization that our soul is cleaving to the dust of the earth. When that happens and we come to that realization may we ever pray with the Psalmist for the Lord to give us life that comes only through the hearing, heeding and obeying His holy Word.

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