Monday, November 19, 2012

Psalm 119:161-168

“God’s Word Brings Peace”
MasterPiece Church
18 November 2012

Even the casual reader of Psalm 119 is going to notice the glaring tension. Throughout this wonderful but long psalm -- which we’ll finish up next week... Throughout this long psalm the poet rehearses his problems.
  • 22 -- “Take all their insults and contempt away from me because I’ve kept your laws!”
  • 23 -- “Even if rulers gather and scheme against me, your servant will contemplate your statutes.” 
  • 25 -- “My life is stuck in the dirt.” 
  • 28 -- “My spirit sags because of grief.” 
  • 39 -- “Remove the insults that I dread...” 
  • 42 -- “ I can have a response for those who mock me because I have trusted in your word!” 
  • 50 -- “My comfort during my suffering is this, your word gives me new life.” 
  • 53 -- “But I’m seized with anger because of the wicked...” 
  • 61 -- “Though the wicked have surrounded me with their ropes, I haven’t forgotten your Instruction.” 
  • 69 -- “The arrogant cover me with their lies...” 
  • 78 -- “But let the arrogant be ashamed because they oppressed me with lies...” 
  • 95 -- “The wicked wait for me, wanting to kill me...”
The trouble goes on and on and in our stanza this week shows up in vs 161.
  • 161 -- “Rulers oppress me without cause...”
Anyway you look at it, the psalmist has had anything but an easy peaceful life. Trouble seems to follow him.

Maybe you can relate. You’ve been trying to live a decent godly life. You’re probably even doing all the right stuff. But it just gets crazier and crazier -- or so it seems.

The psalmist was living that kind of life. And he is even an expert at paying attention to God’s instructions -- if you take him at his word.

For example,
Vs 162 -- “I’m overjoyed at your word, like someone who finds great treasure. 163 I hate, I absolutely despise, what is false, but I’m in love with your Instruction. 164 I praise you seven times a day for your righteous rules.”
He’s really in the divine groove -- yet his life is still filled with chaos and trouble. What’s up with that? Especially since in vs. 165 he says:
“The people who love your Instruction enjoy peace—and lots of it! There’s no stumbling for them!”
Let’s a take a vote. You're all in a voting mood these days.
  • How many of you think that the psalmist has a peaceful life? 
  • How many of you think his life is everything but peaceful?
What’s up with that?

Now, of course, it could be that all of this chaos is really just a product of his own mind. We all know people who thrive on crisis. If something hasn’t gone wrong they subconsciously invent something.

Crisis is how they get attention. It’s how they feel alive and validated. And once you learn that way of operating you’re always in a crisis mode. Even the small things become big issues.

But I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. Psalm 119 may feel that way because it is a long psalm -- but there is a lot of this kind of lamenting in the psalms as a whole. It is based in reality. And if you have time and imagination you could try to match the specifics of all the psalms up with the events recorded throughout the Old Testament.

Of course, that’s the not the psalmists intention. Rather he is trying to give words that the reader can use in their own circumstances -- their own situation.

That is, there are plenty of these kinds of crises -- even today. The psalmist is just collecting the words that he -- that they -- have found to help people get through the crises.

And that lines up well with what I see as being perhaps the best way to deal with the tension of a righteous psalmist in chaos while proclaiming that there is abundant peace in God’s Word.
“The people who love your Instruction enjoy peace -- (shalom) -- and lots of it! There’s no stumbling for them!” ~ vs 165
The psalmist sees peace -- experiences the peace in the midst of the crisis -- not in the absence of chaos -- but miraculously in the middle of it!

Sandy Perlman, who works with Jews for Jesus wrote an article on peace or shalom back in the early 80’s and I think it is still helpful. She said,
We can look at the outworking of these two themes by seeing how two distinct cultures interpreted peace. The word, as commonly used in English, comes from the Latin "pax." Pax to the Romans meant a cessation of hostilities between the conqueror and the vanquished. This peace was always temporary because it depended on who was in the position of strength.

On the other hand, the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, rooted in the word "shalom," meant wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety and prosperity, carrying with it the implication of permanence.

Rabbi Robert I. Kahn of Houston, Texas, capsulizes the distinctives of "Roman" peace and "Hebrew" shalom:   

  • "One can dictate a peace; shalom is a mutual agreement. 

  • "Peace is a temporary pact; shalom is a permanent agreement. 

  • "One can make a peace treaty; shalom is the condition of peace. 

  • "Peace can be negative, the absence of commotion. Shalom is positive, the presence of serenity. 

  • "Peace can be partial; shalom is whole. 

  • "Peace can be piecemeal; shalom is complete."
And I would suggest that shalom is complete peace -- even in the midst of chaos.

