Follow Jesus

Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div. - September 10, 2017

Psalm 119:33-40closePsalm 119:33-40 He 33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
35 Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
36 Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.
38 Confirm to your servant your promise,
that you may be feared.
39 Turn away the reproach that I dread,
for your rules are good.
40 Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life! (ESV)

DSC00500

THE WAVERLY PULPIT
Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div.
First Presbyterian Church of Waverly
211 Schmitt Dr., Waverly, Ohio 45690 + 740.947.2905
www.firstpresbyterianwaverly.com

 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Follow Jesus

Psalm 119:33-40closePsalm 119:33-40 He 33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
35 Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
36 Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.
38 Confirm to your servant your promise,
that you may be feared.
39 Turn away the reproach that I dread,
for your rules are good.
40 Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life! (ESV)
; Matthew 18:15-20closeMatthew 18:15-20 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (ESV) ; Ezekiel 33:7-11closeEzekiel 33:7-11 “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. 10 “And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ 11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (ESV)

 

Do you have stress? I do. And it’s mounting. Will we get all the boxes packed before the movers arrive? Will I get all the tasks done in time for the church or for the Presbytery? Will we get everything to the right places: packed, recycled, Goodwill-ed, thrown out?

 

I know you are stressed. Three Sundays from now this familiar face and presence will be gone. There will be things that don’t happen any more. There will be lots of questions about how this is done and how that is supposed to happen. It will be all right.

 

I remember coming here and having very few clues about how things were done. Mistakes were made, toes were stepped on, things happened or didn’t happen. We survived and flourished in new and unexpected ways.

 

Those of you who have been here only a few years know very few of the changes that have happened over the years. Announcements were once upon a time in the middle of the service, disrupting the worship flow. We now have worship leaders to share the reading and prayers at the beginning of the service. Rather than “Prayers of the People” there was only a pastoral prayer. We now have some hymns written in the 1980s and 90s rather than the 1880s and 90s. There is a more informal feel to worship. Just look at how few ties are worn by the men. And we get to see the faces of other worshipers rather than the backs of everyone’s heads.

 

Church isn’t the only place where stress happens. According to recent reports, Stress levels are higher than ever. Higher than 1983 at the very least.

 

According to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, stress increased 18 percent for women and 24 percent for men between the years 1983 and 2009. Hit especially hard were people with lower incomes and less education. Overall, most of us are feeling more stress today because of economic pressures and the difficulty of protecting ourselves from the world and its constant flow of information. I guess that the sages of old were right, ignorance is bliss.

 

One of the wonders of the English language is that if you spell “stressed” backwards you have the word “desserts.” Unfortunately nutrition or calories raise some people’s stress rather than lowering it.

 

But there is some good news, according to USA Today: Stress decreases as you age. Yes, that’s right. If you can stay alive and keep aging, eventually you’ll feel less stress. I’m looking forward to testing that hypothesis.

 

So what are people doing to deal with their stress? Adult coloring books are huge right now, and some are actually advertising “stress relieving patterns.” The mandala pattern is adapted from a Buddhist view of the universe. For graphics and coloring it is kind of like walking the labyrinth. The Washington Post reports that about 12 million adult coloring books were sold in the United States in 2015. Whatever happened to the stress of keeping within the lines?

 

Or if you are an aural person, you can get a number of apps for your smart phone that work like guided meditation. A mellifluous voice quietly speaks to talk away stress and induce calm. For me, I like to tune a music app reflective music that soothes. If I need livened up, I can turn to bombastic symphonies or heavy metal rock.

 

Or there are apps that guide you through the discipline of journaling, allowing your pen a chance to vent your stress and relax and focus beyond the immediate.

 

Long before smart phones, the psalmist suggested some ways in which God’s people could de-stress. In the eight verses of Psalm 119closePsalm 119 Aleph 119:1  Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways!
You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently.
Oh that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!
Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous rules.
I will keep your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me!
Beth How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes!
13 With my lips I declare
all the rules of your mouth.
14 In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
16 I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.
Gimel 17 Deal bountifully with your servant,
that I may live and keep your word.
18 Open my eyes, that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law.
19 I am a sojourner on the earth;
hide not your commandments from me!
20 My soul is consumed with longing
for your rules at all times.
21 You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones,
who wander from your commandments.
22 Take away from me scorn and contempt,
for I have kept your testimonies.
23 Even though princes sit plotting against me,
your servant will meditate on your statutes.
24 Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors.
Daleth 25 My soul clings to the dust;
give me life according to your word!
26 When I told of my ways, you answered me;
teach me your statutes!
27 Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
28 My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word!
29 Put false ways far from me
and graciously teach me your law!
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I set your rules before me.
31 I cling to your testimonies, O Lord;
let me not be put to shame!
32 I will run in the way of your commandments
when you enlarge my heart!
He 33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
35 Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.
36 Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain!
37 Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
and give me life in your ways.
38 Confirm to your servant your promise,
that you may be feared.
39 Turn away the reproach that I dread,
for your rules are good.
40 Behold, I long for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life!
Waw 41 Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord,
your salvation according to your promise;
42 then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me,
for I trust in your word.
43 And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
for my hope is in your rules.
44 I will keep your law continually,
forever and ever,
45 and I shall walk in a wide place,
for I have sought your precepts.
46 I will also speak of your testimonies before kings
and shall not be put to shame,
47 for I find my delight in your commandments,
which I love.
48 I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love,
and I will meditate on your statutes.
Zayin 49 Remember your word to your servant,
in which you have made me hope.
50 This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your promise gives me life.
51 The insolent utterly deride me,
but I do not turn away from your law.
52 When I think of your rules from of old,
I take comfort, O Lord.
53 Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked,
who forsake your law.
54 Your statutes have been my songs
in the house of my sojourning.
55 I remember your name in the night, O Lord,
and keep your law.
56 This blessing has fallen to me,
that I have kept your precepts.
Heth 57 The Lord is my portion;
I promise to keep your words.
58 I entreat your favor with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.
59 When I think on my ways,
I turn my feet to your testimonies;
60 I hasten and do not delay
to keep your commandments.
61 Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me,
I do not forget your law.
62 At midnight I rise to praise you,
because of your righteous rules.
63 I am a companion of all who fear you,
of those who keep your precepts.
64 The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love;
teach me your statutes!
Teth 65 You have dealt well with your servant,
O Lord, according to your word.
66 Teach me good judgment and knowledge,
for I believe in your commandments.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I keep your word.
68 You are good and do good;
teach me your statutes.
69 The insolent smear me with lies,
but with my whole heart I keep your precepts;
70 their heart is unfeeling like fat,
but I delight in your law.
71 It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your statutes.
72 The law of your mouth is better to me
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
Yodh 73 Your hands have made and fashioned me;
give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
74 Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice,
because I have hoped in your word.
75 I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous,
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
76 Let your steadfast love comfort me
according to your promise to your servant.
77 Let your mercy come to me, that I may live;
for your law is my delight.
78 Let the insolent be put to shame,
because they have wronged me with falsehood;
as for me, I will meditate on your precepts.
79 Let those who fear you turn to me,
that they may know your testimonies.
80 May my heart be blameless in your statutes,
that I may not be put to shame!
Kaph 81 My soul longs for your salvation;
I hope in your word.
82 My eyes long for your promise;
I ask, “When will you comfort me?”
83 For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
yet I have not forgotten your statutes.
84 How long must your servant endure?
When will you judge those who persecute me?
85 The insolent have dug pitfalls for me;
they do not live according to your law.
86 All your commandments are sure;
they persecute me with falsehood; help me!
87 They have almost made an end of me on earth,
but I have not forsaken your precepts.
88 In your steadfast love give me life,
that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.
Lamedh 89 Forever, O Lord, your word
is firmly fixed in the heavens.
90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
91 By your appointment they stand this day,