We tend to think of peace in negative terms -- the absence of conflict. But in Hebrew thinking peace or shalom is a positive. It is the presence of -- a pocket of something -- a calmness, a unity, health, and safety even in the midst of an unhealthy and unsafe world.

Such as that experienced by the psalmist and illustrated by Jesus sleeping through the storm in Mark 4:35-41, as Alex read for us a few moments ago.

Jesus and the disciples were in a boat out on open waters -- and they were caught in a dangerous storm. Wind, waves lapping at the sides of the boat -- water gushing into places where seafarers don’t want it to be.

But Jesus is at perfect peace in the midst of it all. And he is taking a nap in the back of the boat while the disciples are all panicked sailors.

This is the kind of peace that Jesus created when in the midst of betrayal he allowed himself to be crucified as a sacrifice of peace -- of reconciliation -- through his blood bringing together God and humanity -- people and their enemies.

Remember the Ephesians 2 passage, from which we draw the name MasterPiece Church --
10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope.13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. ~ Ephesians 2:10-16 (NLT)
Through Christ Jesus, who is described in John 1 as the Word of God, peace breaks out between two culturally and religiously opposite peoples. And they become one -- and begin to function as one. that is the MasterPiece Church.

The MasterPiece in Ephesians 2:10 isn’t what we become as individual Christians but what we become together. The p-e-a-c-e is the MasterPiece. Maybe we should have spelled it MasterPeace.

That’s the kind of peace that the psalmist is preaching. He’s just used 165 verses to emphasize the severity of the storm. But then he says, because I’m trusting in God and his Word -- his instructions -- his law -- his rules -- his guidance -- I’ve got peace -- lots of it. Calm in the storm.

Shalom is the kind of peace that can start to break-out
  • in the middle of a war --
  • in the middle of political gridlock-- 
  • in the middle of neighborhood tension -- 
  •  in the middle of relationships gone south --
  • hopelessly ensnarled situations.

And this is no big surprise because as we dig into Ephesians 2 we see that God himself is the source of peace -- real peace -- genuine peace.

Isaac Arama, a 15th century Spanish rabbi wrote:
"Peace is a positive thing, the essential means by which people of differing temperaments and opinions can work together for the common good. Pearls of individual virtue would be dim in isolation were it not for the string of peace that binds them together and so increases their luster. That is why peace is a name of God for it is he who gives unity to the whole of creation."
Here is the deal. We, you, can choose to be panicked or even swallowed by the chaos of the storm that is hanging over you or yyour country or your family. But you can also -- alternatively -- choose to live in peace that is generated in our lives as we immerse ourselves in God’s word -- his promises, his direction, his expectations, his good news, his hope.

This isn’t pollyana optimism. Yes, there are real and significant reasons for despair.

The list of violations goes on and on. And it is appropriate that the psalmist drags it all out for so many verses. But I’m not going to get stuck there. I’m not going to dwell endlessly on the despairing offenses.

I’m going to move on to the Shalom. I’ve got hope and peace -- and lots of it -- in spite of the legion of chaos -- because I love God’s Word.
“The people who love your Instruction enjoy peace -- shalom -- and lots of it! There’s no stumbling for them!”
This is your invitation to quit stumbling about because you are focusing on all the craziness of the world and the people around you. Stop doing that! Instead, shift your focus to what God has to say -- his Word -- his message -- written and in the flesh. Draw your strength and perspective from the Word rather than the world -- which to borrow the words of the 60’s protest song seems again to be at the “eve of destruction.”

Remember this? Written by 19-year-old kid with a guitar, P.F. Sloan in 1965.
Yeah, my blood's so mad feels like coagulatin' 
I'm sitting here just contemplatin' 
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation. 
Handful of senators don't pass legislation 
And marches alone can't bring integration 
When human respect is disintegratin' 
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin' 
And you tell me 
Over and over and over again, my friend 
Ah, you don't believe 
We're on the eve of destruction.
Could you feel the despair as Barry McQuire sang that?

But God wants to give you -- to give us -- his peace -- the abundant peace that will carry us through the storms -- the destruction -- the fear mongering -- the threatened government shutdowns -- the injustices -- the protests -- and the wars.
“The people who love your Instruction enjoy peace -- and lots of it! There’s no stumbling for them!”
Let’s join together in affirming our faith -- the basis of our peace -- as we read together from Ephesians 2 these verses which have been so important to the life of our congregation.

It was just two years ago this week that we started our regular weekly Sunday morning gatherings for worship. And it’s been a joy. It hasn’t always been easy but MasterPieces don’t just fall together without effort and agony.

Let’s read together: (based on Ephesians 2:8-10, 14, NLT)
God saved us by his grace when we believed. And we can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles -- people of differing cultures and perspectives -- into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.
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