for all things are your servants.
92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have given me life.
94 I am yours; save me,
for I have sought your precepts.
95 The wicked lie in wait to destroy me,
but I consider your testimonies.
96 I have seen a limit to all perfection,
but your commandment is exceedingly broad.
Mem 97 Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is ever with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
100 I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
101 I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
102 I do not turn aside from your rules,
for you have taught me.
103 How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
104 Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
Nun 105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
to keep your righteous rules.
107 I am severely afflicted;
give me life, O Lord, according to your word!
108 Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O Lord,
and teach me your rules.
109 I hold my life in my hand continually,
but I do not forget your law.
110 The wicked have laid a snare for me,
but I do not stray from your precepts.
111 Your testimonies are my heritage forever,
for they are the joy of my heart.
112 I incline my heart to perform your statutes
forever, to the end.
Samekh 113 I hate the double-minded,
but I love your law.
114 You are my hiding place and my shield;
I hope in your word.
115 Depart from me, you evildoers,
that I may keep the commandments of my God.
116 Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live,
and let me not be put to shame in my hope!
117 Hold me up, that I may be safe
and have regard for your statutes continually!
118 You spurn all who go astray from your statutes,
for their cunning is in vain.
119 All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross,
therefore I love your testimonies.
120 My flesh trembles for fear of you,
and I am afraid of your judgments.
Ayin 121 I have done what is just and right;
do not leave me to my oppressors.
122 Give your servant a pledge of good;
let not the insolent oppress me.
123 My eyes long for your salvation
and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise.
124 Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love,
and teach me your statutes.
125 I am your servant; give me understanding,
that I may know your testimonies!
126 It is time for the Lord to act,
for your law has been broken.
127 Therefore I love your commandments
above gold, above fine gold.
128 Therefore I consider all your precepts to be right;
I hate every false way.
Pe 129 Your testimonies are wonderful;
therefore my soul keeps them.
130 The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.
131 I open my mouth and pant,
because I long for your commandments.
132 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your way with those who love your name.
133 Keep steady my steps according to your promise,
and let no iniquity get dominion over me.
134 Redeem me from man's oppression,
that I may keep your precepts.
135 Make your face shine upon your servant,
and teach me your statutes.
136 My eyes shed streams of tears,
because people do not keep your law.
Tsadhe 137 Righteous are you, O Lord,
and right are your rules.
138 You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness
and in all faithfulness.
139 My zeal consumes me,
because my foes forget your words.
140 Your promise is well tried,
and your servant loves it.
141 I am small and despised,
yet I do not forget your precepts.
142 Your righteousness is righteous forever,
and your law is true.
143 Trouble and anguish have found me out,
but your commandments are my delight.
144 Your testimonies are righteous forever;
give me understanding that I may live.
Qoph 145 With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord!
I will keep your statutes.
146 I call to you; save me,
that I may observe your testimonies.
147 I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I hope in your words.
148 My eyes are awake before the watches of the night,
that I may meditate on your promise.
149 Hear my voice according to your steadfast love;
O Lord, according to your justice give me life.
150 They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose;
they are far from your law.
151 But you are near, O Lord,
and all your commandments are true.
152 Long have I known from your testimonies
that you have founded them forever.
Resh 153 Look on my affliction and deliver me,
for I do not forget your law.
154 Plead my cause and redeem me;
give me life according to your promise!
155 Salvation is far from the wicked,
for they do not seek your statutes.
156 Great is your mercy, O Lord;
give me life according to your rules.
157 Many are my persecutors and my adversaries,
but I do not swerve from your testimonies.
158 I look at the faithless with disgust,
because they do not keep your commands.
159 Consider how I love your precepts!
Give me life according to your steadfast love.
160 The sum of your word is truth,
and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.
Sin and Shin 161 Princes persecute me without cause,
but my heart stands in awe of your words.
162 I rejoice at your word
like one who finds great spoil.
163 I hate and abhor falsehood,
but I love your law.
164 Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous rules.
165 Great peace have those who love your law;
nothing can make them stumble.
166 I hope for your salvation, O Lord,
and I do your commandments.
167 My soul keeps your testimonies;
I love them exceedingly.
168 I keep your precepts and testimonies,
for all my ways are before you.
Taw 169 Let my cry come before you, O Lord;
give me understanding according to your word!
170 Let my plea come before you;
deliver me according to your word.
171 My lips will pour forth praise,
for you teach me your statutes.
172 My tongue will sing of your word,
for all your commandments are right.
173 Let your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
174 I long for your salvation, O Lord,
and your law is my delight.
175 Let my soul live and praise you,
and let your rules help me.
176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments. (ESV)
’s fourth stanza, the psalmist offers a simple, yet stress-relieving program designed to bring peace to the soul. The first step is to get in touch with God’s ways.

“Lord, teach me what your statutes are about, and I will guard every part of them. Help me understand so I can guard your Instruction and keep it with all my heart. Lead me on the trail of your commandments because that is what I want” (Psalm 119:33-35closePsalm 119:33-35 He 33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes;
and I will keep it to the end.
34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
35 Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it. (ESV)
).

The psalm writer wants to learn God’s statutes, laws and commandments – not because there’s value in memorizing a list of rules and regulations, but because these guidelines contain the way to life and peace.

 

Think of the Ten Commandments; you probably had occasion to memorize them. Every one of them is designed to help us, not hurt us. They are challenging to follow, but they are intended to be life-enhancing and to give us a positive framework for our words and actions. The first four commandments offer guidance for our relationship with God, while the last six explain what it means to have healthy relationships with each other (Exodus 20:1-17closeExodus 20:1-17 20:1 And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.” (ESV) ).

 

Our Protestant reformer faith ancestor John Calvin noted that God divided his law into two parts. The first part dealt with the worship of God’s majesty, and the second part dealt with “the duties of love” that have to do with people. The two are equally life-enhancing, and equally important for inner peace. No doubt Jesus had this approach in mind when he said that the greatest commandment challenged us both to “love the Lord your God” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-40closeMatthew 22:36-40 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (ESV) ).

 

Two centuries later Methodism’s founder John Wesley saw two responses to God’s grace. He called the first response “Works of Piety” which included the individual practices of reading and studying the Scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, sharing the faith with others, and holding other believers accountable, which comes directly from today’s gospel reading.

 

Wesley’s second response to grace was “Works of Mercy,” such things as doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry and giving generously to the needs of others and with others seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination.

 

Calvin and Wesley were pointing at the same dynamic relationship between the believer and God and with other human beings. The end result is that nothing can be more calming, more stress-relieving, than the knowledge that we are right with God and right with our neighbors, walking in God’s ways.

 

The psalmist gives us a second step helps us to avoid the ways of the stressful world around us.

“Turn my heart to your laws, not to greedy gain. Turn my eyes away from looking at worthless things. Make me live by your way” (vv. 36-37).

Instead of, or in addition to, focusing on a soothing soundtrack, the psalm advises us to turn our attention to God’s laws and “not to greedy gain.” The psalmist invites us to avert our eyes from worthless things and receive life in Gods ways.

 

Unfortunately, so much of our stressful world is focused on vanity and greed. Even our state governments are in the business of dangling riches in front of us through lottery ads for Power Ball and Mega-Millions, forming false dreams and harsh realities for many of the winners of the biggest pots.

 

This psalm, then, advises us to walk toward God and away from the ways of the stressful world around us. The psalm’s author may have written the psalm during or just after the Babylonian exile. The language of the entire psalm shows a knowledge of the wording and ethos of the Deuteronomy, which likely dates from that period. The author wasn’t a contemporary of Jesus, but his work surely points toward the Jesus whom the gospels describe as turning away from temptation, worshiping the Father very deeply, and showing compassion, mercy, and grace to everyone he met, even those outside the strict Jewish tradition. Jesus is the living free and unexpected promise from God described by the psalm-writer:

“Confirm your promise to your servant—the promise that is for all those who honor you. Remove the insults that I dread because your rules are good. Look how I desire your precepts! Make me live by your righteousness” (vv. 38-40).

 

Although we can’t perfectly keep the commandments, we can seek to live in right relationship with God and with the people around us. Right relationship is what the word righteousness really means. This is the key to relieving stress and achieving peace.

 

Think about what Jesus was saying in his Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst or right relationships, for they will be filled.”

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of right relationships, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Unless your right relationships exceed those of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:6, 10, 20closeMatthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:10 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (ESV) NRSV).

 

Following Jesus is all about right relationships. It is the key to experiencing inner calm. It puts us in touch with God’s ways and helps us to avoid the ways of the stressful world around us. Grow into a right relationship with Jesus and you can receive God’s promise of life. This is a righteous life — a life of right relationships — and it is the beginning of stress reduction and inner peace.

 

God promises to give life to those who respect God and walk in his ways. This is a life of right relationship with God, one which includes God’s commandments but is not based on perfect adherence to them. That is beyond our ability, which Jesus himself realized when he said, “No one is good except the one God” (Mark 10:18closeMark 10:18 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (ESV) ).

 

General Resource: Homiletics, February 19, 2017
Unless noted otherwise, all scripture references are from The Common English Bible, © 2011 www.commonenglishbible.com.
Copyright © 2017 First Presbyterian Church of Waverly, Ohio. Reprinted by permission.